By Joan Grey
She’s marked some of the world’s greatest footballers — including United States superstar Alex Morgan and legendary Brazilian striker Marta — but she’s now content with cameo appearances off the bench in the Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League.
Making her comeback thirty years after her Football Ferns debut, former national captain Maia Jackson says her 2023 season will realistically be more about playing minutes as an impact player, rather than entire games.
“Otherwise, I may fizzle out. I need to leave my ‘I’m still 20 years old’ attitude behind, which I find hard, and take it week by week, game by game,” she says.
Jackman, awarded an MNZM for her services to football in 2013, is, officially, a FIFA Legend.
Now 48, she is regarded as one of New Zealand’s all-time greatest female footballers.
Jackman debuted for the Football Ferns in 1993 at 17, embarking on an illustrious international career spanning almost two decades, earning 50 caps for New Zealand and notching 12 goals.
She played for the Football Ferns in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and that same year she was selected for the FIFA Women’s World Stars team.
Jackman is the only New Zealand female footballer to be selected for a world All Stars team.
Now, more than three decades since making her Fern debut, Jackman is playing in local football’s top women’s competition, this time in the green and white of Western Springs.
It’s a return to the game few expected after she retired from competitive football in 2016 after playing in the Women’s Premier League for Lynn Avon United.
She had hung up her competition boots for good. Or so she thought.
In late summer, Jackman’s friend and fellow Football Fern, Pip Meo, convinced her to join the Western Springs pre-season trials.
“Pip approached me and said come with me (to the trial). I said ‘are you crazy?’ followed by ‘OK, let’s see if I can still compete.’”
“I hadn’t played for seven years, so I said ‘I’ll just come and basically hold your hand’.”
It’s not the first time Jackman has been in the Springs’ hoops; she played a successful season with them in 2007, the same year she competed at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.
In 1992 —before most of her current club teammates were born — Jackman began playing senior football in the equivalent of today’s Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League.
The teenager had arrived in Auckland from Kerikeri and joined Eden Football Club.
“(The Eden team) was with Barbara Cox and Michelle Cox and a lot of really talented players. Also, a lot of them were part of the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 in China,” Jackman says.
Barbara Cox, the first captain of a New Zealand women’s team, and daughter Michelle, the first Kiwi woman to forge a professional career abroad, were strong influences.
Jackman: How the women’s game has changed
Now, Jackman is well-positioned to compare the level of play in today’s Women’s Premier League compared to when she made her debut.
The play has significantly advanced tactically and technically, she says, based on her Western Springs team perspective.
“I remember, in the New Zealand team, our coach John Herdman was trying to get us to solve problems on the field without him.
“It took a lot of tactical knowledge that a lot of us were lacking because it was such a young sport.
“I’ve come into the (Western Springs) environment, and the girls are technically really good and their tactical knowledge is unbelievable, and that’s happened over time.
“We’ll go into the changing rooms, and the girls are bantering back and forth about what’s going wrong, what’s going well and what we can change. It’s really cool to see that’s developed.”
However, many of today’s players lack the same level of physicality that existed three decades ago, according to Jackman.
“I think back then we had to be more aggressive and fight with more grit, perhaps because technically and tactically we weren’t as advanced.”
‘I need to leave my “I’m still 20 years old” attitude behind’
Jackman is easing into the women’s premier competition off the substitutes bench, and she’s kept company by her eight-year-old daughter, Kaea, who enjoys a front-row seat in the Western Springs dug-out to cheer on her mum.
“I think it’s going to be a season where I’m playing minutes rather than entire games otherwise, I may fizzle out . I need to leave my ‘I’m still 20-years-old’ attitude behind, which I find hard, and take it week by week, game by game. Although if I can and I am good enough, playing a full 90 would be amazing!”
Any hopes Jackman’s return to football would go unnoticed were dashed when her comeback — a nine-minute spell off the subs’ bench in Springs’ opener against promoted Hibiscus Coast —led to off-field controversy.
An administrative oversight meant Springs included an incorrect birthdate on Jackman’s profile on their electronic team sheet for the game.
It led to a protest by Coast which was dismissed but then won on appeal, converting Springs’ 5-0 win into a 0-3 loss.
The dispute is now before NZ Football, awaiting further review.
Jackman, meanwhile, looks forward to a season where she can enjoy her football, playing beside the next generation and sharing her experience.
As well as family and football, Jackman is a physiotherapist at Mount Albert Grammar School.
This season, the four-week break in the Women’s Premier League (July-August) lines up perfectly for Jackman to focus on her ambassadorial role at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
As a Beyond Greatness Champion, Jackman will promote women’s sport, inclusivity and unity through social channels, and represent the Women’s World Cup 2023 at key events.
READ MORE: Maia Jackman becomes Beyond Greatness Champion for FIFA Women’s World Cup >>>>
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Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She attends ACG Strathallan College and plays football for Franklin United.