Soccer: Biss does province proud on debut

By Anendra Singh

Chilling out. That's what Tom Biss was doing at his team hotel in Melbourne the night before the big match when he got the magical words.

"You're in," or words close to those were all it took for Biss to thaw out pretty smartly last Saturday on the eve of the Wellington Phoenix's A-League soccer match against the Melbourne Hearts at the AAMI Park.

"I was sort of in shock at the start," said the 19-year-old former Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United midfielder who made his debut for the Phoenix in Melbourne on Sunday from the opening whistle to the 80th minute.

The Phoenix academy player was simply travelling as a bench player but midfielder Cameron Lindsay contracted food poisoning at the weekend.

"I was quite excited when they told me I was starting and then later on I was a bit nervous but more excited than nervous when it was game day," said the teenager who has played for the Bay United in the ASB Premiership [summer national league] for the past two seasons.

Needless to say, the academy of the capital city franchise had prepared the centre-mid for the physical and mental challenge ahead as he performed with aplomb in the 1-1 stalemate as the Phoenix remain unbeaten after two rounds this season in the Australian professional league.

With coach Ricki Herbert away with the All Whites in the World Cup-qualifying international match against Tahiti in Christchurch on Tuesday, assistant coach Chris Greenacre was at the helm.

"I was really excited to get the start with only just the second game in the A-League of the season," said Biss, who the Phoenix School of Excellence recruited this year.

"Chris Greenacre just told me to relax and do what I've been at training," Biss said. "He simply said to play my normal game."

No doubt, his parents, Jo and Matt Biss, also expressed similar sentiments before easing into the sofa of their Bay home to watch the game on TV.

Biss, a midfielder who played for Cru Bar Maycenvale United in the winter Central League this year, is an explosive player who can turn defence into attack.

He has a turn of speed off both feet and great peripheral vision to send his wingers off on attack in the blink of an eye.

A toiler, Biss often burns countless calories on the park, pursuing opposition players to secure possession with solid tackles.

The Phoenix also promoted three other youngsters for their first start last Sunday. Debutantes Luke Adams, Michael Boxall and Jacob Spoonley played alongside other merging talent Louis Fenton and later Tyler Boyd.

The club's school of excellence handed its new owners an instant return on their investment.

"They were really happy with how our young boys stepped up from the academy with seven Phoenix players away with the All Whites," Biss said.

Considering himself lucky for the break, he vows to strive harder to fulfil the professional ambitions he set as a schoolboy.

"It was just an amazing debut and a huge step up against physically stronger players.

"I have a lot more hunger now to play at that level and get more game time in the A-League," says the youngster who flats with Boyd, Luke Rowe (whose father is from Hastings) and Alex Solomons.

"Luke always talks about his family in the Bay so, hopefully, we'll come visit our families some day this summer," says Biss, who will play for Team Wellington this summer.

He still receives guidance from former Bay United coach Jonathan Gould, of Napier, who has returned to the Phoenix stable after a season Perth Glory.

Biss said Paul Ifill, Andrew Durante and Manny Muscat inspired him as leaders and mentors.

"People look out for you and give you so much confidence," he said, adding during training his job included preparing safety gear at Newtown Park.

The former St John's College student adheres to a regimented training schedule that requires him to wake up at 7am and finish about 4pm, including two field sessions some days.

"I love waking up each day knowing I'm training in something I just love doing."

Gould last night lauded Biss' achievement.

"I think it's a proud moment for everyone and for Maycenvale, too," the former Scottish international and English Premier League goalkeeper said from Wellington.

Gould, who was in charge of the inaugural Bay academy, said he knew Biss from the age of 12.

"He's an inaugural player from the Hawke's Bay academy.

"His performance in the A-league says a lot about the ability in the province in the game of football."

Gould said Phoenix owner owner Gareth Morgan's initiative with the school of excellence had already provided contracts for Fenton and Boyd so Biss was in a great place.

Bay United coach Chris Greatholder said: "As a franchise we have been developing Tom for the last few seasons and it was great to see him on TV playing for the Phoenix. He looked very comfortable out there and was certainly not overawed. He has without any doubt made an impressive start to his professional career."

GM Anthony Floyd said: "It's great to see a local lad who has gone through the coaching system here, including through the Hawke's Bay United Youth Programme, making a name for himself at the next level," Floyd said, delighted with the inclusion of 2011-12 Bay United teenage striker Hamish Watson into the Nix school of excellence.

"These successes reflect well on the HB United policy of recruiting young coaches and players with potential and developing them to achieve at higher levels of football."

Bay United will announce their playing roster for the 2012-13 season at its sponsors' breakfast launch on Wednesday, October 31, at the Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.

They will start their premiership campaign with a match against Waikato United in Hamilton on Sunday, November 4, before hosting their first home game against Youngheart Manawatu on November 11 at Bluewater Stadium, with a 2pm kick off.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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