How did your move to Cardiff come about?
I was at Plymouth at the time, they have just got relegated and gone in to administration. I came back to pre-season training and was only there for one day before I heard that they had agreed a fee with Cardiff. It happened very quickly and of course I was very excited.
How did Malky (Mackay) sell the club to you? Did he tell you that you would be back up, or that you would play if you deserved it?
When I arrived, he said he wanted a young striker to develop. At the time, they had Kenny Miller and Robert Earnshaw. They were big name players and I was going to have to work very hard to get in, but to be fair, Malky said whoever was in the best form would play.
You had a brilliant first season and played more than anyone was expecting. Was it more than you were expecting?
Definitely. When I first arrived, I thought I might have a bit-part role, but I got myself in the team pretty early and stayed there. I probably did surprise me how much I played.
What are your recollections of that first season, the progress you made and how it all panned out?
It was brilliant. It took me a while to get my first goal, but I got a few straight after. I had a lot of good players around me to help and it was the right move at the right time for me.
The highlight of that season was the Carling Cup final against Liverpool. What are you memories of that games? How did Malky prepare you for such a huge challenge?
To be fair, Malky was spot on for that game. In the build-up, we were massive underdogs so we could sort of enjoy it, but Malky wanted to go there and win. Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll were playing up front and the way we set out to play against them in terms of the shape, they didn’t do a lot at all. We were confident and I think that showed on the day.
How far in advance did you know you would be playing?
It was between me and Craig Conway to play on the right. We didn’t know until the actual day and when I found out, I was so excited to play.
You opened the scoring with a characteristically composed finish. Talk me through the goal.
I remember Kev (McNaughton) getting the ball and trying to cross it, but it went straight back to him. He passed the ball inside to Kenny who had dropped off and made a nice run. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting to get so much space in the box, I made a run to the right of Kenny and he’s slipped it through perfectly. I didn’t have any time to think about it to be honest. People always ask if I meant to put it through Pepe Reina’s legs, but I was just thinking I might not get another chance like this so I was just trying to hit the target and happily it went through. That feeling when it went in was just unbelievable.
The team played so well before losing on penalties. You were withdrawn late in the game, were you down to take a penalty?
I was 100% confident about taking a penalty. The manager brought me off because I was getting a bit tired and I think he wanted to shore it up a bit, so Filip Kiss came on and did well.
What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room afterwards? Cardiff scored so late in extra time to force penalties, then they were winning on penalties. Was there pride at having exceeded expectations, or were everyone just heartbroken?
Everyone was devastated. As underdogs, no one gave us a chance so there was disappointment, but the manager needed to get us back up because we had an important campaign to carry on with. I was gutted. The fans were incredible that day, I’ve never seen anything like it, just a sea of blue. We managed to pick ourselves up though and made the play-offs.
When you look back on that game now, are you proud that you played so well against such a good team, or do you think about how it might have panned out differently?
At first, you think ‘what could have been?’ There’s always that feeling at the back of my mind that we could have won the Carling Cup final that year. We did so well to get there, but we were so close. I’ve got my boots, shirt and runners up medal from the game all framed back in Plymouth.
Cardiff eventually lost in the play-offs and were rebranded soon after. It was a massive deal for supporters, but what was it like for the players? Do you feel strongly either way, or just get on with it?
I know it was a tough time for the fans and it was always an issue. When you talked to fans, they would have issues with things that were happening off the pitch and sometimes that creeps through. Before it leaked out, there were rumours that there would be a change in the badge and when I posed for the new kit with Aron Gunnarsson, there was no badge on the shirt, it was added later. We never actually got told that the blue and the red kits were swapping though.
Cardiff obviously spent a lot of money that summer. What was the difference between that season and the previous season? Was it just that you had better quality players?
I think a lot of the players that came in had been promoted before, so there was a lot of experienced players and I think we might have been lacking that the year before. The manager identified that and brought those kind of players in. We didn’t play great football, in terms of being pleasing on the eye, but we were horrible to play against, a bit like the side that has been promoted this year.
How did it feel when new players arrived in your position and you played less in your second year? Is it disappointing or does it spur you on?
It was a little bit frustrating. Malky said that the more experienced players he was bringing in would help me and for me to return for pre-season and work hard. I was pretty happy with my first season and was looking to kick on in my second year and felt I deserved to start the season as first choice, but I started the season behind the new boys.
You didn’t get the chance to play for Cardiff in the Premier League and pretty much spent the next two years away from the club or out of the side. How did you find that period and did you push for the loan moves or were the club the driving force in that respect?
