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Opportunity knocks: Somerton to play soccer for Napier City Rovers

LOOKING AHEAD: Jimmy Somerton relaxes in front of the back-yard goalnet that helped him hone his shooting skills. In February, Somerton moves south to join powerhouse Hawke’s Bay football club Napier City Rovers.Picture by Paul Rickard
IN TRAFFIC: Gisborne Thistle striker Jimmy Somerton takes on the Havelock North Wanderers defence during a Central Federation League game in Gisborne in June. Picture by Paul Rickard

GISBORNE Thistle striker Jimmy Somerton has signed for Hawke’s Bay football powerhouse Napier City Rovers.

Somerton, who turns 17 on December 20, is in the midst of Year 12 exams but a return to Gisborne Boys’ High School is not in his plans for 2022.

In February, he moves to Hawke’s Bay, where City Rovers have arranged board, help with living expenses and work interviews. But the Napier side were keen to sign Somerton a year earlier.

Playing for Thistle at the annual under-19 tournament in Napier at the end of the 2020 season, Somerton had caught the eye of Napier City Rovers head coach Bill Robertson, who tried to sign him at the start of this year.

But Somerton decided he was not ready to shift and signed for Thistle. He had a season in the Central Federation League, in which he finished third-top marksman with 12 goals in a 16-game season that ended with the Jags in fourth place.

It was a big step up from the previous season, when he played Eastern League football for Gisborne Boys’ High. But he showed in Thistle’s first Central Federation League game of the season, against the 2020 runners-up, Whanganui Athletic, that he was up to the challenge. He scored the first goal in a 3-0 win and troubled defenders with his control, pace and shooting. His form throughout the season showed that his early impact was no flash in the pan.

The season produced his football highlight so far – a second-half hat-trick that helped Thistle go from 2-1 down at halftime to 5-2 up at fulltime. Napier Marist were the opponents, and the match was at Childers Road Reserve on April 24. It was Somerton’s first hat-trick in senior football.

Napier City Rovers kept in touch. Former Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper Jonathan Gould – a coach with the City Rovers Talent Pathway Programme – came to Gisborne to meet with Somerton.

What Gould had to say about the Napier set-up and the opportunities for development struck a chord with Somerton, and when he was in Hawke’s Bay with the Thistle team for the under-19 tournament in late October, he agreed to move south to join them.

It’s all going to plan for a youngster who’s been playing football “forever”. His first football memory is of scoring the only goal for Makauri in an 8-1 loss to Wainui when he was a Year 6 student at the school where his father Nic taught, playing for the team his father Nic coached.

Yes, Dad was a big influence – the Thistle and former Gisborne City and Wainui marksman coached the junior rep teams Jimmy was in, too.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Jimmy Somerton said.

“I always got game time.”

His mother Rochelle had been there, too, supporting whatever he did.

Jimmy is the eldest of Nic and Rochelle’s three children, all boys. River, 11, took a break from football to play rugby this year, while Silva, 5, has yet to take the field in any team sport.

When Jimmy Somerton made the Boys’ High first team squad as a Year 10 student, he didn’t get as much game time as he’d hoped. That changed the following season.

Boys’ High coach for those two years was Sebastian Itman.

“He helped me a lot,” Somerton said.

“He was really energetic and wanted to bring the best out of every player, and not put one player above the others.”

Boys’ High, along with the other school teams, were dropped from Gisborne senior club football in 2021, but Somerton said he was always going to play for Thistle this year. His aim was to play for Thistle this year, and next season move to a club where he could get better football.

Napier City Rovers offered the prospect of Central League football and a possible place in the new National League Championship (replaced by the National League South Central Series this year because of Covid-19).

Further into the future, Somerton would like to play national league football for a Wellington or Auckland team. The next step would be to play for Wellington Phoenix and then, if things continued to go well, to move to Europe or Britain.

Simply put, he wants to make a living out of football . . . a good living.

“People have told me how difficult it is – my dad, Bill Robertson – but I’ll give it a shot.”

Somerton is keeping the door ajar on the subject of tertiary education.

“I might study sports business next year, depending on whether I can find a job,” he said.

“Otherwise, I’ll be focusing on football.”

During his time with Thistle, both at under-19 and first-team level, head coach Garrett Blair and assistant coach Mark Baple had been big influences, Somerton said.

He has always played up front – his speed and nose for goals have seen to that – but when he comes up against a particularly fast defender he will often drop back towards the midfield, with the aim of drawing out the defender marking him and leaving space for another striker to attack. And if his team play with three up front, he likes to play wide on the right and cut in to shoot with his favoured left foot.

These aren’t secrets. Opponents know how he plays; stopping him is another matter.

After a season playing in an outside league, Somerton chose an unlikely pair as his most difficult opponents – teammates Cullen Spawforth and Ryan Anderson.

Apart from small-sided games in training sessions, he had played against defensive midfielder Spawforth when the Thistle under-19s played a practice match against the Thistle first team (minus their u19 players).

“He wasn’t playing centreback, but in his defensive midfield role he was kind of close.”

And he had come up against centreback Anderson in the middle of the Campion College defence in interschool games, and found him hard to get past.

Now, with his restricted driver’s licence and his own car, Somerton looks forward to the move south in early February. Training will be three times a week – two sessions on the field and one in the gym.

He understands the first and second teams train together under Bill Robertson and his assistants and then, once the team squads for the next games are named, they break into groups for team-specific training.

No prizes for guessing which group Somerton targets.