Big interview: ‘This is my club’ – Jack Lankester on his journey from Ipswich Town fan to first team player
PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:37 28 May 2019
Jack Lankester was put in an Ipswich Town kit as a baby – now he is wearing it on the pitch as a first team player. STUART WATSON spoke to the 19-year-old about his academy journey, being a good golfer and living next door to captain Luke Chambers for a recent edition of Kings of Anglia magazine.
Jack Lankester recently signed a new Ipswich Town contract until 2021.
There will be no easing up or getting carried away from the 19-year-old though. He's made that mistake before and it almost cost him his career.
"When I was 14 I got offered the scholarship a lot earlier than you would do - normally it's 16 - and I think that's when I sort of got complacent," explains the teenage forward.
"I went on holiday, just with my family, and probably took my eye off the ball a bit just because I knew I had that scholarship in the bag.
"If you're not doing things right then you sort of lose distance on some other people.
"That did happen. By Under-16 level I wasn't really as fit as I should be and I started to drop down the pecking order.
"I had to make sure my pre-season was right before my first day as a proper scholar - which I did, I managed to do that - but that was a lesson for me."
Born and raised in Bury St Edmunds, Lankester was being put in Ipswich Town kits as a baby.
"Mum dug out one of those pictures recently," he laughs.
"My family love football so I picked it up young. My granddad (Jim) played for Ipswich and England at youth team level and dad (Stephen) was a schoolboy player for the club before he took up squash.
"Most of them are Ipswich Town fans, so they love that I'm playing here."
Jack's journey to the first team started at the age of six when he was scouted playing for Guildhall Feoffment Primary School.
"My manager there, Rob Morgan, was only a volunteer but he put so much effort into it," he explains.
"We had a really good team and there was always people coming to watch us. He deserves a lot of credit, which is I why I say things about him quite regularly.
"A scout came along, asked me to go down to the (Ipswich) set-up at Bury and from there two of us came across to the main academy - me and Ben Morris. From there we've come all the way through together."
Lankester recalls: "We trained twice a week and then played on a Saturday. I was always playing with the older boys. There was no Under-7s or Under-8s then, so I was playing with the Under-9s.
"I carried on playing the year above most of the time up until Under-14/15s. That's why I'm such good friends with Flynn (Downes), Doz (Andre Dozzell), Tristan (Nydam) and Moz (Morris).
"After we'd train on a Saturday morning a lot of us would then go down to Portman Road and watch the game.
"The game I remember most was when (Pablo) Counago scored that goal right at the end against Coventry. That's the first team I really remember.
"I had a (Owen) Garvan shirt. He had number seven and I liked the number seven! After that I just used to get Lankester on the back."
The former King Edward School pupil is keen to highlight a number of people who have helped him along the way.
"When I was younger, from 14 to 15, people like Liam Manning and Kieron Dyer," he says.
"Then Alan Lee played a massive role when I was a scholar.
"Kieron and Al have always been hard on me - in a good way. Every day they were making sure they got the most out of me. If I came out for training and wasn't quite at it then they'd tell me.
"When I was going to make my full debut at Forest I was on the phone to Al the night before. I said to him 'I've got nerves' and he said 'nerves are a good thing'.
"Al's always been good for me and looked out for me. I think he knew I had the ability, but he just wanted to make sure I used it all."
Then there's coach Graham Howlett, the man who converted him into an attacking player.
"When I was a lot younger I used to play left-back," explains Lankester.
"Then Graham - we used to call him Spike - said, and I don't know what made him say this, but he said 'go and play in the No.10 role, I just think you'll be able to do it'.
"From there I just played anywhere across the attacking positions. I guess I was destined to play further forwards.
"I was always a No.10 then as a scholar I played more right at the top because we didn't have many options.
"Al was like 'you can do a job for us'. I've been brought back now and have been more on the right, which isn't a position I'd played that often, but I think that's where the gaffer (Paul Lambert) sees me at my best, coming in on my left foot. I really enjoy that position."
Talking of that left-foot, Lankester brings up Steve Foley.
"I stay behind and do extra set-pieces and finishing drills to improve it," he says.
