Mark Hartmann has played in Asia’s equivalent of the Europa League, played for some of the biggest clubs in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and has over 20 caps for the Philippines national team – yet he began his senior football career in the ninth-tier of English football.
The 27-year-old forward has come a long way from playing for Blackfield & Langley in the Wessex League near his birthplace of Southampton. Having played for Swindon Town’s academy growing up, Hartmann was released by the Robins in 2010 and subsequently joined the non-league side before starting his career abroad.
Taking advantage of his Filippino parentage, the forward left England for the Philippines in 2011 where his father had set up a football academy. Qualifying as a domestic player would make him a much more attractive proposition for clubs due to the fact he would not take up a precious foreign player spot.
The former Swindon Town man first joined Manila Nomads, before then playing for Loyola Meralco Sparks and Global, the leading club in the country. After five years playing in the Philippines where he was prolific in front of goal, the forward spent time in Singapore with top-flight side Geyland before then spending 2017 in Malaysia with Sarawak and Penang, where his Asian heritage would continue to come in handy with many leagues having separate player slots in squads for Asian heritage players.
In 2018, he joined top-flight Thai side Ubon United and has remained in the country ever since, now playing for Nakhon Ratchasima, who can attract crowds of over 20,000 in a league which averages attendances of around 5,500.
On the international front, Hartmann made his debut for the Philippines national team in 2011 and has since earned 21 caps and even once scored four in a match during a 5-0 win over Papua New Guinea. His international bow came five years after his older brother Matthew made his debut. He played for Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest when he was younger before playing abroad.
With Mark having built a very successful career abroad, I am delighted that I have been able to ask him a few questions about his career so far. Here are his responses.
English Players Abroad: Growing up in the UK, had you always targeted playing in Asia or was it not in your mind whilst your were at Swindon Town?
Mark Hartmann: It had always been in the back of my mind. I went there for holidays and watched some games out there. I wanted to finish at least my scholarship before heading out there. I didn’t think I’d be in Asia by 19 years old though.
EPA: You made the move to the Philippines in 2011, did you find the move easy and settle in well or did it take some adjustment?
MH: Settling down there was easy, I had two older brothers [Matthew and Darren, who was a youth international] that already moved out before I decided to live there full time – now I call it home. Football took a little time to adapt to it, mainly because of the heat and the high tempo of the game.
EPA: This was also around the same time you first made the Philippines national team, how much did you love playing international football and do you hope to return to the national team again in the future?
MH: It was a great feeling, being so young and called up to the national team. I’ve been in and out of the national team so now I’m older and got more experience hopefully I can get a regular place in the team, especially with the World Cup qualifiers coming around the corner. [He has since returned to the national team]
EPA: How did you find the standard of football in the Filipino leagues?
MH: Like I said before it was just the tempo of the game was really high and with the heat it took some getting used to. But being a little bit more physical helped me out and managed to score a lot of goals. Every year I played in the Philippines the standard got better and better with more players like me joining the league. It ended up being really competitive.
EPA: Then came the moves to Singapore and Malaysia, did you enjoy your spells there? Had you always targeted playing around Asia when you first made the move to the continent in 2011?
MH: I didn’t really expect it at all but there came a point where I needed a new challenge and my team at the time Global FC had played in Singapore before then the opportunity came up for me to go there, then I haven’t really looked back since.
EPA: You’ve been playing in Thailand for the past couple of years, are you enjoying your time in the country and how does the football compare to the other countries you’ve played in?
MH: Thailand is up there with the best leagues in south east Asia. I’m definitely enjoying my football here and it’s a great country to be in too. The league is a great set up with no easy games, some of the players here are incredibly gifted.
EPA: Finally, looking back to your spell in non-league with Blackfield & Langley, did you ever imagine to now be a international and have played so many professional games?
MH: I really enjoyed my time with Blackfield & Langley. I knew when I was there the following January I’d be leaving to go abroad but it was a great spell for me. If ever I find myself living back in England I’d try to find somewhere to play locally. I didn’t ever think I would have played in so many different countries, that’s what’s great about playing abroad, you never know where you’ll end up playing.