At 26 years old, Jack Cawley has lived a life of football that plenty of players many years his senior have only dreamt of. Coming from Heybridge Swifts in England with FA Cup experience, Cawley was looked at by fans of the Mighty Oak as someone who could provide a bit of leadership. But he too was voyaging into unchecked territory in the States. Now, after just a season, he gave that leadership and much, much more to the AFC fans, who hold a special place in their hearts for him.
The fondness Cawley holds for the club rings resoundingly, even over the phone while he spoke after a training session with his new side. “Everyone made me feel welcome from day one…I didn’t get homesick once because I felt at home.” It’s something that the entire AFCAA Family takes pride in. Cawley himself noted this. When discussed how the club’s atmosphere starts at the base, he says, “They want the whole community of Ann Arbor to get involved with the football club, which you should. With people like Jamey [Amrine, club founder] and Eric [Rudland, head coach] and Bilal [Saeed, club chairman] involved they make sure that’s happening.” As discussing Amrine and Saeed’s upcoming trip to England , which involves a trip to meet with Cawley, he said about the entire ownership, “Their commitment to the club is outstanding and should never go unnoticed.”
Cawley made sure to note the quality of the side and coaching staff, and was very complimentary of Rudland. “I knew Eric was a good coach…his knowledge of football is outstanding. He’s up there [as] one of the top coaches I’ve ever been coached by.” From a player like Cawley, this is high praise given that he has been at a multitude of teams throughout the English football pyramid. His faith in Cawley was well-rewarded as he put in plenty of praise-worthy performances in the summer.
Back in his home country, Cawley remains active in the footballing world as he balances his working career with his footballing career. Cawley stars for Maldon and Tiptree F.C., located in the North Division of the Isthmian League. While semi-professional, the football is still competitive, the eyes of higher-ups are still on the team (the club serve sort of as a “feeder club” for League Two side Colchester United, located in the region), and Cawley is still performing. On November 10th, down 2-0 to Dereham Town, Cawley’s goal in the 85th leveled the match and put The Jammers in prime position for a winning goal with just a minute to spare.
The Jammers are just five points back of first place in the table and automatic promotion. They currently reside in fourth place, good for a playoff spot in the promotion playoffs. Of the road this far, “We’ve played a majority of the teams in the top playoff spots” which bodes well for Maldon and Tiptree’s hopes of continuing their strong play.
Coming from England to Ann Arbor then back to England is a whirlwind of travel and football. Even hearing about Cawley’s voyages could be enough to make an experience traveler’s head spin. Ever the even-keeled man, Cawley was not fazed. “Usually in England, by the time I was in America that’s my rest time usually. I finished my season in England on a Tuesday and on a Saturday, I go out to America, so I had four days to myself. I then flew back on a Saturday and started back on a Thursday.” Cawley took the positives from his experiences: “I came back very fit and I was very, very sharp so it helped me a ton in my match sharpness.” It is the sort of attitude that you would expect from the center back. His willingness to play plenty of games and play them often was a key attribute in his endearment towards the Main Street Hooligans.
You perhaps never would have known it, but ‘Captain Jack’ wasn’t always ‘Captain’. “[AFC] was one of the first or second times I’ve been captain so in terms of my leadership skills…it gave me a good experience of captaincy.” Now the captain of Maldon and Tiptree, his second straight side serving as captain, Cawley gained a valuable experience captaining the Mighty Oak. Always a vocal leader on the pitch, he led by example too. That key attribute of the captaincy has helped him greatly when heading back overseas.
Just as the fans loved him, so too did Cawley love the them. When asked about a message for the fans, Cawley wanted them to know, “how outstanding they were.” A favorite moment of Cawley was the victory over Detroit City F.C. on the road. “When we beat Detroit, and I saw their passion, it was overwhelming. So that’s why I kind of got up on that [the railings between the field and stands at Keyworth Stadium] and gave them a hug.” As Cawley said about the side, “It’s not just a club, it’s a family.”