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Hashtag’s Jacko: “It’s bizarre to think that a couple of years ago I was jacking it in and drifting off into the sunset then here I am!”

Goalkeepers are a breed of their own, and this can certainly be said for 40-year old veteran Hashtag United shot stopper Jamie Jackson, who has, in his 20-plus year career, seen a lot throughout his career.

We sat down with Hashtag’s number 1 (or 13 as he wears for Hashtag) on Wednesday night and had a real in-depth chat, and we started off by asking which clubs he had represent (we wish we never asked by the end of the list!), “Just in case you asked me, I’ve got it in front of me and its long! I started at Slough, where I’m from originally as a kid, starting there in the late ‘90s when they were in the Conference. I didn’t actually make my debut for them during this spell but they were good established Conference side back then under Brian McDermott, who went on to manage Leeds United and Reading.

“After starting there I became a bit of a journeyman really. I went to Marlow FC then Flackwell Heath before having a couple of years out of the game. I came back in 2004 for Chesham United with my old Slough Town team mate Steve Bateman in the Ryman North just as the leagues were being reformed, we then went into the Southern Prem! I moved to Burnham in 2005 where we made the FA Cup first round, then on to Hemel Hempstead Town again with Steve. I dual registered with Slough to finally make my first team debut in 2007. After that I went back to Burnham for a spell, then on to Harrow Borough for about a season and a half, on and off under ex Wimbledon gaffer Dave Anderson. I had another stint at Slough before a spell at Aylesbury FC but I finished up at Slough. I played my last game for them in 2017, which coincided with me joining Hashtag that same year.” There’s probably another half a dozen clubs I missed there to be honest, I’m sure I counted 17 senior clubs in total.

“When I first joined [Hashtag], I was coming up to 38 when I played my first game and I was resigned to the fact that I was done at a reasonable level of football, what with the work commitments and travelling, the pain in the arse travelling on a Tuesday night! Joining Hashtag was a breath of fresh air for me. The standard of football wasn’t the best but the privileges and everything that went with it were amazing because we got to go to so many great places and meet so many fans all over the world. It was quite nice as well because for me there was very little pressure. Although we had a great big audience there was very little pressure on the actual game day.

“On to the new chapter of Hashtag, it’s evolved into a different animal, to be honest. Now the pressure’s back really on me playing football, which is something I kind of left behind but naturally went along with the Hashtags new semi pro guise and fell back into it. As much as it’s great and we still get a vast amount of privileges that most non-league clubs wouldn’t get, it’s a very different setup now to the one I joined a couple of years ago.

“It still had the feel it was a group of lads having a kick about and having an amazing journey and being viewed by half a million people every week at the same time. Whereas now, not only have we got the scrutiny of the viewers but also, we have supporters coming to watch us, we have staff and there’s a lot more riding on it now. It feels like our reputations are on the line now more than ever so it’s a bit more pressured but it’s obviously still a great thing and as I say we do get a lot of privileges compared to other non-league clubs.Hundred’s of thousand’s of fans see Jamie, week in, week out, but now that points are on the line, the pressure is on more than ever, “I remember playing in front of 200-300 every week at the likes of Slough and Chesham and I felt more pressurized then than I do now. 2 years ago for Hashtag it didn’t really affect anything as it was. We were playing in this FIFA scenario where, although we had a set amount of points to get to reach our achievements and to go on these tours and trips, we were always comfortable but now there are points on the line and there is league status to be upheld.

“There are a lot of people willing us not to achieve anything! There’s obviously an amount of pressure there, of trying to prove the doubters wrong, as it were.”

The start of Hashtag’s debut season in the league did no start off well, and it took them until their fifth game to record a win, and this in turn Jamie admits, has been positive, “I think that might have done us a favour. Maybe that was part our downfall at the beginning of the season: we had a bit of a swagger about us, we thought we were going to romp it and the poor start gave us the wakeup call that we needed. I’ve had many a conversation with Spen in particular with regard to this being a legacy. This isn’t a short-term quick fix let’s build a club/sell a club and see how much money we can make out of the Hashtag brand.

“This is their pet project. I think everyone that’s played for the club has bought in to what we are and what the club will be. We all in the same vein really, we all know that this is going to outlive all of us by a long way. Hashtag’s going to be around for a long time to come. As much as people may pour scorn on the name, what the club is and the ethics behind the club are brilliant. Hopefully it’ll be a self-sustainable model that may well revolutionise grassroots and non-league football.

