2015 Review: #3 Billy Ions

3 - Ions

We’ve reached the number three spot in our 2015 review and we finally have our first player who also featured in the 2014 review. Billy Ions moves up from sixth spot to third following yet another superb season in Finland with the Kemi Kings.

Champions

After a couple of seasons in Finland’s third tier, the Kakkonen, Ions and his Kemi Kings team-mates were plying their trade in the country’s second tier in 2015 following their promotion.

However, the Kings adjusted to the step-up sensationally, and with new manager Jari Åhman, took promotion in their stride, losing just six games all season as they cruised to the Ykkönen title, winning by four points.

Ions played a pivotal part in securing the back-to-back promotions. The former Newscastle United started ever single league game, often wearing the captain’s armband as he fired 17 goals in 27 games

Equally adapt at playing on the left-wing as well as up top, Ions made both positions his own. He contributed both goals and assists during a triumphant season.

The seventeen-goal tally was an improvement on the 13 he managed the previous season in a lower division, reflecting on the seamless nature in which Ions made the transition to the Ykkönen.

The second half of the season was were the 21-year-old really excelled. Reunited with his former strike partner, American forward Christian Eissele, the pair fired home 16 goals between them in the last 11 games of the season to earn Kemi Kings’ first ever promotion to the top tier of Finnish football.

The last two games were exceptionally special for Ions, as he hit his second Kemi hat-trick in the penultimate game of the season, before following that up with a brace on the final day.

The superb end to the year saw Ions finish tied with former Ipswich Town striker Pablo Couñago as the second top-scorer in the league, just two goals behind prolific Finnish striker Kalle Multanen.


 

Highlights of Ions’ 2015 season. Head to 1:00 for a very cheeky overhead kick and 1:30 for a spectacular solo goal.


 

Earlier career

To learn more about Billy’s career before the 2015 season, make sure you read my exclusive interview here and also his entry in the 2014 season review.

2015 has been yet another success story for Billy Ions. He has the first title of his career so far and was also awarded the Players’ Player of the Year award in the Ykkönen.

2016 will see if Ions can make yet another seamless transition following promotion. This time he will be taking on the country’s big names in the top tier, the Veikkausliiga. At just 21 though, Ions has the best years of his career ahead of him and with three full seasons of senior football behind him already, we have only just seen the start of the Billy Ions story.

English in Action: Weekend 8-10 May

A busy weekend for Englishmen abroad saw some important contributions from the expatriates.

On Friday night in Austria, striker Gary Noel bagged a brace for his side First Vienna, as they defeated Donaufield 3-1 in the country’s third tier. It was the English forward’s sixth goal in eleven appearances since he made the move to Vienna in March.

On Saturday, newly-promoted PS Kemi Kings hosted their first game of the season against Haka. Starting up front was Billy Ions, now in his third season at the Finnish club. The former Newcastle United youth player scored his club’s third in a 3-2 win to secure back-to-back wins in the country’s second tier.

In Japan, ex-England international Jay Bothroyd failed to extend his scoring streak to four games but his side Júbilo Iwata still managed to defeat Mito HollyHock 2-1. The former Cardiff City striker has five goals in eight games since the move to Asia and his side currently sit top of J. League 2 after 13 games.

Over in America, there were impressive performances from a couple of Englishmen. First, midfielder Luke Mulholland fired home his second goal of the season to guide Real Salt Lake to a 2-1 away win over Chicago Fire. Then in Florida, Luke Boden provided the assist for Aurelien Collin’s 90th minute equaliser as Orlando City secured a late point at home to New England Revolution. Former Middlesbrough defender Seb Hines also played the full ninety for Orlando.

Sunday was a prolific day for England’s ex-pats, with no fewer than eight exiles on the score-sheets for their respective clubs.

In Belgium, John Bostock scored OH Leuven’s only goal of the game as they drew 1-1 with AS Eupen in the Second Division playoffs. After finishing fifth in the league, Bostock’s side are in a four-way battle to play Belgian Pro League football next season, with three teams from the Second Division competing with one from the top tier.

Former Walsall defender Netan Sansara opened the scoring as his side Fredrikstad secured a much-needed 3-1 win over Ranheim. Fredrikstad, now in their third season in Norway’s second tier, had started the season poorly, failing to win any of their first six games of the season but a goal from club captain Sansara helped secure maximum points for the first time on Sunday.

In Sweden’s top tier, Hakeem Araba continued his fine form, making it four goals in four games as he scored the only goal of the game to secure victory for Falkenberg over Halmstad. The English striker has now scored in four games in a row, having previously failed to find the net in his first four games of the season. The video below shows highlights of the match.