I was gutted not to play for Cardiff in the Premier League, that was my dream and when they got promoted, I felt like I had done enough to merit a chance. I wasn’t playing at all. I was travelling with the squad to games, but not making the bench. Malky didn’t want me to go out on loan and the club had knocked back a few offers. He said I would get my chance, but eventually he left it up to me if I wanted to get a loan move. Bolton made me an offer and Kev McNaughton was already there and helped me settle. In the end, I had to be a bit selfish.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Malky, everyone assumed you would be his sort of player because you share certain stylistic qualities, but you never played for him, despite him talking you up in public. I remember there being an open training session and you were working away from the main group, then left on loan again soon after. How did you find working with him?
During the Premier League season, I came back from the loan spell at Bolton having enjoyed my time there and scored a few goals, but couldn’t play for Cardiff because of my loan arrangement. So I came back to train and I remember him saying that I was a big part of his plans for the next season. When I returned for pre-season, he gave me a new four-year deal, but then he kept signing more strikers like Kiko Macheda, Adam Le Fondre and Javi Guerra. I’m starting to think that this is going to be tough again, then the club started to ask if I wanted to go back on loan and I was quite surprised. I was just happy to be back at Cardiff again, but you’ve just got to take it on the chin and find somewhere to play again.
You returned when Russell Slade took over. What was it like playing him and for Cardiff after so long away?
It was good to be back. I remember getting injured at Bolton and hearing that Russell wanted me back to do my rehab and for me to return to the club in January. That was really nice to hear because I enjoyed my time at Bolton, but I was desperate to come back. I enjoyed my time with Russell and think he got a bit of a rough ride at a tough time. I really appreciated the opportunity to play for Cardiff again.
There was such a high turnover of players at the time, did the club feel different when you returned?
It was quite weird because I was a Cardiff player, but I felt like the new boy in the changing room, there were that many new players! There were only a few players there from before. Russell played me in my favourite position, which is as a number 10, giving me more of a free role and he had confidence in me. It was good and I appreciate what he did for me.
The following year, the club had a mid-season striker fire sale and Russell was very frustrated when you left. How was the transfer presented to you and were you keen to stay or move on by then?
It was coming up to the end of the transfer window and I had heard nothing. I was told that the club had accepted an offer from Wolves and asked if I wanted to go and talk to them, but I was adamant that I wanted to stay at Cardiff. Ken Choo explained that the club were having financial difficulties and that if I went, I would be doing the club a massive favour. It was an awkward situation. To be fair, when I went up there, I really liked what Kenny Jackett had to say. He had tried to sign me a few times before and Wolves is a massive club, although they were struggling a bit at the time.
Obviously, Wolves have kicked on since then. Like Cardiff, they have invested heavily and stormed to the title last year. I guess its history repeating for you a little bit. You’re now back on loan, so what has it been like watching Wolves’ success from a distance?
I had three managers there who all played me, but Nuno arrived in the summer and for whatever reason, I’m not really his type of player, which is fair enough. He told me I wouldn’t be getting many minutes, some big players have come in and they deserved to go up. I’ve got one more year on my deal there and I’m realistic. They will sign more players over the summer and if I can’t make the team in the Championship, I won’t feature in the Premier League. I can’t claim any credit for their success because I haven’t played any part in it.
You’re currently playing for the Colorado Rapids in MLS. How did that move happen?
It was a bit random really. They signed Jack Price from Wolves about a month before me and because the transfer window had closed, I could only move to America or one other country, I forget where. They were looking for a striker here and the manager, Anthony Hudson, used to be the manager at Newport County and he made an enquiry, it was all completely random.
How quickly did that all happen? It’s obviously easier moving from Cardiff to Wolverhampton. Do you just have to pack a bag and ship out?
It takes a while because you have to get a working VISA and that takes about two weeks. So once I agreed and signed everything, I then had to wait for a VISA appointment in London and it came about a week later. So it’s not a quick process, you get a bit of time to take it all in.
How are you finding MLS? In my limited experience of the league, it seems innovative, well-run and quite exciting. The flip side of that seems to be that there is a great deal of long-distance travelling.
It’s so different. People always try and get me to compare playing here with playing in the UK, but it’s tough. Here you have to fly everywhere, through different time zones. It has also surprised me how difficult it is here. There are a lot of North and South American players and younger players, compared to a few years back, when they used to bring in more older pros. It’s not as physical as the Championship, but there are a lot of quality and technically gifted, athletic players.
How are you finding playing for Colorado Rapids? You scored on your debut, so it must have been nice to hit the ground running.
It’s good. I’ve got a few goals, but we’re struggling at the minute. We’ve lost a few on the bounce, the worst run I’ve ever experienced as a player, but we’re not far off and these things can change quickly. As a striker, you can always score more goals, but I’m sure they’ll come.
How long are you out there for and are you looking to stay out there if possible?
The season ends at the end of October and I’m staying in an apartment with a few other British boys, that’s all good. When this ends, I’ll probably see what the options are back home to begin with. I’ll head back to Wolves and see what happens.
Thank you to the Colorado Rapids for facilitating this interview and for providing the image of Joe Mason.