Phoenix's Brockie back at hunting ground
Christchurch was a launching pad for Jeremy Brockie's path to football fame and the All White hopes his return to a happy hunting ground will kick-start his new career at the Wellington Phoenix.
The 24-year-old forward earned his national league spurs with Canterbury United and made his All Whites debut in Christchurch against Malaysia.
He returns tomorrow for the Phoenix's pre-season friendly against the Western Sydney Wanderers, his first appearance on Christchurch soil in six years.
Christchurch became a home away from home for Brockie. Despite a peripatetic professional career, he still regards himself a Nelsonian. He was born in Christchurch while his father, Paul, was playing southern league football in the city.
The family later returned to Nelson where Jeremy made his mark as a Richmond Athletic junior. As a teenager, he broke into the Nelson Suburbs first team, winning a Mainland premier league title in 2003 after averaging a goal every two games.
The boy wonder followed a clutch of Nelson team-mates to Canterbury United for the start of the summer-based national franchise league in 2004-05.
Brockie was only 17 when he arrived, sporting blond dreadlocks. Former All White Danny Halligan, the Canterbury Dragons' player-coach, used him sporadically at the start but Brockie soon won a regular place and proved he was a rising talent. He caught the eye of the New Zealand Knights, the new A-League franchise based in Auckland, for much more than his hairdo.
Brockie was not quite 18 when he made his debut for the late, unlamented Knights in the A-League's inaugural season in 2005-06.
The Kiwi kid proved to be one of the Knights' scant successes, scoring four goals from nine starts, some in an unfamiliar right wing-back role.
At the end of the campaign, he returned to Canterbury United on loan and played in the 2005-06 grand final until he retired at halftime after a kick on the ankle.
New All Whites coach Ricki Herbert called Brockie up for the international series against Malaysia in 2006 and he made his debut at Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, playing the last 20 minutes off the bench.
Little wonder Brockie has fond memories of the Garden City in its pre-earthquake incarnation.
“I like coming back to Christchurch, I know a lot of people there and it's always good to catch up with them," he says. “I enjoyed my time there with Canterbury United, I got my first professional contract after playing for them and I played for the All Whites for the first time there, so I've got plenty of good memories of Christchurch."
Brockie has been around the A-League so long you could be forgiven for thinking he's a veritable veteran. But he will only turn 25 on October 7 - the day after the Phoenix's first game of the new season against Sydney City FC.
His career hasn't always been upwards and onwards. He's had to conquer adversity and injury along the circuitous route.
Sydney City turned his head after his rookie year with the Knights. He snapped up their offer to learn at the feet of former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, Sydney's marquee player. But Brockie made just seven appearances there, mostly off the bench. He lost valuable momentum and, in hindsight, might have been better to have remained a big fish in the shallower pond at the Knights.
Brockie was released by Sydney and returned across the ditch to kick around the New Zealand national league with Hawke's Bay United and Team Wellington.
He was selected for the New Zealand Olympic squad for the 2008 Olympic Games in China and scored a spectacular goal in a 1-1 draw with the host nation with father Paul cheering in the stand at Shenyang.
But Brockie was determined to resurrect his professional career. After just one game in Wellington, the North Queensland Fury, a new A-League franchise in tropical Townsville, offered him a lifeline.
Brockie bloomed in the shimmering heat, on the field and off it - he met his future wife, Jessica, there - and earned a place in New Zealand's World Cup squad.
He shattered his leg in a tackle against the Brisbane Roar in January 2010 but refused to give up his World Cup finals dream. Through hard work, excellent medical assistance and sheer bloody-mindedness, Brockie fought his way back to full fitness to make the plane to South Africa where he played against Paraguay as a second-half substitute.
With the Fury foundering, Brockie made the switch to the Newcastle Jets where he enjoyed what he calls his “breakthrough" A-League season.
For so long, versatility had been both a boost and a millstone in his career as successive coaches switched him from wingback at the Knights, to the midfield flanks and up front in the forward-line. He even filled in as an emergency right back for the All Whites against Australia.
But Brockie says he got an extended run as a striker at “the back end of last season in Newcastle". You could say he brought goals to Newcastle - nine of them - a career-high season haul - with some of them spectacular goal-of-the- season strikes.
That convinced Ricki Herbert to sign his All Whites foot soldier as a Phoenix forward. Herbert says he always felt striker was Brockie's best position and was impressed “that he got nine goals for a team that missed making the playoffs".
He says Brockie has “the pace to get in behind" defenders.
Herbert showed his faith by handing Brockie a start alongside Chris Wood and Shane Smeltz in the All Whites' World Cup qualifier against New Caledonia earlier this month, preferring his Phoenix charge to overseas-based pros Chris Killen, Kosta Barbarouses and Rory Fallon.
Brockie is revelling in the role. He has scored 14 goals in pre-season games, including eight on a tour of India where he netted four times in one match.
“I'm enjoying my time up there. Whenever an attacking player scores goals, you can't complain. It's definitely my preferred position at the moment."
But Brockie says he still has “a few things to work on".
“Being a midfielder for most of my career so far, I'm usually more used to playing the way I'm facing rather than having my back to goal. I'm working on holding the ball up and bringing other players into play, it's a pretty important part of the role."
Brockie is “learning heaps" from assistant-coach Chris Greenacre, a former Football League striker.
He also wants to forge a good understanding with former Belgian international forward Stein Huysegems and the mercurial Paul Ifill, once the latter returns from injury “after watching him for the last couple of seasons".
Brockie always hoped he would one day return to New Zealand's A-League team - Wellington is certainly much closer to home in Nelson than North Queensland or the Hunter Valley.
He still has plenty of support in the old home town. His father and his Richmond Athletic buddies have organised a “Jeremy Brockie supporters tour" to watch him make his Phoenix home debut against Sydney on October 6.
“They've got 35 people signed up so far and hope to get 60. They'll travel over on the ferry and watch the game. It's my birthday the next day, so we're hoping to have a birthday breakfast," Brockie said.
He's enjoying Wellington - although winter training at Newtown Park took some adjusting to - and his wife has “settled in well too" after the initial acclimatisation.
"We've got a baby on the way, due on February 4, so it's an exciting time for us off the field, as well."
- © Fairfax NZ News