"People used to say 'why don't you use your right as much', but I remember Steve said to me once 'you've got such a good left why worry about the right?'
"Of course you have to try and improve all areas of your game, but if you keep working on your strengths that becomes a weapon."
Asked when he felt things really started to click for him in his academy journey, the teenager thinks.
"Probably towards the middle/end of last season, when the Youth Cup run started," he replies.
"We beat Everton and then Dagenham - I scored two against Dagenham - and from there my confidence was up.
"I was then starting for the 23s and scoring for the 23s."
Then, in March, there was a loan spell at home town club Bury Town in step four of the non-league pyramid.
"That was huge for me," he says.
"Ipswich called me and Brett (McGavin) in and said 'we want you to go and play men's football'.
"We were up for it. We're best mates and when we heard we could go out together to somewhere we had other friends playing, where we're from and where we could have family watching it was great.
"We found out on the Thursday, got it sorted on the Friday, went straight in the team on the Saturday and I scored.
"It was good fun trying to play the men's game.
"If you look at their team now there are quite a few ex-Ipswich players - Ryan Jolland, Joe Whight, Jamal (Wiggins) - so we knew what we were going into.
"The advice was 'don't sack this off'. They said they had other players go there on loan from higher clubs who were not bothered.
"So we threw ourselves into it and tried to make the most of the opportunity.
"Non-league was so different. I remember the first time someone passed me the ball I went to control it and the ball bobbled over my foot and out of play. Everyone was like 'whey!'
"I think it took me a good half to get into it. Second half you pick it up and get used to it.
"The physical side of it helped me. People were clamping you straight away. You pick up ways of using your body and dealing with that side of things.
"There was the mental side too. They are probably thinking 'he must be good coming from Ipswich' so they try and use the mind game tactic over football. I got warned I was going to get it. You just have to ignore it. I was alright.
"It does make a difference when you are playing for something. When you are playing youth football there's not the same competitiveness.
"In non-league peoples' jobs are on the line. If they don't win it's like 'woah'. I like that part of it.
"You can hear the abuse from the supporters at that level. It's quite funny sometimes. You feed off it. You just want to shut them up. I see it that way, rather than wanting to go into your shell. I use it the other way."
Lankester continues: "I went back to Ipswich, I think I scored 27 goals for the 18s and 23s altogether, and from then I knew, right, next season I want to see how close I can get to the first team.
"Obviously it has come around a lot quicker than I thought.
"When I came in first day of pre-season I was thinking 'right, have a good season with the 23s, do as much as I can with them, and if towards the end of the season I get a chance then I'll take it'.
"But Paul Hurst put his trust in me to go and play and from there I've gone on. I have to say thank you to him for giving me that chance to go out there and show what I can do."
The first time Lankester was named on the bench was for the 3-2 win at Swansea.
"I was never sent to warm-up, but you get a feel for it," he says. "You're getting the butterflies.
"QPR, when I made my debut, I came on after 60-odd minutes and he just said 'go on and try and create something'. We lost (2-0), but I had an alright game."
Hurst was sacked five days later, but it quickly became apparent that new boss Paul Lambert rated Lankester just as highly.
The youngster's full debut came at Nottingham Forest on December 1.
"It's a massive, massive step up when you start a game," he says. "You're getting used to the intensity. I played a bit out of position that game (centre midfield), but then you don't feel like you're playing out of position when you have somebody like Skusey (Cole Skuse) next to you talking you through the game the whole way. I don't think there was a time when he stopped talking to me.
"To have players like him, Chambo (Luke Chambers) and last season 'Ginge' (James Collins) around, who all have so much experience, helps the young kids massively."
The next milestone moment - a goal - came on New Year's Day against Millwall at Portman Road.
"Most of the goals I scored for the 18s and 23s were like that!" he says with a smile.
"You look like you're going to go down the right and chop back in on the left.
"Before the game the gaffer said 'you do it every day in training, at the first opportunity you get cut in on that left and open the goal up'.
"What was it, two minutes in when the goal came?
"It was crazy. I had a lot of family over from America and that was the only game they were watching. We got two boxes over in the Cobbold Stand so that's why I ran over there with my celebration.
