200 Reasons To Celebrate A Strikers Champion: Chay Hews

Apr 17, 2013 by

In a time and place where footballers, for one reason or another, change clubs frequently it is becoming increasingly rare for a footballer to achieve a century of appearances for one club. So it almost goes without saying that players who make two hundred appearances for one club are as scarce as hens’ teeth.

How lucky, then, are the Brisbane Strikers to have Chay Hews within their ranks? Hews, who remains one of the best midfielders – if not the very best – in Queensland outside the A-League, achieved a magnificent double century of appearances for the Brisbane Strikers a fortnight ago in his team’s 5-1 win at Cleveland over FNQ Heat.

It was typical of the unassuming and under-stated midfielder that he did not even realize, at the time, that he was making his two-hundredth appearance.

Hews said this week that the first he knew of his achievement was when he was congratulated by Strikers management after the match, and that he found it hard to believe he had played 200 times for the club.

“Last year I saw the number was getting pretty high there, but it’s a nice thing”, Hews said. “The club has supported me for a long time, since I was a young fella, and it’s good to be able to say I’ve played that many games at one club”.

Hews’ 200 games have encompassed three eras. The first began in the mid-1990s when the club was in the National Soccer League (the forerunner national club competition to the A-League) and ended in 2000 when he headed overseas to play professionally in Japan, England and Sweden. Then, in 2008, he returned to play five seasons for the club in the Queensland State League and has stayed on for the Strikers’ first National Premier Leagues campaign this year.

As could be imagined by anyone familiar with football, Hews’ career with the Strikers has had roller coaster qualities. The highs have involved breaking into the NSL as a teenager, starring in the victorious and historic 1997 NSL Grand Final, and winning two QSL premierships. The lows have included the little matter of four consecutive losing QSL grand finals.

But while Hews admits the grand final losses were painful, he also says his feelings about being involved with the Brisbane Strikers have overwhelmingly been positive ones. So much so, in fact, that is unable to pick which of his years at the club have been the most enjoyable.

“When you are a youngster and you’re coming through and you get a chance to play in the national league, and that’s the highest league you can play in Australia, obviously that was a huge achievement and something I look back on fondly”, said Hews.

“And then coming back (in 2008) when Stuey (McLaren) was in charge, it was a good squad and there were some experienced players in there and I really enjoyed that time. We had a good season that year and I look back on that pretty fondly as well.

“And this now, with the younger guys coming through – it seems to me like it happened overnight. All of a sudden I’m the older guy in the team. I sort of didn’t realize it had happened, and now I’m involved in trying to give something back to these guys and hopefully I can do that.

“So it’s a new, exciting time. But I don’t think I could pick a favourite time”.

There is no question, however, that the NSL grand final won 2-0 by the Strikers over Sydney United at Lang Park looms very large in his scrapbook of good memories. In that game he was rated by commentators as a “surprise selection”. But he quickly seared himself into the memory of the 40,000 who were there when he ran on to a first-minute pass from Kasey Wehrman to unleash a twenty-five yard shot that United goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac had to claw away from the top corner of his goal. The moment abruptly announced “game on” and set the tone for a match that the Strikers dominated.

“I can remember everything about the grand final as if it was just a few days ago. It was great”, Hews said. “I can remember the bus trip from Perry Park to Suncorp Stadium. We drove down Caxton Street and you could see the buzz already and the hype.

“The biggest crowd I’d played in front of before that was the semi-final, where I just came off the bench and I think we had 13,000, and that was a real buzz, you know? We came out to warm up and there was a real buzz in the crowd. You could see it was going to be a bigger crowd that day, but I don’t think anyone expected it would be sold out”.

“I remember we got off to a good start. I had a shot early on there and nearly scored, and it was a pretty open, flowing game. I don’t think anyone had overly a lot of chances and shots on goal – it was a pretty tightly contested battle – but we got away with it in the end”.

The grand final arguably brought to an end the image of Hews as a youth footballer. From that moment on, as a 20-year-old who had stood out in a final, he had come of age. But Hews is clear, even now, that he had already learned a lot from his early years at the Strikers.

“I think I was probably lucky because I came through with some really close friends of mine – Kasey Wehrman, Matt Bell and Wayne Knipe – and we probably helped each other out a little bit. At one stage we lived together and it was a really exciting time for us”, Hews said.

