We start in the late '90s and Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City have just won away from home. The heroes of two League Cup triumphs, the same number of European ventures, and four consecutive top-10 finishes in the Premier League all pile onto the team coach.
Last to climb aboard, after helping kitman Paul ‘Macca’ McAndrew load the hold with muddy kit and boots, is aspiring youngster Jordan Stewart.
Around 20 years later, long after leaving the Club, playing for seven other English clubs, starring, albeit briefly, in Greece, and becoming a popular figure in America’s MLS, Jordan bumps into former US President Bill Clinton at a soiree in Los Gatos, California. More on that later.
Back on the coach, his next job is to make the manager a cup of coffee. The smell of caffeine drifts to the back of the coach and up the nostrils of the men who define O’Neill’s era at Filbert Street. Players like Muzzy Izzet, Matt Elliott and Emile Heskey sense an opportunity.
Next thing Jordan knows, he’s gradually making his way to the back of the coach, kettle in hand.
“Everyone would be at the back of the bus, drinking a glass or two of wine if we’d won, and I’d be there with my water making tea for everyone!” he laughs, sat in Leicester’s San Carlo restaurant before COVID-19 restrictions. It's a place of personal significance to the Birmingham-born former winger.
Leicester were relegated at the end of the 2001/02 season which included three managers taking charge.
“Soon as we got on, I’d have to ask Martin if he wanted tea or coffee and then make my way all the way back… through everyone. Thing is, by the time I’d got everyone their drinks, about 20 minutes later, the gaffer wanted another drink… so I was constantly up and down all the time!”
Jordan grew up in the modest Birmingham town of Harborne. Like thousands of children across the country, he wanted to be a footballer. He started out by playing Sunday League football after being spotted by a friend of his father, who happened to manage a side of his own.
When he was scouted by 1982 European champions Aston Villa, a series of events was set into motion which would see this vibrant, dynamic young footballer signing a scholarship deal at Filbert Street.
“My dad’s friend asked me to go, I went, and I started to play well for them at about the age of eight,” he explains.
“I was there a couple of years, playing against teams like Romulus, and then a scout at Villa asked me to go and train with them. I was nine. I trained with them, they signed me at 10 and then I was there until 16. During that time, I played for my district team, Birmingham County.
On the Sunday, I was going to go down to the first team game, watch the game, and then sign. During this time, I played a game for Leicester on the Friday and they offered me a three-year scholarship straight away. Reading were in Division One then and Leicester were Premier League.Jordan Stewart
“I remember doing work experience for Villa when I was about 14 with players like Darren Byfield, Gareth Barry and Lee Hendrie. I was training with them, helping to clean boots and stuff. At 16, I was leaving school, coming up to scholarship age, and Villa made a decision.
“I got a letter saying I wasn’t going to be kept on, I wasn’t going to be given a scholarship. So, it was a case of going on trials to different places.”
Leicester’s interest would come later, but it was actually Reading who showed their hand first in attempting to secure Jordan’s services for their academy early on.
“At the time, they had open trials for the guys who didn’t get kept on at teams, so I played in a game on a Sunday, I think,” he continues. “It was a friendly with all the guys. The following week, Reading wanted me to go for a trial. I played in a game on the Wednesday and they said they wanted to sign me.
“On the Sunday, I was going to go down to the first team game, watch the game, and then sign. During this time, I played a game for Leicester on the Friday and they offered me a three-year scholarship straight away. Reading were in Division One then and Leicester were Premier League.
“In my head, I thought: ‘Okay, Leicester are in the Premier League, but it’s classed as a small, family team, compared to the other teams’. So, I knew if I did do well, it would give me a better chance of playing in the Premier League. Everyone wants to do that, so that’s where it all started for me at a young age.”
Although not in a competitive fixture, Jordan Stewart netted the first Foxes goal at the Club's new stadium in the summer of 2002.
Before our chat in San Carlo, Jordan joined LCFCQ for a stroll through King Power Stadium, a ground he still refers to as 'Walkers Stadium', its name between 2002 and 2011.
City supporters will remember Jordan as a swashbuckling wideman who may not have scored many goals in Leicester’s colours, but had a knack for making sure, whenever he did find the net, that they were iconic strikes. He netted the first-ever goal at the new stadium, against Athletic Bilbao in a showpiece friendly in the summer of 2002.
He also nodded home the only header of his competitive Leicester career against Brighton & Hove Albion to confirm promotion back to the Premier League for the Foxes in April 2003. His long-range curler at Manchester City during a 3-0 win the following autumn still lives on in the memory of supporters.
Jordan flew back to England, from California, with fiancé Vanessa and their young daughter, Sienna. He wanted them to see the place where, as he puts it, ‘it all began’. After a quick tour, including a fly-by visit to the Directors’ Lounge, which houses a replica of the Premier League trophy that City lifted in 2016, Jordan walks out the Leicester tunnel for the first time in over a decade. “It looks the same,” he remarks, “but different… better.”
