Leeds United: My Whites playing days - Mark Jackson INTERVIEW

Mark Jackson celebrates with Rod Wallace.
Mark Jackson celebrates with Rod Wallace.
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Leon Wobschall spoke to Mark Jackson who fulfilled his boyhood dream by playing for Leeds United and is now carving out a career in management.

DETERMINED to make his mark in the coaching/managerial realm, Leeds lad Mark Jackson has certainly had plenty of leading gaffers to garner knowledge from.

Paul Hart, Howard Wilkinson, George Graham and David O’Leary head the cast list from his time at Elland Road, while a vastly-experienced Football League boss in Brian Laws is another notable.

Not to mention a one-time lower-league physio now cutting a real dash on the managerial front at Southampton in Nigel Adkins.

While still turning out for Evo-Stik First Division North outfit Farsley AFC, managed by ex-United player Neil Parsley, Jackson, 34, is plotting life in the dug-out after hanging up his boots.

Jackson, player assistant-manager with the Villagers, is somewhat of a busy man these days, combining playing and doing his coaching badges with his full-time job as head of football at Leeds City College.

He’s already tasted success at Farsley, who were crowned Northern Counties East League champions last term, while the college team he looks after aren’t doing too badly either, topping their ECFA (English Colleges Football Association) table and in the last 16 of the Premier Cup. As starts in management go, Jackson can’t complain.

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He said: “Coaching and management is what I want to move into. People ask who was my most influential coach and manager and, looking back to when I started at Leeds, Paul Hart – who was youth-team manager – had a massive bearing on my attitude and professionalism as a young footballer.

“I always say to our lads now ‘You might not be the most gifted player in the world, but attitude and application goes a hell of a long way, if you have the right talent as well’. I also took a lot from Nigel Adkins, who was my physio at Scunthorpe. I had a lot of injuries there, so I had a lot of dealings with him and it’s good to see him go from strength to strength.

“Some have even shouted him for the England job and stuff like that, which is unbelievable when he was just the physio when I was there at Scunthorpe. He’s done fantastically well for himself. I love watching his interviews; sometimes after a defeat you can be so down, but he’s always so positive, which is really refreshing to hear.

“I am currently going through my badges and am on my A licence at the moment and I’m out coaching and on the training pitch with the lads at college every day and with the first team at Farsley. Every job nowadays is about qualifications. That’s what you need whatever you do.

“The college and Farsley link together and our side kind of acts as Farsley’s youth team, so the good players coming through can progress to the reserves at Farsley and then onto the first team. It works hand in hand and I get to develop the players.

“It’s a stepping stone for them. A lot have been at pro clubs up to 16, but have then been released, which can be a kick in the teeth.”

United fan Jackson may not have carved out a long playing career at the club he idolised as a boy, but you won’t find him ruing his lot, having achieved what thousands of other Whites supporters would only dream of.

The former England Youth international was handed his United debut at 18 as a substitute against Middlesbrough in March 1996 by Howard Wilkinson, shortly after the club’s disastrous 3-0 Coca-Cola Cup League Cup final loss to Aston Villa at Wembley.

Wilkinson’s time at Elland Road was rapidly coming to an end, with Jackson’s next serious involvement coming under his successor George Graham, who utilised the defender in midfield for a spell there in his first season in charge in 1996-97.

Jackson had some days to savour, appearing in the side which famously KO’d Graham’s old club Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Highbury in February 1997, with plenty also hearing about his exploits back in one particular Leeds watering hole – the Butchers Arms in Pudsey, which was run by his proud parents.

On his time with his boyhood club Jackson, who eventually joined Scunthorpe on a free transfer in March 2000 after brief spells on loan at Huddersfield and Barnsley, said: “I’ll always remember my debut. Howard chucked a few of us in – myself, Harry Kewell and Jason Blunt as well. I remember Howard leaving the club after the Man United defeat (in September 1996) and George Graham came in and I played an unfamiliar role in midfield, to be honest. But as a young lad, you just want to grab the opportunity. Playing for a club like Leeds, you’d play anywhere.

“My out-and-out position was at centre-back, but I am proud of my achievements at Leeds and what I did coming through the ranks.

“The game that probably sticks out in my mind and I have watched back recently was the cup victory at Arsenal. I remember us getting absolutely battered in the game and Nigel Martyn was world-class. I think Rod Wallace scored a scrambled goal early on and we got through.

“I also remember playing against Man United at Old Trafford when we got beat 1-0 and Roy Keane gave me an absolute clouting in the first half! He nailed me and that thing sticks in your memory.

“He probably thought ‘He’s a young lad, I’ll give him one!’, which I’ve done later on in my career to young strikers coming on...

“I also captained the reserves when we won the league (in 1997-98) and I came across a photo of that not so long ago when the likes of Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate were in that team and a few first-teamers, so that was another highlight.”

Jackson, who made 23 appearances for United in all competitions, added: “I had a good career, which I can’t complain about. Fans would love to make one appearance for Leeds United and I managed to make a few more.

“I’m from a stone’s throw away from Elland Road in Beeston, which is where I grew up. I then moved up to Pudsey when I was 10 or 11 and am Leeds born and bred, and to make your debut for your hometown club is anybody’s dream.

“I was living at home when I made my debut and it was kind of a case of making my debut for Leeds and then going back to where you live, which was actually in a pub. There were a lot of Leeds fans in there and it was a bit of an experience at the time.

“Yes, I’d have loved to have played longer at Leeds, but at the time I left, I’d kind of hit a point in my career where I was involved in the squad – David O’Leary was manager by then. But as a young lad, you just want to play regular football. I’d been on loan at Huddersfield and Barnsley and had another taste of it and Scunthorpe came in and offered me the chance to play regular football and I jumped at the chance.

“It was hard to leave, but the lure of playing first-team football every week attracted me. I went on to have the captaincy for a number of years and it was really good.

“You have to make decisions in your career. I remember moving to Kidderminster and then lo and behold, the week after I left, the (Scunthorpe) centre-half got injured and I would have ended up finishing the season in a championship-winning team.”

Jackson later joined Rochdale in January 2006 before heading back to West Yorkshire to Conference newcomers Farsley Celtic in the summer of 2007 and sampling some heady times at Throstle Nest in what was a rollercoaster ride.

After relegation, the crisis-hit West Leeds club – back in Blue Square North – later went on to enter administration in March 2010 ahead of being disbanded before being re-formed that summer.

Jackson, along with boss Parsley, has witnessed the good and the not so good along with fans of West Yorkshire football and the popular managerial duo are just happy to see Farsley back on their feet once again – and thriving.

Jackson said: “I remember when I joined the club. I had the chance of going to Farsley or York, but I’d kind of started my career out there. I’d started at Beeston Juniors at 10 and when we moved to Pudsey, I went to Farsley Celtic and played my junior football there.

“They’d got promoted to the Conference and they’d previously had a fantastic four seasons to get where they were and we had some great times before the fall.

“But the club thankfully has reformed and we’re going well. After getting knocked down three leagues, we won promotion last year and kept the players together and are in the promotion mix this year.”

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