David Fearnhead speaks to the former Burnley footballer, Tristan Jumeau, who is studying his way to success whilst playing for Georgia State University in the US
It’s a long way from Turf Moor to Atlanta but long journeys are something Tristan Jumeau is fond of. The young footballer is talking to me on the phone having just made a nine-hour coach journey to play a football match in Arkansas.
“That’s the thing with the scale, we went through four different states to get here, and we’re in a different time zone to Atlanta,” he says enthusiastically. “I think it’s fantastic because I get to see all parts of America.”
A product of Burnley FC’s youth system, Tristan who was born in Carnforth, made his debut for the Clarets in their Under-8s and as an apprentice, he lived with house parents in the area for two years. What marks him out is that unlike many, who dream of playing professional football, he knew he needed a back-up plan. Study was taken seriously.
“I got really good GCSEs and was encouraged to continue my further education,” says Tristan, who attended Burnley College twice a week to study A-Level maths and chemistry. “I got lots of support from the college. They were really accommodating. I got some one-to-one tutoring, and I was lucky to stay behind after classes if I needed to catch-up. Football was always the aim, but I also had to be realistic. I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket. I still had academics to fall back on.”
Life at Burnley was good. They were in the Premier League and Tristan was getting opportunities to see how the first team trained with inclusion on their pre-season tours to Prague: “It fuelled my desire to be a professional footballer for sure.”
However, February 1st 2018 brought bad news. He was to be released. “They told me early on, because I had other things going for me so I could get things moving in that sense. The first thing that happened was the head coach of GSU, sent my dad an email and I had an offer for a full scholarship. That was fantastic!”
GSU is Georgia State University. Their head coach, Brett Surrency, had visited Burnley the previous November on the invitation of an agency, which specialised in placing British footballers in US colleges. Tristan was just one of five Burnley youth players who’d shown an interest.
“At the time I didn’t know I wasn’t getting a Burnley contract, I was just saying, look in case I don’t get offered a professional deal, I was interested.”
By August Tristan and his dad, Philippe, where heading for Atlanta, Georgia: “I’d always wanted to visit America. It was something that I’d never done before, so it was pretty crazy to be going there on a four-year scholarship for the very first time.
“I’m living in downtown Atlanta – a big American city, and I’m from a really small English countryside town. It’s been a real eye opener,” says Tristan, who turns 19 in October.
Adjusting to his new life has been helped by welcoming staff and the fact that almost half of GSU’s soccer roster are players from the UK. However, he’s no longer the academic outsider.
“There is definitely more of a balance here than the UK. I was one of the few to do A-Levels, at Burnley. Here you are called ‘student athletes’ and you’ve got to keep up your grades if you want to keep playing sport.”
He’s also enjoying the experience of meeting people from all over the world.
“When we went through immigration there were 3000 international students there. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people and experience new cultures. It’s really exciting.”
“The lads are all fantastic because they’ve all come from an academic background and they are really switched on. You find at the academies in England everyone is very single minded about football and it’s a sort of tunnel vision. They all think they are going to be a professional footballer.”
“Here people realise you have to have something else. Even if you’re lucky enough to make it you’ve got to have something for the rest of your life because football is only a short career.”
Tristan says that the facilities at GSU are similar to those at Premier League Burnley, though on a much bigger scale because of the number of different athletics teams who train there. He’s also getting something he couldn’t get in the UK. A first-class education for free.
“You come out of here with a four-year degree and the fantastic thing about having a full scholarship is that I’m getting it for free. I’ve got accommodation, a meal plan for the cafeteria and even my books are paid for. If I was studying in the UK it would cost me £9,000 a year to get a degree. I think the total for my scholarship is $40,000-a-year, which is insane!”