Jackson reflects on career after most difficult decision
FORMER Cheltenham Town and Swansea City midfielder Michael Jackson says retiring from football has been the most difficult decision of his life.
The 33-year-old will make a final appearance before hanging up his boots for Bishop's Cleeve at Didcot Town tomorrow afternoon, before being given a send-off by his team-mates in the evening.
He has been at Kayte Lane for six years, taking over as boss John Brough's assistant this term, along with his playing responsibilities as one of the few experienced heads in a youthful side.
But a change in working hours mean postman Jackson will be unable to commit to Saturday football and he has taken the reluctant decision to call time on a long playing career.
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"It's been the most difficult decision I've ever made and not something I've taken lightly," Jackson said.
"I have thought about it for weeks and discussed it with people and it's hard because I've been playing football pretty seriously since the age of 10 or 11.
"I will find it very strange not playing on Saturdays, but hopefully I can go and enjoy other things in life and still have some input in football somewhere along the line."
Former Cleeve School pupil Jackson's final home appearance for the Mitres was in Tuesday's 4-3 home defeat by Thatcham Town.
They were fitting opponents, with his first involvement of senior football for the Robins at Thatcham in an FA Cup first qualifying round tie in 1997.
He broke into the first team later on that season, playing regularly towards the end of the FA Trophy-winning campaign, with Cheltenham also finishing in their then highest-ever position of second in the Conference under Steve Cotterill.
He made two starts during the 2000/01 season, with Cotterill describing his full Football League debut at Kidderminster Harrier as the best he had ever seen.
"I joined Cheltenham straight from school, joining the youth training scheme and the club was in the Dr Marten's League then," Jackson said.
"It spiralled from there and we had so much success which was great to be a part of, but it made it harder for me to get into the side, but I was always there or thereabouts.
"I played against Norwich City in the League Cup and I'll always remember my Football League debut at Kidderminster, when I thought I had a pretty good game and I remember Banksy (Chris Banks) scoring to make it 1-1 after we'd gone behind.
"I was involved at Wembley for the Trophy final and at the Millennium Stadium for the play-off final win over Rushden and Diamonds in 2002."
Two days after that game Jackson travelled to Swansea for a trial, having been told his time at Cheltenham was over.
"It was a sad day to leave Cheltenham because I'd been with the club from 15 to 22, but I remember Michael Duff taking me to Swansea a couple of days after the play-off final," Jackson said.
"It was literally two teams of trialists in a 90-minute match and I played well and was offered a deal.
"It wasn't like the current Swansea team at all! It was a tough time for the club.
"I went on as a substitute twice and perhaps I didn't adjust to it as well as I could, but I enjoyed the experience.
"Nick Cusack who signed me was sacked and Brian Flynn came in and released a lot of us, so I was only there for six months."
After leaving Swansea, Jackson spent a month at Cirencester Town before signing for Weston-super-Mare, where ex-West Ham and Celtic midfielder Stuart Slater was among his team-mates.
He enjoyed a promotion with the Somerset club before returning to Cirencester, where he spent the next four years, with two seasons as captain.
A popular player throughout his career, Jackson switched to Cleeve six years ago and has been a key player for the Mitres under Paul Collicutt, Alex Sykes and now Brough.
"I've got great memories of all the clubs I've played for and I just hope Cleeve can kick on now under Broughie," Jackson said.
"It'll be a sad day for me tomorrow, but I want to finish with a win and then we'll have a little drink afterwards."