In the country’s second tier, Östersunds FK managed by former West Brom defender Graham Potter, secured a 2-1 away win over AFC United helped by a goal from Jamie Hopcutt. James Sinclair was an unused sub for Potter’s side.

In the MLS, it was the usual suspects making the headlines. Dom Dwyer‘s third goal of the season picked up a point for Sporting Kansas City who drew 1-1 away to DC United. Elsewhere, a brace from Bradley Wright-Phillips was enough to secure victory for Red Bulls over City in the first ever New York derby. Lloyd Sam was also involved, assisting Wright-Phillips’ first of the night.

Finally, in the NASL, the country’s second tier, goals from Tomi Ameobi and Ritchie Jones were not enough to prevent a 4-2 loss for FC Edmonton away to New York Cosmos, who had Spanish legend Raul on the score-sheet. The English pair now both have three goals each this season.

Exclusive interview with with Kemi Kings’ Billy Ions

I can’t wait to get started and get the season running. Hopefully, I’ll be able to score the same amount of goals or more.

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At just 20-years-old, Billy Ions has experienced more than most footballers do in entire careers.

He has played football in three different countries, experienced the highs of promotion but also the despair of release. He has played football under a West Ham legend and adapted to new cultures remarkably quickly.

He might be only 20-years-old but Ions has a story to tell that is worth more than his years.

“My move to Finland was just all about luck to be honest.” Ions told English Players Abroad in an exclusive Q&A, “I was playing for the Nike Academy at the time and I was injured quite a lot the season I was there.”

After a career which had seen spells at English clubs Newcastle United and Leeds United not work out, the Ashington-born forward joined the Nike Academy where he played a friendly against Finnish side PS Kemi Kings.

“I got back fit from a long time out, due to a bad ankle injury, and played in a midweek game against PS Kemi and did really well – considering I had been [out] injured for quite a long time. I scored 2 goals against them.”

His impressive performance remained in Kemi Kings’ minds and a few months later, Ions got the call he had been waiting for. “Straight after the game there wasn’t really much said but a couple of months later my manager at the Nike Academy got a phone call from the PS Kemi chairman asking if they could sign me.

“With no doubt, as I was in search for a club, my mind was already made up and I flew straight over to Finland.”

Having secured a return to the professional game, the young striker was full of praise for the opportunity the Nike Academy, a project which aims to get unsigned under 20 players back in the game, had given him, “Being at the Nike Academy helped me out so much. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

With a move to Finland now complete, Ions had to settle into yet another environment but he adjusted to the new culture with ease, “Finnish culture is a little different to what I’m used to but after a little while, I settled in quite well.

“There’s some good lads in team that’s made living away a lot easier. Settling in wasn’t really a big issue to me as I’ve moved to a lot of different places due to my football career.”

A familiar face to English football fans also helped the forward settle in at his new club. Former West Ham United defender Tommy Taylor had just been appointed manager of Kemi. The 63-year-old had won the FA Cup during his time with the Hammers and his playing career included spells in America and Belgium.

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“It’s been great working with Tommy, he’s a very good manager. Everyone respects him due to his experience in football as he’s been at the top.

“He’s given me a lot confidence in myself over the last two years and its helped my game massively. Not only that, he’s given the team a great togetherness and I think that’s why we did so well in the 2014 season.”

And Kemi really did do well last year. After narrowly missing out on promotion in his first season with the Finnish side, Ions’ goals last season helped the Kings to promotion back to the the second tier for the first time since 2011.

This means the English forward will be competing in a higher division this year and he is relishing the challenge, “I’m really looking forward to it! We had a great season in 2014 but if we want to do well next season, we will have to step up our game as there are some good teams in the Second Division.

“I can’t wait to get started and get the season running. Hopefully, I’ll be able to score the same amount of goals [as previous seasons] or more.”

Although looking forward to testing himself at a higher level, the striker admitted that promotion would bring its challenges, “As I said before, I will have to step up my game and work even harder if I’m looking to achieve the targets I’ve set out for myself.”

One of those challenges though will not be the squad harmony, as Ions pointed out, “We have a lot of lads from different countries in the team, but weirdly it works really well.”

“We have a great chemistry between us, I think that’s why we did so well in the 2014 season. All the lads are brilliant, everyone just wants to play their football and do the best they can on the pitch.”

It would seem the move to Finland has gone from strength to strength for Ions and previous experiences has definitely contributed to his success.

