From training with Jack Colback to a shot at the play-offs: How Jamie Sterry rebooted his career after Newcastle United exit
It was finally time to leave – and Jamie Sterry knew it.
Sterry left Newcastle United, his boyhood club, last summer with solid football education behind him – and an uncertain future ahead of him.
The problem for Sterry was that he hadn’t played a competitive senior game for a season, having missed out on a squad number in Steve Bruce’s first season in charge despite an impressive pre-season.
Today, Sterry is preparing for Hartlepool United’s National League play-off semi-final against Stockport County at Edgeley Park.
The defender, one of the club’s most consistent performers, has come a long way in the space of 12 months following his release by Newcastle.
Sterry had kept himself fit last summer training with his father Lee, a youth football coach, and club-mate Jack Colback whose deal also expired at the end of the 2019/20 campaign. He also did a series of fitness classes online during the first lockdown.
Colback soon returned to Nottingham Forest, where he had had two spells, but Sterry – who had made eight league and cup appearances for Newcastle under Rafa Benitez – had to wait for the right opportunity.
And it came at non-league club South Shields last October amid offers from Football League clubs.
“I had a few offers from league teams, but I was hoping to play in the Championship, and the amount of games I’d played wouldn’t really get a move to the Championship,” said the 25-year-old, who became a father earlier this year.
“I was just training with my dad and Jack Colback. We were training together in the summer over lockdown. It’s a bit different training on your own, or with another person, to training with a team.
“So I went into Shields, and got offered a contract at Hartlepool then, but it wasn’t the right contract for me. I thought I’d try and play a couple of games at Shields, and get back to enjoying playing football, because it had been such a long time, and I hadn’t really played too many games or enjoyed it.
“I was only on a seven-day contract, so I knew if anything came in, I could go. Hartlepool came in again with a different contract, and it’s worked out really well. I’m so happy I came to Hartlepool.
“The big thing was being at home as well having the baby on the way. It’s literally perfect.”
Sterry had still harboured ambitions of making it at Newcastle when he entered the final year of his contract at St James’s Park.
The right-back travelled to China for the Premier League Asia Trophy games – and performed well in searing heat in Nanjing and Shanghai. However, incoming head coach Bruce didn’t name him in his 25-man Premier League squad – and Sterry knew that season would be his last at United.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be getting a new contract, so it wasn’t a shock,” said Sterry. “It’s obviously the team I love, and the team I played for in the Premier League and Championship.
“From being there since I was nine-years-old, it’s a long, long time. I loved every second there, but I think it was the right time to get out and get playing games again as I didn’t really get much of a chance to play there due to injury.”
Injuries, unquestionably, hampered Sterry’s progress at United.
“The big memories are making my Premier League debut, and playing in the Championship,” he said. “I know I only played a few times, but I know if I didn’t have those big injuries, I’d have got a few more opportunities to play.”
On his final season at Newcastle, he added: “The most frustrating thing that season was that pre-season I’d had the best pre-season I’d had in my career.
“I thought I had a good chance of getting a squad number, especially as in China I played in the West Ham game and did really well there. It’s that bit of luck (you need), with the club bringing players in. You just get moved down the pecking order.
“I knew I wasn’t getting a squad number. I spoke to the manager and (coach) Steve Clemence, and they said ‘you just need to be playing games’. That’s why I said ‘can I go and play for the reserves?’ just to keep playing games.
“It’s frustrating, obviously. You get annoyed, but there’s nothing much you can do. All I could do is do my best, and obviously I always give 100%, especially at Newcastle as well.
“Once you know there’s nothing you can do to change the manager’s mind … I just had to keep my head right and stay as fit as possible.”
Sterry did just that with the help of a mind coach – and he’s now reaping the rewards at Hartlepool.
“It probably is the most enjoyable time in my career so far,” said Sterry. “I think the important thing is playing a big number of games, really, feeling a big part of the team, and knowing my performance helps.
“It’s been really enjoyable, and hopefully we can push on again and get to the final.”
Sterry just needed a run of games – and a bit of luck with injuries.
“I just needed that run of games,” said Sterry, who had two loans at Crewe Alexandra and a spell at Coventry City as a United player. “Most of the lads at Newcastle said ‘once you get the games, you should fly back up the leagues’.
“It’s been a big help mentally as well as physically getting the games in and enjoying it. Doing well is a big factor.
“The last time I had a proper run of games was probably when I was at Coventry, which was quite a while ago. Obviously, I went to Crewe the first time and played a few games, but I was still having little niggles.
“This is the first time I’ve had a run of games and really enjoyed it. I’ve put in some performances, and done really well. It works out well for me and Hartlepool. I’m loving it there. The manager’s really good, and all the lads are class. It’s probably the happiest I’ve been playing football.”
Sterry – who has previously spoken about his mental health struggles – has been helped by a mind coach.
“Obviously, I’ve learnt a lot about my mind as well,” said Sterry. “I have a mind coach, and have a Zoom call week with him. That’s made me realise how important it is to learn about your mind.
“I think every player should think about it and learn about how your brain works. That helps build confidence going into games. In football you work on the pitch physically, but not many people work on their minds.”
Sterry’s in a good place too off the field following the birth of his son, Ronnie, in March.
On fatherhood, he said: “It’s the best feeling in the world. I’m loving it. I’m in such a good place, and hopefully it’ll continue.”
Sterry didn’t get the games he wanted at Newcastle, but his time at the club equipped him well for the rigours of professional football.
He made his first-team debut during the club’s season in the Championship, and Benitez’s influence lives on.
Asked about Benitez’s influence, Sterry said: “Absolutely massive. He’s probably the manager I’ve learnt most from, especially tactically being a defender.
“He was huge on tactics, just the way you defend, and where you should be on the pitch. That’s really helping me now, as well. If you have a manager like Rafa, you make sure you listen to everything he says.”
Sterry’s contract runs out at the end of the season, but he’s learnt not to look beyond the next game – and the Stockport fixture is arguably the biggest yet of his career.
“My main focus is on the here and now – training every day, playing games, and hopefully winning,” he said.
“For most of my career I’ve always worried ‘am I going to get a good loan move? Am I going to do this? What’s going to happen after this? Am I going to get a new contract?’.
“But now I’ve learnt to live in the here and now. That helps my mind, and helps me focus on what I need to be doing.
“If I keep performing well, I’ll just wait to see what happens.”