Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Marc Fox talks exclusively to Scot Gemmill for Soccerphile

Former Nottingham Forest and Everton schemer Scot Gemmill is the latest former Premier League player to succumb to the growing temptation of prolonging his career with a stint down under. For Gemmill, the location is Auckland on New Zealand's north island, home of the Knights, last season's wooden-spooners.

But whereas in times past, playing 'soccer' in an Australian league would have signalled your intentions to wind down in the sunshine, the newly refreshed Hyundai A-League is prompting quite the opposite.

Gemmill's move to New Zealand on a one-year-deal was based on pure footballing reasons and ended up being a straight swap between that and life in England, or Scotland's lower leagues.

Following over 250 Premier League appearances with Forest and Everton, the 35-year-old's most recent employers were Oxford United in League Two where he had been enticed by the opportunity of working under managerial legend Jim Smith in a player-coach capacity.

But within a fortnight of arriving at the relegation-threatened club, he soon realised that, by his own admission, his heart wasn't in it. By then discussions with Knights boss Paul Nevin, who was well aware of Gemmill after eight years in the employment of Fulham including reserve team coach, were already underway.

"I just wanted to come down here and experience living abroad but still doing what I love to do," explains Gemmill. "To come to the other side of the world and live a different life but at the same time play football, I really couldn't have asked for more.

"There are thousands of footballers that would love to come and play in the A-League but they don't all get the opportunity. I keep saying it but I do realise how lucky I am, I really do.

Dwight Yorke was the first well-known player to take a risk by accepting terms with eventual champions Sydney FC last year. Yorke eventually fought his way back into first-team reckoning with Trinidad and Tobago, captained his country at the World Cup and last month was offered the chance of another two year's in England at Roy Keane's Sunderland.

But he is not the only one. Before the second season started at the end of August, current Socceroos Stan Lazaridis, Tony Vidmar and Joel Griffiths all returned home while former Australian national team captain Paul Okon also made the switch. Dutch winger Bobby Petta has linked up with the premiers Adelaide United, former China international striker Yuning Zhang with Queensland and Grant Brebner joined Melbourne.

In the latest Socceroos squad, eight of the 26 players selected by interim coach Graham Arnold call the A-League home.

"Without doubt there are some great players," Gemmill responds without hesitation to the question of the league's standing. "There are some standout individuals in each team and the level is high. That's something people around the world don't realise yet. But they will do when the league gets the chance to grow."

The Scotsman has just landed in Brisbane ahead of New Zealand's round four clash with the Roar at Suncorp Stadium when we chat. He admits he's still coming to terms with the players being greeted by stony silences when they disembark and retells a story of how one man, noticing the tracksuited players leaving the arrivals lounge, innocently asking what the A-League to prove his point.

"It's weird when somebody doesn't know what the A-League is," he says. "If I'm being honest, nobody knows me really and I'm fine with that. I mean in England I lived the normal life. I'm not a recognised famous face - I don't pretend to be.

"I'm very grateful to be given a chance to part of it. I could easily be at home unemployed right now if I'm honest. I'm at that age where I'm just grateful to be still playing and I intend to repay the manger's faith by playing my part in the team. He's given me a chance to come down and play and I don't want to let him down.

"I haven’t got any pressure on me from supporters to do well. But I feel I put myself under pressure. I've had a good career, I'm extremely proud of what I've achieved and I don't want to spoil it now. I'm not under any financial pressures. If I really thought I couldn't play my part in the team, I wouldn't be here."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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