SIX HERR-RAISING MONTHS IN THE BUNDESLIGA...
EVER heard of Eintracht Braunschweig? Neither had Simeon Jackson until he got a call from his agent asking if he fancied a shot at the Bundesliga.
“It came right out of the blue really,” says the 26-year-old former Norwich and Gillingham striker.
“I’d just been released by Norwich and was playing in the Gold Cup with the Canadian national team. I was actually on the verge of signing for Bournemouth. Everything was agreed, it just needed to be signed and sealed.
“Then I got a phone call from my agent saying: ‘There might be an opportunity out in the Bundesliga – why don’t you go and have a look?’ ”
So he did, and 24 hours later, clutching a yellow and blue shirt on a foreign field in Saxony, Jackson became part of the Braunschweig fairytale.
One of the founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963, Eintracht actually won the title four years later and – with stars like West German World Cup winner Paul Breitner in their ranks – spent much of the 70s and 80s in the top flight.
Unfortunately, relegation in 1985 heralded two decades of decline and by the end of 2008, the Lions were facing financial crisis and a first ever demotion to the fourth tier of German football.
Then came manager Torsten Lieberknecht, final-day survival, and in May 2013, promotion back to the Bundesliga for the first time in 28 years.
It was not in the plan. “Only a year ago we wanted to develop step by step,” said Lieberknecht on the eve of the season. “Now these incredible boys are in the Bundesliga. We will have to see what comes of it but there are huge athletic and financial differences.”
This then, was the club that Jackson joined – a side on the crest of a wave but way out of their depth.
“It’s a pretty small club,” admits the Canadian. “They were in the third division just a couple of seasons ago and the same core of players have come up pretty much all the way.
“Braunschweig was a really exciting place to be. It was a real family club and everybody in the city was buzzing off their success.” Jackson enjoyed life off the pitch, making an effort to learn German using an app on his iPad and getting to know his new home.
“It’s near Hannover, and the place itself was great,” he adds. “Germany is everything people say – it has a lot of structure and a lot of rules. But Braunschweig was a really great city. It had everything you needed to live well.”
But on the pitch, things went less well. Reality soon bit, with Eintracht losing 13 of their first 19 games. Forwards were few, and chances even fewer.
Lieberknecht also asked his players to engage with his tactics – a tough ask for someone with limited German “The Bundesliga is a really high standard and they found it tough going,” admits Jackson, who scored 35 goals in 1001 games for Gillingham and won to the Premier League with Norwich.
“And so did I. It was a new country, a new language to learn But it was also a new mantality towards football – that was the toughest thing.
“Tempo-wise, it’s not as quick as the Championship or the Premier League. But it’s very robust-physically, you have to be in great shape to compete.
“It’s a totally different game actually. A totally different game Training and games are very ta-tical, very organised.
“Throughout my career I've played as quite a quick, explosive striker. My training has always been about short, sharp sessions. My job has been simple.
“Over there, it’s more about
your role in a system. I could try and be myself, and play in bursts. But the type of game they play, it wouldn’t have worked.
“A striker has to do a lot more over there – he’s not just there to score goals, he’s there to keep his team in the game as well.
“The manager was very good. He tried to help me any way he could, and would always try to break his instructions down into English. But I don’t think I could ever understand completely what he wanted me to do.”
In the end, Jackson played just nine games and failed to score a single goal. By the time January rolled round, he knew a return to Blighty was in order and when Milwall boss Ian Holloway showed an interest, Jackson wasted little time packing his bags.
“To go there and hit the ground running would have been great,” he says. “But once I didn’t, I wasn’t afraid to admit I needed to come back.
“I got a call from my agent saying there was interest. The next thing I know I was on the phone to Ian Holloway and we had a really good chat.
“I was absolutely buzzing off him and couldn’t wait to come and work with him. That was me decided, pretty much there and then.”
So does Jackson see his time in Germany as a waste of six months?
“Not at all,” he insists. “It was an exciting place to be and I felt I couldn’t really turn down the chance to play at that level.
“It was also a chance to experience football in a different country, which not everyone gets to do. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to but I’ve learned a lot.
“In the end, though, it was about playing games and I’m just glad to be back in England, playing the game I know.”
FREE LION: Jackson and Ed Upson after they both signed for Millwall Simeon in action for Eintracht Braunschweig
FLYING VISIT: Simeon Jackson as a Canary at Norwich, before his ill-fated move to Eintracht Braunschweig, inset