Jordan Graham opens up on broken promise and what he wanted to tell Birmingham City critics

Seldom will a footballer join a club and fail to start a game in their position across two seasons. That is what happened to Jordan Graham at Birmingham City.

The winger, signed on a two-year contract in the summer of 2021 after an impressive season in League One for Gillingham, where he recorded 18 goal contributions, didn’t actually play in his position. In two years under two different managers, first Lee Bowyer and latterly John Eustace, Graham was used exclusively at wing-back.

Even on the rare occasions Eustace ditched his wing-backs for wingers, Graham was overlooked. Ironically, earlier in his career Graham quit Wolverhampton Wanderers after being asked to play at wing-back by Nuno Espirito Santo. Graham was more mature at St Andrew’s, by his own admission, and made a fist of his Blues career despite being asked to tread unusual ground.

“I spoke to my friend about it when I left Birmingham and I don’t think there was an actual single game where I started as a winger,” said Graham, in conversation with the Keep Right On Podcast. “It’s scary really because I was there for two full seasons and I signed as a winger.

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“I remember the conversation with Lee when I signed which was about getting the ball out wide because I’d just had a good season out wide for Gillingham. ‘Get the ball out wide and get deliveries into the box’. I remember him saying that we’ve got Jukey (Lukas Jutkiewicz) up front, who is obviously brilliant in the air, one of the best I’ve ever played with in the air. He was like, ‘Feed him and we’ll score…’ And I was really excited.

"Then I wasn’t involved at all at the start of the season and I was thinking this is crazy, how have I signed and I’m not involved? Then I ended up making my debut at Huddersfield away. I played as a wing-back and the rest was history… wing-back, wing-back, wing-back.

“To be honest, it was all right. I had a fair amount of the ball, got some assists in there and remember having some good games. It is what it is. I’d matured as a person and as a player and was different to who I was when I was at Wolves. I understand football for what it is.

“It was crazy coming down to Orient and then within the first seven, eight games of being fit I had four or five assists and the way I viewed football was different. I was playing high and wide, I was having loads of one-v-ones, I wasn’t having to worry about tracking my man at the back post.”

Graham is renowned for being a winger who provides good service from wide areas, as proved by his pinpoint cross for Maxime Colin’s winner at Preston North End in September 2022. That was one of five assists he recorded in a 54-game Blues career where he produced as many defensive clearances as crosses, if not more. He regrets not being able to show Blues fans the best version of himself.

“That’s the one thing that does frustrate me a little bit,” Graham added. “Blues is a massive club and it’s a massive fanbase and you get loads of stuff on social media, loads of messages, and loads of people notice you in the street around Birmingham. The fans were amazing with me but towards the back end of it I got a little bit of gyp and I always wanted to say, ‘I’m not even playing in my position’. It’s not, but it’s almost like taking a number 10 and asking them to play as a sitter. It’s completely different to what I had done my whole life.

“I was having to focus so much on defending and being at the back post. Birmingham were not a possession-based team for the two years so a lot of the games were transitional. I was defending a one-v-one more than I was attacking a one-v-one, which I had never known. That wasn’t my career. I definitely don’t think the Blues fans saw the best of me. I wanted to be given a role where I could have loads of one-v-ones and attacking duels going forward, beat full-backs and assist for fun.

“Towards the back end of it, under John, I wasn’t playing as many games as I wanted to play and then when I did play, obviously I wasn’t playing in my natural position, and I lacked a little bit of confidence so my delivery and end product wasn’t as good. It can have a bit of a snowball effect.

“I met some great people and the fans were amazing with me. I haven’t got a bad word to say about Birmingham. I absolutely loved my time there. It’s just a shame I didn’t get to play where I wanted to play and fully show the fans everything that I could do.”

Graham was one of five senior players released at the end of the 2022/23 campaign after Blues decided not to take up their option to extend his contract by a further 12 months. Coventry-born Graham, now 29, wanted to stay in the Midlands.

“It was a shame how it all came to an end,” he said. “Nothing was really too well communicated but it didn’t surprise me given the way the club was. The club wasn’t really too stable and there was a lot of noise around ownership and takeovers.

“It was a bit frustrating because I had been told the club wanted me to stay for another year and then it transpired to a bit of chaos in the end. But that’s football, it didn’t catch me off guard, I prepared for all outcomes. I would have loved to have stayed and it was a bit of a shame really because if I had stayed I probably would have got the chance to play in my actual position.”

Graham moved to the capital to sign for League One side Leyton Orient last summer and swiftly regained form and confidence. By the time Graham made his ninth league start against Burton Albion in October, he had already racked up four assists.

However, just 13 minutes into that game at the Pirelli Stadium, Graham suffered his worst nightmare. His knee buckled underneath him for the second time in his career.

“It was the patellar tendon that I snapped and I had a full reconstruction. It’s a bit of a nasty one, especially on top of the same knee that I did (ACL) when I was at Wolves. It’s a different injury but it’s a similar timeframe and rehab.

“I remember speaking to Krystian Bielik, who did two ACLs, and he was telling me about his rehab from his second ACL when he was at Derby and it was during COVID. He was in his garden having to do his sessions and stuff and I thought, you know what, I’m not sure I could cope with another nine to 12-month injury. I really hope that never happens to me. What a mental warrior Krystian is.

“I thought, hopefully the one I’ve had is it. And, unfortunately, my world came crashing down at Burton away and the next day I got hit with the news that it was going to be a year out. On the way back I was thinking about my conversation with Krystian.

“I don’t think anyone has done their ACL and the patellar tendon. The ones that have done their ACL have re-ruptured their ACL. There isn’t really anyone for me to look at or research. It’s been difficult, I’ve soul searched a lot and there have been some hard, dark days. But I think we’re nearly there.”

Graham is on course to return to training in pre-season and could face Blues in League One next season after the club’s relegation. His Leyton Orient side, who finished 11th last season, will hope to compete with Blues at the right end of the table.

A return to St Andrew’s will stir some emotions inside a player raised by Aston Villa, and formed by Wolves, who still uses the word ‘we’ when referring to Blues. It will be the fixture his eyes are drawn to on the day of their release.

What would he do if he scored at St Andrew’s in the colours of Orient? “I wouldn’t want to celebrate because the fans showed me so much love, but there was a couple towards the end that gave me gyp so I might have to point them out in the crowd! I would need to score first, it’s unlikely, so we’ll see.”

Listen to the full Keep Right On Podcast HERE or watch it on YouTube HERE