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Dublin: 13°C Thursday 22 April 2021

'I want to prove people wrong' - The ex-Liverpool youngster embarking on a new challenge in Ireland

Adam Hammill, who also played in the Premier League with Wolves, on his recent move to the SSE Airtricity League.

Adam Hammill (file pic).
Adam Hammill (file pic).
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ALMOST AS FAR back as he can remember, football has been an integral part of Adam Hammill’s life.

He can still recall detailed aspects of the first game he watched in the flesh — Liverpool’s shock 1-0 loss against Ipswich at Anfield in 1995.

“My dad had old VHS videos of all the ’80s teams of Liverpool growing up,” he tells The42. “He used to go home and away. So it was installed in me from a young age.

“My dad played amateur [football], so did my brothers. But he was more into his boxing. We grew up in a place called Bootle. It’s a working-class background, so we used to go out from the crack of dawn until the last [glimmer of] light at night and just play football in the park.

“That was our life. My mum and dad went to work to provide for us. We come from a good upbringing and an honest one.”

Hammill had just turned six when Liverpool’s interest in him became apparent, though he was too young to join, so it wasn’t until 1997, aged nine, that he officially signed forms to play with the club.

The next decade and a bit would largely consist of playing in various age groups with the Reds.

“I spent the whole of my childhood basically at the Liverpool academy until I was 21,” he says.

“It was a long time, but a really good learning experience. It was nice to have that environment of being at a big club and understanding the game from a different perspective.”

Hammill started life as a central midfielder/number 10, but it was former Ireland international and then-Liverpool academy director Steve Heighway who convinced him to switch to the wing.

“And ultimately I ended up having a career out of it, so I’ve got him to thank,” Hammill adds.

Highlights of the player’s time at Anfield included winning the FA Youth Cup in 2006 and making his debut with the reserves in his mid teens against Bolton away.

“It put me in good stead,” he says of the latter experience. “We were playing against absolute stars – in that game alone, there was Ivan Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, so you can imagine jumping from academy football to that level. [You think] ‘Okay, I know what I need now.’”

Hammill then spent time on loan at Dunfermline, Southampton, Blackpool and Barnsley, before joining the Tykes on a permanent deal in 2009.

Leaving his boyhood club was not an easy decision, but with an expensive array of foreign stars ahead of him in the pecking order for Rafa Benitez’s side, Hammill saw no clear pathway to first-team football.

There was always high expectations. Me being a Liverpool lad through and through, obviously going and having a few good loan spells and winning the youth cup there, you come to a time where there was still a few years on my contract and I had to be realistic. You tend not to think with your heart in that sense, you’ve got to think with your head — where are you going to go out and play first-team football regularly. You’ve got to find a place of your own where you can flourish.

“It was one of them where I could sit around [at Liverpool] and maybe get a few games a season. But I had ambitions of my own. As much as it hurt, I went away, and 18 months later, I was back playing in the Premier League, so I justified that choice.”

soccer-fa-youth-cup-final-second-leg-manchester-city-v-liverpool-city-of-manchester-stadium Hammill pictured playing in the 2006 FA Youth Cup final. Source: John Walton

Indeed, Hammill ultimately excelled at Barnsley, whom he joined from Liverpool on a three-year deal.

His performances amid an impressive season and a half at Oakwell prompted interest from a number of Premier League clubs, as he gradually adapted to the demands of senior football.

“It was really tough physically, though mentally I was okay with it. Football was all I knew, it’s all I’ve ever done. Growing up it was ‘football, football, football,’ so I wasn’t in awe.

“I’d say one of my strong points is I’ve always been a technical player. It was later on in my development where I had to start going to the gym to put a few pounds on to get a bit stronger, and physically fitter — that comes with age as well. It all depends on what stage you develop, because at 15, there was nothing on me, I was really scrawny, and small. It was touch and go whether I was actually going to get a YTS [Youth Training Scheme] because of my height and in six months, I shot up to 5’11.

“So people peak at different times, especially at that age. I’ve seen lads who were 5’3, 5’4 at 15 and six foot by the time they’re 18. That’s why they ended up putting a 23 development in, because people did develop late, at maybe 21 or 22. You’ve seen it so many times, players who ply their trade elsewhere and come back up the lower leagues and make a name for themselves.

