‘I told him I’d never been on Twitter...I had to convince him it wasn’t me!’ - Tabb reveals social media mix-up with McCarthy in look back at career
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Jay Tabb enjoyed a fine career in football that saw him play more than 400 games – almost 100 of them for Ipswich Town. HENRY CHARD caught up with him
Think footballer’s lifestyle and you think expensive cars, flashy watches, the latest designer gear and Beats headphones.
Former Ipswich midfielder Jay Tabb, 35, who played almost 100 times for the Portman Road club and more than 400 Football League games in total, is a player who breaks that mould of the stereotypical view of a modern-day footballer.
He is also someone you could talk to for hours.
Tabb’s decision to retire from football at the comparatively young age of 32 should not have come as any surprise.
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Here’s a man who has many interests outside the game – including classical music, owning a race horse and even playing rugby.
He enjoyed his professional football career and looks back with no regrets.
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But the football side of his life is behind him now.
Tabb is a man who will not let the grass grow under his feet.
From caddying on the Ladies European Tour to getting injured on the rugby fields of London, Tabb is still keeping busy, and happy – just as he has always been from a young age.
Although he enjoyed school, like most boys Tabb discovered a passion for ‘the beautiful game’ and set his sights on becoming a professional footballer.
He was released by Crystal Palace for being ‘too short’ but the Tooting-born youngster was determined to make it in the game and not let his height of 5ft 5in become an excuse for clubs to look elsewhere.
He eventually earned a deal at Brentford, in 2000.
“I quite liked school, I wasn’t too bad academically, but it was always football for me,” he said.
“From as early as I can remember I was always kicking a football about.
“I just used to play in the playground with other kids and you could tell I was quite good at it.
“Then I went onto join a local league when I was about eight or nine and that went well. There were scouts coming down and I had my first-ever trial at West Ham and played a few games for them before going to Palace.
“I was always keen on sport at school as well as other subjects but when I got to 14 or 15 and knew I had a chance of getting a YTS at Palace, that is what I focused my thoughts on.”
Not that his youth career at Palace worked out and he was released.
“Being released by Palace was one of those things, but looking back at it, it turned out OK,”
“My former coach had joined Brentford and I got in touch with him and went there, had a couple of trial matches which didn’t go that great. But luckily enough he gave me a chance and I took it with both hands and had a good couple of years in the youth team.”
Appearances were limited for Tabb at Brentford in his first three seasons as the Bees decided to adopt a cautious approach with the young talent. But, despite being frustrated, Tabb says he understood the reasons behind the decision and kept working hard before breaking into the side and becoming a regular under Wally Downes, at Griffin Park.
“I went there and played in the youth team and towards the end of the first year I made my first-team debut which was great as I had just turned 17,” Tabb said.
“I played the last two games of the season and after that I thought I was going to break in. After that I got a pro contract, but I was still playing in the youth team quite a bit. It was a bit frustrating, but I could understand it.
“Steve Coppell was the manager at the time and I was still small, and he didn’t just want to chuck me into it playing week in, week out. I played a couple of games and I travelled with the squad a couple of times, but it was all very slowly slowly and it wasn’t until the next season under Wally that I started playing more.
“Wally gave me my debut when I first broke through and then Steve (Coppell) took over and then he left, and Wally was back in charge and that’s when he put me in the team and I started playing regularly.
“He had a huge impact on me and Geoff Taylor was involved too, he was the youth team manager and was the one who pushed me forward to make those first-team appearances.”
Tabb began to showcase his talents once he had worked his way into the first XI, scoring 11 goals from midfield in the 2003-04 season, and interest began to rise for the League One player.
After missing out in the play-offs with Brentford in 2005-06, Tabb decided the time was right to make the step up to the Championship with Coventry City.
“Martin Allen came in at Brentford and we were struggling a bit but he kept us up,” Tabb said.
“He gave me quite a few appearances as well which was nice, and I think I scored 11 goals from midfield one season. There were bits and pieces of interest but nothing concrete.
“It wasn’t until my contract was expiring that I heard of interest from Coventry, that’s what made me think the time was right to step up. I was 22 and it was the right time to do it and that’s when I joined them.”
On the pitch Tabb’s time in the Midlands did not bring much success as the club spent a lot of time fighting to stay in the division at the Ricoh Arena. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying his spell with the Sky Blues.
