When Rangers boss Steven Gerrard chose not to take up the option to extend Jason Cummings’ stay at Ibrox, it stung for a few days.
“But the next week I saw that he had signed Jermain Defoe, and I couldn’t really complain,” laughs the striker. “Considering he’s one of the best goalscorers in the world, I had to take that one on the chin.”
Cummings is a character. But he is more than that. He is self-confident but also self-aware. His endearing gallus streak is strangled before it reaches arrogance thanks to a timely penchant for self-deprecation and while there is undeniable silliness at times, as the old saying goes, he is not as daft as he is stupid lookin’. Not quite.
There is also a laudable level of honesty that is too-often absent in a time of sanitised soundbites and magnolia-hued media training.
Since grabbing the limelight at Hibernian, he has been operating down south for the majority of the past three seasons, seeking new challenges and, truth be told, greater remuneration. But, such was his enjoyment of a six-month loan spell, while the 24-year-old says he has no regrets about quitting Hibs when he did, he admits he would have preferred to hang about Govan a bit longer.
“In Scotland, my time in Hibs, winning the Scottish Cup, that was magical. It hadn’t been won in a lifetime, even longer, so to win that was special. Then we got them promoted to the SPL which was good because I had been part of the team that relegated them as well so it was good to come full circle.
“But when I went to Rangers, even now, to this day, I can’t believe I played for them. They are that big a club. I am just proud that I played for them.
“I scored a hat-trick at Ibrox as well [against Falkirk, in the Scottish Cup] and I will always cherish that. I didn’t play as much as I wanted at Rangers but I prefer playing two up. Preferably with a big guy.
“At Hibs me and Grant Holt used to play together and that is probably when I was playing my best. He would do all the barging and flick-ons and I would play off the scraps! But a lot of the clubs I’ve been to, it’s been one up top.”
Finding a club where he can rediscover his best form has taken him from Leith to Nottingham Forest, from Ibrox to Peterborough, Luton and, now, Shrewsbury Town.
Having fallen off the radar slightly, it was via his performance for the Shrews against Liverpool in this season’s FA Cup that he returned to the fore.
Coming off the bench, after an hour, he notched two goals in ten minutes and almost made it a treble, as the lower league side forced a replay against the all-conquering Anfield side.
It wasn’t foremost in his thoughts at the time, but he is amused by the notion that it may have given Liverpool legend Gerrard momentary pause to question his decision to let him leave Glasgow.
“I’m not sure he will have been watching that one but, if he was, then maybe, just for that ten minutes, he might have regretted not keeping me! Mind you, that’s if he remembered who I was!
“I had met with him and I told him I wanted to stay but I think he wanted to freshen things up and bring in his own team.
“But I did love it at Rangers. The Old Firm games, although they didn’t always go our way, because at that time Rangers weren’t at their best, just to be part of those games, to be part of that atmosphere, was incredible and I loved it. It was hard when they didn’t want to keep me. I wanted to stay at Rangers and I tried my best to get back there. But everything happens for a reason.”
There is a depth to Cummings that is not always evident in his online horseplay, as he grapples with wrestlers, channels his inner Joker or entertains viewers and readers with his hilarious post-match interviews.
Back up in Edinburgh to see out the coronavirus lockdown at his mum’s, he admits he is worried by the current situation. Not because he is miffed that football has been interrupted just as he was enjoying a run in the starting line up – “I’m not even that bothered about football when the world is like it is just now and people are sick or dying” – but because, he says, it is hard to see an end to it.
“You watch the news at night and see what has been happening in Italy and Spain and hear that we haven’t even hit the worst of it here, it feels like the end of the world. But we have to try to stay positive. That’s why I do the challenges, to cheer people up. And because I’m bored. But it is mental. It feels like we are living through a zombie apocalypse. Especially when you see people in the shops fighting over toilet roll.”
But Cummings is a guy who has been fairly stoical when there have been tough times in his career. The chances are he will come through the Covid-19 crisis with humour intact.
“If you are just playing in the team week in, week out and everything is all sunshine and rainbows, then I don’t think you learn as much as you do when you’re at a club where you are sometimes bombed into the stand or stuck on the bench every week. I have been chucked into the reserves or the 21s and I think those things made me a stronger person. Those experiences have helped me as a player and as a person.”
Those trying times made the showing against Liverpool all the more special. Hailed by the fans and team-mates, English journalists and football fans were introduced to the entertainer within as he paraded around in an inflatable crown and had BBC pundits in stitches as he thanked Ian Wright for some praise by telling the former England striker he had voted for him every night on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.
He also corrected those who ignorantly assumed that a trip to Anfield would be the highlight of his career, citing his time in Glasgow, for starters.
“In any interviews I will always tell the truth and be myself. There are alot of players who become robots and they have been trying to coach me on how to do the media for years but I think that takes away my character and my real personality and I don’t want to be turned into a robot!
“But that one was funny. I feel a lot of English people, even the English players I’ve played with, do look down on Scottish football because they don’t know how good it is. Some of them are just deluded.
“For me, the Old Firm game is the biggest game in the UK. I think if you look at the numbers, the history, the interest and the passion. That’s the biggest difference, I think, between playing in England and in Scotland, the passion for football and for the clubs in Scotland in so much more.
“The fans in general, the singing, the noise, even the abuse, it is all much more passionate in Scotland. I love the energy and the fact fans get into it up here. In England, it is hard to explain. It just lacks a bit of something. It is that raw emotion. They don’t get caught up in it.
Look at the bigger games, like Manchester United or Spurs, clubs like that, everyone is just taking pictures. If you watch Rangers score a last-minute winner against Celtic, you would be lucky to see one phone in the middle of it, it’s just limbs and bodies everywhere as everyone enjoys the moment.
“But watch a Man U v Man City and the first thought for a lot of them when their team scores a goal is to get their phones out! They are watching it, they’re not part of it.”
That would never suit Cummings. He is a lot of things but, at the core, he is a guy who loves to be in the thick of it, preferably centre stage.
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