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Pro footballer heading for career in law

10 October 2014

The New Zealand Law Society’s Auckland Young Lawyers Committee member Antonio Cozzolino interviews professional football player and law graduate Jacob Spoonley.

A goal keeper, Jacob has played football for the All Whites, New Zealand Under 23, New Zealand Under 20, Auckland City and Wellington Phoenix.

You’re going into law. Will it be a big firm, small firm, or the independent bar?

A big firm. They’re great places to be, the work is great, the training is fantastic and it allows me flexibility to continue with football in some capacity.

Do you have a practice area in mind?

At university I did a range of courses so I haven’t really developed a specific interest. I understand that I have been ear-marked for a team in corporate advisory which I am looking forward to. I enjoy engaging with people and work well in a team environment. Given my experience summer clerking, a corporate team seems to be a good fit.

So what’s going on with your football now?

Well, I was part of the Wellington Phoenix, training with them as much as I could subject to my obligations with university classes down at Victoria. They have decided to go in a different direction this year which means that they have gone for a younger keeper. So I don’t have the same position to go back to that I had last year. I’m in a bit of transition at the moment. I have been very fortunate I’ve had a couple spots in the media so I guess I’m waiting for other people to make up my mind for me at this point.

So what’s going on with our football then?

That’s something else that is going through a transition. In terms of our game, Anthony Hudson has just taken the reins at New Zealand Football. I think we punched well above our weight in getting him. Obviously time will tell how successful he is during his stint in charge, but he seems to be a young guy, very ambitious and he wants to further both himself and the people around him, which can only be good for the game in New Zealand. Hopefully it marks the start of a new era and means that we’ll be back at the World Cup in Russia.

Well that’s the next question, are we going to be at the next World Cup?

I think we have every chance. Unfortunately it comes down to two games eight months out from the World Cup. A home-and-away series against one of the teams that probably occupies that second tier in Central America, perhaps South America or Asia. Obviously we are going to have to be prepared, but I think I’ve seen from our big games in past, and our friendlies in between, that those teams aren’t insurmountable.

Is that a team that you want to be part of?

Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve managed to play at the Olympics, I’ve had some trials at some big clubs and I’ve also been to some big tournaments including the Club World Cup. To play at the World Cup proper would be the absolute pinnacle, so yes, it would be a beautiful thing to be able to say that I’ve been to a World Cup, and I’d love to put myself in the best position to be part of it.

How did you end up as a goalie? Is that a position you always aspired to?

No it’s funny actually. It goes back to your formative days really. Some are really talented at a young age, but I was just probably the kid who had asthma and got stuck in goal. I think you’ll find that’s actually something that happens more often than not. I mean there’s a whole lot of people I have to thank for where I am today but really it has its genesis in asthma.

As a goalie do you feel an extra burden? Like the team depends on you? Is that an extra pressure?

Definitely. You’re an individual in a team, and that’s the best way to explain it. As goal keeper you don’t really defend, it’s more like you are attacked (as once Roy Hodgen put it), and you have to be very mentally strong because there will be times when you make mistakes. You’re exposed and you’re embarrassed at the same time. There’s a saying that goalies make good people. We go to darker places than perhaps other players go to. It’s an interesting dynamic.

What have you been up to in the last 12 months – coolest place you been and why?

Sport is a wonderful vehicle to get you to places that you would never otherwise really go to. Unfortunately when you’re there you don’t really get to explore them. But in the past 12 months I have been to Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United States, Mexico, China, Japan and the majority of the Pacific Islands. The best trip would be to the Azteca, the 110,000-seat stadium, full of Mexicans, playing against Mexico – nothing has come close to that kind of atmosphere. In the past 12 months, yea, the Azteca, that’s got to be something special.

What’s your personal career highlight?

Playing a big part in getting the team to the Under 20 World Cup in Canada. That and the experience of the Olympic village. It’s a very special place. This may sound silly but I equate it to what I imagine Santa’s village to be like at the North Pole. Everyone who is there is a better version of themselves, it’s a very positive environment.

Were you ever tempted to go overseas for the money? How do you reconcile that with staying here?

Yeah, I had a contract fall through at the last minute in the Swiss league actually. I was in the team photo, which made it really weird. If someone wants to look that up on the internet they’ll see a picture of me. I never played a game, never had a contract with FC Vaduz but I’m in the team photo. Otherwise yes I’ve had a few offers earlier this season from Australia and Hong Kong. But we’d just bought a house and I was so close to finishing my studies I thought that I just had to prioritise those.

Have you thought about going into football administration? What are your future plans?

I seem to have been able to dabble in most things, though football administration is something I haven’t done. But I guess I aspire to do something bigger than football perhaps. I’d look at a roll at MFAT or in politics or something along those lines but I don’t really know. It’s something I’ve always looked to do in the long term. We’ll have to wait and see. There’s a big challenge coming up [in my commercial law job] first and foremost and I’m going to enjoy that before looking at other things.

To round that out actually, how do you feel about the prospect of now becoming a lawyer after having been a professional athlete?

I think a lot of the skills that you develop and aspects of your personality are very transferable from sport into a corporate career. Though it’s still a little bit of an unknown for me. What I have noticed is that often people who have pushed themselves really far in one area are left a little bit spent and have very little left to put into something else. So I may have to give myself a bit of a transition period, but I’m looking forward to it.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016