It may be a long way from Barcelona’s Nou Camp to Maltby Main’s Muglet Lane, but Scarborough Athletic skipper Tony Hackworth is still relishing every kick of the football.
After sampling the bright lights of the top level of the game, 32-year-old Hackworth is now thriving in his role as an honourary Scarborian.
The focus that handed the attacker his breakthrough for Leeds United against Barcelona and Lazio in late 2000 still remains. But now it focuses solely on hauling Boro through the divisions.
“I went to a fans forum at the start of the season and we said that if we didn’t get promoted this season then we never would,” said Hackworth. “If we don’t manage it then it would be a massive, massive disapointment.
“It is vital that we have strength in depth because it was what we lacked last season. When we had a few players out suspended or injured then we tended to struggle. I know third isn’t a bad finish, but it wasn’t up to the club’s standards, moving up is our only aim.
“It is going to be tough because everyone raises the game and treats it as their cup final when they play us because we are the so-called biggest team in the league.”
The Boro captain also has big plans for himself this season, as he aims to chip into the Athletic goal-rush.
He added: “I told Rudy that I want at least 16 or 17 goals this season.
“We have talked about a few positions I want to play. I like to be in behind the front two or in the centre of midfield, but I’m not really bothered.
“I filled in at centre-half last season and I enjoyed that, so it doesn’t matter really as long as it benefits the team.”
Having moved to the town almost 10 years ago after a spell at Notts County, Durham boy Hackworth now sees Scarborough as home. As well as settling into the town he is also growing further into his role at Pindar School.
“I had been injured at Notts County for a while so I wasn’t playing a lot of football. I spoke to Scarborough boss Russell Slade and played my first game away at Chester, luckily for me I did well, got a great reception from the fans and jumped at the chance to sign.
“We had some cracking players at the time, but it all descended into a bit of a nightmare in the seasons that followed.
“I still love living in Scarborough, though I didn’t think I’d stay here this long. After the club went bust I got my job at Pindar School, moved to the nearest club in Whitby. When Rudy came in for me I jumped at the chance of coming back to play for Scarborough.
“I am really enjoying my time at Pindar. It seems like yesterday since Mitch Cook and I went to speak to Hugh Bellamy, who was headteacher back then, but I still love the job.
“I scored the last goal for Scarborough FC away at Hucknall and after that, when the club did go under, I never thought I’d be back playing for a Scarborough team.
“It was horrendous when it went under. I think there was only four or five of us training full-time and we didn’t have jobs to go to.
“You never think it is going to happen, you always have the view that somebody will come in and save the club.”
Hackworth did see some positives from that final season in the Conference North though, adding: “For the younger lads like Ryan Blott, that season was the perfect chance for them to play and make a name.
“I think he was 18 at the time, but since then he has grown and grown.
“I‘m surprised that Blotty has stayed at Scarborough Athletic because of the interest strikers attract when they score that many goals. I don’t think he had a fair crack of the whip at Whitby when he went there, but he is still a young lad and there is no reason why he can’t climb the ladder with Scarborough once again.”
After being raised in Durham, Hackworth was handed the perfect grounding in the game, starting off as a schoolboy at Manchester United, and gaining further experience with the country’s top clubs.
“I was at Manchester United’s school of excellence as a youngster, then when I got to Year 11 I went on trial at a few clubs including West Brom and Chelsea,” he added.
“Then I went to Leeds, they took me on a pre-season tour and that is what I think clinched it for me.
“The club was big at the time and it still is a massive club.
“The Chelsea trial was good because I had to go to London on my own for a couple of weeks as a 15-year-old. Gianluca Vialli was manager at the time and they had players like Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes, so rubbing shoulders with them was a bit special.”
Things soon gathered pace at Leeds, and after a number of games as an unused sub in the Premiership, Hackworth was shocked to be given an opportunity in the Champions League.
He added: “It was unbelievable playing against Lazio and Barcelona. For me it was just a dream come true.
“I thought David O’Leary had just taken me to Barca for experience. With about half an hour to go he told me to go and warm up. I didn’t think there was a chance because there was also Alan Smith and Darren Huckerby on the bench.
“He threw me on and the rest is history. I swapped shirts with Emmanuel Petit, but they had a great squad including Simao, Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo and the De Boer brothers, it was frightning really.
“I was a young lad at the time so there wasn’t any pressure on me, I wasn’t expected to do anything.
“Playing at home to Lazio for the last half an hour was another magnificent experience and something that I’ll never forget.”
As well as the highs of these two appearances, there were a few lows at Elland Road, including a career-threatening knee injury and a court case that grabbed national attention.
He said: “Sometimes things don’t work out though. You might play poorly, the manager doesn’t like you or you get an injury, like I did snapping my cruciate when I was at Leeds.
“What will be will be, you can’t blame injuries, you just have to get on with it and try to make the best of it.
“There was a few other difficult times at Leeds, like the court case, which is something I regret.
“The case lasted about 10 weeks, but I was acquitted after the first trial, but it was a bad time for me.
“I was still in the first team squad during the trial, but you are only thinking about one thing.
“At the time Jonathan Woodgate lost an awful lot of weight and couldn’t play, but Lee Bowyer took it a different way and played probably the best spell in his career.
“You always had it in the back of your head while you were going away with the team that you had the trial on the following Monday.
“It is something that crops up in a number of conversations, but I have moved on from it all now.”
Much of that has shaped Hackworth as the player he is today, and in the future he is keen to pass on the skills and experience he has learned as a manager.
Hackworth added: “I want to go into management and coaching, but it is a case of where you start. I am doing my coaching badges at the moment and it is something I am very keen on pushing towards.
“Part of it is down to who you know and who you are. Sometimes a club will take a chance on you, but at the moment I am still enjoying playing.
“I’m 32 at the moment, so I do have a bit to do on the pitch, we’ll have to see where I am when I decide to pack that part in.
“Obviously Rudy has put a great squad together and he is pushing things on at a great pace, but if the opportunity arose in the future, I’d love to be involved with coaching or managing Boro.”