Watford and USA legend Jay DeMerit spoke exclusively to Vibe107.6 FM sport reporter Noah Abrahams.
A Watford FC legend, Jay DeMerit joined Vibe107.6 FM sports reporter Noah Abrahams for a chat on the station’s latest YouTube series – ‘Sports Vibe: Hornets Heroes’.
A key member of the Hornets’ Premier League promotion winning squad in 2006, the former defender remains a fan favourite among the Golden Boys faithful.
From Chicago to London
Born and bred across the Pond, DeMerit came to the UK in 2003. Pursuing his dream of becoming a professional football player, the move to Europe was the beginning of an incredible journey.
Best known now for being a successful Watford Captain and USA international, DeMerit’s journey in English football began with non-league sides Southwall and Northwood FC.
It was when playing for ‘The Woods’, that the then Watford manager Ray Lewington offered the American a trial and eventually a professional contract with the club.
“When I left the US I definitely did it with purpose,” DeMerit said.
“The first goal was just to make a team. I created the mindset of dreaming big and thinking small.
“Did I think Watford and the World Cup was next following the move to England? At the time probably not. But if you dream big and think small, then you think about those things.
“Every journey is a step. One at a time and it is amazing how far you can go when you create that mindset. Take your first steps as they come and make sure to make the most of them on the way.
“It was a massive change moving from the States to London. As a student I knew what it was like to have no money. So that wasn’t too different. I had just about enough money for Snickers bars and Ribena.
“The pleasant surprise for me, was that once I started to play against non-league players, I started to feel a bit more confident.
From the reserves to the first team
A proud Watford defender for over five years, DeMerit’s rise to stardom was certainly unique!
“As a 23-year-old American, I didn’t have a tonne of confidence,” he said.
“In England, everyone grows up with football and everyone wants to go to England and become a footballer.
“At first, I needed to get over the ‘do I belong here?’ part. Once I got over those hurdles, I started to gain confidence and I gained a good repour with local coaches.
“There was a lot of work to do when I landed on UK shores.
“I remember my first Watford game very clearly. It was a trial game against Real Zaragoza. I hadn’t even trained with the first team yet.
“I had two good reserve games, so I had a couple of 90 minutes under my belt at a decent standard.
“Ray Lewington famously didn’t tell me about the Real Zaragoza game. He just told me to come down to Vicarage Road.
“Ray didn’t tell me that I was going to start or that I was going to play against a La Liga team that had just beaten Real Madrid.
“I think Ray did that to protect me, to not get me too nervous about it.
“Of course, there was a bit of fear factor, but the good thing about my mentality was that I believed fear was good if channelled in the right direction. You use fear to channel energy.
“The moment came against Zaragoza. I knew that I had been in the doldrums of the ninth and 12th divisions and that it was the opportunity that I had been waiting for.
“You’ve got to make the most of opportunities and you can’t be scared when they happen. You’ve got to be prepared when they happen and thankfully, I was prepared.
“I was ready to step in with the first team and I had to show Ray that I belonged there.”
Football without fans
Adored by both Watford and American football fans, DeMerit explained what the footballer experience is likely to be like when playing behind closed doors.
“Everyone in a locker room is living in strange times at the moment,” he said.
“No one has even been there before. It’s a time where you can’t feed into the energy of the fans.
“It’s a strange environment for players as well as it is for fans.
“As always, you try to make the most of these situations and get the most out of them. Watford have started pretty well and I’m cheering them on from a far.”
Aidy Boothroyd took over from Ray Lewington and transformed the club, guiding Watford to Premier League promotion. DeMerit explained the ‘Boothroyd effect’.
“The first thing Aidy did, was to add a certain belief and a bit of a spark,” DeMerit said.
“When he took over, we all thought that he had a funny name!
“It was nice to me. Aidy wasn’t a big manager and he didn’t have pre-emptive thoughts in his head. He was as new as I was and to me that was an advantage.
“I saw his young and hungriness and he saw that in me too. Aidy and I always vibed on that in our relationship over the years.
“He respected the idea of me not being able to be the old man on campas. He needed the players like me and he needed the old heads too. He played both sides of the coin to mix his group.
“Aidy separated himself from other managers, because he could relate to players individually.
“He had the man-management type of idea that the best managers in the world seemed to have.
“He started to man-manage and get the most out of us all. He would have his own singular requests based on what he wanted to get out of us. He would always put his arm around us after training.
“Not only at the end of the first season under Aidy had we proved the doubters wrong, but we proved ourselves right, that we were good enough to get promoted.
“That started our Play-Off run. Anyone who watched the Play-Off game will know that there was only ever going to be one winner. We had a belief system and nothing was going to stop us.”
Brendan Rodgers took charge of Watford between 2008 and 2009. In that year in charge, it became clear to the Watford players that the Northern Irishman would go on to achieve greatness at the top levels of British football.
“I always thought Brendan Rodgers was intelligent and could pick a good team,” DeMerit said.
“His training sessions were the best ever. They were short, sharp and to the point. We really played football during them.
“I was an athlete first and then a footballer. Brendan was one of the first managers to really teach me about the game, both tactically and technically.
“Aidy was more direct, Brendan’s sessions were fun and interesting.
“I was Captain under Brendan too. Every time you play under a different manager, you learn more about how to lead.
“I learnt a lot as a leader from both Aidy and Brendan. Not only how to treat men with respect, but how to lead from the front.
“Brendan treats people with respect. He has kept that vibe and has gained respect throughout the industry.”
Favourite Watford and footballing memory
Playing for the USA at the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the former Hornet has had a remarkable career in football. DeMerit shared his favourite memories in both a Watford and national team shirt.
“My greatest moment on a football pitch and in any football shirt, was when I heard the US national anthem at the 2010 World Cup against England in South Africa.
“When your national anthem comes on and you know that you have been one of 11 picked to represent your country at the biggest sporting event on the planet, no one can take that away from you. Nobody can ever beat that, you just can’t.
“To do it against a country like England, who took a chance on me, who took me under its wing and taught me about the game – it made it my favourite moment in a shirt.
“My favourite moment in a Watford shirt would have to be the 2006 Play-Off Final.
“It was my springboard to making me eligible for the national team too.
“My family were in the stands alongside my non-league coaches. To have all of those people enjoying the game with me was truly what it’s all about.
“When you chose a journey that no one else believes in, those were the moments that made it all worthwhile. It was a springboard to the Premier League and personified all of the hard work that it took for me to get to where I was. To enjoy the moment with my family and the fans was extra special.”
Watford FC 2020/21
Following Watford closely from across the Pond, DeMerit shared his thoughts on Vladimir Ivic’s teams chance of promotion back to the Premier League this season.
“100% Watford can go up this season,” he said.
“There’s a core group. People move on when you move down from the Premier League, but unfortunately, that’s a way of the game.
“People like Ben Foster will know the Watford structure and can carry Watford through a long Championship season.
“I think this year is Watford’s year!
“As always, the ownership group at Watford push for success and I don’t see that changing at all. I see an ability to push in the right direction and I hope that we can go back up.”
A message to the supporters
A message from Jay DeMerit to the Watford supporters:
“Hello to all of the Yellow Army faithful! I’ll see you guys soon. I’m looking forward to getting back to Vicarage Road and to saying hi to everybody!”