Birkenhead United celebrate their 50th anniversary this year as a football club on the rise. Unbeaten in 2012, they ran away with last season’s Northern Division 1 title and such was their quality that many are tipping the newly promoted outfit as dark horses for the 2013 Northern Premier League.
Midfielder Jack Hobson-McVeigh has spent his entire playing life with this club, starting as a junior and making his way right through the ranks to the point where he’s now an integral part of the first team starting line-up. Along the way he has represented New Zealand at age group level and he currently enjoys playing in the ASB Premiership for Waikato FC. Not bad for someone who a little over a year ago was told by a doctor that he may never play again after suffering a bad back injury.
I spoke to Jack last week, hot on the heels of him playing an important role in Waikato’s first win at home in nearly two years, about life in the ASB Premiership, how the upcoming Northern Premier League season is shaping up, and one or two other matters of varying levels of significance…
EG: Firstly, congrats on beating the Phoenix A last night! That had to feel good?
JHM: Yeah, it’s always good when you get an opportunity to play against proper professional players and to beat them is even better. The team played pretty well and everything seemed to work. It was pretty good!
EG: Do you think it says anything about the strength of the ASB Premiership compared to the A League that the National League clubs have been fairly routinely knocking these guys over?
JHM: Oh I think that there’s quite a big difference between the ASB Premiership, especially the lower teams like the Waikatos and the Younghearts, and the actual Phoenix. It’s a lot different playing against the younger players because it’s about getting the experience, but put us up against a proper full Phoenix team and I think it would be a bit of a different story.
EG: There were a few good players in that line-up though like Totori and Hogg and…What do you think is not working about them?
JHM: Yeah, obviously they are good players, both internationals, it’s just that when you get a team that’s put together each week, there’s no real team morale and it maybe seems sometimes that they don’t really work as hard as they could but they are obviously good players so it’s obviously good to beat them.
EG: You’ve been with Waikato through a pretty tumultuous time. The sacking of a coach and the subsequent departure of a big chunk of the squad. How does an upheaval like that affect you as a player?
JHM: Well when Declan was in charge I wasn’t really playing, I didn’t really get a go… So him leaving was almost a good thing for me, not in a horrible way, but Mark Cossey has come in and put me straight in the team and we’ve got some good results. It’s always hard having a lot of your squad go and it has showed over the last couple of games, well, we haven’t won this year apart from last night. But hopefully we’ll get a win against Otago this week and end on a high.
EG: As an Aucklander in the Waikato squad, what does playing for Waikato mean to you?
JHM: It’s good, it’s always good to be playing at the best level that you can in New Zealand and Waikato gave me an opportunity to play, which I’m really happy about. It’s good, I always enjoy my time down there and it’s been good to stay fit over the summer.
EG: How would you assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of Mark Cossey vs Declan Edge?
JHM: I think Cossey is more of a direct coach, he wants to win. Declan more, you know, ‘keep the ball’, all about watching the football. But you’ve got to have an end product and you’ve got to want to win games and I think that’s where Cossey is a bit better. He wants to win and each time you go on the field you don’t want to be going for a loss or a draw, you want to be playing to win. So it’s good to be playing all the football in the world but you’ve got to have an end product and to win is the best thing to do.
EG: I saw on your profile on the Waikato FC website that you…
EG: Ha ha! Has someone been having a bit of fun with you?
JHM: Aw yeah always mucking around, you know the banter in football…
EG: Ok, so the Bieber thing is a joke?
JHM: Ah yeah, it’s all a joke there’s nothing serious on there… Player profiles are meant to make people laugh not be all serious. I’m a bit of a character really, I like to joke around a lot.
EG: Ok well that’s a relief. What about the Beckham thing, you’re not a Beckham fan?
JHM: Oh I’m definitely a Beckham fan! There are some things on there that are real and some things that are not completely real… but yeah, Beckham is a quality player. Still one of the best passers of the ball in the game.
EG: Is that someone you model yourself on?
JHM: Yeah. I’d love to be as good as him. It would just be amazing, oh yeah, yup. He’s quality.
EG: So does that mean you’re a Man U supporter as well?
JHM: Nah, no way! I support Chelsea.
EG: So what do you think about Abramovich?
JHM: Oh yeah, well he’s pumping all the money into the club which is always good. It’s fallen behind in recent years but still winning things like last year and the double!
EG: Now, you played at the Under 17 World Cup in 2009 and you scored a famous goal that secured New Zealand its first ever progression past the group stages of a FIFA tournament. So you have a unique perspective on what it takes to progress in a tournament like that. What advice would you give to lesser mortals like the All Whites who haven’t managed to do it yet?
