Jamal Lowe knows a thing or two about Wembley Stadium. Not only did he grow up in its shadows witnessing the home of football being built, but years later, after overcoming the odds to become a professional footballer, he scored one of the most memorable goals of his career there in front of 85,000 fans.
Having signed for Portsmouth at 23 years of age following a string off successes with non-league sides, Lowe’s footballing tale is like no other, and whilst it’s not been an easy journey to the Sky Bet Championship, it’s certainly one he can be proud of.
Following his release from then League Two side Barnet as a youngster - where he could see Wembley being built from the training ground - Lowe represented a number of non-league sides in a bid to keep his football career alive. Hitchin Town, St Albans City, Farnborough, Hemel Hampstead and Hampton & Richmond all had the young forward on their books at one time, but there was soon a need to supplement the income from playing part-time football.
When he was handed an opportunity to teach, he took it. As a PE teacher, football was part of his life only twice a week, a return to the professional game seemingly out of reach, but his hunger and desire for success never went away.
On Saturday, he returns to the National Stadium with Swansea City and is just one game away from the Premier League.
“It’s crazy, I grew up so close to the stadium,” Lowe said, ahead of this weekend’s Play-Off Final. “I could see it every single day. Before it was built there was actually a market there called Wembley Market that I used to go to a lot.
“It’s an honour to say that I’ve played here before, and it’ll be an honour to play there again on Saturday. It’s a big stadium for big occasions.”
Having been a PE teacher as little as four seasons ago, Lowe’s journey to the Championship has been a special one. His appetite for professional football never went away though, and so came the life-changing moment that Lowe dedicated himself to pursuing a lifelong ambition.
“When I was playing part time as well as doing my PE teaching, the aim was to get into one of the top conference clubs or a League Two club at the very highest, but Portsmouth took a chance on me and I’m so grateful to them for that.”
He went on to make more than 100 appearances for Pompey, clinching the League Two title and an EFL Trophy during his time on the south coast, and after a brief spell with Wigan Athletic last season, Lowe moved to the Liberty Stadium, where it would be fair to say he is enjoying his football more than ever.
“It’s been one hell of a journey,” he said, laughing.
“It’s something that I try not to look back on too much at the minute because I’m still wanting to look forward. But every now and then a memory will come up on my phone reminding me that I was teaching PE in a school not too long ago. I do have some pinch yourself moments and I’m so proud to be where I am now.
“I always kept believing. There were times when it was tough mentally, physically and emotionally but I always had the faith that it would work out for me to some extent and I always had faith that I would get back into the league.”
Now Premier League football is the dream, and it’s within touching distance for Swansea, who face Brentford in Saturday’s Final.
“Playing at Wembley is every kids dream, but playing in the Premier League is the ultimate dream. Playing at Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United; that is the dream.”
With 14 goals to his name this season, Lowe would love to add one more at Wembley this weekend, as the Swans will be backed by a small selection of fans. And the forward insists that promotion would mean everything.
“I’ve scored at Wembley before and that always brings back good memories for me, I hope I can replicate some of the scenes from that day on Saturday. I’d take a tap-in this weekend though - I’d take anything
“We’ve got 5,000 fans there on the day and I’m really pleased we’ve got them, we’re all really looking forward to having the fans back. It may only be 5,000 but they’ll make noise and the atmosphere will be absolutely electric.
“As a kid you want to play in the big games and score the important goals, that’s what football is all about. That’s why we do it. We’re ready for everything Saturday will bring.”