Hull City

Behind The Stripes: Jackson Irvine

11 April 2019
From the moment he became a Hull City player, the affection felt by the black and amber faithful for Jackson Irvine has never been in question.

Even when not in action on the pitch, Tigers fans – particularly at away matches – have belted out their own version of Neil Diamond’s 1969 hit, ‘Sweet Caroline’ in tribute to the Australian international midfielder. With the lyrics changed to “Jackson Irvine… long hair never looked so good”, the 25-year-old became the latest player whose chant takes on the tune of a classic pop track.

“I love it,” admitted the Australian. “It flows perfectly, doesn’t it? The first time I remember hearing it was away at Blackburn last season. I think the reason it’s caught on is because it’s such a catchy tune! The song’s great – even the rest of the lads sing it! Full marks to whoever came up with it – it’s very, very clever! It has been awesome to hear it at the KCOM Stadium and at grounds up and down the country.

“It’s the type of thing that you dream of when you’re a kid – to hear your name ringing out from the stands. It’s hard to put into words what it all means to you. It’s an amazing feeling when you become that kind of cult figure with the fans. When the song picks up, it’s amazing to hear it in full flow.

“Hearing it at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup last season was one of the highlights for me – to hear your name ring out in a stadium like that is truly amazing. It gives you goosebumps. Away at Brentford on the final day of the season was special as well – especially so considering I wasn’t even playing in the game! Those are moments that will stay with me for a long, long time.

“If you hear your name being chanted by the fans then you must be doing something right or you’re quite liked, so it’s nice and it spurs me on to try and repay their faith in me and try my hardest for the Club. Hopefully, I can give them a reason to keep singing it in the years to come.

“My relationship with the fans has been strong from the moment I arrived here and that’s a great feeling. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that everywhere I’ve been in my career – starting in Scotland at Ross County, then with Burton Albion and now here. Wherever I’ve been in my career, the fans have always been great with me.

“They were patient in the beginning and I can’t stress how much I appreciate the backing they’ve given me. They’ve been really supportive and I’m so thankful for that. I have a great relationship with them and I think it’s fair to say I’m a little bit of a cult figure with them with the songs, chants and everything that goes along with it.

“I can’t praise the fans enough though. They’ve been absolutely outstanding with me and nothing but supportive since I first arrived here. They’ve made me feel so welcome and so comfortable. Sometimes the fans maybe underestimate just how important that can be for a player – for your confidence and the way you feel when you step out onto the pitch.

“I think they really respond to the way I approach games. I’m the type of player that will give everything for the cause. I wear my heart on my sleeve and show desire, commitment and a real work ethic to help the team. I’d like to think I bring energy to the team and I think the supporters can see that whenever I play.

“To know that the fans have got your back is a great feeling and I couldn’t be happier with the relationship I have with the fans here. There’s always times in football where you get a bit of criticism – that’s the nature of the game. But, when the fans are onside and get behind you, it’s a great feeling. The support they give you drives you forward and gives you an extra ten per cent from somewhere.”

However, the now mutual relationship might never have had the chance to develop had Irvine opted to accept a life-changing offer when still plying his trade at Burton Albion. A Chinese Super League club made three separate offers to him during the January 2017 transfer window – one that would have increased his wage considerably.

It’s an offer that most footballers wouldn’t think twice about accepting – but then Irvine isn’t quite like most footballers. Opting to put career development and satisfaction ahead of the prospect of a bumper pay day, he knocked back the approach and focused his attentions on proving himself in English football.

“It was when I was at Burton – the offer popped up randomly completely out of nowhere,” explained Irvine. “It could have been a very different career path for me, but it was one that I chose not to take. I just didn’t see that as being my natural progression. I didn’t feel as though it was the right time for me personally to go to China and all the things that came along with that.

“We were in the middle of a fantastic season with Burton Albion and I’d enjoyed a great start to the campaign. And having played a part in that, I wanted to see it through. Staying up with Burton was a miracle when you look at the budget the Club had that year and I was proud to play my part. On top of that, I was getting more involved with the national team and I didn’t want anything to affect that.

“It was a very substantial offer. Some maybe would’ve taken it but it wasn’t really ever an option for me. Every individual is different and their life, family and circumstances of their upbringing all play a major role when you make big decisions. I have never been motivated by money and I am fortunate enough to come from a background where that has never been of vital importance to me.

“Thankfully it’s something that I don’t place a lot of value on. It’s all individual circumstances and everybody is different. Everyone makes their own decision based on their own personal circumstances, but the best thing for me was to stay here and continue to play my football in England.”

