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Interviews

BIG INTERVIEW | Jon Macken

3 May 2018

Ahead of our final game of the season, we spoke with Jonathan Macken, who represented both Barnsley and Derby County during a distinguished career.

The former Reds striker had a loan spell at Oakwell before joining the Club on a permanent basis in 2008, when his knack of scoring timely goals endeared himself to the Barnsley faithful.

Macken’s career took off when he left Manchester United for Preston North End in 1997, where he would eventually work under David Moyes following the departure of Gary Peters.

The Lilywhites continued to make strides in their bid to earn promotion from the third tier, but ultimately fell short as they lost in the play-off semi-finals to Gillingham in the 1998/99 season.

“It was a good season in terms of being back playing fairly regularly and in terms of where we were the season before as a team - I wouldn’t say we were fighting relegation, but we were certainly down there and had to win a few games towards the back end of the season to cement our place in the league,” said Macken.

“I think we turned a corner in terms of our mental approach to games, to the season and how we were as a squad. It was progressive, and we progressed into the play-offs and we were very disappointed to get beat by Gillingham.”

Preston eventually secured promotion to Division One the following campaign, with Macken scoring 22 league goals as Moyes’ side finished the season as champions.

After a 2-0 defeat at home to Chesterfield on 4 September 1999, North End went on an 18 game unbeaten run that stretched to the New Year - a 2-1 loss at Stoke City on 14 January 2000.

“It was progression - the year before we’d been in the play-offs and the season after we won promotion and I think we won it fairly convincingly,” continued Macken.

“As a team, we didn’t surprise that many teams because I think they knew how good we were as a squad from the previous season. But what we did, we banded together, stuck with the same squad with one or two additions and did really well that season as a unit.”

Jon Macken playing for Preston.

The following campaign saw Preston take Division One by storm as they secured a play-off position with a fourth place finish.

However, Moyes’ side lost 3-0 to a rampant Bolton Wanderers at the Millennium Stadium as North End’s Premier League aspirations were cut short.

Macken again finished as the Lilywhites’ top scorer with 22 goals, proving that he could perform at a higher level. As well as his poacher’s instinct, the striker was also capable of providing moments of pure genius as he scored a 50-yard stunner against Manchester City at Deepdale. 

“I looked at it and saw that Nicky Weaver was off his line at the time and just thought ‘if it comes I’m having a shot’,” said Macken.

“Obviously it bounced perfectly for me, and then everything just takes care of itself; you know what you’re doing, in your head, and you hit the target. The rest is history. 

“It was a great goal and a great win, because it pushed us up in the league as well and showing what a good side we were. I think that season there were some very big teams in the division and there were some great games at Deepdale, and we held our own against most.”

It wouldn’t be long before Macken signed on the dotted line at Manchester City as Kevin Keegan’s high-flying side came calling for the his services.

The potent striker had shown his predatory instincts again as he scored North End’s second in a 3-2 defeat at Maine Road before making the £5 million switch.

Jon Macken playing for Manchester City.

“It was my hometown club and it was a massive pull that they were doing so well,” admitted Macken. “They’re a great football club - a massive football club - and the money that they offered was too good for Preston to turn down.

“At the end of the day, when the club says they’ve accepted a bid, everything is taken out of your hands. You look at it and think it’s a club that I want to speak to, and it was a great opportunity for myself to push on and I was more than happy to go and speak with them.

“When I signed I was over the moon because it turned out to be a good signing and a good opportunity for myself.”

City were playing scintillating football under Keegan, with Ali Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic providing creativity in midfield, and a young Shaun Wright-Phillips was making a name for himself as one of the most promising talents outside the Premier League.

There was plenty of competition for the striker at Maine Road as he went head to head with Shaun Goater, Darren Huckerby and Paulo Wanchope - who had scored 59 goals between them that season prior to Macken's arrival - as City pushed for the Division One title.

“It was fantastic - some of the characters we had in the changing room were unreal really,” continued Macken. “The ability of some of the players was second to none and it was a fantastic season and a fantastic scenario to be involved in.

“At the end of the day, it’s history now, but they’re memories that you remember. But it’s what you take with you; you’re experience and your memories.”

Macken scored five goals in eight appearances as City won promotion to the Premier League, but found first team opportunities limited the following campaign due to a culmination of injuries and the arrival of Nicolas Anelka.

However, Macken was on target for the Blues as they recorded an emphatic 4-1 victory over fierce rivals United in 2004.

Macken scores City's second as they beat United 4-1 in the derby.

“It’s brilliant, you can feel the buzz in the weeks leading up to it,” reminisced Macken. 

