Nigel Boogaard on playing against Manchester United and if he’ll stay at Newcastle

Nigel Boogaard is one of the most established players in the A-League history, having played almost 220 A-League games across stints with the Central Coast Mariners, Adelaide United and the Newcastle Jets.

In this long-form interview, we covered a wide range of topics from playing against Manchester United for the A-League All Stars, the A-League being played in winter and if he will be resigning with the Newcastle Jets.

What are you looking to do after retirement from football?
Yeah, I’ve been a project manager at 35 Latitude for the past 18 months. I’ve been working with a development company in Newcastle alongside playing football, and it’s a bit of a transition to what real life after football would look like but I’m still focused on playing football and doing what I can on the park to make sure I still have a few years to play. It’s keeping me busy in this period but it’s exciting to have something to think about other than football.

It’s good to have a plan after football.
Yeah, there’s a lot of boys that don’t. I got scared early on by some senior players who were leaving the game and they didn’t really have a plan, which forced me into thinking about that a lot earlier than a lot of the other boys do.

You played in Newcastle United’s youth academy within the old NSL. What was it like playing for them?
To be part of a youth academy that was affiliated with an NSL team back then was nice to see that you had a pathway. You could work up from the junior NPL and eventually get into the first team to hopefully train and play with the NSL team, so to be a young kid at 13 starting out in that environment to know that there was a pretty good career path was exciting. We used to play against the best kids in our age group, arguably in the country in your NPL as it’s called now. We used to play against the best kids in New South Wales so it was a great way for me to start. It was never easy, living in Newcastle. Usually, it was a minimum of a two-hour bus ride and when you’re 13 having to get up at five o’clock on the bus to go to Sydney and play the game is a big commitment.

Was there an age that you felt you made it and that you were going to be a professional footballer?
To be honest with you I don’t think I had thought until I was 15 or 16 and I realised that it could be a career path. It was something that I thought if I could knuckle down on it and take it seriously then I could have a career in football. This was when the old NSL was still going so the A-League wasn’t even a dream or anything yet, but it was probably when I started to play in the youth team at 16 or 17 and we were playing before the first-grade NSL team here in Newcastle back then. When I was around 17 I started training with the first team and I was missing a fair bit of school to go train with the first team but when I got there at that age I realised this is something I might be able to do if I knuckle down and give it a real go, and fortunately it all worked out!

Football generic

(Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

You played in an A-League All Stars team in a friendly against Manchester United. What kind of experience was it for you?
It was definitely one of my career highlights. To be able to go out there in front of 86,000 people, which is the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, and to play against some of the guys from Manchester United that I idolised was amazing. You’ve got blokes like (Michael) Carrick, (Robin) Van Persie. I remember late in the game, Van Persie stood me up one on one at the edge of the box and I remember in my head just thinking don’t embarrass me, don’t embarrass me! All I remembered was to put it on his right foot and I was thankful that he didn’t do me in for a goal with that many people watching. When you get to a certain level there are highlights and it was a privilege to play in a game like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great deal of those types of experiences but that’s one that I will always look back on and remember mixing it with some of the best players in the world. As you’ve seen over the last five years, a lot of these bigger teams have started to come out to Australia and have started playing A-League teams and it’s great for the game out here and I hope that continues as well.

How do you think the team played as a whole, considering you hadn’t really played as a side before.
I think we had two days of training leading into it and none of us had really played together like that. In the end, I think we got beaten by five and the quality, in the end, was too much for us. The difference for me when coming up against teams like that is that we can match their physicality, they’re probably just slightly ahead in that area but they’re just clinical with their passing, with their finishing and their speed of thought when they’re in and out of possession is amazing too. To come up against them and to see all of that in real-time was amazing. I think we put on a good representation of what the A-League’s about and the quality that we’ve got in our league as well. I think everyone walked away happy with the spectacle.

