Wisconsin to Watford: DeMerit's journey to the big time

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The Independent Football

The object of their support, Jay DeMerit, will also be in a Watford shirt as he tries to complete a dramatic personal rise by helping his side earn a Premiership place at Leeds United's expense.

Two years ago this 26-year-old from Green Bay, Wisconsin - where American football rules - was playing in the Ryman Premier League for Northwood when he made a favourable impression in a friendly against Watford. So well did he fare against the forward pair of Danny Webber and Bruce Dyer that Watford's then manager, Ray Lewington, invited him on trial. The rest, as DeMerit pointed out this week, is history.

DeMerit accepts that he will never make sporting headlines back in his home town - those are always always reserved, come summer or winter, for the Green Bay Packers. But his progress has been noted with increasing appreciation as he follows other Americans who have made a name for themselves in the English game such as Fulham's Brian McBride and Eddie Lewis, who will be in opposition for Leeds tomorrow.

DeMerit's mother, father and brother will be in Cardiff, and a group of friends will travel from Green Bay to watch the action at a sports bar in Milwaukee.

"There is a Watford supporters' branch out there now," he said with a grin. "They will be wearing all the club shirts I have been sending back to them. And there is another group of about 100 people who will be watching the match in a bar in Chicago, where I was at University."

DeMerit had a four-year "soccer" scholarship at the University of Illinois, where he completed a degree in industrial design. In between times, however, he was earning money through a variety of jobs. "I've done everything," he said. "I worked in bars, pubs. I was greenkeeper for the whole school district for two summers." The American showed a greenkeeper's dismay at the state of the Millennium Stadium turf when Watford went on a dry-run visit last week. "It's torn up," he said, adding that today's rugby match - the Heineken Cup final between Biarritz and Munster - was unlikely to help.

But whatever the surface tomorrow, DeMerit will be building his newest career - he stifled Crystal Palace's Andrew Johnson in the semi-final. "The only way to show what you have is to go up against the best and see if you can hold your own," he said.

DeMerit's rise says everything about his determination to better himself. "I worked hard on my education," he said. "In a small town to be a student is important. That's how you get on to better things in bigger cities."

He has shown a similar ambition in his playing career, aided by timely advice from Brett Hall, a coach at the Chicago Fire club for whom he played at University. "I needed that, because when you come from places that are unknown to other people you have to kind of work your way into places that aren't given to you." Through Hall, DeMerit made contact with a number of non-League clubs and made the big decision to try his luck over here as a player.

He arrived in 2003 with just $1800, around £900, to his name - the proceeds left from all his summer jobs. "I had it in my head I would give it a couple of years, but then when I started playing in some trials I said I was going to stay as long as it took because I knew I could make it."

Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury showed interest for the 2004-05 season, and two weeks before he was due for a trial at the latter, DeMerit joined a friend at Northwood for some pre-season training. Shrewsbury's loss was Watford's gain. And, perhaps, the Premiership's...