Irvine’s on-field career has certainly flourished since making that decision, picking up Burton’s Player of the Season award after helping the Brewers retain their second-tier status against all odds, scoring his first international goal, joining the Tigers and representing Australia in three major international tournaments – including last summer’s World Cup Finals in Russia and the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

“It was definitely the right decision to stay in England because it led me to where I am now – here at Hull City. I don’t have any regrets whatsoever about turning the opportunity down. It could have taken me down on a different journey but I’m very happy with how things have turned out. I really enjoyed my first season here, even though it didn’t quite pan out the way everyone would’ve liked.

“It was a tough campaign at times, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s never easy for any Club to adjust to life back in the Championship having come down from the Premier League. There were only a handful of occasions where we didn’t deserve anything from the game. On the whole, we were competitive but we probably paid the price for losing too many games by a one-goal margin. That probably cost us the chance to be involved higher up the table.

“On a personal level, it has been an enjoyable experience coming here. A lot of people said it took me a little time to break my way into the team but I think there were only four games that I wasn’t involved in last season. I played 42 games in the league – although a few of those were for Burton. It was another season that I played in the majority of the games. I was lucky enough to play alongside some talented, talented players – I enjoyed being part of it and part of the team.

“I feel as though I play a bigger role in the team now though. When you first come into a new club, sometimes you’re a little quieter and you don’t want to open your mouth too much. I feel as though I’ve earned the right to do that now. Having that responsibility is something I’ve always enjoyed, even from a young age, and I’m enjoying having more responsibility as a player here at Hull City and trying to use that to improve myself and get the best out of my team-mates.

“I think I’ve improved a lot from when I first arrived and I’m improving all the time. I’m constantly learning and adapting, playing in different ways and different positions. I’m enjoying the challenge and my goals continually remain the same – I want to keep playing games, keep improving and keep helping the team to improve and win more football matches.”

Switching the focus to his progress on the international scene, Irvine continued: “I’ve been lucky enough to play in three major tournaments now and I love every single minute of representing my country. Getting to play in front of my family and friends back home is a great feeling.

“The World Cup was hard to put into words really. It was pretty special but it was gone in a flash, unfortunately. The World Cup is the pinnacle of football, not just for yourself but for your family. To represent your country on the biggest stage, it doesn’t get more exciting than that!

“We came through a lot of difficulty along the way to qualify for the tournament. We came through the play-off games and the 20-game qualification process before that – it was a long hard slog. We played in a lot of games against a lot of top teams that featured a lot of different styles of football. It was all worth it though because representing my country on the biggest stage, knowing I’d played a part in helping the squad get there was such a rewarding experience.

“Then there was the recent Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Again, it was another enjoyable experience even though it didn’t end in the greatest of ways with us being knocked out in the quarter-finals. We went out after losing to the host nation after they capitalised on a short back pass to score the winning goal. It was a devastating way to lose and hard to take, but that’s knock-out tournament football for you. We had a great opportunity to achieve something special but unfortunately, we were hampered by injuries and suspensions before and throughout.

“To be involved in another major tournament was amazing and to play such a major role in the side, which I haven’t really had the opportunity to do before so far in my career, was great. we had Aaron Mooy out injured, which was a big loss to the team. That left a hole in the team for me to look to grab and hopefully I managed to do that with my performances in the UAE.

“I won my 30th cap for my country at the tournament and I’m only 25-years-of-age. I’ve been lucky enough to play in three major tournaments now and, as I say, I love every single minute of representing my country. It’s such a huge honour and something that gives me an awful lot of pride.

“Hopefully I’ll have a lot more involvement to come with the national side in the next few years. We’ve got a new cycle starting now in September with the next round of qualifiers for the next World Cup and I can’t wait for that to get going. The aim for me is to continue to perform well at Club level in order to ensure I’ll be involved for my country over the next few years.”

For now though, Irvine’s focus is firmly on the here and now and helping the Tigers finish the Sky Bet Championship season in positive fashion as Nigel Adkins’ side continue to chase a play-off spot.

“All it takes is for us to put a run together, the same as we did earlier in the season, and we’re right back in it,” he added. “As long as it’s still there, as long as it’s still possible, we’ll be giving absolutely everything that we can. If you can put back-to-back wins together you keep yourself right in the mix.

“We’ve just got to put a run together to give ourselves a chance. We’ve just got to go game-by-game and keep picking up the points. We do have that ultimate goal of staying in touch with sixth position but all we can do is take it one step at a time. It’s not out of reach and we’re still fighting.”