Reigning Canadian Soccer Player of the Year, Simeon Jackson, couldn’t help chuckling when he was reminded that he may very well be the least known player in the national squad.
He was named Soccer Player of the Year after representing the Canadian senior team in just eight away matches.
The 23-year-old Jamaican-born striker, who plays for Norwich City in the English Championship, made his home debut with the senior team in last weekend’s friendly international against Peru at BMO Field, Canada’s first in two years in Toronto since a 1-1 tie with Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier in August 2008.
It was also Jackson’s first appearance in Canada in three years since the Under-20 World Cup.
“It’s definitely a great feeling to be back home and to be playing in front of family and friends,” said Jackson who grew up in Mississauga before moving to England eight years ago to advance his soccer career. “It’s something that I miss and I certainly hope the opportunities will increase for me and the other guys to play more games at home. I know the fans are looking forward to that and we as players would appreciate the opportunities to display our talents before the home fans.”
Jackson caught the attention of national coach Stephen Hart when he scored the winning goal in the 53rd minute in his senior debut against Greece in a friendly international in Larnaca. He also took part in last year’s Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup tournament in the United States and friendlies in Macedonia, Poland, Argentina and Venezuela.
He will be an integral part of the national squad that will attempt to help Canada qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Canada last played in the sport’s quadrennial showpiece in 1986.
“It’s a long road and process to get to the World Cup,” acknowledged Jackson who received his first call up for the national squad in a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica at the National Stadium in November 2008. “I think we have the right personnel in place. I also like the fact that there is competition for places. That could only make us better.”
Jackson’s parents sent him to Canada at age three to live with his uncle (now deceased) Norman Jackson and his wife Joan in Mississauga. The Hillside Senior Public School and Loyola Catholic Secondary School student played for the Mississauga Falcons and Dixie Destroyers before moving to England at age 15 to live with a great aunt in Croydon and hone his soccer skills.
Released by his first club Gillingham, a dejected but determined Jackson joined non-league Dulwich Hamlet after failing to impress in trials with Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. His big break came in 2004 when Rushen & Diamonds then manager Brian Talbot offered the young player an opportunity to compete in the soccer league.
Jackson spent four seasons with the club, scoring 16 goals in 28 starts before re-joining Gillingham, the club that once spurned him, in January 2008 for a £150,000 transfer fee. He scored 35 goals in 85 starts, including the winning goal against Shrewsbury Town that earned Gillingham promotion to League One.
Last July, Jackson signed a two-year contract with Norwich City that was promoted to The Championship from League One.
He scored his first goal for the club in their fourth match three weeks ago.
“That was my first since last March, so it was a big relief for me,” he said. “I think that was translated in the way I celebrated after the ball went into the net. That however was just one goal and I have to keep going.”
Jackson said he’s happy to be with his new club which was relegated to League One in 2008-2009 for the first time in 50 years. The club spent one season there, winning the title last April and securing promotion back to The Championship.
“They showed the most interest in me and, as a player, it’s good when a club is keen on having you,” he said. “I am delighted to be in The Championship because they have quality teams and players. It’s a perfect place for me to launch my career.”
The centre forward did not rule out the possibility of playing in Major League Soccer (MLS).
“It’s good to see MLS emerging as a major league and the huge support that fans give to the Toronto team,” he said. “It’s definitely tempting, but I am in a great situation right now and I want to stay there and see how far I can get before coming home. Canada is still home for me even though I have been in England for eight years.”
Jackson dedicated his first senior team appearance in Canada to Norman Jackson who succumbed to cancer last May. The former Ontario cricket administrator coached his nephew for a few years before he joined the Mississauga Falcons.
“He was in attendance when I last played in Toronto in the Under-20s three years ago,” said Jackson. “Losing him was a big blow. Things happen in life and sometimes you don’t grasp the significance until after the person is gone. My uncle had a big impact on me getting to where I am right now and I will never forget that.”
Jackson bought 20 tickets for family and friends to attend last weekend’s match that Canada lost 2-0.