“On game day, you can’t wait to get started and as soon as you walk out you can feel the atmosphere, the tension and anticipation. Fortunately that day we turned up as a team and we played really well, and I think we put in a performance and deserved a win.

“It was a massive victory because it was the first derby at the new stadium. Everything was set-up for us that day; we had some fantastic players, big game players, and we turned up and out-performed them, and deservedly won the game.”

One of the goals Macken is most famous for is his stoppage-time winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup fourth round replay at White Hart Lane.

City were trailing 3-0 at half-time and had Joey Barton sent off, but goals from Sylvain Distin, Paul Bosvelt and Wright-Phillips had turned the game on its head before Macken completed the comeback with a magical winner.

“You’re pushing and you’re hoping to get a start - I wasn’t involved in terms of game time and starting games as much as I would like, but I did have a few injuries occurring regularly, one after another, which was frustrating,” said Macken.

“As a footballer you never want that to happen - it’s a spiral, you get one and then another and another. But I was on the bench, ready to come on, and Nicolas Anelka got an injury early on in the game, I think it’s when we were 2-0 down.

“When I came on I think they scored again straight away to make it 3-0, and it was just a case of grouping together - we stuck with each other and had a bit of belief.

Macken scored a dramatic late header to secure a memorable turnaround.

“There wasn’t really much said in the dressing room, the players were trying to get each other going. When we came out of the tunnel we could hear the City fans singing and it was surreal because we were wondering what they had to sing about after that first half performance.

“I know a few people who were at the game and they said it was one of the best atmospheres they’ve seen at half-time - so maybe they sensed something was coming.

“That geed us up a little bit and then you get the first goal, the second and then the third - and we got the fourth goal and it was a bit of a relief because we were going into extra time and we were all dying on our legs.”

From City, Macken made the move south to Crystal Palace who were building a team capable of pushing for promotion from the Championship.

However, game time would be limited for the striker due to injuries and competition for a starting berth, with Andy Johnson, Clinton Morrison and Dougie Freedman also performing well at Selhurst Park.

It would prove to be a frustrating period for Macken, who scored twice in 13 league starts for Iain Dowie’s side. The Eagles also lost in the play-off semi-finals to Watford as Aidy Boothroyd's team went onto secure promotion to the top flight.

“Things didn’t go quite as I wanted them to go, for one reason or another,” conceded Macken. “You look back on it and try to adjust things and think why didn’t it work out? There are lots of different reasons, but it was just a period where it didn’t go fantastically well for me.

Macken playing for Crystal Palace.

“Obviously you’re disappointed because you go to a new club and you want to hit the ground running and be a success, unfortunately it didn’t quite pan out that way but I met some fantastic people there and I’ll remember the club.

“It was a good opportunity for me to go there, but sometimes this happens in football.”

After a loan spell with Ipswich Town, Macken joined Derby County on a free transfer in January 2007, but could not nail down regular first team football as the Rams won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs.

In November 2007, the striker linked up with former Preston teammate Simon Davey, who was in charge of Barnsley. He scored the first goal of his loan spell on 22 December against Bristol City in a 3-2 defeat at Ashton Gate.

Confidence was now flowing for Macken, who netted twice on Boxing Day as the Reds drew 3-3 with Stoke City at Oakwell.

“It was absolutely crucial because when I was at Derby, once again, I was in and out,” continued the 40-year-old.

“I wanted to play football and the opportunity arose to come to Barnsley and I snapped their hand off - I knew the manager, I knew the coaches and it was somewhere where I wanted to be.

“I had a fantastic time there, enjoyed my football and loved the Barnsley fans, the people and the crowd, the directors and the board. It was just a fantastic club to go to and I really enjoyed my time there.”

Macken in action for the Reds.

Macken returned to Pride Park when his short term loan finished, but it wouldn’t be long before he was back at Oakwell in a £200,000 transfer in the January window.

He hit the ground running and scored on his return as Barnsley beat Colchester United 1-0, and his goals would prove to be crucial as the Reds beat the drop by three points.

“Sometimes everyone thinks about getting promotion and things like that, which is fantastic, but the feeling when you keep a club up is just as important for everyone involved,” explained Macken.

“That is a great memory of mine, helping that team stay up - it was crucial for us because we had some very good players, and I don’t think we got the credit we deserved sometimes. 

“Some of the performances and the level that we were trying to get to - Simon Davey worked tirelessly to get a good squad together and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I think the fans could see the effort was always there with us. 

“The expectation that we wanted to go on and do better things was there and you could see that we always gave 110% week in, week out.”

