Joel Nouble On Livingston, Chelsea And Moving From non-League To Scotland

Joel Nouble On Livingston, Chelsea And Moving From non-League To Scotland

An interview with Joel Nouble, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You came through the youth system at Chelsea alongside your brother Frank before moving on to Millwall. What are your memories of your time at Chelsea as a youngster?

“I have very good memories from my time at Chelsea. I was at the club for nine years from the age of six until I was fourteen.

“I was also there before the takeover from Roman Abramovich in 2003 so it was a different Chelsea to the club that many people are aware of now.

“For example, we trained at a facility in Battersea on a large astroturf pitch where the club tried to maximise space by getting as many age groups on at the one time as possible.

“Looking back, I learned a lot from my coaches and teammates at Chelsea — some of whom have gone on to have top careers in the game, such as Ruben Loftus Cheek, Nathanial Chalobah, Tammy Abraham, Jermaine Boga and Ola Aina.

“All of them went on to play Champions League level football so it was good to be in and around talent like that while learning and improving my own game.”

Given that you and Frank have gone on to become full-time professional footballers, what are your memories of playing football with your brother growing up? 

“My brother and I have a close relationship and we were inspired to play football by our dad who loves the game and played with us when we were young.

“We lived in a block of flats and Dad would take Frank and I out onto a large area of grass close to our house to play football with us.

“That did not stop us from trying to play football in the house and we would try and play in the living room or in the kitchen because we were so competitive as brothers which sometimes got us into trouble if we accidentally broke something at home (laughs).

“We then played for a Sunday league team called Redlines FC. Frank played there first as he is five years older than me then I played there too when I was old enough.

“The fact that Frank is five years older has helped me learn a lot from him as he has been a professional footballer for fifteen years now whereas I played non-League for a few years before going full time a couple of years ago.

“We still regularly talk about football and our respective journeys in the game from growing up sharing a room together and playing in the park to being full-time professionals.

“It has been quite the journey as we chased the same dream which was to play football at the highest level possible.”

You joined Scottish Premiership side Livingston in 2021 then immediately joined Arbroath for six months on loan in the Scottish Championship. What was your first impression of Scottish football at Arbroath and what was it like to work under Dick Campbell?

“I came up to Scotland with an open mind on what to expect from the game.

“I am a big football fan so I was aware of the Scottish Premiership and the teams and players within it.

“A few friends of mine had previously played for Kilmarnock and St Mirren so I had an understanding of the top flight and what it was like from the outside looking in.

“Then, I arrived at Livingston as a new signing and David Martindale told me that I would be going on loan to Arbroath in the Scottish Championship to aid my development.

“I will be honest and admit that I did not know too much about Arbroath or the Championship as a league but I was excited by the opportunity to join the club and experience a new league.

“I was hungry to succeed and meeting Dick Campbell was a great experience. He is the biggest character that I have worked under in football.

“My first chat with Dick was him telling me that he did not know an awful lot about me but that David Martindale recommended me highly and that he believed I could do a good job for Arbroath while I settled into life in Scotland.

“He then told me that the only thing he demanded of me was to hold the ball up and other than that, he wanted me to enjoy my football and that anything else in terms of goals and assists would be a bonus.

“The style of play in the Championship was similar to what I was used to in non-League football in England so I was comfortable with that instruction from him.

“I was then introduced to the team at Arbroath and I felt at home working with Dick and his brother Ian. They are a great double act.

“Most times in a changing room before the game, things are very serious and you are given strong messages about the game ahead almost as if you are going to war.

“However,  Dick would prepare the team during the week and then before game, he would make everyone laugh and relax before a game with what he would say to us.

“That meant we would genuinely go out onto the pitch laughing and feeling at ease after his team talks.

“I am grateful to Dick and Ian for working with me during my time at Arbroath because playing there helped me settle in Scotland and prepare myself to return and stake a claim to play at Livingston.

“The Arbroath fans were very supportive of me when I was at the club and they continue to be to this day which I always appreciate.

The loan was supposed to be a season-long loan but I was recalled to Livingston after six months. In the end, I was only at Arbroath for a short time, I have good memories from my time at the club.”

Upon your return to Livingston, you became a first-team regular for the club in the Scottish Premiership. Can you describe what the step up from the Scottish Championship to the Scottish Premiership is like from a player’s perspective?

“Everything was more demanding in the Premiership compared to the Championship.

“The game in the Premiership is quicker, you have less time on the ball, players are stronger and you are punished whenever you make a glaring error straight away.

“Thankfully, I am a fast learner and I was able to adapt relatively quickly.

“I remember my first start for Livingston coming away at Easter Road against Hibs. The first twenty minutes were frantic and it took me the entirety of the first half to get myself up to speed and work out how to get myself into the rhythm of the game.

“After that game, I found myself feeling more comfortable within games and confident enough to be able to fully express myself.

“When you see me for the first time, you would probably assume that I just hold the ball up and use my physical strength but I have more to my game than that and I am comfortable with the ball at my feet too.”

This season you have added goals to your game and scored against Rangers at home and away in the Scottish Premiership. What would you pick out as your personal highlights at Livingston so far?

“I would pick out both of my goals against Rangers because they were important for me in different ways.

“I did not score in my first six months at the club after returning from Arbroath. So, scoring against Rangers at home on the opening day of this season was a massive moment for me because I wanted to add goals and assists to my game.

“The goal that I scored against Rangers away at Ibrox in October was also massive for me and for the team because we drew the game and earned ourselves a point at one of the most difficult venues in Scotland to play at.

“Against Celtic and Rangers, you do not get the ball a lot given the quality of players that both of those teams have so when you are able to upset them, it is a special feeling.

“Other than those goals and memories, I am enjoying playing regularly at Livingston and helping the team as much as I can.”

Your manager at Livingston, David Martindale has been praised by many pundits for working wonders on a small budget. What has he been like to work alongside? 

“David has been good for me. He is a passionate manager with high standards who pushes the team on.

“He demands hard work whilst encouraging us to play attacking football so I have learned a lot from playing under him.

“Knowing that you have the trust of your manager is crucial for any footballer and I know that I have that with David which is a special feeling. I want to do well for him and repay his trust in me.

“At Livingston, no one is on crazy money and, we know that to succeed, hard work and teamwork are vital to us.

“We all go the extra mile for each other and that is down to the manager and his recruitment given the budget that he has to work with.”

Before arriving in Scottish football, you played in England at League Two level with Dagenham & Redbridge and in non-League football at clubs such as Grays Atheltic and Aldershot Town. How would you reflect on your time in English football?

“I look back on my time in English football with joy and happiness because it helped get me to where I am today.

“I started as a professional at Dagenham & Redbridge before suffering a bad injury that set me back for nine months and led to me going into non-League.

“From there, I was determined to work as hard as possible to reach the highest level possible and clubs like Grays Athletic and Aldershot gave me the platform to make the step up to Livingston.

“Therefore, I am grateful for those experiences because they made me stronger physically and mentally as well as helping me in my journey to this point of my career.”

Finally, Joel, as a forward player, you have faced up against many defenders in your career so far. Who would you pick out as the toughest direct opponents that you have faced?

“I would have to pick out Cameron Carter-Vickers, Conor Goldson and Carl Starfelt.

“Carter-Vickers is a fantastic defender who reads the game effectively and utilises his physical strength well. With Starfelt alongside him, they are a strong partnership.

“Conor Goldson is never easy to play against and is very comfortable on the ball.

“Those are the three defenders that I have faced in my career so far that stand out, for sure.”