“We were fighting down at the bottom half of the table, but I enjoyed it,” Tabb said.
“We would always start the season well and then fall away. When I first went there it was quite daunting, moving away from home for the first time and a step up in football from League One to the Championship. I really enjoyed it, it is a big club and the Ricoh Arena is a great stadium to play at and I really enjoyed my time there.”
After three seasons with Coventry, Tabb embarked on arguably the most successful period of his career as he joined Reading in January of 2009.
After two more unsuccessful attempts in the play-offs, the midfielder reached the highest level, as the Royals won the title in 2012 and were promoted to the Premier League.
“I never had much luck in the play-offs, having missed out with Brentford. I went to Reading and missed out to Burnley one year and then lost to Swansea in the final,” he said.
“That was hard, but Reading was largely a successful time for me. I was playing in a good side and fighting at the top end of the table.
“I wasn’t playing week in, week out and I probably didn’t progress as much as I wanted to but that is what happens when you get to that level.
“You are fighting in a good squad and you are not going to play week in, week out. I played my part in the squad that got promoted and played quite a few games and I had a taste of Premier League football which was great too.”
Tabb found himself on the fringes in the Premier League season that followed but had no intention of leaving the club until a call from Mick McCarthy came in and, in a flash, Tabb found himself at Playford Road, Ipswich, in the first loan move of his career which he admitted was quite a daunting prospect.
“I was in the Premier League with Reading, I had played about 12 or 13 games but in January Brian McDermott signed a couple of players and it was clear I wasn’t going to be playing,” he said.
“I wasn’t actively looking for a loan, I just had a phone call from Mick (McCarthy) one Tuesday afternoon and he asked me if I wanted to go there and play and I thought - ‘great’.
“It wasn’t too far from home and I always respected Mick as a manager and he has always done well wherever he has been. I had heard a lot of good things about him and it was a good move.
“I think I was playing golf in London when he called me and then a couple of days later I am at Ipswich playing Peterborough away in my first game. It was the first time I had ever been on loan, so I didn’t know what to expect.
“I had always been really settled and happy at a club. When you go on loan you don’t know what to expect. You are going from one group of team-mates to another in the space of 24 hours and it can be hard to adapt.
“But I loved it at Ipswich, I have been very lucky at every club I have played for because I have really enjoyed it. Ipswich was another good club that I enjoyed playing for and I enjoyed living in Suffolk, so I enjoyed my time there.”
After a successful loan period, Tabb earned himself a permanent deal in Suffolk. But at Portman Road, he would experience more play-off pain – against Norwich this time – and he admits he didn’t achieve as much as he wanted to in a blue shirt.
“When I arrived on loan we were trying to stay up, that was the aim and we did, which was great,” he said.
“Then, in the second season we just missed out on the play-offs and then we made the play-offs in the third season, losing to Norwich.
“Ipswich is a great club, I didn’t play at all in the last season which was a big disappointment and I didn’t achieve as much as I wanted to but it was a good side and we had a couple of good players come in on loan like Ryan Fraser and Jonny Williams in my time there, so it was always going to be hard as you got older and towards the end of your career but I loved it.
“I joined Ipswich Golf Club, at Purdis Heath, which was nice as well, Suffolk is a great place to live and I really enjoyed it.”
During that time with the Tractor Boys, Tabb scored one of the more memorable goals of the play-off season when Town were playing well, at the top end of the Championship, playing Middlesbrough off the park in December, 2014. Tabb rose highest at the back post to head home a Teddy Bishop cross after some fine build-up play.
“I remember that goal well, every now and then it pops up on Facebook and my friends tag me in it,” Tabb laughs.
“It was one of those goals that I love watching back.
“For a small guy I was actually quite good in the air, I remember when we played them away that year, the guy I beat in the air in the box said he got so much stick after the goal from the manager that he brought him off straight away!”
Chances were limited for Tabb in his final year with Ipswich and he left the club at the end of his contract in 2016. Subsequently, that summer he went on trial with Burton Albion but did not earn a deal and, at the young age of 32, decided to hang his boots up.
“In my final year at Ipswich I had played a couple of cup games, at home to Stevenage, away at Manchester United and against Portsmouth,” he said.
“I didn’t play a single minute in the league, I travelled most of the time but was either on the bench or in the stands and Mick had said to me if you want to go on loan you can.
“I was starting to think that’s not for me, I was enjoying it there and didn’t want to go on loan at the age of 32.