So you’ve been on both sides of the F3 derby, having spent five seasons at the Central Coast Mariners and being into your fifth season at the Newcastle Jets. How do you feel the rivalry has developed over time?
I’d probably say it’s diminished. In the early days of the A-League the Mariners, when I was there were in two grand finals in the first three seasons and they played the Jets in the third season in the grand final, so I think back then the rivalry was definitely stronger, which is maybe due to the fact that both clubs were always so close to the top of the table. I think that brings a little bit more spice to the contest. The game’s changed a lot since then, as well. Back then you could tackle a lot harder and do a lot of things that you don’t see in the modern game, and I think that really adds to those types of rivalries. The tackles were harder and the guys were willing to put it all on the line and it’s slightly different now. I’d like to think over the last two or three years that we’ve started to bring that rivalry back. It’s more on the players to kind of drive that rivalry to the clubs and to the fans. I think the fans have always had that rivalry but it’s the players going out on the park and really showing that. As I said, it’s hard to assert that in the modern away in a game that is less psychical and more tactical. I think it’s getting back there but I don’t think it will ever get back to how heated that grand final was in the third year but it will hopefully get there one day.

Central Coast Mariners A-League fans

(Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

You played with Adelaide United in the Asian Champions League and with the Newcastle Jets in a qualifier. What’s the difference in standard between the A-League and ACL?
I played with Central Coast in it as well. I think it was the fourth year of the league and I was in my early 20s. I think I had two years with Adelaide United and a qualifier with Newcastle. Again, it’s amazing to play against teams with such quality and with such high profile players and massive budgets. I remember when I was with Adelaide we were playing Pohang (Steelers) and their budget was almost ten what our team was worth. It’s nice to put yourself up against different opposition. With the A-League, unfortunately, there’s not a great number of teams, so you know who you’re playing against and how they play. When you play against a different team when you’ve just video analysed them to get out on the park, you need to be on your toes and as players, that’s when you can really test yourselves. They were all great experiences and I got to travel to different countries throughout Asia. Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything, we got to the quarter-finals with Adelaide but then got knocked out. But there were some great experiences and great highlights as well as some horrible trips in airports and having to take four different flights when there’s a direct flight somewhere, but that’s just part of it and I can look back at it and laugh about it now!

You came very close to winning the A-League in the 2017-18 season where Newcastle finished second. Obviously, the goal that won it for Melbourne Victory was offside. What was the atmosphere like in the changing room after the final? Were you happy you’d had a really good season or did you feel disappointed about the final?
I think that it was mixed emotions. I think then and there it was pretty raw. We came off the field and didn’t know about the VAR decision as much as everyone else did. It wasn’t really spoken to us in the changing room or at halftime or anything like that so it was hard for us to digest that later. Everyone had kind of dealt with the fact that we didn’t win, but then to hear that the VAR malfunctioned for 30 seconds when it happened sparked everyone’s disappointment and anger again. At the end of the day, VAR didn’t work in our favour on that day but we weren’t good enough to score anyway. I think it’s hard to say that it could have been a different picture and that the game would have stayed even for longer but we all didn’t probably do enough in that game to threaten them and to warrant an equaliser. It was frustrating but to be able to play a home grand final in Newcastle was something special and something I will always remember, albeit on the losing side.

You were the underdogs going into that season, but you were consistently delivering and some of the media thought that you’d stop at some point but you just kept on picking up points. What was the atmosphere like day to day around the ground?
It was pretty amazing. At the start of the year, we got written off again, like Newcastle do most years and all of the pundits predicted a low finish. I think that that was enough to spark a few boys to prove them wrong. It was a strange one. It was just this momentum where no matter what happened we just managed to pick up results. Whether it was hanging onto results or someone popping up to score a goal late on, we just had this belief within the squad where no matter where we were in a game or situation we could get something out of it. With that momentum, we started to get this wave of supporters behind us, and their belief and positivity manifested and rubbed off on the club. It was a real positive vibe and when things are going well you ride it for as long as you could. I think many people wrote us off towards the end and said that we wouldn’t be able to sustain it and hang onto it, and I think we did hit a bumpy patch towards the end but we managed to maintain the momentum. It was really weird, and as the season went on and we were able to improve and keep our position the beast kind of grew and grew and everyone around town jumped on and supported us. It was nice to know that with a winning team in Newcastle that’s how the supporter base and town get behind you. Hopefully, we can do that again possibly on the return and make a run for the finals. There’s a massive footballing community up here that knows their stuff and it would be nice if we were a bit more successful for them.

