HE’S one of Ipswich Town’s bright young hopes and Tristan Nydam is determined to take his chances.
MIKE BACON went to speak to him.
The sun is shining brightly as I sit down to talk to Tristan Nydam.
The 18-year-old, born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and now one of Ipswich Town’s young hopes, greets me with a smile and a firm hand shake.
Good first impressions . . . And we’ve only said “hello”.
Pleasantly chatty and open to discussion, Tristan has already come a long way in his short spell on this planet.
From Zimbabwe to Portman Road, with family spread far and wide, he’s taken his footballing chance and now is being rewarded.
A young man who admits he “likes a tackle” and knows Town fans would love nothing more than to see the likes of himself, Flynn Downes and Andre Dozzell bossing the Blues midfield in the years ahead, he’s level-headed — there is still a great deal to learn.
“Ipswich is a small town. Fans love to see young players come through — they see you as one of their own. I like that,” he says, after I mention to him that “young gun” midfield trio.
“The fans help us a lot. I read the articles and I see how much they love young players coming through.
“It’s such a good feeling at the club as well. “The first-team players make everyone feel part of the club. The Under-18s, Under-23s and first team, we are all in one building. It’s a very tight bunch.
“There is lots of banter as you can imagine and the likes of “Chambo”, “Skusey”, “Waggy” and Jordan Spence are all just fantastic with the younger players. There is no gap between the ages, the seniors bring everyone together.”
Young players coming through the Ipswich Town ranks has been part and parcel of much of what has been good about the Blues over the decades. Town have never been a club to splash £50m on a player.
As I sit and look at a young Tristan Nydam, who has already represented England at Under-18 and Under-19 levels, as well as making his Blues debut this season, my mind goes back to an interview I did with an 18-year-old Town youngster almost 20 years ago.
He was a product of the Ipswich academy, a midfielder, had already played at England Under-20 and Under-21 levels, was big on praise for Bryan Klug who helped him so much.
He also wanted to achieve much in the professional game, not just for himself, but for his family — especially his mum.
So, although “liking a tackle” was rarely uttered from Kieron Dyer’s mouth, there are some similarities between the England star who got 33 caps for his country — and young Tristan — about to launch his career.
“Kieron has been a big help to me at Ipswich,” Tristan said.
“I first met him when I was about 13 or 14 years old. We talked a lot and I know what he has gone on and done and why his mum is so important to him.
“Hopefully I can do the same for my mum, as he has done for his.
“I like to think I’m doing quite a bit right now for her with how my football is going.
“She did — and still does — so much for me. I want to do her proud. I want to make all my family proud, dad, brothers, sisters.”
Indeed family are important to Tristan.
While much of his family, including his mother Mellissa, live in England, he has family in Zimbabwe, including father Julio. He has a sister in Australia.
Spread far and wide they may be, but Tristan enjoys a close-knit family — all keen on following his progress.
Tristan has come a long way since his early days in Zimbabwe.
He admits it was a very “laid back” lifestyle in the landlocked country in southern Africa known for its dramatic landscape and diverse wildlife.
“It was okay, but Zimbabwe wasn’t the greatest place to be at the time,” he said.
“It was nice enough, but the economy was going downhill. It wasn’t a place for football, that’s for sure. There is so much more here in England work-wise.
“I was only about 10 and I didn’t know I was moving to England. I got told in school one day. My sister and mum were already in England — I moved a week after being told. It was all very sudden.”
He went to St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School and St Benedict’s Catholic College, both in Colchester.
Spotted playing as a nine-year-old he was drafted into the Town academy and has been at Portman Road ever since.
“That’s why I talk about my mum so much in all the help she gave me, especially back then,” Tristan said.
“It was training Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, playing Sundays. So much travelling for my mum to have to do.
“But academy life was good.
“Bryan Klug has been big for me in the last four or five years. I’ve known Gerard Nash more than Chris Hogg but they have both been a huge help. Liam Manning, who is not here now, and of course Kieron (Dyer).”
At the start it was training and education for a young Tristan, as it is for all academy graduates . . . “I probably could have tried harder to be fair but I was okay. And I passed all my GCSEs, so I didn’t do too bad,” he smiles.
Already capped by England at Under-18 and Under-19 level, he has enjoyed a whirlwind 18 months. Already on standby for England Under-18s, two days before a tournament in Qatar, Bryan Klug gave him a call.
“It was two days before England were going out there and Bryan called and asked me if I had ever been to Qatar?” he said. “He told me England had called me up.
“It was unbelievable. Andre (Dozzell) was already in the team, he knew everyone so it was easy to integrate. I started against Qatar but got injured, so never played the other two games against Saudia Arabia and Qatar a second time. But the whole experience was just great, going to another country and playing for England.”
Since then, Tristan has made the step up to Under-19s. He is still eligible to play for Zimbabwe, but it’s England he understandably favours — “Playing for England is every boy’s dream”, he admits.
“My Under-19 debut was at St George’s Park against Poland,” he continues.
“We won 7-1, they weren’t great, but again what an experience. I spent 10 days at St George’s Park, what a place! We were involved in a lot of meetings, talking tactics and talking about training.”
At the start of last season Tristan made his Ipswich Town debut at Luton Town in the Carabao Cup.
A few days later it was his Football League debut at Barnsley.
“That was an unbelievable time,” he admits.
“Me and Flynn (Downes) made our full debuts that day. The gaffer told us the team for Barnsley the day before. I was starting. I slept alright to be fair. I was just buzzing to get going. I felt I did ok against Luton on the Tuesday, but to start at Barnsley was great.”
Nydam played just a half at Oakwell, but it taught him much.
“The gap between Academy and Championship football is huge,” he says.
“Even the gap between playing at Luton on the Tuesday and then Barnsley on the Saturday was a big jump.
“Tactically, mentally, the intensity, physically. Players are smarter. It is a lot to get used to.”
So, Nydam and Downes have now joined Dozzell as three of the “new kids on the Portman Road block”, even though Downes spent much of last season out on loan at Luton.
It’s a potentially exciting midfield trio going forward.
Does Nydam understand why the fans are so excited by the prospect?
“Of course I do,” he said.
“And I suppose it is a little bit of pressure. You want to progress and show what you can do. There is a bit of expectation on you because you have been playing first team.
“People want to see you become better. As I said, it’s a bit of pressure, but we all help each other.”
Tristan describes himself as a “box-to-box player, who likes a tackle”. A bit tenacious. He knows which player he looks up to and aspires to be.
“Steven Gerrard,” he says.
“He was a leader, a captain at Liverpool and England. I look up to him.”
The young midfielder describes last season as, “one of my best, one of my proudest”.
“But there is still a lot more to come. Playing wise I could do more, but that will come with confidence and getting used to playing in the Championship.”
He’s already faced challenges in his young life and come through with flying colours. Playing barefoot in the streets of Zimbabwe and having far less then, than he has now, has made him a determined and grateful young man.
“I will just keep focussed, keep my head down and see what the season brings,” he admits. So, in 20 years time, how will he want to look back on his career?
“As someone who won trophies and played at the highest level I can,” he said.
“I would love to win as many caps as possible and to be known as a good professional and a good person.”
And that’s the interview over.
He spends the next 30 minutes with Kings of Anglia photographer Gregg Brown. Nothing is too much trouble, smiles abound. Tristan Nydam is a very mature, bright and articulate young man.
He’s a fine footballer too.
He has a bright future ahead.
THIS is part of an interview with Tristan in KINGS OF ANGLIA. The magazine for Ipswich Town fans and fans of football in general. The new edition is out in August.