“At the end of the season I thought I wanted to move back to London, but the Burton thing came up and my friend Ben Turner played for them.
“My brother lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, so I thought that could be great as I could live with him and travel in. It was nice meeting Nigel Clough and the boys there and I had three weeks on trial which was good fun, but I wasn’t offered a contract.
“I went back to London and the only club that was close and was realistic to play for was AFC Wimbledon, but they were not interested.
“I was not really loving football at that time and I thought life is too short and called it a day.
“I didn’t want to be travelling all over the country, I had enjoyed my time in the game, but it was time to do something else. It is a decision that was the right one.”
Looking back on his career, Tabb has few regrets despite missing out on an international cap for the Republic of Ireland, although he wishes he had played more Premier League football.
“Not getting an international cap is not something I look back on and regret, I regret the play-off losses a bit more and I wish I had one or two more years in the Premier League, that would have been good fun more than international football,” he admits.
“International football was one of those things.
“I played a few games for the U21s and I travelled with the seniors a couple of times, but I never got a cap but it’s not something I regret.
“When you have a taste of Premier League football you want more. But there’s a lot of players out there that get within touching distance and it never works out.
“When I was younger it would have been nice to play in the Premier League when I was 23-24 but that’s life and I am still proud and happy about the career I had.”
Despite his differing interests to most modern-day footballers, Tabb never had any issues settling into a dressing room, but neither did he hold any ambitions to stay in the game after retirement.
“There is always a mixture of lads in the dressing room, the Ipswich changing room was great,” he said.
“I didn’t do everything you’d expect from a stereotypical footballer, but I enjoyed it and still got involved with the lads when I felt the time was right. I wasn’t someone who played FIFA, I had other interests, but I was still a professional footballer and got on with the lads and enjoyed it.
“There are a lot of footballers out there who have different interests outside of football.
“You have two different type of player, football is their life and they love everything about it, they will be first out on the training pitch and last in.
“Then you have other players who see it as a job, they get that done and then try and switch off from the game.
“When I was younger I was always wanting to get out there and train and do extra. But towards the end I had my other interests.
“When I finished as a player I was never going to be someone who got into coaching or managing, it’s been a great career and I have been lucky to have had it but, in my head, when I finished playing that would be it and that is the way it has turned out.”
Tabb is not hugely into social media, he does a bit of Facebook. And he revealed how a parody account on Twitter –
@FabulousTabb – got him into hot water with McCarthy one day, resulting in the midfielder having to convince the boss that it wasn’t him.
“I wasn’t aware of the account, but I remember once sitting in the changing room and Mick came in and asked to have a word with me,” Tabb said.
“I was thinking, ‘what’s this about?’ And he said apparently some comments on Twitter had not been taken too well.
“I told him I had never been on Twitter. Only Facebook.
“A couple of the lads who were on Twitter looked it up and started laughing and there were indeed a few strange comments on there. I never looked at it myself, but it did get me into trouble with Mick!
“There was a naughty comment or something and he wasn’t too happy with, but I had to convince him it wasn’t me. It definitely isn’t me!”
Since his retirement, Tabb has changed codes and now turns out for Old Wimbledonians Rugby Club on a Saturday and despite being in the wars couldn’t hide his enjoyment for the game as he came within touching distance of appearing at Twickenham.
“I finished playing football in June 2016 and I started playing rugby that Autumn, but I injured my knee minutes into my first game and was out for six months,” he said.
“I had to have surgery, but I played a couple of games at the end of that season.
“Then last season I had a full season which was great, and the team were one game away from playing a national final at Twickenham, but I hurt my shoulder in that as well and I haven’t played since.
“It’s a brutal game and you take some hits.
“I love the atmosphere in the changing room and playing for a local amateur side on a Saturday gives you something to wake up for and look forward to. It’s a totally different feeling to football, I still get nervous, but the pressure is totally different.
“It is a tough sport and you see injuries every week either on our side or the opposition.
“We come up against some absolute monsters and you have to tackle – it hurts but I love it. I still go to training and do touch rugby, but I can’t play properly until my shoulder is right.”
Tabb is a cultured individual and is a lover of classical music, which he used to help relax him when stuck in traffic jams.
During his time at Coventry he learned how to play the piano.
So, it comes as no surprise that he found it difficult to listen to some of the pre-match playlists in the various dressing rooms he frequented!
