‘You get ill, you can’t sleep’: How Irvine turned a World Cup hangover into the form of his life

Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine grappled with ’emotional comedown’ after Qatar but now his life is at its peak, writes Tom Smithies.

The way Jackson Irvine tells it, the symptoms are horribly real. Nausea by day, insomnia by night; the comedown from a FIFA Men’s World Cup odyssey is a genuine dose of cold turkey.

It’s not, oddly, a negative experience, and the footballing endorphins from creating history in Qatar have lasted far longer, especially with Irvine back among the same teammates this week for the Socceroos’ ‘Welcome Home’ games in Sydney and Melbourne.

But Irvine is trying to outline the physical ramifications of an experience like no other, and how it changed him and changed his teammates. The journey that Australia went on at the World Cup in Qatar altered the futures of Irvine and all the Socceroos in ways they are only just beginning to understand.

Once Irvine got beyond the physical symptoms it segued into a feeling that the stars have aligned in his football and his life, to the point where his excitement at where it might take him is palpable.

Jackson Irvine looks dejected after losing at the World Cup to Argentina.

Now 30, Irvine has long had a demonstrable thirst to experience things, to challenge himself mentally and culturally. That’s why the Socceroos’ forays into human rights questions sit cheek by jowl with his fascination at football leaching into popular culture… and then in the day job, his club is challenging again for a place in the Bundesliga, and his country showed against Ecuador on Friday night that there could be many long-term benefits on the pitch from how Australia played at the World Cup. Heady times indeed for Jackson Irvine.

“It’s actually been really nice to be back around familiar faces and to get to relive some of the World Cup again,” he tells KEEPUP. “It’s such a bizarre experience, being in such a highly concentrated environment, such an intense environment for a period of time, and then all of a sudden, it’s just kind of over.

“A lot of us just took everything that we experienced there, that fear and the positivity, and of course there’s the emotional comedown afterwards.

“Like, you know, in the weeks afterwards, you get ill, you can’t sleep – you have all these physical reactions to the emotional and mental comedown at the magnitude of what it was you are a part of. 

“But what you’ve got to do is harness the positivity from it all and take that into the rest of the season. And so many of our players have done that, the boys are thriving at the moment.

“As soon as you come back in (to Socceroos camp), you see the same faces, you talk about it again, and it all does kind of flood back and you have a sense of what we did achieve and how special it was.”

There has undoubtedly been a reaction to the World Cup experiences that has propelled many of the Australians into new clubs or into leading roles in campaigns for promotion or play-off places, and none more so than Irvine.

Captain at the fiercely progressive German second-tier side St Pauli, he has scored so many goals since the World Cup with his head that his club now call him ‘Jackson Airvine’. 

“I’ve been at clubs where I’ve had amazing times but probably not in such a wholesome kind of way, where in my life on and off the pitch, everything has gelled together as much in the last two or three months,” he says.

Irvine scores for St. Pauli against Hansa Rostock at Millerntor Stadium on February 26.

“I was having a talk with my girlfriend a couple of weeks ago, and it was funny, I said to her, ‘I don’t know what I did for 10 years’. When I was in my 20s, I think I just used to go to training, come home, watch movies, occasional night out with my mates or go to a gig.

“I feel like I’ve never been busier in my life as I am right now but I’m absolutely loving it and only doing things that I love and things that I enjoy. And that just benefits me on the field as well.” 


If you follow Irvine on Instagram you’ll quickly see how his interests in fashion and football kit culture often coalesce, and this is one of the reasons why he is almost literally buzzing. The teenage kit nerd has watched the tide of pop culture take football livery into the mainstream while his own kit collection – he thinks roughly 100-strong but can’t be sure – just keeps growing.

Some are jerseys he wore himself in vital games or at points in his career; others procured from opponents such as Olivier Giroud at the World Cup; some he bought because they were simply iconic in his eyes. (The only A-League representation is a training top from Melbourne Victory when he trained there briefly at 15. Germany c.1990 is in there, and various Serie A shirts, but his favourite is France’s second kit at the 1996 Euros, with Zidane 10 on the back). And famously he wore a Mark Viduka Celtic shirt when walking into Socceroos camp at the World Cup; that pic went ballistic.

“It’s pretty big and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s come out publicly so far,” says Irvine of his collection. “It’s funny. People who know me have known that it’s been a part of my life since I was a child.

“I remember I was invited to a high school party when I was about 14, 15, and I went looking for something to wear – like a high school vibe, you know what I mean? My mum was like, ‘All you wear is football kits’. 

“I remember she had to take me to the shops, to General Pants or somewhere, to go and buy me an outfit for this party because even as a young teenager all I did was wear football kits.

“Since the viral moment in the Viduka shirt, there’s been a bit more attention focused on it. I’ve enjoyed getting to share a bit of that with with the world and it’s gained a fair bit of traction, which has been a bit of a surprise.

“That line between fashion and football has always been blended and I think it’s only going to get hotter. You’re seeing clubs are getting more more experimental and more creative with the way that they market their kits, the way that they’re designed. There’s more thought into the background and the culture of the way things are designed.”

The enthusiasm is such that you have to ask if he doesn’t have one eye on that pathway as a possibility for a post-football career. 

“It’s funny, you get to a point now where you’re starting to think about pursuing other parts of your life,” he says. “I’m working now with the PFA (players association) and FIFPRO (global body for players unions) on that side of things with the unions. I love that this side is then totally the opposite end of the spectrum, working and doing stuff with football and fashion. 

“It all kind of ties in to what we’re talking about before about just feeling that a lot of things are clicking into place. Getting to share a lot of that with everybody has been been pretty exciting as well.”

Socceroos v Ecuador
Tuesday 28 March
Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, kick-off: 7:35pm
Tickets available from www.socceroos.com.au