“And then Frank Farina obviously came back and took over, and those couple of years there when Frank was in charge were probably something where I learned a lot about senior football – from Frank directly. He had a real desire and a real will to succeed and to win, and it kind of rubbed off on us younger guys. We realized that we were good enough to try and show the older guys in the team that we were worthy of being there and take their place, and that became a bit of a healthy competition within the squad.

“That’s probably a part of what was successful about that year. There was a real good vibe and a positive energy, and a real will to succeed throughout the squad. It wasn’t just five or six guys. It was a real buzz”.

What Hews learned in those years stood him in good stead for a pro career overseas for the best part of a decade, but when the desire to come home was combined with financial instability at club he was playing with in Sweden, Hews brought his young family back to Queensland and rejoined the Strikers in 2008.

At that stage the club was involved in both the QSL and the Brisbane Premier League and there were so many players at training, and so much football politics going on about which competition players were eligible for, that Hews said he was initially daunted.

“Things kind of looked the same (at the club) and I knew a lot of people that were still involved from when I was here before, but I was a bit apprehensive when I came to training”, he said. “We had a BPL side as well, then, and there were a lot of players and it was a little bit confusing.

“I didn’t really know what was going on with the squads. Certain players could play and couldn’t play, and I didn’t really know what was going on. It was probably a difficult year, that year, when they had the two squads but from what I saw they had a lot of good players. We had a really good QSL squad of experienced players there that had played NSL and I really enjoyed it when I came back. It was good quality at training and it was good fun”.

After the 2009 season in which the Strikers won the QSL premiership but lost the Grand Final to Redlands, many of the experienced players left the club in the subsequent off-season and were replaced by a very young and inexperienced squad.

“I spoke to (coach) David Large about it. I was really keen to keep playing but I didn’t want the club or the coaches to do me any favours and say ‘yeah, we’ll keep Chay on because he wants to keep playing’”, Hews said.

“I wanted to be there because the club wanted me as a player as well. I wanted to make sure that I’d got something to offer. There’s nothing worse than when you go along to watch a game and there’s someone playing who’s a bit older and they look like they’re just not in the game.

“I don’t want to be that guy. I’d rather just hang my boots up and see if I can help out in some other way. But I still really love it and I guess it’s changed now in that I have a little bit of a different role, and I look at ‘Largie’ and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can on the coaching side of things”.

For the present, however, Hews says his body is not telling him that he needs to hang up those boots any time soon. He says he is feeling “great, surprisingly” and wants to continue to contribute as long as he feels that way and has something to offer. His ability to physically ‘keep on keeping on’ might yet extend his playing career another season or two.

Which brings us to the subject of playing longevity, upon which Hews is well placed to comment. When asked what advice he would give to young players aspiring to a long senior playing career, Hews offered the following:

“Young guys these days have got to be willing to work hard and be patient”, Hews said. “A lot of the younger guys we see coming through – and I’m not talking about anyone in particular in our squad – they want to be there right now, and they want to be playing first team.

“It’s not that easy, you know? You’ve got to bide your time. The more setbacks you have will probably make you a better player in the end. You just need to be patient and work hard – that’s probably the only advice I can really give anyone”.

But Hews was also keenly aware that talented young players feel pressure to make an impact as early as possible in the game if they are to go on and achieve their dreams of playing professionally or representing their country.

“It seems to be that like that these days”, Hews acknowledged. “In the A-League there’s a lot of younger guys coming through the squads. They seem to be a lot younger now than when I was playing (in the NSL). In the squads then, the majority of payers were probably a bit older.

“So, yeah, there’s probably pressure on them but in a way it’s a good thing. It makes them work harder and I think now, with the NPL being set up, hopefully it’s going to work in that fashion where we start getting the best players through to the NPL sides a lot quicker.

“The whole point of this (NPL) thing is trying to create a professional atmosphere where these guys can improve at a rate that’s what we are looking for, and what Australia needs, to compete with the other countries that we are competing with for World Cups and things like that.

“Because, if we’re not going to start from earlier on with these younger players, I think we’re going to be behind the eight ball”.

News, Player Interviews

About the author

Marketing Brisbane Strikers