Having grown up in a small town in Kingston Jamaica, track was his first love, but it was in football that Jevani Brown would find his career after moving to England at a young age. At the age of 25, it has been a career of extreme highs of representing his country on the world stage in Mexico, to two stints out of football completely. However, his daughter Jayla turned his life around and now he is determined to do things right.
Growing up in Jamaica, how did you get into football?
It all started when I was about nine years old. I lived in Jamaica for seven years and I played football a little bit but it wasn’t my main interest.
Believe it or not, it was actually running. In Jamaica, everyone wants to be the next top athlete.
We did play football, but we were always racing each other to see who was the fastest.
I moved to England at seven and at about eight or nine I moved to Luton and went to a trial game with some lads from my primary school and ended up getting picked up for a local side and spent a year there before getting picked up by MK Dons.
What was your childhood like in Jamaica? It must have been so different to here, just looking out the window at the wet English weather for one.
The weather was decent, yeah.
It was fun. I don’t remember a lot, but one thing I remember is the weather just being nice every day, I don’t think I owned a jacket before I moved to England.
I loved it and try to go back as much as I can to see family.
My mum moved to England because her mum was here already. My mum got married and that’s when I started playing football because my mum’s husband was a massive football fan, he supported Chelsea, hence why I support them because I didn’t really support anyone until I moved to England.
From there, it has been pure football.
How did the move to MK Dons come about and what did it mean to you at that stage?
When you are young you don’t really notice it as much.
I was just playing football on a Saturday with the boys that I went to school with and it was after a tournament in the summer. I was walking back to the car and I was approached with my step dad by a scout and he thought I had done well and would like to bring me in for a trial at MK Dons.
I went there and did well enough to get myself a deal and ended up being there for five years.
What was that five years like and were there any highlights for you?
It was good. From being just a young lad from a small town in Kingston to moving to England and playing at the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal academies was amazing.
The highlight for me was probably when we played against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
We got battered, I think the score was 7-1, but to play at Stamford Bridge, be in the changing rooms, it was an amazing experience.
With me supporting Chelsea as well it was then that I thought to myself that I am all in.
Whilst at MK Dons, you got called up to represent Jamaica at Under 17 level, what was that like for you at that age?
That came about from my dad still living in Jamaica and he heard that they were doing recruitment for the Under 17s and he put my name forward and they had a look at me and I flew over for a trial period and played a few friendlies.
We had the World Cup Qualifiers, which I got called up for and we qualified for the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico. For me, it is probably the best thing I have done in football to this day.
It was just amazing, the atmosphere, being in a different country, the whole experience.
Especially for my dad as well, he really wanted it to happen and luckily it did and he got to see me play, he was at every qualifying game, front row. It was an amazing thing to make my family proud.
We went out at the group stages but we had a really tough group with Japan, Argentina and France, and Japan were the best team, they were a different class.
I think we were the first Under 17 Jamaican side to qualify, so that was a special achievement. We were walking around the hotel or popping to the shops and people were asking for pictures, it was surreal.
All I wanted to do was play football. At that point I thought it might have been the end of my football career and I wouldn’t get the chance to play professional football again.
Any good stories from the trip?
For me, there was a kid from Argentina called De Campo and he is probably one of the best players I have ever seen live and he plays in Serie A now; he really stood out.
England were there and they had players like Raheem Sterling, Nathan Redmond etc. playing.
In our hotel, the Netherlands were staying there as well and we were playing table tennis with them and their English was amazing.
Nathan Ake was one of the players I was talking to a lot and I remember him telling me in the summer that he was going to Chelsea. At the time I was a bit like, I’ll believe it when I see it, and then later that summer he signed for Chelsea and is an amazing Premier League player.
From there, it must have been a big boost but where did your career go?
I went to Birmingham City for a little bit and then from there I actually didn’t play football for about 16 months.
When I was young I had an agent and he didn’t really guide me right.
I was offered a contract from Birmingham and he thought I deserved more than what they were offering and he told me not to take it because I was an international player and I turned down the contract they offered but he ended up not being able to do anything else for me.
I ended up just waiting around by the phone, waiting for it to ring and all my scholarship, I didn’t do one anywhere.
I was optimistic for that phone call to come but it didn’t.
Towards the end of my scholarship, I went to Peterborough.
It didn’t work out for you at Peterborough, what did you learn from that experience?
I did well there and got myself a good pro contract and the biggest learning curve for me in my career so far came there.
Off the field I wasn’t very focussed if I was being honest and ended up leaving the club by mutual consent and again I didn’t play football for about 18 months.
It was sad. All I wanted to do was play football. At that point I thought it might have been the end of my football career and I wouldn’t get the chance to play professional football again.
When did things change for you?
The changing point in my whole life was having my daughter, Jayla.
From that day, I knew it wasn’t just myself any more. I had a kid to provide for and that is when I started playing football again and played for a few Saturday non-league teams.
I didn’t really get settled anywhere but finally moved to St Neots and towards the end of the season, it just clicked.
I think I scored 19 goals in 20 games, which is not a bad return, and that is when I got a move to Cambridge.
What did that move to Cambridge United, back in the Football League mean to you?
When Cambridge came in, I thought, this is my second chance and I wanted to go and make the most of it.
After all the work my family had put in and the sacrifices they had to make, when I was younger, to get me to training and to games.
I wanted to put things right for myself but as much for them as well for all they had done.
I had learnt from my mistakes in the past and had grown up a lot and matured a lot from becoming a father.
I was grateful for many ways for becoming a father, it certainly set me on the right path.
Before Cambridge came along, I genuinely thought I wouldn’t be playing professional football again and it would just be non-league and working, which isn’t the worst thing but it is not quite what I wanted to do.
Now you’re with Forest Green, the injury came at the worst time for you, but how do you see the remainder of the season panning out for you?
From being in the game the last two to three years, I’ve realised football is not an easy sport and things don’t work out for numerous reasons.
I am fully focussed now on helping Forest Green to do the best we can.
We haven’t had the best of luck recently but I think if we give it our all and hopefully a few clubs around us slip up, we can try and pinch a play-off position, which would be great, and go from there.
For me, it is about helping the team to turn the frown upside down.
I want to do the best I can, because I know if I am doing that, it can help the team out. We need everyone in it together.
One thing we’ve noticed since you have arrived is your tattoos, talk us through them and what they mean?
I got my first tattoo when I was young, I was 16.
I love tattoos and have got quite a few. Some of them don’t mean anything, some of them are really personal to me.
On my knuckles I have got my daughter’s date of birth, I’ve got my daughter’s name on my leg.
I’ve got my name on my arm, just in case one day I wake up and I’ve forgotten who I am. That was my first tattoo, so you can tell I was young.
If you look back at your career to date, what is the biggest lesson you have learnt?
For me it would be a few things. Always go with your gut feeling, that is me saying that from the Birmingham City situation.
In my head, I wanted to do the deal, but I was young and at the time I thought agents knew best.
Another thing is to never get too complacent. Don’t think you have ever done enough. That probably comes from my Peterborough situation. I signed a four-year contract at 18 and I thought the hard work was done and I could just chill out.
Until the day you retire, I don’t think you have done enough – unless you are Lionel Messi and won five Ballon D’ors and even he probably thinks he hasn’t done enough.