Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Pyramid climber Mackie loves life on top
October's 6-0 west London derby thrashing at Fulham may on the surface have appeared an inauspicious result for QPR in their first season back in the top flight in 15 years. But in the 72nd minute, with the visitors having already shipped five goals, there was a moment of solace for one man sporting the Hoops' orange away kit. Exactly four years after playing for Exeter City against Aldershot in the Conference, Jamie Mackie came on to make his Premier League bow.
Mackie's journey from non-league football to England's top division has been one driven by hard work and unflinching self belief, attributes he shares with fellow football-pyramid climbers like Norwich City strike pair Steve Morison and Grant Holt. It is those qualities that are behind Mackie's rapid ascent, a rise that will be perfectly exemplified when he runs out next month at St James' Park, the stadium namesake of former side Exeter - the club he left almost exactly four years ago.
Having started as a trainee at Wimbledon, making his debut for the club in 2003, Mackie was part of the club's controversial relocation to Milton Keynes before moving on to Exeter City. A career nadir was to follow in 2005 when he was loaned out by the Grecians to Sutton United of the Rymans League - but six tiers below the holy grail of the Premier League, he never gave up hope of playing there.
Strengthened physically and emotionally be his experience at Sutton, Mackie returned to Exeter, started scoring regularly and never looked back, sealing subsequent moves to Plymouth and of course Queens Park Rangers - where, after initially missing the start of the season while recovering from a long-term injury, Neil Warnock finally gave him his first taste of the big time.
"It [his Premier League debut] was just everything I have ever wanted coming into one. Especially after the injury and the agony of being out that long it was just amazing to be back," Mackie tells ESPNsoccernet in between games of ping-pong at a community event promoting the Fred Perry Table Tennis Urban Cup. "I worked really hard on my rehab to get back to the level I'm at now. It can take players a long time to get back into the team but I'm thankful to the manager for putting me straight back in but I think I've proved my worth in the past few weeks.
"I wouldn't really class myself as a Premier League player yet. I've played a couple of games so I need to make sure I maintain a good level to turn myself into a 'Premier League player' properly and that happens over the course of a season so the main thing for me is that we stay up and I can prove myself at this level.
"A lot of hard work has gone in and everyday I've trained hard to get to this level; I'll definitely carry on doing that. I'm not going to lose my work ethic, that's what's got me this far and I'm delighted to play in what I think is the best league in the world, it's brilliant playing there every week. Playing in the lower leagues I think you need to have the self confidence that you can make it, you need to keep your head and believe that you can reach that level otherwise it's never going to happen. You need to believe in yourself.
"I think it's kept me really grounded because I've gone through the leagues. I know what life is like lower down and I don't take anything for granted now. I love playing now at this level, I obviously much prefer it. But I made some unbelievable friends in my time coming through the leagues and played with some very good players - I think there's some very good players at that level and some of them have gone on to do well too."
Never were Mackie's powers of patience and self-belief more seriously challenged than after a horrific double leg fracture suffered in an FA Cup defeat at Blackburn in January. The injury left him sidelined for nearly nine months, during which time he could only watch on as his team-mates secured promotion to the Premier League. But though he played no part in the run-in, Mackie's nine goals earlier in the season certainly contributed to the Championship-winning success (also earning him an international debut for Scotland) and as QPR clinched promotion, he was out on the pitch to celebrate with his colleagues.
"Being injured was so hard," Mackie recalls. "It was the most frustrating time I've had in my career and hopefully it never happens again. It was a really but the lads did tremendously as a group to get promoted and I'm really thankful to them that I've now got the opportunity to play in the Premier League.
"They were really supportive to me, they're a great bunch and I really enjoyed coming in - I came to every home game and a couple of away games as well, the manager kept me included which was nice and it gave me the belief to come back and straight into this team."
The leg break at Ewood Park was well publicised because of the behaviour of Blackburn forward El-Hadji Diouf, who Mackie claimed stood over him saying "F*** you and f*** your leg" while he lay in agony on the ground after a tackle on Gael Givet went wrong. Diouf's actions led to him being ostracised and eventually released by Rovers, while QPR boss Warnock labelled the Senegal international "gutter type". It was an incident that brought united disgust at Diouf, but Mackie has not dwelt on it, insisting he is "just not bothered about it anymore."
On Givet, who he collided with, Mackie recalls: "He called me at the time and it definitely wasn't his fault - it was probably mine if anything. He's obviously a really good pro and I didn't have a bad thing to say about him. It was just one of those things, you get injured in football - it comes with the territory. I've had my injury and I'm over it and I'm probably a stronger person for it."
Despite it taking an eight-month chunk out of his playing career, Mackie prefers not to dwell on the injury but to concentrate on what lies ahead this season. Unfazed by the increased competition brought about by the raft of new arrivals at Loftus Road, the forward - more recently converted to a midfielder by Warnock - embraces the presence of such seasoned Premier League players as Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips in the dressing-room.
"Regardless of your name or what you've done in the game so far you have to buy into what the club's about," Mackie explains. "I think they've done that and they will continue to - you have to if you want to be a part of this football club. They're obviously top players and have got a lot of experience that the likes of myself can learn from. It's good to have that calibre at the club and hopefully we can add some more quality too.
"They've brought experience into the dressing room, not many of us have played in the Premier League before and they've obviously done it their whole lives. Their experience is invaluable to players like me - the likes of Luke Young have played a number of games in the Premier League and you can see that in his play - it helps other lads and it's good to play with that quality."
The added depth in Warnock's squad has helped lift QPR to a very respectable 12th place in the Premier League table, two points ahead of fellow promoted side Swansea and behind last season's Championship runners-up Norwich on goal difference only. But with competition fierce and points at a premium - just six points separate ninth place and the relegation zone - Mackie says no-one is resting on their laurels, with avoiding a return to the second tier the club's number one goal.
"It's been a great start and I think everybody is happy so far. We need to improve our home form a little bit and there's been a few sloppy errors as a team in general but I think we've acquitted ourselves well and obviously if we get some other quality in January we've got a great chance of staying up, which is probably the most important thing.
"Avoiding relegation has got to be our aim to start with and hopefully we can do that. I've personally seen enough that, although I've never played in this league before, I really think we can stay up. We've got belief in each other that we can do that- it's got to be our goal and if it's more than that we'll try to kick on."
Jamie Mackie went head to head with Darius Knight ahead of the Fred Perry Urban Cup, a nationwide table tennis tournament for youngsters aged 11-14 in partnership with Premier League 4 Sport and the ETTA. The finals took place in London on Saturday December 3.
QPR's Jamie Mackie on his rise from non-league football