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Humble Rhodes keeps feet on ground
FACES were pressed against the classroom door as pupils attempted to get a glimpse of their hero between lessons, while those inside were listening to every word intently.
Even the teachers at Witton Park High School appeared in awe as Jordan Rhodes was quizzed by students earlier this week, with the star status he has already established for himself around Blackburn never more obvious.
It would be easy for Rhodes to believe the growing hype but just a few minutes spent talking with the 23-year-old Oldham lad are enough to dispel any ‘big time Charlie’ fears. In fact they are enough to knock them out of the park.
In a world where too many footballers are affected by the ‘fame game’, the obscene amounts of money on offer and all the other trappings, Rhodes is a breath of fresh air.
Hearing him talk about playing scrabble in his spare time, how he returned to his former school in Ipswich with his first Scotland shirt and his desire to be a good role model for his younger siblings are not your usual ‘star’ mutterings. Rhodes simply doesn’t believe he is anything special.
The stats tell you a different story.
At just 23, he has bagged 100 league goals, beaten Dixie Dean’s fastest hat trick record and become just the fourth Blackburn Rovers player to score in seven consecutive league matches.
Rovers’ £8million man is preparing for another test in his meteoric rise up the footballing ladder today when he pits his wits against Premier League opposition for the first time, in an FA Cup fifth round tie at Arsenal.
He was forced to sit at home injured and watch his former team-mate, and close pal, Alan Lee score for Huddersfield at the Emirates in 2011 – and he is now out to make his mark on one of English football’s biggest stages.
He said: “I’m still good friends with Alan. I know if something happens he will be on the phone. He is a number nine I grew up at Ipswich under, I cleaned his boots and his kit.
“At Huddersfield it was surreal to play alongside him and to have someone I grew up idolising as my team mate. To this day we keep in touch most days. We play scrabble on a minutes basis and words with friends on the iphone.
“I didn’t go to the Emirates that day, it would have been nice to but I stayed at home and watched it on TV.
“I have never played against Premier League opposition.
“We are not quite sure about what sort of team they might field with the Champions League ahead, we can only do as well as we can and accept there will be some very good international players out there whatever team they put out.
“There are very few better stages in England than the Emirates and playing against a very good Arsenal side.”
A glance at Rhodes’ family history and it is easy to see why the Scottish international striker has become a footballer.
His dad Andy was a goalkeeper for Barnsley, Doncaster, Oldham, Dunfermline, St Johnstone, Bolton, Airdrie and Scarborough through the 1980s and 90s, while uncle, Steve Agnew, was a midfielder for several English clubs, including Rovers.
Agnew provided Rhodes with one of his earliest FA Cup memories when he scored for Sunderland in an FA Cup draw at Old Trafford, while younger brother Lewis is also in football as a performance analyst at Stoke.
Rhodes said: “I must only have been seven or eight back then when uncle Steve scored. Him scoring an equaliser at Old Trafford, I do remember.
“It is a great competition. It is a nice distraction, nice to play at a fantastic stadium.
“It is something I have never experienced but we have many in the squad who will have done. It will be fantastic though.
“Growing up and going along most weeks to watch my dad, me and my brother had no choice but to like football.
“I was fortunate I managed to watch in luxury at times, keeping warm in the box. I always dreamed of playing because in my opinion there is no better job than being a professional footballer.
“It would be nice to come away with the win at the end of the 90 minutes. You only have to look at the last round and see that is what the FA Cup is all about.
“Arsenal are a very good club and we will go there as very much underdogs but we will go there doing all we can to upset them.”