Earlier in the morning, Club Historian John Hutchinson had unlocked King Power Stadium’s vaults, where precious items from City’s history are stored. He’d found several shirts which evoke memories of Jordan’s six years at Leicester; the flappy white collars, the sky-blue sash and the v-neck.
I remember, even on the field, there was a huge sense of relief, even though I think we all knew we were going to go up. It was more for the city. I remember making sure I was dead centre with the banner for the celebration photos… I was just a kid after all!Jordan Stewart
Wearing a Le Coq Sportif number adorned during the 2002/03 campaign, Jordan strides out onto the pitch, baggy shirt securely tucked in at the back, and he searches for the spot where he scored that goal against Brighton. The promotion-clincher.
“It’s the only header I scored in my career!” he jokes, briefly forgetting the one against Bilbao, but that was a friendly. “I can’t believe I had that much space in the six-yard box. My heading ability was shocking! It was never good. I remember the whole season was just a case of keeping going.
“I remember, even on the field, there was a huge sense of relief, even though I think we all knew we were going to go up. It was more for the city. I remember making sure I was dead centre with the banner for the celebration photos… I was just a kid after all!”
Jordan’s breakthrough season at the Club coincided with one of its darkest hours as Leicester City tumbled into administration. Luckily, the Foxes, who had just been relegated during their final season at Filbert Street after 111 years, were well equipped to return at the first attempt, with the help of Micky Adams’ astute management. It was a tough time which Jordan admits impacted on the players.
“It was difficult,” he nods. “I think it was maybe more difficult for the older guys. We deferred 17-and-a-half per cent of our wages. I don’t even know what I was on at the time, but it wasn’t anything like the older guys in the squad, so it didn’t affect me as much.
“When you’re young, you don’t really grasp all the details or what’s going on. I didn’t really see what was happening at the Club, but I believed we were good enough to go back up. Everyone stayed as well, even players like Muzzy, which helped. It was difficult, but in the dressing room, we had a bond.
Promotion was sealed, in part thanks to Jordan Stewart's header, on 19 April, 2003.
“Once we knew the circumstances, the way it was impacting people at the Club, we knew what we needed to do. Again, from a young guy’s perspective, once you see the older guys have that desire and belief, you just roll with it.”
It was around this time that Jordan forged a strong friendship with Brian Deane, the former Leeds United, Benfica and Sheffield United striker. Deane was a huge figure at Leicester, and, alongside Paul Dickov, he scored the goals which ended a one-year exile from the top flight.
There was a considerable age gap between Jordan and Brian, but they hit it off straight away and even ended up living in the same apartment building. Endless evenings were spent talking football and life. Their friendship is also why, after a short detour to the site where Filbert Street used to stand, we’ve finally found ourselves in San Carlo on Granby Street in the city centre.
“I’d always say Briany was my mentor growing up,” Jordan explains. “He was the first one to tell me about the ins and outs of football, on and off the field, and how to be around the players, coaches, and the fans. He taught me how to cook as well!
“We both lived in the same building, so most of the time, even though there was an age gap, he was my go-to if I needed to speak to someone about football or just life in general. We used to play a lot of Pro Evo and then the loser would have to come here and pay for dinner… so I got a lot of free meals!”
I was thinking, okay… so, I rang my agent, he rang Sheffield United, and he said the club had said if I wanted to go, I could go. Me and my agent flew out to Greece to look around the facilities. It was summertime so it was obviously nice out there, 40 degrees, and I thought, you know what? Let’s do it.Jordan Stewart
After sitting down with Vanessa and Sienna for lunch, he joins us downstairs, where he used to talk Pro Evo strategy with Deane, to discuss life after Leicester. It won’t come as a surprise to fans who remember Jordan as a player that he’s engaging company and, after touring the city, our conversation continues in earnest over a coffee.
From 2005 onwards, Jordan starred for Watford, Derby County and Sheffield United. Five years later, though, an intriguing opportunity arose to play abroad for Xanthi Football Club, based in stunning north east Greece, home to distinctive architecture, Byzantine churches and neoclassical mansions.
“I’d always wanted to play in another country,” he tells us. “I was at Sheffield United and out of the blue, on holiday in L.A., I got a phone call from a Greek agent saying Sheffield United had accepted an offer from a Greek team.
“I was thinking, okay… so, I rang my agent, he rang Sheffield United, and he said the club had said if I wanted to go, I could go. Me and my agent flew out to Greece to look around the facilities. It was summertime so it was obviously nice out there, 40 degrees, and I thought, you know what? Let’s do it.”
Jordan settled in quickly with his new team-mates and was playing regularly. However, a downturn in the team’s form, coupled with the financial crash of the time, led to a prompt return to England in 2011.