When he was younger, he emigrated, alongside his family, to the Canary Islands in Spain. There he featured for second-tier side CD Tenerife and has said that his time in Spain has been invaluable to his career so far, “I think it [playing in Spain] helped massively. I couldn’t have asked for a better upbringing for my football.”

“Playing over there was brilliant, The way of football in Spain is amazing. The way Spanish people treat their football is of a much higher standard then anywhere I’ve played before, and that’s why they have some great players.

“I have some great memories playing football in Tenerife that I will never forget, and hopefully, I’ll get to play there again some day.”

With his career to date discussed, English Players Abroad took the chance to find out who Ions rates as the best players he has ever played with or against.

“Before I came to Finland I asked myself this question and there wasn’t really anyone who stood out for me, but after last season with Kemi, I have to say the best player I’ve played with is the skipper of the team (former Finnish international) Tuomo Kononen.

“Its great to play with him. He makes everything so easy on the pitch – as I played left wing most of last season and he played left back.

“He’s nearly at the end of his career now and he still is different class. Hopefully, I can follow in his footsteps and have good career in the game like him.”

Ions also recalls another memory from his time with the Nike Academy as he sets out the best player he has ever played against.

“I’ve played against some good players but the best player I’ve played against is (19-year-old Barcelona winger) Adama Traore. We traveled to Spain with the Nike Academy and played Barcelonas’s U21 team.

“I’ve never seen someone so good before like him.”

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At just 20-years-old, Billy Ions has the best years of his career ahead of him – but you’d be forgiven for thinking he was entering is twilight years. He has encountered many challenges in his short career so far, and has smashed through them all with flying colours.

Now, as he looks forward to a 2015 season in Finland’s second tier, the young forward talks about his future ambitions.

“Hopefully, I’ll play at the highest standard possible. It would be great to get into a team in a top league somewhere, playing my football every week.

“I would [also] love to play back in Spain as I have a lot of great childhood memories there. The culture and the style of football there suits me quite a lot.

“I would like to think someday I will be playing back there.”

Billy Ions has a bright future ahead of him. He may have taken an unusual path to professional football but that has made him strong. Do not be surprised to see a lot more of this English forward on our TV screens in the not too distant future.

Read my 2014 review of Ions’ season here. Follow Billy on Twitter here.

Photos provided by the player himself. 

2014 Review: #6 Billy Ions

2014 REVIEW - Ions

2014 saw Billy Ions guide PS Kemi Kings to promotion from Finland’s third tier into the country’s second tier.

In his second season in Finland, Ions missed just one league game all year as he finished with an impressive thirteen goals.

Born in Ashington, Northumberland, he emigrated with his family to Spain as youngster and subsequently joined local side Tenerife.

However, he returned to England in 2010 when he joined boyhood club Newcastle United. After a couple of years back in his native north-east, the forward moved to Leeds United.

After struggling to make the breakthrough into first team football back at home, Ions decided to try and establish a career abroad.

In 2013, he made the move to Finland to join PS Kemi Kings, a side in their second season in the country’s third tier, having been previously relegated after four years in the second tier.

Another Englishman had also just made the move to Kemi. Former West Ham United defender Tommy Taylor had just been appointed manager of the Finnish side.

Ions settled in instantly as Kemi Kings won their league but fell at the final hurdle in the promotion play-offs. The then 19-year-old finished with nine goals in his first season of senior football.

Last year, saw Ions build on his first season in Finland and take a pivotal role in Kemi Kings’ line-up, as he led the line following the departure of the side’s top scorer from the previous season.

Playing ninety minutes in virtually every match, the former Newcastle trainee repaid his manager’s faith with goals – and plenty of them.

A regular goal scorer throughout the season, his best performance came in September last year. With Kemi at home to relegation battlers JBK. Ions fired his first career hat-trick to ensure his side avoided any embarrassment against a lower ranked side, as they cruised to a 6-0 win.

Ions and his striker partner, former Crawley player, Jonte Smith, fired 35 goals between them as they managed to win the league for a second consecutive season.

The league success was only half the job though, as Kemi needed to make it count in the promotion play-offs.

A comfortable 4-0 aggregate win over two legs against VIFK, in which Ions played both matches, meant Kemi Kings did exactly that, securing promotion back to the country’s second tier, the Ykkönen.

2014 has been a successful year for Billy Ions. His goals helped his side earn promotion and his partnership with Jonte Smith was the most prolific in the league.

Now set to play in Finland’s second tier, the 20-year-old will get to test himself at an even higher level, and that is testament to the dedication he has shown throughout his career. Despite several setbacks in England, Ions continued to pursue his dream and proved that a move abroad can sometimes be hugely beneficial.

You can see Billy in action here.