“I’ve been about a long time and every non-league club struggles and trundles along hoping for a big injection of money and, nine times out of ten, a few years later, when that bankroller disappears into the sunset, the clubs are left picking up the pieces and it’s a model that happens far too often in non-league football. I think there’s many a big club that have fallen foul to a sugar daddy so hopefully Hashtag, as a model going forward, will be sustainable and we will continue for many a year.”

Top of the league, three points clear and a very real chance of gaining promotion, however Jamie is not getting carried away, “I said it after the game on Saturday in my interview for the Hashtag cameras Saturday: it was ten cup finals, now it’s nine cup finals. Dev’s made a great point that we take every game as it comes and that its not a big game if you win and the next game is bigger. If we do drop points along the way we’ll have to see how things go but our aim at the moment – and there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it – is to go and win those nine league games.

“I’d rather be a few more points clear at the top! We’ve dropped 5 points over the last 6 weeks which doesn’t sound a lot but it is when things are so tight. We lost a couple of weeks ago to Wormley in the League, which really hurt us when we were in a good spell. But we look strong at the moment. We’re not conceding goals. There’s no reason why we can’t go and win nine. If the roles were reversed, I know I’d rather be at the top of the tree now rather than be one of the teams with seven games in hand that has to win five at least. I’ve been in that position before and it’s not easy chasing down a team that are at the top of the tree when you’ve got to go Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday, Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday… through February and March. It’s tough!

“They [May & Baker] were due to play last night [Tuesday] but it was postponed again so they’re shuffling fixtures like nobody’s business! They’re the main example of that but there are a couple of teams down there that are in with shouts but it’s so hard to win six or seven on the bounce when you’re playing catch up. It’s hard enough as it is going Saturday to Saturday but when you’ve got to throw in midweeks, training and travel… especially with lads at this level juggling work and football, it’s a tough one to chase down.”

Off the field, Jamie regularly appears on Sky’s Soccer AM and we wanted to know how the “gig” came about, “Partly to do with Hashtag but mainly a good friend of mine. My mates sister-in-law worked on the show for a good few years. She’s left now but she helped me to get the initial call up. A few years back they used to get random non-league goalkeepers in, so every week would be a different goalkeeper who would come in and do a stint! I was called by Laura on the Thursday night: “We need someone Saturday!” It coincided with the fact I’d just joined Hashtag and we had played and beaten Soccer AM’s team within that month so a few of the lads were aware of my face and knew who I was. Me being me I was quick to dig my heels in and stick my elbows into ribs and tell them “if anything else comes up, give me a shout”.

About six months later, at the start of the new season, they were doing a “You know the drill” down in Southampton with Shane Long and James Ward Prowse and the production team gave me a bell! “We need a goalkeeper. I don’t suppose you’re about tomorrow?” I made sure I was and it’s gone from there. I’ve got a great relationship with all the team there, I love being part of such an iconic football show like Soccer AM.

“Lloyd is obviously one of the main hosts and a goalkeeper – in the loosest possible sense of the term “goalkeeper”! He gives me loads of stick on the show so I owe him a plenty! It’s a tough one for me as if Lloyd wasn’t a keeper I may have had more of a regular gig but, in saying that, I’ve done the show for four of the last five weeks now and it’s extremely tough! I’ve been playing for Hashtag at the same time so Saturday, for example, I was on the show until half eleven, jumped straight into the car for 2 hours and ended up half an hour late to Wivenhoe so Devs was not best pleased. I was feeling it in my back and my lower limbs as well with sitting in the car for two and a half hours after diving about on the tarmac of the Soccer AM car park!

“It’s great gig. To be honest with you, I have to pinch myself nowadays days to get a grasp on having a massive social media following which came from nothing a few years back. I get great opportunities on the back off the likes of Instagram and obviously the Soccer AM thing as well. It’s bizarre to think that a couple of years ago I was jacking it in and drifting off into the sunset then here I am!“

If I was ten years younger I’d be exploiting it all as best as possible but, being 40 years of age, I think I’ve just got to cling onto it with my fingernails and enjoy it for every bit I can for another year….or 10!”

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