“I was playing, but we went on a three or four-game losing streak,” he says. “The president came in one day and, even though he could speak English, he only spoke Greek. There was a translator there and he was basically telling us we weren’t good enough.
“The interpreter was doing his thing, saying things like: ‘You guys play like chickens!’ I’m thinking… okay! The president has got a cigar in his hand. He bangs the table and then, in English, he screams: ‘No! Tell them what I said!’ I can’t say it in this interview!
The Foxes winger scored a brilliant long-range effort during a memorable Premier League win at Manchester City.
“Just as Greece was going into the economic downturn, payments started to come later and later, and in March I decided to go back to England.
“I had a year left on my contract, but I left. The lifestyle was great, the city was wonderful, the food was incredible, and it was a good experience, but I wanted to go home.”
Spells with Millwall, Notts County and Coventry City followed until, in 2013, Jordan once again flew the nest, this time to the United States.
His first of two clubs in America was San Jose Earthquakes, before later joining Phoenix Rising, and it was during his time in California where Jordan had a chance encounter with one of the most famous men of the late 20th century, Bill Clinton.
He explains: “When I was in San Jose, one of my friends had done charity work in the Los Gatos area, so we were there, and he was doing a function. Los Gatos is an area with a lot of rich people and a lot of liberals, so they hired a huge mansion just for a soiree, a get together.
“Literally, I was just in an adidas t-shirt, shorts and just a pair of trainers. I didn’t really know what I was going to! I got there and there were valets outside and everyone’s in a suit… Great! Then I was told we’re going to meet Bill Clinton.
“What?! We went inside and there was a little queue and we had a shirt to sign for him. We waited a little while and I’m thinking: what do I say? He won’t know who we are! It was soon our turn and my friend introduced me. Clinton basically said: ‘Oh cool, cool!’
I still have a lot of history here at the Club. It was a nice moment when they actually won and proved to everyone it’s not just the biggest teams who can win it.Jordan Stewart
“We took a photo and I gave him the shirt. I’m sure he gets loads of gifts and stuff so I can understand, but let’s just say I don’t think it’s pinned up anywhere in his house!”
Jordan is now a partner on a property development company in Belize, alongside American track and field legend Mike Powell and former Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Its aim is simple, to provide Caribbean-style luxury within touching distance for thousands of Americans seeking a more relaxed lifestyle.
“A guy I met, he does a lot of development in the US and Belize,” Jordan reveals. “He wanted me to get on board and help out basically. I went down to Belize, landed there, and saw some of the properties being built by a company called the Berkovitz Development Group.
“It takes like two hours to get there and the only reason it takes two hours is because the speed bumps are enormous! If you’re driving at full speed, your axle’s going to fly off, so you need to take it easy. All the properties are next to the beach so it’s a really nice place.
“It’s for Americans who want somewhere that’s close and gives them a Caribbean feel but without spending a tonne of money. It’s just one of the projects I get involved with.”
He’s not overstating that either. In 2012, Jordan launched a clothing brand with ex-England defender Joleon Lescott. Within a few years, American rapper 50 Cent was spotted sporting their apparel.
Looking to the future, Jordan is set for another ambitious venture over the coming months, commuting from his home in Tulare, California to Los Angeles, where he will be Brand Event Manager for Green Park, a developer of fan-based digital experiences and mobile games for a generation of sports and eSports fans. As our conversation gradually comes to a close, he tells us excitedly about the studio he’s looking at and the future he sees for the project.
Despite his busy life away from football, though, it’s clear that Jordan still holds Leicester City incredibly close to his heart. He watched on enthralled as the Foxes lifted the Premier League title in 2016 and regularly posts ‘throwbacks’ to his time at the Club on his Instagram feed, @jordan.stewart3.
One of his most recent posts sees him remember a feisty Pride Park clash with East Midlands rivals Derby County when, as Jordan claims, he had to protect Robbie Savage in the tunnel after a dramatic 3-2 win for the Foxes.
“I loved my time at Leicester,” he recalls. “People in America knew I had an affiliation with Leicester so when they were going for the title, people were always asking me about it. I always said they could do it, if they sustained it around Christmas time.
“When we were in administration, we had something to drive us, the odds were stacked against us. Maybe it’s subconscious, but when you’re on the pitch, you think you’re unbeatable. If you ask any footballer, if they’re having any trouble in their life, as soon as they go on the field, it disappears.
“I don’t know if it’s because there’s so much going on, so you don’t have time to think about anything else, but all you’re focusing on is the game. They had that and it maybe happens once in a lifetime, but it can’t be taken from them now – not ever. I was so happy for them.
“I still have a lot of history here at the Club. It was a nice moment when they actually won and proved to everyone it’s not just the biggest teams who can win it.”
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