One of the more bizarre incidents during Macken’s time at Barnsley came in his last season at the Club, as Mark Robins’ side made the long journey to Plymouth Argyle on 28 November 2009.

The Reds had come from a goal down to lead 4-1 at Home Park thanks to strikes from Daniel Bogdanovic, Emil Hallfredsson, Adam Hammill and Ryan Shotton, but the match was abandoned after 58 minutes due to a waterlogged pitch.

Macken rounds Neil Sullivan to score against Doncaster Rovers.

When the fixture was eventually played in the March, the game ended 0-0 and Barnsley would go onto finish the campaign in 18th place - seven points clear of relegation.

“You just have to get on with it,” said Macken. “It’s frustrating, you’re annoyed, you try and change their minds and get the game back on again.

“But you can never change a referee’s decision once he’s made it, and he did it for safety reasons so you look back and think fair enough. It was probably the right decision, but it was very frustrating at the time.”

From Oakwell, the striker joined League One outfit Walsall in August 2010 before moving on to Northwich Victoria and then Stockport County.

Macken eventually ended his playing career in 2015 after a stint at Bamber Bridge, before stepping into a managerial role at Evo-Stik North side Radcliffe Borough earlier this season.

“I’m loving it - I’ve not had it all my own way; I’ve had some very difficult times and some very difficult results, but I’m loving it,” continued Macken.

“You learn a lot more with defeat than you do with winning every week, and I’ve learnt a lot in a short space of time.

“I came in at the back end of September and I’ve learnt a lot this season about how I want to coach, how I want to handle individuals and so on. I can’t wait for next season now to get started again, once you get a taste of it you just want to get going.

Macken celebrates a trademark goal.

“You’re going to get hard times but, hopefully, my experience in the game will stand me in good stead. But I’m certainly looking to push on and get as high as I possibly can and be a success. I had a reasonably successful career and I want to take that into my management side.”

Having worked under Moyes and Keegan, the former Barnsley striker harbours ambitions of coaching in the Football League one day.

Macken is relishing the prospect of the challenges that lie ahead as he looks to further his management career and work at the highest level possible.

“Anyone who goes into coaching and management that doesn’t aspire to coach in the Football League then I don’t know why,” said Macken.

“People want to go into the youth system and so forth - and that’s their calling, that’s what they choose to do. I want to go on and try my hand at the management side at the highest possible level I can get.

“It’s a big challenge and as a coach or a manager, when you do your badges, you should be going out and challenging yourself constantly.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s Championship fixtures, there are strong permutations for three of Macken’s former sides - with two going head to head as Barnsley travel to Pride Park.

Elsewhere, Preston face Burton Albion at Deepdale in a game that will have a major say at both ends of the table, as the Lilywhites still in with a shout at making the play-offs - depending on the result at Derby.

Macken in action against former club Man City.

“Obviously I do not want Barnsley to go down, I do not want that one little bit,” insisted Macken. “I don’t think it would be fair on the football club, so I really want them to stay up.

“With regards to Derby and Preston, I’d love for them both to get in the play-offs - it’s just one of those scenarios. Looking at Derby, they’ve been up there most of the season and haven’t had the best of results of late.

“Preston have been flying; they’re a good team and I think if they do get in the play-offs they’ll be a force to be reckoned with whoever they come up against.”

Victory for the Reds on Sunday will ensure another dramatic Championship survival, regardless of results elsewhere, which will open the door for Preston to claim a top six finish by beating Burton.

The Rams have struggled to cross the finish line in recent seasons, but Macken believes that the players may be able to use those mental scars to their advantage.

“They’ll have the experience of falling at the last hurdle and they’ll take that into Sunday’s game and, if they do make it to the play-offs, they’ll take that experience there as well,” continued the former Reds striker.

“It always plays on your mind about certain scenarios and what happened in the past, but you’ve got to get away from that and believe that if you put 110% in, listen to the coaches and put a performance in then you will be successful.”

Macken celebrates after scoring against Charlton Athletic.

With a strong Reds following set to travel to Derby this weekend, this fixture has the potential to be another memorable outing similar to that against Huddersfield Town in 2013.

A draw proved to be enough that day, but Barnsley may need three points on Sunday to beat the drop - and Macken is confident that José Morais’ side can achieve a positive result.

“Why not? At the end of the day, there’s many occasions - even when I was at Barnsley - when people think they’ll get beat because they’re up against a good side and we went there and turned them over,” said Macken.

“It’s a football match, and its a crucial football match and anything can happen in football - that’s what makes it wonderful. It’s just a great end to the season when crucial things are happening and you’re glued to the screen.”


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