Published 24th November 2007, Lancashire Evening Post
Jon Newby will celebrate his 29th birthday on Wednesday safe in the knowledge he has rekindled his Football League dream at Christie Park.
Newby, who played four times for Liverpool early in his career, is approaching his 10th year in the professional ranks.
Yet few players could have had such a rollercoaster journey from the glamour and glitz of Anfield to the foothills of the non-league world.
“Liverpool is so long ago it felt like it didn’t happen,” said the Morecambe striker. “It seems almost surreal now.
“I made my debut against Middlesbrough, yet a fortnight before I’d sat on the Kop with my brother.
“The family were season ticket holders and still are.
“I’d watch Liverpool anywhere if I could, even Southampton on a Tuesday night.
“But at the time, I was also a regular in the reserves, scoring a lot of goals, and suddenly I was on the bench.
“I came on as a substitute for Vladimir Smicer with 25 minutes to go and I looked up to where I’d sat two weeks earlier.
“My family was there. Unbelievable really.
“Paul Ince snapped me in half in the first minute, and it was like, ‘Welcome to the Premiership, Jon’.
“The game ended 0-0 but I’d just played for Liverpool, the team I’d supported since I was six. I was living the dream, though, and I just felt incredibly proud that I’d done it.
“I also made a goal for Karl-Heinz Riedle against Hull in the League Cup in his farewell game for Liverpool.
“I can picture it now. I went past the left-back, got to the line and dinked in a ball to the back post. Riedle thundered his header home with such incredible power.”
Newby is not a soundbite footballer. He has seen the game and his personal circumstances change beyond recognition.
When he tells his story, it is clear he is thoughtful and intelligent, and the most companionable of lads.
“Football can be such a strange business and I’ve tasted just about everything I suppose.
“I was surrounded by superstars at Anfield and it was like, ‘Am I good enough to be here’.
“I was a young lad trying to become one of them.
“I partnered Michael Owen when Liverpool won the Youth Cup in 1996.
“Jamie Carragher and David Thompson were in the team too, and it was an awesome experience.
“Carragher would have played in his bare feet. He loved the game.
“You see lads on big money going through the motions, but Carragher always had an incredible passion for football.
“Robbie Fowler was always great with me. He gave me loads of tips and, even at 14, you could see Steven Gerrard was going to be a superstar.
“He had that incredible vision and will to win.
“But I left Anfield with my boots in a bin bag and I never went back. It wasn’t for any specific reason. I’ve just never gone back.”
Nine months ago, Newby signed for Southport.
It was a world away from the top flight and his latter experiences in the Football League.
“Southport were struggling to stay in the Conference, but by the end I wasn’t even in the side.
“I thought that was it – the dream had died at 28.
“If I’m not going to get a start there, then I’ve no chance of getting back in the Football League.
“You start to doubt yourself, particularly if you are a player who thrives on confidence.
“I wasn’t expecting a contract anywhere last summer, and I
seriously thought about packing up and going part-time.
“I was in the last chance saloon, the crossroads of my
career and I really thought that was it.”
Then Morecambe boss Sammy McIlroy threw Newby a precious lifeline.
And he is clearly enjoying his new lease of life at Christie Park, having scored against Hartlepool and then with a fine strike in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Grimsby.
“I spent the summer writing to clubs while my father-in-law telephoned a load of others.
“I was an hour away from signing for Witton Albion as deep down I didn’t really expect a contract at Morecambe.
“But I just felt comfortable there. It just felt right somehow.
“I scored in the first pre- season game against Barnsley and Sammy and Mark Lillis, his assistant, just focused on the positives.
“Some managers are very poor at pointing things out. They just haven’t got the man-management skills.
“But Sammy is the first manager I’ve had in a long time who sees the same thing I feel about my game.
“He is on my wavelength and he has helped restore my self-belief.”
When he talks about his two spells at Bury – Morecambe’s opponents at Christie Park today – he admits to a raft of emotions.
“I remember I had the chance to go to Bury or Wrexham on loan, and Phil Thompson said to me, ‘Which one do you want to go to? They’ve both got
“But it worked out at Bury. I felt confident, sharp, and full of belief.
“When you go out on loan, I always felt it was hugely
important to gain the respect of my fellow professionals immediately.
“When you come from Liverpool, they expect you to be a world beater.
“It is the same anywhere when a loan player comes in. You say to your mate, ‘What do your reckon’.
“You just need to gain that respect.”
Newby made his debut against Peterborough United at Gigg Lane in 2001, and went on to make more than 150 appearances for the Shakers.
He said: “I’ll never forget that day – I could have scored a hat-trick in the first five minutes.
“I hit the woodwork twice, and the goalkeeper scooped one off the line.
“My biggest asset was my pace, and sometimes you just sense the goals are there.
“I scored in the second half, and it might sound strange, but that was probably the biggest moment of my career so far.
“I think it surpassed playing in the Premiership for Liverpool.
“I’d been out on loan to Sheffield United and Crewe and had come back to Anfield without scoring.
“But to score my first senior goal was massive.
“It just lifted so much pressure off me. In the next game I scored a couple against Oxford, and soon after grabbed the winner against Millwall.
“I knew Bury wanted to keep me and I was desperate to stay.
“But in my last loan spell at Sheffield United, Gerard Houllier said there was a two-and-a-half year deal on the table when I returned.
“I thought, maybe, just maybe, I could still be in his plans.
“But a couple of weeks before I went to Bury, initially on loan, they signed Jari Litmanen.
“I thought if they are signing world-class players, then the writing is on the wall.
“Three months later, I was told I could leave Liverpool.
“I’d been at Anfield since I was nine, and how it ended left a little bit of a sour taste.
“I felt a bit let down, but that first spell at Bury was probably the happiest time of my career.”
I asked Newby who was the best coach he had worked with.
“Billy Ayre at Bury was fantastic, and I probably gained more from five months working under him than my whole time at Anfield.
“Andy Preece and Billy Ayre got me to believe in myself more than anyone else could, while Graham Barrow also helped me.
“Dave Nugent was just breaking through at Gigg Lane, and when I came back for my second spell he was a changed player.
“He had grown, and his confidence was sky high.
“He had gone from a player who you thought might have a chance to how much was somebody going to pay for him.
“He scored a couple against Yeovil on the first day of the season and the change was unbelievable.
“When he went to Preston he adapted to the Championship, and always looked comfortable. He will be a millionaire now, but David is one of those guys you always wanted to succeed, because he is a genuine lad.”
Newby was released by current Bury boss Chris Casper last year.
“When he let me go, I just felt he treated me with a lack of
“I then had a short spell at Wrexham, and when I joined Southport I had been training on my own in the park for a few months.
“I never gave up though.”
“You see kids lost to the game at 16, and they never get back in.
“I never had to suffer that heartbreak, and now Morecambe have given me another opportunity in the league.
“And I can always say I played four games for Liverpool, and that
is something I’m incredibly proud of.
“How many lads can say they’ve played for Liverpool in the Premier League?”