Why inaugural Auckland signing is a pro again after 8 years, ‘some hard times & dark places’

WATCH: Auckland FC unveils first four signings

On the day he was revealed as one of four inaugural Auckland FC signings, New Zealand international Cameron Howieson told aleagues.com.au why he was ready to step back into top-flight football, eight years after his first stint as a professional ended at the age of 21.

In late may, the first four of Auckland FC’s signings were revealed – and for Cameron Howieson, it was a long time coming.

Confirmed as an inaugural squad member at the Isuzu UTE A-League’s newest club on Thusday, May 30, the 29-year-old’s first stint in the competition will end his near eight-year hiatus from professional football. 

Howieson’s absence from top-flight football was never intended to last this long – but now that the opportunity has arrived?

“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for for years.” 

MORE SIGNINGS! Auckland FC confirm two more ‘exciting signings’ with World Cup experience

Howieson spoke to aleagues.com.au on the afternoon of his unveiling as one of Auckland’s first four recruits.

He’s been playing for semi-professional outfit Auckland City since 2017; his seven-year stint at the club followed one season at Team Wellington.

The All Whites midfielder last played professional football in 2016. At the time, Howieson was 21; he’d left New Zealand as a teenager to try and make it in the UK, and got off to a bright start at Burnley where he debuted in the Championship at just 17 years of age. 

Three years later he signed for Scottish club St Mirren FC, and scored against Rangers in the first game of the season in front of nearly 50,000 people at Ibrox Stadium. 

When Howeison left St Mirren at the end of the 2015-16 Scottish Premiership season to return to semi-professional football in New Zealand, he never thought eight years would pass before his next crack at top-flight football.

“Looking back at it now, it feels like such a long time ago,” Howieson said.

“I remember (going) over there at such a young age, and did extremely well in the first couple of years I was at the club (Burnley). Everything seemed to keep rolling in the right direction. 

“I’ve learned along the way over the years that there are no guarantees. I’ve definitely hit some bumps in the road, so that will put me in good stead going into the A-League. 

“It was challenging at times, I wouldn’t say things didn’t go my way, I probably wasn’t used to it. New Zealand’s a bit different, you seem to have everything your way and when you’re over there with the big boys it’s not always the case. 

Cameron Howieson, age 17, ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

“I definitely had some adversity and struggled with that… some hard times, some dark places – but hey, you’re going to have that in football. I think every player is going to have those challenges. I would’ve liked to stay a bit longer in Europe but it wasn’t to be. In Scotland I wasn’t enjoying my time so much. 

“I had offers to stay in the UK, but I thought for me, being away at such a young age, I needed that time to be with family, to support me, come back and enjoy my football. That was the deal with my partner, moving across to the UK: to come here for a season and really try and fall in love and have fun again with football, and then head overseas. 

“I have had opportunities to go professionally in the last four or five years but for personal reasons I haven’t been able to do that… but at the end of the day, it’s been my decision to stay put in Auckland. Even though it has been personal, it’s definitely a decision I made to not pursue anything overseas. 

“I’ve been waiting for a professional club to come to Auckland, and thankfully it’s happened and I’ve been given the opportunity to take the dream further.”

Howieson’s time as a semi-professional has come to an end, as he prepares to wear the blue and black of Auckland FC in the 2024-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season.

Howieson and Auckland head coach Steve Corica.

He was revealed alongside 21-year-old forward Jesse Randall, goalkeeper Michael Woud, and full-back Francis De Vries.

Howieson, Woud and De Vries are all senior New Zealand internationals; despite dropping down from the professional level, Howieson managed to get back into the All Whites fold whilst at Auckland City. Capped 17 times by his nation, the midfielder captained New Zealand against India in 2018 – one of the highlights of his career.

“I remember when I first got called up to the All Whites when I was younger, probably half the team was professional,” he said. “When I’ve been called up in the last few years on the odd occasion, I’ve been the only non-professional. 

“It can be a bit daunting but I’ve (had) experiences and know the players throughout the years so it hasn’t been too much of a challenge in terms of that. Every time I’ve gone into camp it’s felt very natural.

“It’s very unique not playing abroad or professionally and then getting called up to these squads – but what I can say is: every time I’ve been in the camp, it’s felt very natural, like I am a professional player. I feel privileged I’ve been able to get a few more caps in even though I’ve not been playing professionally.

“The London Olympics, being a part of that and playing against Brazil was nice, and I’ve been lucky enough to captain the All Whites for one game against India a few years back. Those moments are something I hold very close to me, and something I’m very proud of.”

Howieson in action for the New Zealand U20’s against Australia U20 in 2013.

Reviving his international career is not the only opportunity Howieson has seized whilst playing semi-professionally at Auckland City; he’s captained the club to multiple domestic titles as well as continental silverware in Oceania – the club’s doorway to the Club World Cup where in 2023, Howieson lined up against N’Golo Kante, Fabinho and Karim Benzema in a defeat to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad Club.

“In those type of moments, you’ve got to pinch yourself and make sure it’s real,” he said. “We were lucky enough to grace the field with some amazing players. Being a big Liverpool supporter myself, it was nice to play against Fabinho and swap shirts with him after the game. Those are moments that are very special to me.

“Playing against Kante for the majority of the game in midfield, I definitely felt his presence, how he’s always covered every blade of grass. It felt like he was touch-tight all the time when I was on the ball. I definitely felt that, but it was something I enjoyed and embraced, and tried to make the most of for the 90 minutes I was out on the field. 

“Those moments, you’ve got to take on board, really appreciate and go out there and enjoy – and I did that. It was a moment I really cherished.”

N’Golo Kante of Al-Ittihad against Auckland City’s Cam Howieson at the 2023 Club World Cup.

Howieson departs Auckland City having just led the club to its 12th OFC Champions League title, having made more than 100 appearances for his club side while taking his number of international caps to 17.

Having played his football in Auckland for so long, Howieson knows just how much it means to the city to have finally landed an Isuzu UTE A-League club, to spark a rivalry with Wellington Phoenix and inspire Auckland’s next generation of footballers to represent the Black Knights.

“It means a lot for myself and to everyone else,” he said. 

“We’ve got two professional teams here in New Zealand. And having one in Auckland is massive… I’m sure we’ll get a great following.

“It gives opportunities not just for people my age, but people coming through the youth, the juniors and the women’s side next year. It opens up another door for the younger generation coming through. I’m just excited I’m one of the first people to be a part of the squad moving forward.

“I think we’ve always needed one (a team). It’s such a massive city. When the news broke through, it was something I kept a close eye on and thought it was something I could potentially be involved in. Thankfully I’ve been given the opportunity from the start by the coaches, and I just want to repay them from the start of the season by putting in good performances.

“I’m excited. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for for a few years now, testing myself in that level above… I’m happy to be part of it, and I can’t wait to get going.”

The club has confirmed the imminent announcement of many more signings “in the coming weeks.” Stay tuned to Auckland FC and A-Leagues socials channels for all the latest arrivals!