This article was published in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match-Day Programme on the 18th August, 2018, against Heart of Midlothian, in the BetFred Cup Second Round.
Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish my article on my website.
This summer saw Jackson Longridge make the biggest call of his career so far – to go up to the Premiership with Livingston, or, stay in the Championship with Dunfermline. Just a few weeks into his East End Park tenure and the full-back is thriving under the stewardship of Allan Johnston.
Jackson is part of a large family, which includes his brother Louis, who is also with Dunfermline this term. Longridge began his career at Hillwood Boys Club before moving on to St Mirren.
“I left Saints to go to Ayr United; they were my first professional club. I made my debut that season, 201112, near the end of the campaign. Throughout the season, I had been in and around the first-team squad training and things like that before the manager, Brian Reid, put me in against Dundee and I played Falkirk before that term was out also.
I have always been a left-back: as the modern-day game progresses, we have seen full-backs bomb forward a lot more but, I have always been a defensive player, first and foremost. It is only recently that I have started adding the attacking side to the game. It is something I have had to adapt to over the past few years.”
Longridge was only 16 when he made his first competitive appearance in senior football.
“It was a home game and I got Man of the Match, too! It was a big thing for me at the time and I found it a big jump, going from playing at school level to in front of a crowd inside an actual stadium. A new manager came in the following season though and I don’t feel I got the opportunities ii deserved at that stage in my career. I was held back a bit that season as a player, in terms of playing matches and developing myself further, but, after that I realised I needed to move on to get more regular game-time,”
After 9 appearances for the Honest Men – over three campaigns – Jackson signed for Stranraer.
“At the time, Stranraer had actually finished above Ayr in League One, so, I honestly saw it as a bit of a step-up, to be honest with you. It wasn’t a hard decision to make as I knew I had to kick-on with my own career, so, I had to take that next step and move on from Ayr. When I spoke with Stranraer’s management team that summer, they told me I’d be number one left-back, so, it was just a case of me trying to progress as a player. In the end, the more games I got under my belt, the more confident I became.
I remember my first senior goal well: I made a run from my own box; we were breaking and I have continued my run into the opposition area. As the ball is out wide left, I am standing on the penalty spot and the ball has just came across to me – as I continue to stand unmarked – and I have placed it into the bottom right corner. It was Rab Douglas that was in goals for Forfar that day, so, it was a big moment for me and I knew then it was something I needed to add to my game. There’s very few feelings better in football than scoring a goal.”
After just one campaign at Stair Park, Longridge joined Livingston.
“Stranraer gave me the platform to show everyone what I can do, as the plan for me at that point was to break into full-time football. I’ll forever be grateful as they gave me my first real opportunity and we were unlucky that term too as we got to the play-offs but just couldn’t get over the line in the end. I took the opportunity to join Livi, where I hoped I would push on in my career and I feel I have done that. I was still young, so, the part-time aspect didn’t bother me too much: I was still living at home with my mum and dad at that time and they helped me out a lot, so, I wasn’t really looking to get a job outside of football or anything like that, I was just fully focused on my football.
I felt every single game in the Championship was tough – sometimes in League One, you can go to a game and know you are expected to win, whereas, in this division, you know that each week it’ll be a close contest and nobody is favourites. Every point is a prisoner in the second-tier of Scottish football, so, getting relegated was a real downer for me in my first season there. We all needed to try get our confidence back and we managed to build momentum to win back-to-back promotions in the end.”
David Hopkin came in to The Tony Macaroni Arena in the summer of 2016.
“He has had a massive influence on my career – he played at a really high level in his own playing days, so, it is hard not to pick up bits and bobs from him. He is someone I always listened to, I always enjoyed what he had to say. What he helped us achieve at Livingston was incredible: to win two promotions in a row is tough at the best of times, so, considering our aim was just to get back into the Championship as soon as possible that summer, then, it was crazy the journey we went on.
He had his own way of playing; his own tactics and a lot of teams hated coming up against us as they couldn’t handle our style of play. I feel it was unique, the way we went about things and it was an enjoyable two years under his guidance.”
Jackson’s best goals tally to date is 4, in season 2016/17.
“With Livi playing 3 at the back, I was learning how to play the wing-back role. I had to try get the balance right between going forward and creating opportunities and having shots, as well as getting back to help the team out defensively. It it something I have been able to get used to quite quickly. My mindset initially was just about making sure we didn’t concede any goals and we kept a clean-sheet, but, I have advanced my thinking since then since moving into this new role and it is something I really enjoy. Right now, I don’t think any defender enjoys defending because, if the ball goes over your head and you are running back towards your own goal, it isn’t a nice feeling. Now that I am getting more goals to my name, I am thriving in this position and that has helped me since joining Dunfermline as we have also been playing with 3 at the back, so, it is major credit to David Hopkin for having the faith in me to play there in the first place and coaching me to where I am today.”
Jackson had a big call to make over the summer as Livignston won promotion to the Premiership, but, Longridge chose to remain in the Championship, by joining the Pars on a 2-year deal.
