Interview: Jonathan Greening

Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty

Daniel Smith spoke with the Whites’ former midfielder and son-of-God lookalike, Jonathan Greening. They discuss his time at the club that saw him part of the Hodgson team that reached the Europa League final before the arrival of Mark Hughes saw a big shift within the club that ultimately marked the end of his time in SW6…

DS – If you hadn’t become a professional footballer, what do you think you would have done for a living and why?

JG – I would have liked to have been a police detective if I hadn’t been a footballer, used to love watching all police dramas and detective shows on tv when I was a kid.

DS – How did you get the opportunity to sign for York City & how did the Man Utd move materialise from there?

JG – I was spotted playing for the North Yorkshire rep side under 15’s by Ricky Spragia who was coaching at York City at the time (now man united 23’s). He asked me to come in on trial, after a few weeks of training they offered me schoolboy forms, then when I turned 16 YTS forms! I sign my first pro contract just before I turned 18.

My move to United is quite a funny story, I actually played against Fulham for York City at home, we lost 1-0 and I didn’t play that well. I was walking out after the game and the manager, Alan Little called me into his office, I thought I was in trouble because I didn’t play that well. He said, “would you like to go training with Man Utd next week?” I thought he was joking but he wasn’t. I trained with United’s first team and did really well, a few weeks later I signed for them.

DS – Was it a hard transition going from York to Man Utd at a young age? Was there anyone in the first team at Man Utd that you looked up to?

JG – It wasn’t hard at all because I was a United fan. I loved Eric Cantona and I got to play in his testimonial. I loved my time at United and learnt how to train every day, how to be professional, to have a winning mentality and the grit and determination needed to succeed. Playing with the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Keane, Beckham etc really helped me improve. Looking back maybe the move was a bit early in terms of game time because the United team of that era were unreal, but I have no regrets. I certainly wouldn’t have been half as successful without those 3 years at United.

DS – Fulham fans will never forget our great escape in 2007 but your WBA side pulled off the most famous of escapes. We did you a favour that day beating Norwich 6v0. Was it the best feeling you’ve experienced in your career and did you honestly believe you would do it?

JG – The Great Escape 100 percent goes down as one of my best experiences in football, the feeling of survival at the end of the game and to share that and celebrate it with the players, fans and staff was incredible and when I think about it, it makes me smile. I believe we were the first team bottom of the Premier League at Christmas to stay up last day of the season! It will always stay with me.

DS – How did the move to Fulham come about, were there any other offers and if so why did you pick Fulham?

JG – I learnt of Fulham’s interest when I went back for pre-season at West Brom, we’d just been relegated to the Championship. As soon as I heard of the interest I wanted to go, I needed a fresh challenge, I wanted to stay in the Prem, play in Europe and play for Roy Hodgson who I had a lot of time for. I had a few other offers, but Fulham was where I wanted to go.

DS – You scored 2 goals for the club, the winner in a 1-0 win against Pompey at the Hammersmith End, the other was in the 6-2 demolishing of Peterborough Utd. Do you remember much about them?

JG – Yes, I remember them both really well. The winner against Portsmouth was a great feeling but the goal against Peterborough I really liked, and I think I also set up goals for Zolly and Kamara in that game too.

DS – Which player did you like playing alongside the most during your time at Fulham?

JG – I enjoyed playing with them all, it was a great squad with no idiots. We had a great team spirit and a great togetherness, that’s why I believe we did so well in both the Prem and Europa league.

DS – Be honest, when we went 4-1 down to Juventus thanks to Trezeguet’s early goal. Did you think it was game over?

JG – Yes, probably but the lads and the fans at the Cottage helped us win the game, it showed the spirit and togetherness of the players, staff and fans. We totally deserved to win and go through and it was an amazing night.

DS – From a player’s perspective, how did you rate Hodgson’s system/training methods and how did it compare to other managers you’ve played under?

JG – Roy is well organised and brings a structure to his training. I really enjoyed my year working with him and was sad to see him leave. All the players knew their roles and responsibilities in every position. We all knew the shape and what was expected of us as a team. He is very respectful to his players and a very honest person. He’s up there as one of the best I’ve worked under.

DS – What was your favourite match for Fulham?

JG – Beating Manchester United at home was good but I’d probably have to say playing against Roma at the Cottage or the return game in Rome. It was a great experience playing against such a big club with a rich history.

DS – You were on the bench for the Europa League Final. As a player, do you feel as much a part of it or are you gutted not to be on the pitch?

JG – It was an amazing experience to be part of this squad and I was happy to play my part in any way. It was nice to get on the pitch and experience the final few mins, but we fell just a bit short! I’m incredibly proud of all my teammates and staff along with the fans, it was an amazing season that I’ll never forget.

DS – Obviously, Roy Hodgson left after the final and Mark Hughes took over. Had you already decided to make your loan move permanent before Hodgson’s departure and with hindsight would your decision have been different if you’d known the managerial change was taking place?

JG – It was already in place, so I didn’t really have a choice. Plus, I really wanted to stay at Fulham, I loved my teammates and loved going into training every day, it’s a special club. I really liked Mark Hughes even if he didn’t play me that much, he was great with me. Honest, respectful and treated me well. It was still a really good season to be involved in, even though I didn’t play as much as I would have liked.

DS – Who were you closest to at Fulham and do you keep in touch with anyone?

JG – All of them to be honest, we had some great characters Danny Murphy, Bobby Z, AJ, Duffer, Dickson, Clint, Konch, Siddy! Loads of great lads and too many to mention. I still keep in touch with quite a few of them too.

DS – I’m sure you must be aware of the nickname given to you. I’m not sure if it was a Fulham thing or one that followed you throughout your career, but I must say it was surreal having ‘Jesus’ in the team! What did you think of the nickname?

JG – Haha yes, I loved it. It used to make me chuckle. One thing for sure is I loved my time at Fulham, the fans were superb with me and I enjoyed playing at the Cottage, it’s a very special place. I would love to come back and maybe coach in the 18’s or 23’s in the future.

DS – What are you up to now you’ve retired? Do you have any plans to remain in the game?

JG – I’ve coached at Nottingham forest under 21’s, also at York City 18’s. Currently, I’m coaching in the States and at University in York! I’ve been coaching the last 5 years and I’ve got my FA module 1,2,3 youth award, UEFA B and UEFA A licenses. I’m due to do my pro license next May and would love to get back in the pro game.

DS – Finally Jonathan, pie or pasty, which filling?

JG – Chicken and mushroom pie 100%.