"It was just as big a moment for my family as it was for me.
"It's weird, it almost doesn't feel real, but you soon have to click back into reality."
Team-mates and staff talk about Lankester as being a 'confident lad' with a smile that suggests it's very much the likeable strand of that trait.
The way he maturely handles this interview backs that up.
The way he plays on the pitch, running with the ball at every opportunity, is further evidence.
"It doesn't matter who you are playing against at the end of the day - you're playing football and you just express yourself," he says.
"I just go out there every game and do what I can do. I'm not fazed by it. It's no different to going and playing with your mates.
"When you get in that situation where you can go one-on-one, I love it. I like the assists part of the game where I can try and play a killer ball or provide from a set-piece. That's what I feed off."
Ipswich Town revealed Lankester had signed his new deal with a picture of him kissing the badge.
"This is my club - it will always have a big place in my heart," he says.
"When I had the opportunity to get that sort of deal, I was like 'I want to do it'. This is where I've been, where I've lived, where my family are from.
"Whatever happens in my football career, this club will always play the biggest part in it for giving me an opportunity at such a young age."
He adds: "Dad and granddad are always saying 'you ain't done nothing yet'. They keep my feet on the ground.
"There have been loads of players who have made first-team appearances and people don't know where they are now."
- - - - - - - - - -
Jack Lankester might not be able to drive a car, but he can certainly drive a golf ball.
The 19-year-old has a handicap of six having only started playing the sport three years ago.
"It's something I just play socially," he says. "I'm alright at it as well!
"When I was younger I'd play in a few competitions for Bury Golf Club with my dad. I don't do that anymore. It's more of a fun thing."
He continues: "I played pretty much all the sports I could when I was younger; football, cricket, golf, squash with my dad because he was very good at that. I still play a bit of squash in the off season now for a bit of fitness.
"It keeps your competitive edge up. I always used to hate losing. I still do. Whatever sport I did I wanted to win and be the best at it."
Asked if there was any sibling rivalry on that front, Lankester explained: "Rory, my older brother, I wouldn't say he's a sporty person as such. We'll play squash together. He's more doing his own thing, very smart; we're quite the opposite. But we get on really well."
- - - - - - - - - -
One thing Jack Lankester doesn't have to worry about is cooking.
That's because he pops next door to have meals with Luke Chambers' family every night.
The teenager lives in an annex on the side of the Town skipper's house along with five more of the club's young players - Flynn (Downes), Ben Morris, Brett McGavin, Ross Marshall and Corrie Ndaba.
"It's great," said Lankester. "We were all good friends before we moved in there anyway.
"We've built a relationship with Chambo's family. It's done a lot of things for me. There are times in football where you might need someone to talk to, so to just be able to go around the back and say to a figure like him 'can I talk?' is great for us.
"I think we've all done it at some point.
"Even if you want to talk about general things, not even the football, you just go round there. We have a great relationship with his wife and three kids. You can talk to any of them. It doesn't have to be Chambers.
"Skusey (Cole Skuse) and Chambo are very close, so Skuse, his wife and their kids are always over and we see quite a lot of them too.
"We'll eat around at Chambo's with his family every night. His wife will do all the cooking.
"They've done loads for us. People are looking at you being 19 thinking 'don't you want to move out?' but I said to Chambo that I don't want to leave.
"In our bit we'll do our own washing. There's normally a bit of banter about who's not emptied the dishwasher.
"I don't really play much console, but the other boys play this game called Fortnite all the time. I always hear the screaming and shouting from the other room."
He adds: "We've always joked about that one day we might all play together on the same pitch. When we played at home against Millwall it was obviously a young team - me, Flynn, Bish (Teddy Bishop), Myles (Kenlock)…
"Bish is from Cambridge, so when he used to get the mini bus he'd be on my one from Bury.
"The fans love it when they see the young players. You are always getting praise and encouragement. When you do something wrong there's not moaning.
"The loudest I heard them was when Doz (Andre Dozzell) came back from his injury and got subbed on. I think Doz deserved that massively.
"Everyone knows how good he is. To get through that injury, come back and still play like he does…
"The fans obviously appreciate the young players and we appreciate that."