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Top Holidays

Travel commentary with former footballer Joe Cole

  • News
  • By Lauren Godfrey
  • Published 08 January 2024
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A product of the West Ham United Youth Academy and touted as a child prodigy in English football, Joe Cole made his debut for the club’s first team at aged 17. After a successful 20-year career playing at multiple premier league clubs, most notably West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa, Cole then relocated to Florida to play in the United Soccer League for Tampa Bay Rowdies. After retiring in 2018, he swapped his boots for a mic and now travels the world commenting on the beautiful game. In his spare time, he enjoys travelling with his family – booking all his holidays through Winged Boots' sports travel agency specialists – and we caught up with him to discuss his favourite hotels, the best restaurant in the USA and where is on his bucket list.

What are your career highlights?

Making my debut at West Ham was a massive moment for me. And then probably winning the Premier League for the first time with Chelsea. That's a huge day for anyone, particularly someone of my era, because the Premier League was the main trophy. They’re my two stand out moments but I was lucky enough to win lots of trophies in my career, however the first of anything is always the most special.

I'm sure you get asked this all the time, but did you always want to be a footballer?

Once I got bitten by the bug of being a footballer as a kid, everything I did was trying to make it to that point. But without actually realising it. Football was always a place of fun and enjoyment and it was just a purity. I wanted to be a footballer and football just happened to be the thing that I enjoyed doing most.

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You were a product of the West Ham youth system. Can you pinpoint a moment where you suddenly thought, ‘I can do this. I can turn pro’?

I think belief is important for anybody who's trying to achieve something. And to be honest, there was never a point where I thought I couldn’t make it. I don't know whether that was just ignorance, but I genuinely thought this is going to happen. I believed it and that was my journey.

Joe Cole playing for Liverpool

I think that’s also the innocence of youth, isn’t it?

Yeah. I've known young kids that were riddled with doubt, particularly ones that are being pushed into football by their parents. But the beautiful thing about me was that my dad wasn't a football person and so there were never any expectations at home. It was just love and support to chase my dreams and that was it. I never had anyone pushing me: It all came from within.
 

And are there any moments on the pitch that you still relive?

That’s the curse. Listen, nothing can be as good as being a footballer without having some downsides. It can be such a high when you've scored a goal - a last minute winner - or lifting a trophy... You can relive the good moments, and sometimes you do, but often it's the ones that got away that can wake you up at the night. But that's just a small price to pay and I have great memories of scoring in the World Cup for England, winning the FA Cup and Premier League title.

Let’s talk about England. How did you feel playing for your country for the first time?

Playing for your country is always a great honour, but it meant more to me because I wanted to be a footballer after watching the 1990 World Cup with Paul Gascoigne. When I pulled on the shirt for the first time, it was just surreal. You're standing there, you're singing the national anthem, but you've got a job to do. It’s the moments before and after the games where you can take it all in. 

I know you've got children, so I don't think you have much of this. But what do you like to do in your spare time when you're not at football?

I love playing paddle tennis at the moment. That's something that's real fun for me. I play a little bit of golf when I can, but I live in central London now, so I go out on my bike a lot. My wife calls it playing out. 

And what about travel? Where would you describe as the best place you visited?

I love travelling. I've been around the world with football, but you don't get to see much. I’m making up for that now thought when I'm punditing around the world. For instance, I went down to comment on an England game recently and I visited Naples – that was like stepping back in time.

I recently went to Montenegro as well, which was lovely. I’m fortunate enough to have visited some beautiful places right off the beaten track. Doha for the World Cup was an extraordinary place: it reminded me of Dubai 20 years ago.

But when travelling with my family, where I've got three young kids, the main thing is that they're occupied. For winter sun I do like Dubai and also the Maldives. I also love Puglia. But, I must admit, holidays are mainly for the kids now they're young. It has to be somewhere where the kids are occupied. 
 

Do you stay at the same resort when you go to these destinations or do you like to try somewhere new?

I'm a creature of habit but my wife is the one that will find new places or new hotels and I trust her judgement. She's good at digging out the next big thing.

She wants to do South America soon. She wants to do a tour but it's finding the right places for the children, where we can get the right balance of beach, activities for the kids as well as things to look at and having a bit of tourism as well.
 

St. Petersburg, Florida

You lived in Florida at the end of your career. Do you have a restaurant or any special place that you recommend people visit?

Yeah I do. There's a place in Tampa called Bern's Steak House, and I think it's one of the best steak houses ever. It's got one of the largest private wine collections in America, and it's been passed down through family generations for years.