I think it’s about mentality as well. It shows how strong they are mentally. I know a lot of players who got released at Liverpool who could have gone on to have a career, but they couldn’t get over the fact that they had left Liverpool. Obviously, they were upset. But if you’ve got a strong character, you try to work on your weaknesses and work your way back up. I think that shows with players who have been released and go on to have a career, that’s what they’ve done. They’ve used it as a motivation, rather than looking at the negativity in it.

“I remember obviously going away, thinking: ‘I want to prove people wrong. I should have been in and around the first team a lot more.’ There were a lot of foreign players who’d been brought in for money. So I felt unfairly they were getting the jersey, or an opportunity, ahead of me.

“I think people expect, because you’re a local lad, you’ll wait around and have a little bit more patience. I’d played over 60 league games [on loan] by this stage. So I was thinking to myself I just want to play regularly, somewhere where I can call home, feel wanted and be around the first team. Lucky enough, I worked with a manager in Mark Robins who got the best out of me [at Barnsley].”

soccer-barclays-premier-league-wolverhampton-wanderers-v-queens-park-rangers-molineux Mick McCarthy brought Hammill to Wolves. Source: Joe Giddens

It was January 2011 when Wolves offered Hammill a route back to the Premier League, with the youngster signing a three-and-a-half year deal after a £500,000 buy-out clause in his contract was triggered.

It began well, with Hammill getting regular game time, making his debut as a substitute against, of all teams, Liverpool, amid a 3-0 loss at Molineux just two days after signing.

Yet Hammill found first-team football more difficult to come by after that initial promising period, with Ireland international Stephen Hunt often preferred on the wing.

Game time was even more infrequent the following season — Hamill made nine Premier League appearances in total, one less than the previous campaign, as Wolves were relegated.

He would later reflect in a Daily Mail interview: “Maybe I should have waited it out at Barnsley. I was on something like 10 goals by Christmas. If I’d stayed, maybe I would have got to 20 and who knows what would have happened, but I was still relatively young and in the [England] U21s set-up at the time. Getting back to the Premier League was something I set out to achieve after leaving Liverpool.

“Looking back, if I had moved to a footballing side that played the way I did, it might have worked out a bit better.”

Speaking on the Wolves move now, he says: “You look at everything as a lesson. I don’t take any negatives from it. Things could have went better, but that’s just football and the way it goes. I’ve some great memories of playing against the world’s best players — Luka Modric, Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard, the list is endless. I count my blessings in that sense. You come away and sort of think: ‘If only I done this or that.’ But you shouldn’t have any regrets.”

He certainly bears no ill will towards Mick McCarthy, the former Ireland player and manager, who coached him for the majority of his spell at Wolves.

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“He’s as honest as the day is long. He tells you how it is and is different to other managers in that sense. If you’re not playing, he’ll tell you the reason why straight away. And you get on with it.

“At clubs where managers aren’t giving you a reason, it can frustrate players and that can go one way or the other. Your confidence can dip, but straight up, it’s easier to take. You can work on what you need to work on, rather than sitting around and sulking.”  

soccer-fa-cup-third-round-replay-wolverhampton-wanderers-v-birmingham-city-molineux-stadium Hammill invariably struggled for regular game time at Wolves. Source: PA

It was near the end of his spell at Wolves, while on loan at Huddersfield, that Hammill got into serious trouble off the pitch. In the early hours of 7 October 2012, he was involved in an altercation outside a Liverpool nightclub. According to reports at the time, he had drunkenly collapsed inside the club and was taken outside. He was later formally charged with assaulting two female paramedics and admitted his guilt in court. As a result of his actions, he was sentenced to 12 weeks of jail suspended for 12 months, 150 hours of unpaid work and required to pay £350 to each of the paramedics. 

“It’s been a tough few months, and what went on certainly affected my football,” Hammill subsequently told The Huddersfield Examiner, adding that he deeply regretted his behaviour on that night.

Reflecting on it now, Hammill said that the controversy made him “stronger,” adding: “People tend to forget, especially with footballers, at the end of the day, you’re human beings as well. You have feelings.

Obviously, you’re a role model, but you’re not like a superhero who can take everything on the chin. There are times when you’re down and you get a little bit of anxiety and depression. That creeps in even to the day. You’ve just got to be mentally strong to deal with it, and have the right people around you. If you learn from mistakes, that’s the best thing — mistakes can be lessons in life.”

Since leaving Wolves, Hammill has had a few seasons in the Championship with Huddersfield, a return to Barnsley, and short stints at St Mirren, Scunthorpe United and Stockport County, going on loan to the latter.

