Folkestone Invicta ace Ira Jackson Jr has told The Non-League Paper that divine intervention has made all the difference in his breakthrough year.
One of the stories of the season, the 23-year-old is fuelling Folkestone Invicta’s title charge in the Isthmian Premier with 21 league goals to his name already.
Something of a nomadic figure before arriving on the south-east coast, Jackson has taken on board manager Neil Cugley’s advice to settle down.
And the young man now attracting interest from big clubs insists his strong Christian faith means he won’t make his next move lightly.
“This is the best season I’ve had and God is a big part of that,” Jackson, pictured celebrating one if his goals, told The NLP this week.
“I felt this season was going to be very important for my career and knowing Christ has been essential for me. I’ve been more directed in my decisions.
“When I was young, it was just ‘This manager’s not playing me so I need to leave’ but having a rooted relationship with God has definitely helped me with my football. It’s kept me grounded during the successes I’ve had this season.
“It’s easy to let things go to your head, especially when the manager told me clubs were coming in for me and you hear sniffs that League clubs are interested but my faith has kept me grounded and focused on completing the job.”
Four goals in the first four games of the season, all coming off the bench, convinced Cugley to play Jackson from the start. And when the country’s longest-serving manager kept faith with him through a subsequent barren spell, it laid the foundation for a relationship Jackson had been craving.
“I had a six-game goal drought,” he said. “Any other manager I’ve had would have dropped me but with Cugs, that hasn’t happened. He even rang me to reassure me that it’s not always about goals.
“I put pressure on myself and if I haven’t scored, I’m never happy, but to hear that from a manager who’s very experienced and who’s pushed a lot of players forward, I know he trusts me.
“At other clubs, I could almost sense the drop coming. Football is very fickle and not often will you get managers being loyal to players’ performances rather than their results. But Cugs has been consistently honest with me and that’s refreshing.
“He thought there was something wrong with my character because I’d had so many clubs. He said I needed to settle down and that’s what I wanted too.
“There’s a lot of stability at Folkestone so I knew, given the opportunity, I could make myself a permanent fixture in the team.”
Fast-forward seven months and Jackson is the only Invicta player to have featured in every league match. He’s hunting not only the title but the Golden Boot and the way things are going, you’d be daft to bet against him on either front.
“I’ve done a lot better than I usually do but I know I can still do more,” he said. “The coaching staff put pressure on me to go for the next target rather than being satisfied with where I am and that gets the best out of me.
“Previously I’ve been used as a scapegoat when something goes wrong but I’ve been treated more like a man by Folkestone.”
Anyone who follows Jackson on Twitter will know his faith comes first, however his football is going.
He said: “It’s a lifestyle I live, which affects everything I do – not because it’s been forced upon me or because God controls my mind or my movements. It’s a willingness to live a lifestyle that promotes something that’s better for everybody rather than living in a set of rules which restricts you to having a certain mindset.
“There’s so much more to faith than going to church on Sunday or what you see in the movies, where it’s all happy-clappy gospel songs.
“Things have been more directed by God in terms of how I make decisions and making sure this decision is long-term rather than spontaneous. It’s led me to stay with Folkestone until it’s the right time to move rather than getting excited that someone else has come in for me and moving away from where I’m supposed to be.
“I’m honoured that my performances have been recognised but it doesn’t take my attention away from the job I have to do at Folkestone.”
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