There's also beautiful little place called St. Petersburg, which has got a beautiful beach, but also there's a lovely port, which is where I used to live. I used to live in an apartment block overlooking all the yachts and the sea. And then the track, where I used to train, was at one end of the strip, and our apartment block was at the other and then in the middle there were bars and restaurants with live music.

On a weekend pop up markets appear and there's a big pier. It's just a beautiful place and not many people know about it.
 

Oh lovely. I guess it’s overshadowed by Miami and Orlando.

Yeah, many people just think if they’re visiting Florida they’ll go Miami for a bit of glamour and maybe the nightlife. Then Orlando's obviously amazing for the kids. But just one hour away from Orlando is St Petersburg, and some of the best beaches you'll find. If you like fishing as well it's great. St Pete’s is well worth going. Go and see the beaches and eat at Burns Steakhouse in Tampa: you won't go wrong!

Christmas in Lille

And you also lived in France during your football career.

Yeah I lived in Lille. It’s a beautiful city for a short break, especially if you like Christmas markets. It’s reachable by train from St. Pancras, and they really do pull out the stops at Christmas. It’s on the borders of Belgium so a lot of the culture seeps into the city. You can enjoy beautiful chocolate and Belgian beer. Christmas in Lille is lovely.

When you travel, do you have any hand luggage essentials that you can't live without?

I'm a light traveller. I like reading, so one of my favourite things when I get to the airport is to find a good book. That is an essential for me. But I've got three kids under the age of 13, and for the last 10 years there has been less reading and more spending time with them, which is lovely… but it's always nice when I get a little hour or something by myself to just relax.

And what about on a flight, how do you stay occupied?

If the kids are quiet, I like to listen to a podcast, I don't like reading on a plane actually, I think it's the position you're in. Instead, I listen to podcasts. I like anything really, but I do listen to Joe Rogan - he gets some good guests. And also a few little boxing podcasts. Believe it or not, I don't really listen to football podcasts.
 

And where's your next holiday to?

I'm going to Lapland with the kids. We did it for the two eldest about four or five years ago, and they loved it. So I can’t not do it for the little fella. Lapland is one of them places, isn't it? If you can, you've got to do it once, because it is stunning. I'm doing it for his little face because he's at the age where he's just starting to think, 'hold on a minute, this is a bit fishy.’ So I guess I’m just trying to keep that magic alive, certainly for this Christmas.

Number one on Joe's bucket list: The pyramids in Egypt

Number one on Joe's bucket list: The pyramids in Egypt

And is there anywhere on your bucket list?

Loads of places. When the kids have grown up I'd love to get a campervan with Carly and travel around the world. I’d start off in Europe, and I'd also love to go across South America.

But where I really want to visit is Egypt. I’d love to see the pyramids – I’m a bit of a geek with things like that.
 

Do you have a favourite city, or do you prefer beaches?

In the last four years I've probably seen more of Europe with my punditry than I did when playing. Like the places I used to play football all the time such as Milan, Rome, Barcelona - I've actually gone and had a look around rather than just playing football.

I interviewed my old manager, José Mourinho, in Rome eight months back and I spent the night. I visited the Vatican and it blew me away.  I thought ‘I've played in this city three or four times in my career and I didn't know anything about its landmarks’ I was blown away by it all.
 

The Four Season's Resort in Dubai

Do you have a favourite hotel?

One hotel I like a lot is the Four Seasons in Dubai. It's got everything I need. There’s a private beach. It's got lovely restaurants and the food's good. Plus, the staff are really nice. 

There's a small family-run place called Carbis Bay Hotel in Cornwall. We went down there a few years ago and the villas on the beach are just stunning. 
 

Finally, why do you book your holidays with Winged Boots?

We book our travel with Winged Boots because everyone is really kind. They are always available on the phone and put up with us changing our mind 500 times. Speaking to Winged Boots is like ringing your mate up and trying to book a holiday. The team always get the right thing. Our holidays are really tailored, which is just what we need, and always organised with a smile. 

Winged Boots team of football travel agents are familiar in booking holidays for footballers, pundits and other sports stars to every corner of the globe. We also book ex West Ham United Captain's travel and you can hear all about it in our exclusive Mark Noble interview.

Other stars who use our sports travel management services include footballer Teddy Sheringham who also sat down with us to talk all things sport and travel including where's on his bucket list. Read his exclusive interview here.

To discover more on our travel agents football packages or how we can assist your future travel plans, whether that's for sport or your next family getaway, call the team on 0203 816 0985 today.

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