From self-doubt to alopecia, Swansea's midfielder has learnt tough lessons, but is now dreaming of a World Cup spot
Jonjo Shelvey is talking about vacuum cleaners. He bought a new one in Tesco last week but decided against making it public in the same way that he did last year, when he provoked an unexpected backlash on Twitter by saying that he was shopping in Comet to "get a hoover on the cheap as they're closing down". It seems that some people were not in favour of a well-paid footballer picking up a bargain.
"I was only in Comet, it was shutting down, I bought a little Henry hoover and it did the job," says Shelvey, trying to answer seriously but unable to stop himself from laughing. "I even bought a tumble dryer and washing machine. Because you earn X amount of pounds, you are meant to go and buy … what is a good hoover anyway? The tumble dryer and washing machine were Hotpoint, I don't know if that's any good but they clearly spoke well of them."
It is one of several amusing stories during an enjoyable hour in Shelvey's company at Swansea City's training ground earlier this week where the squad were preparing for Sunday's visit of Everton. Shelvey may not be everyone's cup of tea. At times it feels like he has a magnetic attraction to trouble on the pitch – he admits that he is "still learning how to control aggression" – but in an age when so many footballers are afraid to speak their mind, the former Liverpool midfielder is a breath of fresh air.
Open and honest, Shelvey talks about everything from wanting to punch a television cameraman during that remarkable 2-2 draw against Liverpool earlier in the season, when he scored, gave away two goals and then set up Swansea's equaliser, to revealing what it was like growing up with alopecia.
"[It] is something I was born with," Shelvey says. "I fell down the stairs when I was a baby and fractured my skull and I think that made it worse. I think I always stressed myself out as a kid, and alopecia can be caused by stress. I tried things [to cure it] when I was younger. I tried this ointment that you used to rub into your head and you had to sleep in a woolly hat for three months. I got to about the fourth day and it was just roasting. I took the hat off and thought: 'If you don't like it, don't talk to me.'
"When I was with Arsenal [as a nine-year-old] I used to go into training with a baseball cap on, because I was so scared of what people were thinking when I was growing up. I remember walking through Romford with my sister and I had my bald head and people would stare. My sister would get upset about it and ask people what they were looking at. Now, I've got to the stage that I don't even bother shaving it some days. This is just the way I am, I suppose."
Shelvey has been around for so long that it is easy to forget he is only 21. He made his debut for Charlton aged 16 years and 59 days.
"After that game I had a week of school left," he says. "I went to ask Alan Pardew [Charlton's manager at the time] if I was going to be on the pre-season tour, because I said I needed to let this girl know whether I could make our school prom. He said: 'Just tell that girl and the teachers that you will not be dancing at the school prom.'"
That was pretty much the story of Shelvey's upbringing, as he learned from the mistakes of George, his talented older brother, and made sacrifices to help his football career. "George used to be better than me but he went down the path of girls, nightclubs and drink," Shelvey says. "It would have been easy for me to take that route but I always had the desire to be dedicated. My mates would be out and I was sitting indoors watching DVDs of Steven Gerrard. I knew if I kept my head down that I had the ability to make something of my life.
"Where I grew up, in Harold Hill, it was rough and it still is now. I used to live in a little council flat, next to the shops, and there was always trouble, people getting stabbed. One Christmas I was in the pub with my dad and I looked across and there was a bullet hole in the television. I said: 'Can we go, dad?' My dad still lives in the same place, my mum and my sister live in Brentwood, further out. My sister was pregnant and I didn't want her baby growing up in the same area, so I bought her a house."
Shelvey, who makes that last remark matter-of-factly, has just bought a place of his own in south Wales, where he feels at home on and off the field. If a number of Swansea fans were sceptical when the club paid Liverpool £6m for him in the summer, the vast majority at the Liberty Stadium have been won over by what they have seen this season. For Shelvey, the turning point was the match that still gives him nightmares. "I think the Liverpool game was a big thing. I showed a bit of character and I think the fans respected that. If I'm not playing well, or I'm trying things and they're not coming off, the one thing I will always do is work hard. And I think, as a fan, that's the least you can ask for.
"I scored but I basically gave Liverpool two goals – you cringe when you look at the mistakes. At half-time I wanted to punch the cameraman because he had the camera right in my face. Fair enough, he was just doing his job but it was such a horrible feeling for me. I wanted to be left alone and for the ground to swallow me up. I was going to say to the manager [Michael Laudrup] at half-time: 'Just bring me off.' But I thought I can't do that, I need to show what I can do and I'm thankful the manager did keep me on."
Coming up against Liverpool, the club Shelvey joined from Charlton as an 18-year-old, was always going to be emotional, with or without the events of that night. When Shelvey looks back on his time at Anfield, he insists that he has no regrets yet there is a nagging sense of frustration that he started only 31 matches across three years. "I just never got that run of games, or run of consistency, to show what I could do. It's hard for a young kid to go in and come back out, your confidence goes a little bit and you start to feel: 'Am I not good enough?'
"But I don't think I would do anything differently. A big thing for me was Gerrard. I grew up watching him and I wanted to learn from him. I think there were times when I was playing well, I scored those two goals out in Switzerland [against Young Boys] in the Europa League and then on the Sunday I got sent off against Man United. To this day, I still don't think it was a sending off. The only regret I have is doing what I did to Sir Alex [Ferguson] that day, when I pointed and shouted at him – I was obviously emotional. But I've no regrets about joining Liverpool.
"It was a big decision to leave but I needed to do it for myself. I loved the city and the people but I wasn't enjoying my football. I wanted to play. People would say: 'You're only young, you're getting paid all that money, you should be happy sitting on the bench at Liverpool.' Well, I wasn't. I'd rather take the money away and play football. That's the way I am."
With 2014 on the horizon, Shelvey, who won a full England cap in October last year, says that his dream scenario is to be on the plane to Brazil for the World Cup finals, although he stresses that thought is a long way from his mind. For the moment, he is preoccupied with playing well for Swansea, preparing for the arrival of his first child in a couple of months' time and putting his new vacuum to good use. "I don't take after my dad," Shelvey says, smiling. "I muck in and do my fair bit at home."