“I just want to see this club in a better place than it was when I turned up”
On street corners and playing fields across the globe, football mad boys and girls dream of guiding their local club to glory.
They shut their eyes, imagining the roar of the home crowd as they lead their beloved team out at the big final; forever cementing their status as a hometown hero.
For most, those historic cup finals will remain forever consigned to our imagination, but for Nigel Boogaard, those dreams came true.
After ten years away from Newcastle, racking up more than a century of A-League appearances with the Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide, the Novocastrian thought his chance to pull on a the famous red and blue jersey had passed him by.
But as the centre back prepared to leave Australia behind, following the well-trodden path to Asia, the call finally came.
The Jets had just endured the worst season in their history, picking up just three wins as they finished at the bottom of the pile. But the lure of home, and the captain’s armband, was just too strong for the Newcastle native.
“For me, it’s a honour and a privilege [to captain the club], but it’s also a big responsibility. Responsibility to ensure everyone knows what they’re playing for here in Newcastle.
“You idolise players throughout your time, seeing some great captains come through this club, so to be amongst that group is something special.”
At times, his dream has seemed more like a nightmare. Since arriving, Boogaard has witnessed his club’s A-League license revoked (twice), and the Jets put in to voluntary administration by mining magnate Nathan Tinkler.
“We’ve been through a lot in the six years I’ve been here, and to be honest, the club has since its inception in the A-League. But it’s definitely shown me a lot about professional sport, about who you can and can’t trust in this cut-throat business, and how you can galvanise a playing squad, and keep it strong and unaffected by what’s going on externally around them.
“With everything that has gone on, I’d like to think it’s improved me as a player, a leader and as a person. I think to go through everything we’ve been through in the last six years, you’ve got to learn and take the positives out of it. I think everyone who has been here through that period, can look back on it and reflect and think that it’s probably helped put them in the mindset they’re currently in.”
For all the lows, Boogaard has been rewarded with some incredible highs; from making his 200th A-League appearance in a Jets jersey, to leading out his hometown club at an A-League Grand Final in their own backyard.
“The highs are massive. For me the biggest high, or at least one of them, was that first game I got to walk out with the captains armband. That was something I’ll always remember.
“To be able to walk out in front of friend and family, and the football community you grew up in, coaches I used to have and team mates I used to have… Leading the boys out in front of that was something I will always remember. I still get goosebumps talking about it.”
Unfortunately, there haven’t been many highs for the Jets to enjoy this year.
“It’s well documented that this season hasn’t been anywhere near good enough for us. We’re a better side than where we’re sitting but we haven’t performed at the level that we needed to if we want to get more points. I think we haven’t been that far off, and I know that probably sounds really silly to a lot of people that maybe haven’t watched us play this year, but a lot of our games have only been lost by a single goal.
“There’s been a lot of draws too. And in all those games we have lost or drawn, we’ve had key moments to go ahead or score a goal or not to concede a simple goal… apart from a few games this year where we’ve been dominated, we’ve been there or there abouts. We just haven’t been good enough in those key moments, and at the end of the day that’s what games are decided on.”
Despite all that he’s witnessed since his return, he retains an unwavering positivity.
Even with the club ownerless, rooted to the foot of the ladder and relying heavily on youngsters and loanees, Boogaard feels there are promising signs, glimmers of hope for brighter days ahead.
“At the end of the day you’ve always got to try and take the positives out of a season. This year you’ve seen a lot of young players come through our squad, your Angus Thurgates, Ramy Najjarine, who came on loan from City and may not have got the same kind of minutes at a club like that, and young Luka Pršo who’s come back from overseas on loan and got a lot of minutes in him…
“You’ve also seen boys like Jonny Koutroumbis step up and really cement a position as a first team player. You’re seeing these younger boys getting experience and minutes that otherwise they might not have, and hopefully we see the fruition of that over the next year or two, because if we can keep a lot of those boys who are getting their start now, in two or three years time they will form the bulk of our squad and the club will be in a really good position.
“It’s frustrating to be sitting in the position that we’re in, but for us now, it’s about focusing on getting off the bottom of the table and making sure we’re putting our best foot forward to make sure we can get some results and show our fans and supporters what they can look forward to next year.”
Image credit – Grant Sproule, Newcastle Jets