Teacher quits to become professional footballer

When the school bell tolls for the final time this academic year at Colne Park Primary School and the children leave the school gates for the last time before summer, PE teacher Jack Higgins will be remiss not to look around and take stock of his somewhat meteoric rise.

Saturday, 4th June 2016, 7:00 pm
York City Manager Jackie McNamara with Jack Higgins, from Burnley, who has just signed a two-year deal with the club and will be leaving his position as a sports coordinator at Park Primary School in Colne. Photo: Mark Comer.

The 24-year-old from Burnley recently signed a two year contract with Vanarama National League side York City Football Club, prompting the imposingly-statured 6ft 3in. centre back to leave his job in Colne to fulfill what is for millions of children an utter dream: becoming a professional footballer.

Tirelessly hard-working and dedicated to a tee, Jack has dexterously juggled a full-time job with studying for a degree in Sports Coaching at the University of Central Lancashire’s Burnley campus, while also moulding his fledgling sporting career.

“I’ve grafted,” said the self-proclaimed old-school centre-half. “I played semi-pro while working for five or six years, so as much of a surprise as it [signing professionally] was at the time, I think I’ve expected it in a way as well.

“I’m really looking forward to being classed as a professional footballer now and not having to get up at six in the morning, work eight or nine hours before a game on a Tuesday night.

“It’s [semi-professional football] not as glamorous as people think. That’s the most important message I can give: if you’ve not progressed at an academy, if you’ve been released and find yourself at a non-league club like Nelson, Colne, Clitheroe, Padiham, just never give up.”

In spite of manager Jackie McNamara’s best efforts, The Minstermen were relegated from League Two last season, having accrued just 34 points from 46 games which saw them rooted to the foot of the fourth division of English football.

But Jack, who was named the 2015 Northern Premier League Premier Division Defender of the Year with Ashton United, is unequivocal in his determination to see his new team back in the Football League.

“I want to win promotion this year,” he said. “I want to be a Football League player. Best-case, in two years time, I could be a League One player.

“I’m not going there to sit on the bench. I’ve got the number five shirt, You don’t learn any
thing from sitting on the bench. Playing for York, I’m going to be playing for a team that everybody wants to beat.”

The future bodes well for Jack, who has completed two triathlons in the past two years - one for Cancer Research UK, and the other in memory of his mother, Lynn, who died earlier this year - and who is certainly one for taking advice on board.

When at Ashton, his manager told him he needed to add goals to his game. Last season, the grizzled centre-half was top scorer at Stalybridge, the club at which Paul Scholes’ children play, with 13 goals in 50 games.

But, despite such Steve Bruce-esque statistics, Jack is first and foremost a defender.

“I’m not someone who’s going to dribble out with the ball like a John Stones type,” he said. “I’m much more of the John Terry ilk. I have always been a leader - I’ve captained most of the teams I’ve played for.”

Salford City, the club of which Scholes is a part-owner, have registered interest in Jack in the past, given that at the heart of the defender’s game is a core of steely dedication to his trade.

“You’ve just got to keep doing things right off the pitch,” he said.

“There’s a big problem around Burnley - a lot of lads I know will go out on a Friday night when they’ve got a game on the Saturday. I’ve never done that.”

And such application has rubbed off into his work at Colne Park Primary School.

Jack has enjoyed his time there massively, but with a career in the game he loves beckoning, one has to forgive him a pause and a wry smile when asked whether he’ll miss teaching.