He feels the second spell at Barnsley provided him with the two best memories of his career so far, both of which came at Wembley, winning the Football League Trophy and the League One play-off final, scoring crucial goals on both occasions.

“With my kids, I don’t shut up now about it. I show my little man, who has just turned four, he loves football and loves watching it. He’s looking at me thinking: ‘Is that you playing at Wembley?’”

Source: Barnsley FC/YouTube

In general, Hammill looks back on his career to date with pride rather than any sense of regret at what might have been. 

“The best player I played against on the day was Luke Modric, just before he moved to Real Madrid,” he remembers. “You couldn’t get near him. He was always two steps ahead of you. I remember trying to go in for a tackle and bouncing off him. I was about four inches taller and he flattened me. It showcased the levels he was playing at. He obviously went on to win the Ballon d’Or and it showed how much of a good player he was. I don’t think people saw and appreciated that while he was in the Premier League. I don’t think he got all the credit he deserved, especially when he was at Tottenham. I remember that day coming away saying to my friends and family: ‘He’s one hell of a player.’

“The best player I played with? There’s been a few — the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. Gerrard was the matchwinner, he could do everything. But the best player I’ve seen is Xabi Alonso by a country mile.

It was a valuable learning experience for us all [watching players like Gerrard and Alonso], because you go into training and see just what it means to them every day. Being around the place, you notice how professional they are. They used to treat every session as if it was a match. Sometimes when you come from the academy, it can be a little bit false, the intensity. Obviously, you’ve got to be aware of the body and the stages of your development. But when you actually step up and see these world-class players, you think: ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’”

He continues: “We had a few international players my first time round at Barnsley that have gone on to have an amazing career. Emil Hallfreðsson, who played in a World Cup with Iceland. Chris Wood, who’s played in the Premier League, and Jay Rodriguez. Kieran Trippier was actually right-back for us, he’s gone on to play for Atletico Madrid and Tottenham.”

soccer-friendly-liverpool-v-lazio-anfield As a youngster, Hammill played close attention to stars such as Xabi Alonso at Liverpool. Source: EMPICS Sport

At 32, Hammill still feels he has plenty of miles on the clock yet. On 23 July, he joined Derry City on a short-term contract until the end of the season. He had previously worked with manager Declan Devine, who was first-team coach under Stephen Kenny when the winger was playing on loan at Dunfermline and getting his first taste of senior football in the Scottish top flight.

“He’s the type of player we wouldn’t have been able to bring to this league had it not been for the pandemic affecting the leagues in England,” Devine told the club website after the signing was announced.

“For me, it was just a case of I hadn’t been playing in a long time and I missed getting on the pitch and showcasing what I can do,” Hammill says of his latest move.

It was obviously still up in the air what was happening across the water. So it was a no-brainer to come and get some games.”

After moving over from England, Hammill had to quarantine for two weeks before linking up with the squad and swiftly adapting to the League of Ireland’s hectic schedule, with games coming thick and fast amid a condensed season.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he says. “I wouldn’t like to make comparisons to what level it’s at, but it’s certainly a higher level than I expected. There are some very good technical players in the league.

“I’ve done okay. I’m ready now to kick on. I feel like I’m getting to a level of fitness where I should be at. 

“You can run around in training for six weeks, but there’s no other level of intensity quite like a 90-minute match.”

Hammill says he would be open to extending his contract at the end of the season, but does not want to dwell too much on anything beyond the immediate future.

Today, he is hoping to feature in the North-West derby, as Derry travel to face Finn Harps in Ballybofey with kick-off set for 5pm.

It is an important game for both sides, as the campaign enters its business end. Neither team is safe from relegation, with Ollie Horgan’s men bottom of the table, and the Candystripes just four points above them in eighth.

Nevertheless, Hammill believes Derry are better than their current league position suggests.

“We have had quite a lot of new signings that have come in and were quarantining at different times, so that put us back a few weeks. I think everyone’s had a good few weeks now of training under their belt and we’re ready to start firing on all cylinders.

“There have been some promising signs in different games, it’s just consistency throughout the 90 minutes. Stopping the silly mistakes and giving away cheap goals, being a bit more clinical in both boxes will see us coming up the league.”

As someone who has witnessed a number of the world’s best players up close, in addition to acquiring a wealth of experience in British football over the course of the past decade, Hammill certainly appears well placed to help Derry end a difficult season on a high.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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