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.
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.
“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.”
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.