The 2016 PFA Harry Kewell Medal winner Jamie Maclaren reflects on his four years with Blackburn and why his time in the UK had a profound impact on him on and off the pitch.

PFA: At just 15 you made the move to Blackburn how did it come about?

JM: I was with the Victorian Institute of Sport and I had the chance to go to Aston Villa and Celtic on trial through a few contacts and I was originally going to sign with the Victory youth team but chose to go over to England. The first two weeks I was on trial at Blackburn. By the time those two weeks were done I had played two friendlies and scored five goals in the under 16’s and the offer was there. The club was like ‘if you want to take it it is there now, but if you want to go on trial with Villa and Celtic well the offer is off the table,’ so as you can imagine for 24 hours I sat on the phone in Blackburn to family working out what I wanted to do and I knew it was the right decision so I signed with Villa.


PFA: You said you scored five goals in two games, but your hat trick against one of those teams must have really stood out?

JM: My first two were against Derby away which was nice because my uncle lives in Derby so he was at the game and my second game was against Manchester United U/16’s and to score a hattrick was unbelievable. Even after I scored the goals I was still thinking have I done enough because the quality was crazy. I felt straight away that this was the club for me and it helped knowing that Brett (Emerton) and Vince (Grella) were at the club even though I hadn’t met them yet.


PFA: What was that moment like to turn up to your first training session at a Premier League club?

JM: I was walking into a dressing room where there were players fighting to be at the academy. With the U/16’s it is that bracket of where kids are going to get cut so I was coming in and I was taking some of the players’ spots and that was tough. It was two weeks of doing it for yourself on trial, but I look back and it made me stronger as you don’t have your parents there and you just have to give it everything.

PFA: How did you settle into life in the UK after signing with the club?

JM: As soon as it was done and dusted and all the paperwork was done I was in an academy dressing room where I had two strikers who were one and half and two years older than me and I kind of just thought my time will come, but a few weeks went past and I started to realise I needed to do more. I started doing extras out on the pitch and working on my finishing and that is something that I was happy to do because when I went home I went home to an empty room, where the English boys went home to their friends and family. The managers of the academy Garry Bowyer and Terry McPhillips they saw the foreign lads and myself doing that bit extra and I got my chance, and as soon as I got my foot in the door I didn’t stop and I won the top goal scorer award two years running at the academy. You have to be ready when you get your chance and I have taken that with me along the journey.


PFA: Were there any older players at the club that made a big impact on you?

JM: There was a striker, Jason Roberts, and there was a period where he was on the outer at Blackburn and he was on good money and he took the time to speak to me off the pitch, and he was close to Vince, and he would always sit down with me and talk about his experiences and stuff he had been through and he put a lot of effort into me. I will always remember a few of the games I played upfront with him in the reserves; he would be the target man and I would play off him and he would give me some really good advice.

There was a game when he had moved to Reading and Blackburn reserves were playing Reading at Reading and he messaged the reserve team coach and asked whether I was playing because he would come to the game if I was. I saw him before the game and we had a bit of banter and he said I should score today. We won 2-1 and I scored the winner and gave him the thumbs up and he was buzzing. El Hadji Diouf sorted me out with ten pairs of Puma boots when I was in the reserves and you don’t forget those things and the Aussies, Brett and Vince, were really good support as well.


PFA: After four years in the UK you made the decision to return home and joined Perth Glory. Was that a tough decision to make after you had worked so hard to get to Europe and stay there?

JM: I was going into an U20 World Cup and the way the first team was at Blackburn they had that many strikers that they would drop down, players like Liam Best and Mame Diouf and Nikola Kalinic were playing ahead of me in the reserves so I could see me chances were limited. I had a had a good game against Norwich during the season and they asked me to go down there and I played in a game against Crystal Palace and scored in a 1-1 draw. That was two weeks before I was going to the World Cup so I said to Norwich ‘look I’m going to the World Cup I don’t know what I’m going to do’ not long after that the Norwich manager got sacked and the first team coach did too, so it was tough to get back in touch.

During the World Cup I got a call from Alistair Edwards, who at the time was the manager at Perth, and all it took was one call and he said ‘look I’m going to bring you back and I think it is a good opportunity for you, it is is not going to be easy, this league is tough but I think it will make you or break you.’ For me it didn’t take long I thought ‘I’m going to go to Perth and try to get in the first team.’


PFA: Finally, last season was a brilliant one for you, but how important was the time you spent at Blackburn in getting you where you are today?

JM: It was so important. Not many people can experience what I did. I look back and I think I’m not sure I would have had this opportunity if I would have stayed in Australia because of the motivation and the mental strength I got over there. There was one game where  I was playing with Michel Salgado and I was upfront with Nuno Gomes and it was surreal, it was a massive learning curve and such a great life experience. There were lots of players who couldn’t do and it is not for everyone, but if you have a dream you don’t give up on it.