When it was first announced that Emile Heskey was to be joining Newcastle, having been released by Aston Villa, it was presumed by most that the ex-England international was simply heading a few hours north, to St. James’ Park. It turned out, however, that he was in fact moving to the other side of the world, to play for Newcastle United Jets in Australia.
It had been just over two years since he made his final appearance for England, and there would likely have been a handful of suitors from his home nation ready to sign him up, yet he still decided to make the move to the A-League.
The inspiration behind this was Robbie Fowler, who had also plied his trade in Oz, having featured for North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory in his first foray outside of the English game, late in his own career. Heskey had a conversation with his fellow former Liverpool man, eager to enquire about the level of football and lifestyle before making his final decision on whether to take the plunge.
In the end, it was sold to him. Following the transfer, he told Sky Sports: “Having played in England all my career, something just popped up and I liked the look of it. I had promised myself if as long as I could play in the Premier League I would, if I couldn’t I’d try myself abroad and this came up which was brilliant. The team showed they wanted me, sent me a load of videos, so it was nice.”
Heskey was a big name for the league when he arrived, just not the biggest, as Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero was already there with Sydney FC. Upon joining Newcastle, he formed an intriguing partnership, particularly for those back home, as he was often paired with former Sunderland, Leeds and Hull frontman Michael Bridges. The joy of having Francis Jeffers complete a truly eclectic English trio was narrowly missed out on, as the latter was released shortly before Heskey arrived, heading to Maltese club Floriana.
Despite his waning abilities, Heskey was still a man who could take the plaudits on his own merit, as he showed in his first five games for the Jets, scoring five goals. His debut didn’t suggest this, drawing a blank after coming on for the last 18 minutes of a 2-0 loss against Adelaide United, but the striker soon went on to show what he could do.
His first goal in Australia came against Del Piero’s Sydney. With the score at 1-1, the ball was clipped just outside the six-yard box, putting the Englishman in a 50-50 challenge with the opposing centre-back. Of course, he won the battle and sent a clinical volley just inside the post, with his effort proving pivotal, as the Jets won 3-2.
How do you surpass outdoing your new league’s biggest name? Getting one over on your new club’s rivals is definitely a good place to start and that is exactly what Heskey did, turning the ball into the net for what ended up being the winner against Central Coast Mariners. Add a well taken brace, to earn a 2-1 win against Melbourne Victory, as well as the winner against Western Sydney Wanderers, and it was safe to say Heskey was setting about leaving quite the first impression upon his new club.
There have been numerous times back in England where Heskey has been laughed at and mocked, whether he deserved it or not. It can be argued that he was criminally undervalued, but that certainly wasn’t the case in the A-League – they were happy to have Heskey’s presence and weren’t going to hold back in celebrating it. They did so in a very unique way: Heskey Cam.
With the editions of Del Piero Cam and [Shinji] Ono Cam having already been played out, Fox Sport offered fans the chance to watch the Englishman, and the Englishman alone, for 90 minutes in his game against Melbourne Victory. The advertisement enthused: “Heskey Cam gives you it all: one camera, one hero; every pass, every run, everything Heskey does on the pitch, you’ll see it first with the Heskey Cam, the dedicated broadcast providing a rare insight into what makes Heskey so good.”
While this may seem like something that could play on a player’s mind, when speaking to The Guardian in 2015, Heskey insisted he didn’t think about the added attention at all, only seeing it as something out of the ordinary in hindsight – if it was something that did cross his mind, it certainly didn’t have a negative impact on his performance: he ended up scoring twice.
However, having started life in Australia with a blaze of glory, things would soon quieten down for Heskey and his new side. In the ensuing five games, the Jets picked up just one point, with the Englishman failing to register a single goal in that period. He went on to score four more goals in the remainder of the campaign, making him the Jets’ joint top scorer, alongside Ryan Griffiths, with a total of nine goals.
This wasn’t enough to prevent what was ultimately an underwhelming season for the club, though, who missed out on the finals by a mere point. Nevertheless, his performances across the season were enough to earn him an extended stay with the club for the 2013/14 campaign.
The striker wasn’t as successful on an individual level in his second A-League campaign, while there wasn’t a great deal of improvement from a team perspective either. In the 19 games he played across the campaign, he managed just one goal, opening the scoring in a resounding 5-0 victory over Wellington Phoenix. In addition to the Englishman’s individual struggles, the season was also to end in disappointment for the Jets as a collective, with the club missing out on a place in the finals once again, doing so this time by two points.
Following the season’s culmination, Heskey left Newcastle and Australia to pursue a move back to a club in England. Following a successful trial, the striker eventually ended up earning a contract with Bolton, who he would go on to represent for 18 months before retiring.
When asked about his time in Australia while appearing on Soccer AM, before signing for Bolton, he said: “I loved every minute of it, a great country with wonderful people, a lot of travelling, but I liked it.”
Heskey’s career is often harshly criticised, his efforts and reputation mocked, yet this is a player who knew well the taste of success having won the UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FA Cup among other trophies throughout his time in the game. He also got to represent his country 62 times; many more than players of a far more illustriously remembered ilk.
However, when the glamour of playing in Australia, Heskey Cam and the brilliant start he made in the A-League are put to one side, there will likely be an enduring sense of disappointment about how things went on the pitch, especially as he proved unable to inspire his side to reach a finals series in his presence. Heskey learned the hard way: it can be hard to feel on top of the world when you’re living Down Under.
By Danny Lewis @DannyLewis_95