When Jack Harrison joined New York City FC in 2016 few could have predicted the lasting legacy both he and his family would leave on the Club.
While Jack was doing brilliant things on the field, his mother Debbie – or ‘Mumsi’ to many – was making friends in the stands with her fellow NYCFC fans. Ahead of the Club’s first MLS Cup Final appearance we caught up with the pair to reflect on their time in the Big Apple, and look forward to Saturday’s big game.
Q: As you look back, what is your fondest memory of being associated with New York City FC?
Jack Harrison: I wouldn't say there's one particular memory that stands out, but I think from the minute I signed it was just complete enjoyment and complete step for me to take in my career.
And just totally enjoyable, I couldn't have asked for anything more from the club. They put a lot of faith in me, going out of their way to get me in the SuperDraft, and they were very patient with me when I first arrived, obviously, being injured for the first three or four months.
Working with the people who I got to know at the club, all the staff from the head of the club down and the players, everybody was just so nice. It was just a pleasure to be there.
Q: Debbie, how pleased were you when Jack landed at NYCFC after the SuperDraft?
Debbie Harrison: Over the moon.
It was a gift in disguise because not only had he been playing for Manhattan Soccer Club -so they've been developing him there- and the club and MLS was growing rapidly at that time, but also Patrick Vieira was there.
He couldn't have had a better experience. We discussed all his options and we did hope that New York would maybe step. We were hoping and praying, because I think he thinks because he lived there for seven years, that’s his home more than it is Lancashire to be honest.
He was traveling down from Massachusetts to play for Manhattan Soccer Club from being 14-years-old. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up back living there permanently.
Q: You were well known for hanging out with the fans in the stands. What motivated you to do that?
Debbie Harrison: Just the excitement. Even now, honestly, I can't tell you how much I would love to be amongst those fans. They’re just so lovely. The people who I met in your fanbase were unbelievable in personality, character, their kindness, their enthusiasm, positivity.
You know, they'd be losing and they're still supporting the team, no abuse. You can go in there, you can have a beer.
My friend came from England to visit and she said, 'Oh, my gosh, it's like coming to a carnival.' I said, 'This is like this every week.' And it was just the buzz, the unwavering enthusiasm from the supporters.
Q: Jack, how was it seeing your mom in with all the fans?
JH: I always find it funny that all the fans used to call her ‘mumsi’. It’s so nice in the U.S. because you can get so close with the fans, it's very family orientated and positive and supportive when it comes to their team and their players. It allows you to be more free as a player and express yourself.
I think for my mum, it was nice seeing all the fans and seeing how nice they were and actually meeting some of them and being welcomed with open arms. There's always a video that I see on YouTube where she's in the crowd on the drums getting beer thrown over her when we scored or something like that.
I think it's little things like that which really made it for my mum and just having that sense of welcome and belonging as part of the supporters group was very special for her. I know she really appreciated it and so did I knowing that she could go there in a safe environment and the fans would look after her.
Q: Debbie, Have you stayed in touch with any of the friends you made while in the city?
Debbie Harrison: Loads of people. I could spend a half an hour reading them all off!
Q: And Jack, have you spoken much to the guys who are in the team now that were also with you during your time here?
JH: I mean, Sean, was great and while I was there I got to know him pretty well.
I'm really happy for him being captain of the team taking them forward. He was always a great leader while I was there. He wasn’t there for the longest time while I was there, but he showed great leadership skills and great authority while he was playing into and I think he's showing that as well.
But yeah, I mean, you guys as well, like James Sands, that was really young just coming into the scene when I was there and has continued to thrive and do well.
Q: What to you makes New York such a special city?
Debbie Harrison: I think it's just the whole buzz of the place and the people. I never had one bad experience while I was there, and I just love the buzz of the city. I also love the weather and the seasons, and I feel like a piece of my heart is still there.
The first time I came to New York, I was quite overwhelmed by the sheer concrete jungle-ness of it all and the volume of people, but I got used to that. It was almost like an urge as soon as I came back to England to visit family I could not wait to get back. I've really missed it. I miss my friends, I miss the people, and I've just missed the whole atmosphere.
Q: And when it comes to Jack’s time with NYCFC, is there a moment that stands out to you?
Debbie Harrison: So my parents were supposed to be coming over to visit in June of 2017, and because of my dad's medical condition, at that time, he wasn't allowed to fly so we had to cancel the flights.
It was the Red Bulls game, and it was at their arena. It was a really hot day, about 100 degrees, and I said to Jack before the game, 'Go and score for Grandad.' and he did, and that was just so special.
I think there's a clip of them running over and you can see him give me a cuddle and I said to him, ‘You did it, you did it for him.'
That’s one memory amongst many other fabulous memories that sticks out the most.
Q: We’ve got a number of good young players at the club and you were one of those early success stories. What do you think it is about the club that makes it a good place for young players?
JH: I think it’s the environment that not only the teammates but also the coaching staff. I know Patrick and his staff, created an environment where, as a young player, you weren't afraid to come in and express yourself or succeed.
Sometimes you can go into some competitive teams and they make it difficult for young players to come up and succeed. They try to knock them down a peg or two or try to knock their confidence if they're doing well to make sure they're not doing too well.
I didn't get that feeling at New York. The only feeling I had was encouragement and motivation. The coaching staff were very approachable and willing to help me out in any scenario.
I think when you're young you've got the right attitude, and you want to work hard and succeed You're ambitious.
From the team all the way up to the headquarters of NYCFC and being part of City Football group as well - people like Brian Marwood who had been overlooking things as part of CFG, he really took me under his wing and tried to help me out where he could as well.
It's an environment that not only the club have created, but I think it's a sensation that you get right from the very top. It says a lot about what they're trying to do and where they're going as well. I'm not surprised that they're succeeding now and making it to the MLS Cup Final.
Q: What do you think an MLS Cup would mean to the club as someone that’s played for the team?
JH: I know it’ll be important for the fans. I think, with the fans, we always get a good traveling squad and there's a lot of supporters everywhere.
They’re very supportive, very demanding, but also very supportive, positive fans to play for. I think for them, it would be incredible. I think being still quite a young-ish MLS team I think we've been quite consistent the last few years and while I was there, finishing second and showing promise.
I think everybody's been working so hard for this moment, so to bring a cup home would really put the cherry on top of the cake. It'd be a great moment for everyone associated with the club.
Q: Have you been able to watch the playoff run, and will you be watching on Saturday?
Debbie Harrison: I haven't because Jack played on Sunday, but my friends had been keeping me posted. I will be watching on Saturday.
It’ll crossover with the Leeds vs. Chelsea game, but yeah, definitely. It's my priority, and I'll be there watching so good luck. You’re just such a bunch of special people and supporters. And I just wish you all the very best fingers, toes, everything crossed.
Q: And finally, Jack do you have any trips planned to the city? Will you bump them up if we win MLS Cup?
JH: Yeah, it's very difficult. I'd love to honestly, I really love New York, it’s an amazing city. I'm going to try and get back as soon as I can, after all the COVID stuff and when I get a chance with my season as well. Whenever I can, I will definitely be back.