In a breakout 2020/21, Jordan Zemura made his mark in the AFC Bournemouth first team as well as internationally with Zimbabwe, his successes coming after over a decade comprising of effort, rejection and dogged perseverance to make it as a footballer.
At the end of EFL Youth Development Week, the defender spoke to afcb.co.uk about how he made it happen, a story which began for him as a seven-year-old when he signed forms with QPR, spending three seasons with the Hoops.
Taking in over seven years with Charlton Athletic, his Addicks release opened the opportunity for a trial with the Cherries that he was able to take and begin a chapter that has now led into the first team.
The journey got under way in north London after a chance piece of opportunism from the young Zemura caught the attention after a training session with his local youth side Belmont United.
The defender began: “I was waiting for my mum to pick me up afterwards and there was a scout standing with my coach, not that I knew what a scout was then. I wanted to try and do something to show off to them, there were two goalkeepers in the goal and I scored past both of them!
“Then I made sure I celebrated loud enough to be heard. The scout gave my coach a card and he told my mum that QPR wanted to look at me. The next thing I knew I was on trial there, all the way from Edgware to right down near Heathrow. I soon signed there as part of the under-8s group.
“I was with QPR from 2006 to 2009, but then not offered a new contract. In the following months my family moved to the Isle of Sheppey and I was playing for the local side, still a bit upset about the whole QPR thing.
“I was just playing local football and really enjoying it, also in an academy called Soccer Elite where I trained during the week.
“We had a game at Cobham training ground and from there I got a trial at Chelsea. I did eight weeks there, one of the trialists there who’d been there the longest, but they wouldn’t sign me because I lived two hours away, there was the bracket where you couldn’t travel that far.
“A couple of weeks later I got a trial with Charlton, had four weeks there and ended up getting signed, the start of seven or eight years there.
“We played Chelsea a few weeks after and I scored a couple of goals in the game, I’ll never forget that and feeling like I’d proved myself a bit.”
Options open outside the game – education
While spending his adolescence with the Addicks, Zemura also kept his options open away from football, coming close to getting on a pathway towards some of the best higher education faculties in the world.
He continued: “I was put forward for a scholarship at this good school in Tunbridge Wells when I was in Year Nine, and then most of the graduates from the scholarship would move on to Oxford or one of the top universities. It was me, my friend and two girls from my school and they were going to pick two of us.
“I was really driven and motivated, it was something different from football, but unfortunately for me my mate got in instead of me. He was really smart so it wasn’t meant to be for me.
“I was really good at English, I loved that and history, I think my maths let me down! I would have gone there once every half term and stayed over for two weeks. It could have been so different for me which is amazing to think about now.
“Football’s always been my main passion and my dream and maybe it could have gone hand in hand, but then I could have ended up more on the academic side.”
Options open outside the game – employment
After being released by Charlton in 2019, Zemura was soon having to apply for trials at other clubs around the country to continue his hopes of a career, while also having his eyes opened to the wider world of employment, an experience that further sharpened his desire to find success in the game.
“When I left Charlton it was off the back of an injury so I was finding my way again. My family helped pick me up and I got a day job, in fact that showed me that there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to make it as a footballer.
“I worked with a family friend who fitted glass and window frames. I tried doing the fitting with my hands but I wasn’t too good to be honest, I’ve always been better with my feet. I was lifting the glass, getting it from A to B and I was thinking, ‘I’m not sure about doing this.’
“I got fired from that, I was doing it to keep the money going but I was ready to go. My mum and dad were helping me but I didn’t want to keep asking so I did that and it made me even hungrier when I came to Bournemouth.”
A protracted AFC Bournemouth baptism
Come the new year, newly unemployed Zemura won a trial on the south coast, the left-back able to convince the Cherries of his qualities over a protracted spell.
“For all the dreams I’ve had and all the hours my family have spent driving me up and down the whole country, I just wasn’t going to stop there,” he explained.
“Bournemouth was the first club I came to, a completely different area that I’d never been to apart from when I’d played matches. I was going to make sure I made it, even over a trial period that stretched to three or four months before I got signed.
“I came in the January for three days, was invited back for a week, went back home, came back for another week and a semi-final against Shrewsbury. We beat them 2-1, I got an assist, trained again for a week and I was invited to stay for longer.
“It was tough, I maybe had a bit of an ego and had felt I’d worked hard and wanted a quick fix. I spoke to my dad and he said not to worry, get my head down and show them, don’t let the weeks you’ve been there go to waste.
“That helped me a lot and in April we had the Central League Cup final. We won up at Notts County, a good game for us, and a week later they told me I was getting signed.
“All that hard work and that continuous graft, it’s hard to explain, I’d had that disappointment of being let go before and to finally get the yes was a huge sigh of relief.
“Speaking to the manager Coops (Shaun Copper), without him I wouldn’t be where I am now, he helped me massively and believed in me from day one, that enabled me to push on.”
An invitation to the Palace
Fast forwarding through a successful year with the under-21s and to the start of the season just gone, Zemura now integrated within the first team setup.
Impressing during the Cherries’ pre-season friendlies, Zemura got the call-up for his debut from the start in the Carabao Cup tie with Premier League side Crystal Palace, then earning another chance in the next round against giants Manchester City.
The 21-year-old talked through his introduction to the first team: “I don’t really get nervous before games, I’m a laid back guy, but for Palace I found out I was starting and I was just buzzing, my mouth was wide open and I couldn’t stop smiling.
“I wanted to show I was ready to go, I wanted to make my debut before 21, that was on my checklist. Playing and then scuffing a penalty into the bottom corner in the shootout was good. I won man of the match, I’ve got the award in my house now.
“Then it was onto the Man City game, I wasn’t starting but then Lloyd (Kelly) got injured in the first half, in my mind I was so switched on and ready to come on and perform.
“I’d worked out 20 different ways I was going pass the ball, get past a player, try to shoot, cross it, defend in a one-v-one situation.
“Being on the pitch against players in the Euros now, I was thinking, ‘This is what I want, this is me.’ I thought I handled myself well and had a good game.
“It was big for my family back home, I got a few cool points with my little brothers. They were gutted that they couldn’t be there, they lived it watching the TV and were really proud of me.”
Breaking onto the international scene
Younger brothers Hunter and Jesse may have been impressed, and soon too were parents Sharon and Seymour, who emigrated to the UK from Zimbabwe shortly before their first son Jordan was born.
A year after his first international call up was thwarted by injury Zemura made his debut for the Warriors last November in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Algeria, an achievement he reflected on.
“Recently I’ve been able to take it in and start to cherish those moments that little bit more because I’d set my targets and my goals and knew how much work I’d put into it,” he said.
“For my mum and dad there was that pride in their boy. My grandparents are all in Zim, unfortunately one of my grandads had passed away so didn’t see my debut, I’m sure he’d have been looking down on me.
“My dad’s mum is an MP there as well, we’re both representing our country and I love her to bits. I don’t get to see my grandparents as much as I’d like so when I got the opportunity to play I wasn’t just doing it for myself but for all my family, both in England and over there in Zim.”