Nigel Boogaard

(Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

When you were injured this season you were included on the team sheet and sat on the bench with the coaching staff. Did you have a certain role there?
Yeah, so I was still not fit enough to come back and play and at the time we were short with the coaching staff. Our assistant Qiang Li was back in China doing a coaching course and at that time Clayton Zane had stepped away as well. It was essentially only Ernie (Merrick) and our goalkeeping coach and because I don’t have the coaching credentials I couldn’t sit on the bench unless I was named as a player. Ernie thought that I could add some value in the changing room and on the sideline with my understanding of the group and experience. It was nice to get a taste of what it’s like on the sideline. To be honest with you, it’s a lot more stressful than being on the field, because at least on the field you can have some sort of impact on what happens. As a coach, your hands are tied. Apart from making substitutions, there’s not much you can do. I found that very frustrating and still as a current player it felt a bit funny. Maybe if I had retired it would have been easier but it was nice to have a taste of that kind of coaching experience and the results were favourable.

If you could change one thing about the A-League, what would you change?
I’d probably say two because there’s two on par that needs fixing. I think that the league needs to be played in winter, as it aligns with all junior football and NPL. They should have the opportunity to go and play football and then watch their idols play. I also think the quality of football if we played in winter would be higher. You can see the difference between a Friday night game and the quality of that compared to a Sunday afternoon game. Initially, that was dictated to by Foxtel because they wanted to have content in summer and they were happy to take football on to summer. A lot of people say it’s due to stadiums and clashing with codes, but I think that can all be worked out, it was purely done to give Foxtel content. The other one for me would be that there need to be more teams. There’s a lack of opportunity for younger players to have a chance and get an opportunity to play at this level, and I think that unfortunately, where we’re at at the moment, is a lot of clubs rely on senior players and foreigners instead of younger players. It’s a hard one because you’ve got to have a balancing act between trying to win and be competitive and trying to blood younger players. There’s a fine line and unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of opportunity for younger players to step in and get a chance. Hopefully, in five years or ten years, there are 20 teams and they’re all competitive and their teams are made up of young players. But at the moment, I think we just have to worry about there being a viable league for next season.

I saw a statistic the other day from Daily Oz Football on Twitter on how many minutes were given to under-23s, and the Central Coast Mariners had the most minutes while Sydney FC had the least minutes. I’m not saying that the youth standard is low, I just think that it’s interesting that the more successful teams find it harder to give minutes to youth players.
Yeah, definitely and it’s finding that balance of blooding those young ones in and around their senior players and unfortunately it’s still a results-driven business and I was lucky when I was younger because I capitalised off the back of one of the senior players in Andrew Clarke getting injured and I took my opportunity and I never looked back. It’s just about those youngsters taking their chances and hopefully holding onto it.

There was a rumour on Transfermarkt that a few clubs from India had been speaking to your agent. Is that true?
There’s a lot of rumours going on. To be honest, I haven’t re-signed here in Newcastle yet and I still want to play professionally next year. I actually don’t have an agent at the moment, I have different people all around that I speak to and am in contact with. I’m exploring all things, to be honest with you. I would love to stay at Newcastle, it’s my home town and with the current squad we’ve got and the coaching staff I would really like to stay and play another season. Unfortunately in football, sometimes you don’t get to make those decisions and they’re taken out of your hands, so to be honest with you I need to play well in the games back and see what happens. At the moment I haven’t signed anywhere and I’m not heading off to anywhere as of yet. I want to finish this year and go on a good run and maybe sneak into the finals!

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