Aaron Jones has played in the Champions League during his football career. It may have been the Oceana Champions League but it was a big prize nonetheless.
“There’s the chance to play in the Champions league over there [in New Zealand] which I managed to do just before I left,” says Jones. “The winner of that goes into the Club World Cup along with all the other continent winners.”
The defender’s three games in the OFC Champions League took him to Tahiti and Samoa and came at the end of his two-year stint in New Zealand. Having grown up in the Sheffield Wednesday academy and having made the bench twice as a youngster for Doncaster Rovers (alongside fellow future Englishman abroad Brad Grayson), Jones’s first taste of senior football could not have come any further from home.
“It was a little daunting,” he says. “But I was excited more than anything. I was telling myself that it was a win-win situation for me – at the very least I would get to experience New Zealand for six months whilst playing football.
“The move happened really quickly. I knew a lad already out there and he had recommended me to the gaffer over there. We emailed back and forth a little, I sent some highlights and I got the offer.
“I spoke to my dad a little bit about it and he was fully supportive so within a couple of weeks I was over there.”
Jones moved to New Zealand in 2012, joining Hawke’s Bay United. In his two seasons with the clubs, he did not miss a single match as Hawke’s Bay twice finishing in the top four before losing in the semi-finals of the end of season playoffs.
After two years, he joined the second-most successful club in recent New Zealand domestic football history, Waitakere United, to play in their OFC Champions League campaign. His side failed to make it out of the group stages however and Auckland City were the ones who claimed the title and headed to the Club World Cup in Morocco, the same tournament Real Madrid have won on many occasions.
“The standard in New Zealand was mixed. There was quite a gulf between the top clubs and bottom clubs but the top clubs had some really good players, a striker (Manel Expósito) that made his debut for Barcelona the same day as Messi, for example.”
The defender, only 19 when he made the to the other side of the world, also had another task during his time with Hawke’s Bay as he played a part in inspiring the next generation.
“I had a few coaching hours in my contract so me and another lad would go and do school visits and put sessions on. Baring in mind football isn’t the national sport over there, rugby is, it was about trying to raise the profile and get kids involved in the game from a younger age.”
After experiencing football in New Zealand, Jones now had a taste for playing abroad and joined third-tier Norwegian side Raufoss in August 2014, although the move came completely out of the blue after a move closer to home failed to materialise.
“I was looking to come back to Europe and closer to home,” he says. “I got a trial at a club in Scotland but nothing came of that and then I got a call from my agent on a Monday evening asking if I wanted to go to Raufoss in Norway.
“They’d had a centre back get injured at the weekend and needed a replacement until the end of the season. I said yes and by 4am the next day I was at the airport and off to Raufoss to train and see if I liked it and if they liked me. I signed by the Thursday and made my debut on the Sunday.”
After getting off to a good start at his new club, the Chesterfield-born defender broke his foot which curtailed his involvement and limited him to just six appearances in his first season. Despite misfortune on the pitch, his life off the pitch had already made the move worthwhile.
“I went to New Zealand alone and then came to Norway alone but I met my girlfriend almost as soon as I moved to Norway.
“I now speak Norwegian and it helped meeting my girlfriend but I really tried as soon as I moved over here. First it was just the football terms but then I was always trying to learn new words and asking questions in the changing room.”
The following season, Jones regained fitness and made 31 appearances, split between playing for the B team in the fourth tier and first team. His 17 appearances for the first team helped Raufoss to promotion to the second tier for the first team since 2007. The following year he made 27 appearances, 14 for the first team but was unable to prevent them from suffering relegation.
After relegation and three years with Raufoss, the former Doncaster Rovers man had contact from clubs back in England and he saw it as the perfect chance to return home, although his time back in his homeland didn’t last long.
“Originally I was trying to get back into the English Football League and was at a League 1 club but I was still under contract with Raufoss so couldn’t play for the reserves so instead they sorted an opportunity for me to get minutes at Southport.”
Jones made six appearances for the Merseyside based National League club, scoring once in a loss to Aldershot. By January 2017, the new Scandinavian season was around the corner and the lure of a move back closer to his girlfriend’s homeland was too much to turn down.
“I preferred to come back to Scandinavia than play in non-league,” he says. “At first, I was looking to go back to Norway but then I got a one-year offer from a club in Sweden so I took that. It was similar to Norway but I think I’ve been lucky and been at clubs that have taken great care of me.”
Jones’s girlfriend joined him for the move to Sweden as he signed for third-tier side Ängelholm. He was appointed captain and went on to not miss a single minute of league action, starting all 26 games as his side comfortably avoided relegation with an eighth place finish. His solid displays on the pitch were despite a new and unfamiliar language.
“That was one of the downfalls of signing in Sweden. Although for most Norwegians the Swedish language is easy to understand, it wasn’t easy for me to go over there and have to almost start from scratch. I picked up a little bit in the year when I was over there but mostly spoke English and some Norwegian.”
His performances in Sweden had won him admirers back in Norway and when third tier club Asker made an offer, he was only too happy to make the move back to his second home.
“I’m loving being back in Norway and especially Asker. It’s an ambitious club with a young Scottish management team so for me its a little more like being at home, which is great.”
Halfway through this season, Asker sit in midtable but in a remarkably tight division, are only five points off top spot, which is ironically occupied by Jones’s former side, Raufoss. The club are led by Scottish manager Kevin Nicol, a former Hibernian player who spent seven years playing in Norway before moving into management in the country.
Now 25, Jones continues his ever reliable performances at centre back and he now feels more settled than ever as he has his sights set on the top and his future after the game.
“My ambitions are to play as high as a can in Norway. I love the country and feel settled here now so I want to see how far I can go. I’m also back studying part-time alongside training everyday and I’m really enjoying that so I have started to prepare for a life after I’m finished with football.”
It’s safe to say though it may be a while before Jones needs to worry about life off the pitch if he keeps up his consistently solid performances on the pitch in Norway.