JHM: Ha ha ha! Yeah well, being the first team to go through and to score the goal to do it was pretty amazing but you know football, you can go from a high to a low and getting dropped for the next game and not being able to play against the hosts Nigeria in their home stadium… It was pretty tough being dropped when I thought I’d played quite well and obviously scoring that goal. But it’s not all about scoring and it was up to the coach at the time and that’s ok… But New Zealand football is taking off! You can see, getting into more competitions and not even losing a game in a World Cup is a big thing to do. So [like the All Whites] we went through the group stage drawing every game and we just got a bit more lucky! The All Whites could do it again and get through.
EG: What was the experience like of going to something like that? How does that help you as a player?
JHM: Oh, it was amazing. But going to a place like Nigeria was very… Very different. It changed the way I thought about a lot of things and made me realise how lucky I was to have everything I have in New Zealand. I mean, when you’re in the bus and being escorted to your games by police cars and kids on the road have guns… it’s just amazing how some people live versus the living here. Big eye opener.
EG: Moving on to Birkenhead, you went right through last season unbeaten in Division 1, runaway winners of the league, made it to the quarter finals of the Cup, losing to Central Premier League opposition, it’s the 50th anniversary of the club this year, and a lot of people are picking Birko to take the Northern Premier League by storm! No pressure?
JHM: Oh yeah, you know, I don’t know how people are picking us already! It’s a bit of a big ask, just being promoted and then expecting to win it! But I don’t think we’ll be pushing to win it. Pushing more for survival. But yeah, 50th year, it’s always going to be a big year – especially going up to the Premier League and the support you get down at the club, it’s almost like another family. It’s awesome down there and I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.
EG: What do you think the club’s expectations are for the new season?
JHM: Well obviously everyone wants to do well and with my dad Paul Hobson the coach, nobody likes losing… it’s lucky we didn’t lose last season or else there would have been a lot more running at training! But being able to do that year unbeaten, I think we’ll try and aim to just push on and go as hard as we can.
EG: I hear there has been a bit of turnover in the squad. Are you able to give me a bit of a rundown of who has come and gone?
JHM: Yeah, we lost our captain from last year, Jack Salter. He’s gone to Perth, he’s playing over there in quite a good league, and Keegan [Linderboom, last year’s top goal scorer] I think has gone to Australia. We’ve lost a few players here and there but also gained a few. Nothing’s confirmed yet though we’re just training together and seeing what’s working first.
EG: Of your teammates, who do you think the player to look out for this year will be?
JHM: Ooh that’s a tough one. You know, teams that have that one player that does everything like your Neymar at Santos… At Birkenhead it’s more we work well as a team. That’s how we got through last year, we didn’t have any individual brilliant stand-out players. Everyone just got together as a team and you know… we just play a team.
EG: I don’t know if you got a chance to see many Northern Premier League games last year, but you played [Hamilton] Wanderers in the Cup… Have you got a sense of what the step up in quality will be like?
JHM: Yeah well we beat them [Wanderers] quite comfortably, 4-1, but playing those kind of teams week in week out might be a bit different. Obviously it’s going to be a step up, all the better players play up in those top divisions but I think it will suit us a lot more, playing teams that give you a little bit more respect to play. Because when you’re playing against the likes of the Papatoetoes who just chase you and kick you all game, it’s just completely different football. It’ll be interesting but I think we’ll do quite well.
EG: Have you heard any rumours about the other clubs and how they are shaping up? Have you got any thoughts about where the biggest threats will come from?
JHM: No, I haven’t really been ‘in the know’, as they say because I’ve obviously been playing National League and focussing on that. But I think teams will start to grab more players as the National League finishes. Obviously the likes of Central, Bay Olympic winning the league twice in a row and going for a third, and Waitakere. It’s going to be tough playing the bigger clubs.
EG: How do players adapt to the fairly unique situation in New Zealand where the top players play virtually 52 weeks of the year with the summer and the winter leagues? Do you suffer for the want of a decent break?
JHM: Yeah, last year I had a bit of a break because I had an injury on my back. I only had about 5-6 weeks off but I think it’s good to keep going all year round because when you stop you lose all your fitness. Some people can’t handle it. Some people just like to play one or the other. But I think it’s better to play both and just carry on and be at the top of your game for as long as you can.
EG: Finally, what are your goals moving forward? Do you see yourself with a professional contract anywhere? The All Whites?
JHM: I just want to keep on going and enjoy my football. I just play to enjoy it. Especially down at Birkenhead, I’m loving it, a really good atmosphere as I said, and you just never know. I would like to look at moving overseas, maybe to Australia or something like that but you have to wait and see. Just get this year done, maybe get another medal or another trophy, that would be good before moving on!
EG: Alright, well thanks so much. It’s been awesome!
JHM: No worries.
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/