“It was a short celebration, when we won League One, as we knew the task ahead was going to be tough, so, we had to get organised for that quickly. Livingston have one of the lowest budgets in the league, even in the Championship, so, we knew we had to do extra to try give us that wee bit more to allow us to stay in the league. We kept the majority of the boys last year and it was a tight group, which I feel goes a long way as well. We didn’t win one game during pre-season last season, but, going back to Hopkin’s tactics of defending well first – going back to the basics, almost, then it really benefited us I feel. We took each game one-by-one as nobody really spoke about us, we went under the radar a wee bit. We remained low-key, very rarely spoke to the press for example; we just kept our heads down and focused on our work.
For me, it was a huge high playing in all the play-off games and winning through. I made a lot of memories and a lot of friends during my time with Livingston, but, one of the key factors in me deciding to leave was David Hopkin not staying on – that is why I held back a wee bit as there was a contract offer on the table for me by Livi. It was just a case of negotiating and trying to see which move was best for me overall. I went on holiday and while I was away, Dunfermline had made contact again (as I was aware they tried to sign me in January, but, I was determined to see out the rest of my contract at Livingston). I honestly thought I was going to re-sign with Livi but the tables got turned and when ii spoke with Dunfermline, that made the decision up for me. Everything about the club has given me an extra buzz and I hope we can win the Championship again. The main thing for me is game: I need to be playing every week and I just didn’t get that vibe from Livingston. I had to weigh my options up and at the time, I was thinking too far ahead of myself if I am honest. I was dreaming of playing at all the big stadiums in front of sell-out crowds, which is gutting that I haven’t got that opportunity this season, but, on the hand, it gives me added motivation at Dunfermline to make sure we go up to the top league. I know how much the club wants me and I will do everything in my power to bring success to East End Park.”
When Longridge joined, his brother Louis also penned his contract on the same day, to the surprise of one another.
“It was a shock to me as Louis had a great end to the season with Falkirk. I was on my holidays and came back knowing I was going to sign with Dunfermline. Before I came through to sign, I spoke with my family to tell them decision and why I chose the Pars and things like that; it was the next day, Louis told me that Dunfermline had enquired about him and then he ended up signing on too. I know how good a player he is and what he can add to the team, so, he gave me a wee buzz coming back for pre-season. It has been good to play together for the first time in our professional career – it has went well so far and hopefully that’ll continue on for the remainder of the term.
We are having a wee competition just now for the number of goals scored, but, I will give him the benefit of the doubt right now as he is a striker, so, he has the advantage! It is good to push each other and we will always do so. We sometimes have arguments, but, that is because we care and we want each other to do well. We will likely be on each others’ back again soon but we can both take it. I am really enjoying training and playing with him. I knew some of the boys before I joined the club, so, that made it easier for me settling in and feeling comfortable really quickly. Myles [Hippolyte] is one of my best mates in football, so, as soon as I heard he was signing, it was another bonus. Aidan Connolly too is one of my friends, so, that is always nice when you arrive at work and you have friendly faces around you. Of course, I sit next to my brother so I feel like I can’t get rid of him and I am with him every minute of every day: sometimes I need a wee break from him as he can be too much at times!!! I couldn’t ask for anything more, I have my friends and my family in the changing-room with me!”
After 5 wins out of the first 6 competitive games, it has been a good start to life in Fife for Jackson.
“It is the kind of start you are wanting as it boosts the confidence. We are going in to matches confident – and while it is early days, we have built up a lot of momentum which is something you need to have if you are going to be a successful team and have a successful season. Today’s match against Hearts is another game in which I feel we can win; if we approach the game in the right manner, we can take something from the match. If we do the right things and work hard, we have every chance of winning: in fact, I feel we can beat anyone on our day if we approach the game in the right manner. This is a game I am looking to win as I want to get through into the next round.”
Longridge has played 183 games in his career to date, scoring 11 goals.
“I have played a lot of matches for my age, especially over the past 2 or 3 years. It is just trying to build on that for me, now. I can’t ask anymore from Dunfermline so far as I have played every minute of every game up til now, so, hopefully, I can keep adding goals, assisting my team-mates and helping us win matches. My role as a wing-back allows me to get into the box and score goals or create chances and it is something I am thriving under.
The support has been incredible from the fans so far. Our supports on a weekly basis is probably the best I have played in front of in my career so far. That honestly does really help you as it gives you that extra 5 or 10 percent on the pitch to push on and win the match for the fans, even when you are tired. They are the ones who are paying their money to watch us and they are the ones we are trying to pick up the three points for, so, my aim every match is to try and impress the fans, play nice football and make them go home happy and feeling entertained. If the fans continue turning up in the numbers that they have been, I am confident we will go on and have a positive campaign this season. It is great, also, that the fans have already came up with a song about me; when I first heard it, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as it shows I am doing my job well and they are pleased with how I am playing. There is a good buzz around the club right now and I am looking forward to today’s game in front of what I am sure will be a packed house – if they can create a great atmosphere and a lot of noise then that’ll hopefully help us get through to the next round come 5pm.”