Launching The FA Mars Just Play’s Just Play Free for One Week campaign which will see the doors of over 120 Just Play centres opened to adult footballers of all ages and abilities for a week from October 8, England international Theo Walcott joined-in a session with enthusiastic amateur footballers in North London earlier this week before sitting down with RWD to talk playing up-front, the return of Jack Wilshere, being the old guy in the dressing room and more…
The FA Mars Just Play is a campaign that encourages people of all abilities to engage in football for the love of the game, which of your Arsenal team-mates do you think would play football at any level even if they weren’t pro?
Let me think. I’ll go for Aaron Ramsey. Aaron Ramsey tends to just kick the ball, [lately] he’s been trying to practice ‘the wobble’ we call it, that Ronaldo thing. So every time he sees the ball, he just tries and does it and he’s not close [laughs] not quite yet. He’s still quite good, but he’s somebody who just loves it, which is great to see.
This campaign is as much about bringing older players back to football, so a lot of your young fans’ parents, do ever manage to get your dad out on the field to have a kick-about?
When I was younger I used to warm him up in goal because he used to manage my local team Compton and he went in goal a few times when I injured the goalkeeper previously after I hit the ball too-hard, he broke his fingers. So my dad went in goal for a few games, but I used to play quite a lot with him, when we didn’t really have the numbers, just me, my brother, him and a couple of mates, now with Mars Just Play they’ve got so many facilities, so many numbers, you’re not going to be worried about that. But my dad’s had a few opportunities in goal and he’s actually been concussed, he gave away a penalty and got concussed, he saved the penalty and can’t remember anything, he went to hospital so it wasn’t a great moment for him.
Sticking with your early days, what were your first pair of boots?
When Michael Owen first came onto the scene he wore Umbros, I think I’ve still go them as well. I’ve changed the studs and they’re too big now. I had big feet when I was younger, proper big feet, I was size eight or nine and I’m still that now. Proper clown feet. I can’t remember the actual name of the boots but if you look at what Michael Owen wore, it was them, because he was my idol.
How does the new dressing room Arsenal compare to the one you first joined all those years ago?
I feel like probably the oldest player in the dressing room to be honest! I think it’s great having different nationalities, different countries coming into one space but now you’re starting to see a lot of young talent coming through the ranks and getting that step-up to the first-team dressing room and I think it’s great because everybody likes similar things, everybody likes sort of messing around on video games and stuff like that, playing a bit of golf. I think that’s what you want in the dressing room and it’s starting to get to that Arsenal of old when they started to win loads of trophies. It’s a good sort of community now. I think it’s only going to improve as well, it’s nice to see and it’s nice to be a part of that and a younger age group with me as the old man of them all.
A lot of Arsenal’s forward players can play in wide positions as well as through the middle this year, do you expect that to help you push inside and improve your goal-count?
I think yeah, there are a lot of places up for grabs, you know I want to play up-front and I hope I get that opportunity but people were saying at the start of the season that you’d never be able to replace the goals Robin [van Persie] gave us, but we’ve been able to deal with that quite well and it’s been a good start, but I think it’s only going to get better. The next step for me is to start playing again.
Do you think that without the one focal point of Robin van Persie you’ll be able to share the goals this season?
I think that will play a part. The goals won’t just come for Robin, I managed to set-up quite a lot of his last year but I think a lot of people will start to stand-out a bit more and hopefully I can be part of that, but the new guys have definitely started off very well and are very strong and it’s only going to improve.
How important is it for Arsenal that Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere get back amongst it this season?
Abou is like a new signing! When I first joined he joined as well, but it’s been so frustrating for him having so many injuries and he’s started off the campaign very well, he’s very strong, he’s got great feet for a big man, he’s so powerful and I think he can do well for us. Having Jack back in training with us, it’s going to take time because he’s been out for such a long time but I can see the start of it and the next step for him - me and him had a chat about it - he just wants to get wacked on the ankle, he just wants to get kicked [laughs]. That’s just the way he is, you just have that sort of mental block, he just wants to get rid of it, sort of like when I did my shoulders I just wanted to get kicked and fall-over and see how I’d react, but he’s a strong guy, strong character, I’m sure he’ll be fine.
What does Jack bring to Arsenal that you’ve maybe been lacking?
Well Jack’s been PFA Young Player of the Year, that’s a massive step, he is a new signing to us and he will be a new signing to us, we’ve missed him for so long, we’ve got some great players as well but Jack’s special, he’s the sort of player who spots something that no one else will spot, his left foot is very handy for me, he always looks out on that side and spots that ball. People compare him to the Iniesta types, the foreign sort of player with flair, nice touch, he’s got all of that, but like I say it’s going to take time to get back to fitness, it’s totally different training to playing, but we’ve just got to be patient.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain recently said you drive like a grandma, do you have any response?
Drive like a grandma? What does that mean? I do the speed limit to be honest. I’m a safe driver. I think the most important thing is being safe, that’s the main thing to be fair. Chambo, I haven’t really seen him drive to be honest, is he old enough to drive? [laughs] He is; is he? I don’t mind my cars but I’m quite a safe driver. There’s never a point being in a rush, I always get to training on time. It’s just me in my car as well, so I just have my thoughts to myself, I’m quite relaxed to be fair so I don’t really care [laughs] I don’t really mind how fast I drive, it’s fine.
Is there anything in particular that you’re better than him at?
I’m probably better than him at FIFA, Golf, yeah, they’re the two things I’m probably better at, but he’s my partner in Golf for be fair, so he needs to step-up his game, my back does get quite heavy at times. But he’s a good lad, he can hit it further than me, that’s for sure, but my second shot’s better than his, my approach play.
You saw your old club Southampton up-close last week, what do you think of their chances this season?
Yeah, I think we probably caught them on a bad day. I think they played into our hands but it’s great to see Southampton back in the Premier League where they belong to be honest. They started off the season with some tough games, it was always going to be tough for them, but I’m happy they picked up the result against Aston Villa, a very strong result. I think they’ll always concede goals but they’ve got enough going forward to do well. They’ve singed a very good winger, number ten type, but I think with their home support, they’re a great club and I think they’ll be okay.
The FA and Mars are offering a week of free Just Play sessions from October 8. Search online for Just Play.