Jon Obika has been at 11 different clubs during his career – and it’s St Mirren where the Tottenham Hotspur academy graduate enjoys cult hero status.
The striker left the Scottish Premiership club for English League One side Morecambe this summer, managed by former Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson. Obika arrived at St Mirren in 2019 with good pedigree, having played for Tottenham Hotspur earlier in his career while establishing himself as a solid English Football League striker.
Now 30, Robinson has finally landed Obika after attempts to sign him as Motherwell manager. But a hamstring injury means Obika will have to wait a few months to begin his journey with Morecambe, who have made an impressive start to life in League One after promotion against the odds from League Two last season under Derek Adams.
Obika tells NTOF of the move: “It felt good to get the transfer sorted. I knew the gaffer, Stephen Robinson, from my time in Scotland. So it was a smooth transition. I have been enjoying his philosophies but I have picked up this injury which will keep me out for a few months. It’s just a minor setback.
“I’ve had my fair share of injuries. The big one I had was before I joined St Mirren, the ACL. I came back in seven months after being told I was going to be out for nine months. Everything else seems quite small compared to that! But I do hate being injured. It’s just a part of the game and it’s all about how you react.
“I’ve had the surgery so it will be three or four months before I can play competitive football again. I first met Stephen when Motherwell went to Northern Ireland for pre-season in 2019. We couldn’t get the deal done after I trained with Motherwell. Then St Mirren gave me the call. I’m glad I picked up the phone!”
Obika is a well-liked figure at St Mirren. Popular around Paisley, St Mirren fans took The Champs’ song ‘Tequila’ and replaced the word with ‘Obika’ to make one of the Premiership’s catchiest chants. The striker scored 20 goals in black and white, including the famous strike which sealed St Mirren’s Premiership safety against Hearts in 2020.
Chants from the stands proved a motivating factor for Obika: “I enjoyed it in Scotland and St Mirren were a big reason for that. I loved it there. With St Mirren now, you can see what they are building. They will be a match for any team in the Premiership. They have a lot of the same players from last season.
“Until you go to Scotland, you don’t know how you’ll cope. A lot of the teams were well-drilled, whether that’s sitting behind the ball or going for attack. The games were like chess. You need to find different ways to get past teams. You have to earn your goals in Scotland! Scottish football is growing and many players from England are going there.
“The tequila song signed off everything. Whenever I spoke to St Mirren fans, it was always brilliant. The boys would sometimes sing the song in the dressing room and the staff joined in too. That song motivated me.”
But it wasn’t all rosy at St Mirren, especially at the start of last season. Obika – like many of his St Mirren teammates – were hit by Covid-19 and looked to be in a relegation battle at Halloween. But manager Jim Goodwin rallied his troops and they secured a seventh place Premiership finish and two cup semi-final places.
Obika said: “It was tough last season not to break into the top six and we had the games to do it. But as a whole, after a bad patch at the start, we brought it back. That start was crazy as I was one of the first to get hit with Covid-19. Then everyone -including the staff – was hit.
“Even when you come back, you aren’t at your fittest the first few days after Covid. We didn’t have enough time to recover from it. The league has to go on and we stuck together. That is what the gaffer always puts to us. We got over it and I think overall we had a successful season.”
The former Tottenham Hotspur striker is now looking forward to, hopefully, proving the doubters wrong at Morecambe. Many have already written them off at League One level but Robinson has his players believing in a top half push. There were options for Obika to stay in Scotland, with Motherwell calling again.
But the former Fir Park boss’ ambition was too good to turn down: “Morecambe is a bit closer to home. In Scotland, Motherwell came in quite late when I thought I had everything organised at Morecambe. There was also talk of Kilmarnock. But after speaking to Stephen Robinson, I thought that was the perfect move for me.
“From the manager we have and the players he’s brought in – and the ones from the promotion last year – we might shock others. In the camp, we know the quality we have. We’ve had a good pre-season. It’s very demanding on the training ground as the manager knows that’s how the games will be.
“It makes it easier on the Saturday. I have played most of my career in League One so you get used to resting on Sunday and by Monday you are thinking about the game on the Tuesday. Thinking of survival isn’t the best way to think. We have to aim as high as possible, top half of the table, minimum. That is our goal.”
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