“The classical music thing started to help cure a bit of road stress travelling around getting stuck in traffic on the way to training or matches,” he said.
“I’d stick on Classic FM and I enjoyed it and got more into it and went to a few concerts.
“When I moved to Coventry, I was pretty much on my own after training, so I needed a hobby and I thought the piano would be great to play. I had lessons once a week and I carried it on when I moved to Reading and I still play now, although not as much as I did.
“The lads knew I wasn’t a fan of the dressing room music, it wasn’t really for me, but you have to go with the majority.
“There is always one lad in the dressing room whose task it is to make a playlist before the game and if I ever I got the chance to put something on, the lads would shoot it down.
“I am more into my indie stuff, I remember we were playing Leicester away with Coventry and I put a song on and the lads were not having it!
“That was one of the things I didn’t really like, I just had to black it out!
“Nowadays most of the lads have their headphones on anyway!”
As well as being a talented pianist, Tabb is a highly rated golfer, tasting victory in the BMW PGA Championship Celebrity Pro-Am in 2014, although modestly saying he is nowhere good enough to be playing at a professional level – or to challenge another former Town man, Jimmy Bullard on the course!
“Golf is a totally different kettle of fish,” he said.
“You can be quite good, but the next level is frightening. I started playing at school when I was 13-14 and just loved it. Every club I have played for I have joined a local club and had lessons and I still play but I was never good enough to get to the level of being a professional.
“I play off five now so I’m still ok and I still enjoy it.
“The year after I finished playing football, one of the ladies at the golf club I was a member of got a card on the European Tour and I caddied at a few events for her which was good fun, in Spain, UK and Thailand.
“Like most sports, if you are at the top end and being paid megabucks its great but if you are struggling around and trying to make ends meet it’s not much fun.
“Bullard is a really good golfer though. I was a member at the same club as him in London, but he turned pro and tried playing on the Challenge Tour.
“That’s the thing. You watch someone who plays off five or six and they can hit it alright. But you watch someone who is off scratch or plus one and it is a different game.
“Jimmy was good as was Alex McCarthy who was on loan at Ipswich. He hits it a country mile, you have never seen anything like it!”
There is no end to Tabb’s interests away from football and he owns a race horse with friend and footballer Ben Turner, called Mister Miyagi.
Tabb’s love of horse racing is something he wants to take further in the future as he is keen to learn more about all aspects of horse ownership and riding.
“Mister Miyagi has had a couple of issues, but he has had a few months off and hopefully will be coming back into training,” he admits.
“He is 10 now so he probably only has a year or two left in him, but he is a nice horse and we have had a lot of fun days with him.
“I do a bit of work with my dad who is builder, so I help him out when he needs it at the moment.
“Due to my love of horse racing I have always thought it would be good to learn how to look after a horse and ride one properly.
“There was a lot in the press about staff shortages in racing so there are a couple of courses I am looking at to go on and learn how to do that.
“If that takes off well and is something I am good at and I enjoy, then hopefully I will work in racing one day.
“I think I would have to lose a little weight first though as you have to be about 11 stone to ride a horse!”
Tabb is back living in the Capital and is looking forward to the next chapter in his life and despite not missing the day-to-day aspects of being a professional footballer acknowledges that he has been lucky to have a career in a game that has set him up well for the rest of his life.
“I’m living back in London with my brother and cousin which is good fun, they are a bit younger than me, so they are keeping me young,” he said.
“I am doing normal stuff really, football has given me a great start in life and I am lucky to have had that career, but now I am looking forward to the next chapter.
“Whenever you are at a club you will have fans who appreciate you and like you and some that don’t. I was aware of that at Ipswich. I always worked hard and wasn’t amazing on the ball, but I was OK, and plenty of fans liked that.
“Other fans want to see someone take people on and score all the time, so you will never please everyone. As long as one person likes you then you are doing alright!
And although he is now out of the game, Tabb has plenty of good memories, although there are a few things he misses.
“When I used to see youngsters wait around at the end for your autograph, they are the things you really miss,” he said.
“I was asked the other day do I miss the game. I don’t miss the travelling to away matches but I do miss that winning feeling and seeing the fans, especially at Ipswich, where they were great to me.
“The ones who wait around after the game in the rain, just to get your autograph.
“It makes you appreciate how special football is.”
This feature first appeared in Kings Of Anglia magazine.