The phone rings and Chris Jackson shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He's being interviewed in the backyard of his Sandringham house so he's polite and doesn't answer it, although in his mind he's probably wondering, and hoping, if it's New Zealand Knights coach John Adshead.

The life of a professional sportsman is such a delicate one, especially for a 34-year-old facing life on the scrap heap after a long and distinguished career. To hear from the boss of New Zealand's only professional soccer outfit with the promise of a contract would be a huge deal for Jackson. It's not Adshead this time but Jackson remains optimistic.

For a guy who's basically played professionally since he was 15, the prospect of life after soccer is a daunting one. "It's been quite a tough time for me not really knowing what I'm doing and I think a lot of players are in that boat with the Knights," Jackson says honestly.

"Are they going to sign me? Are they not? Everyone is waiting and it's just that unknown which is tough. It's been quite a deep, soul searching time for me these last six months and it's made me wonder whether I need to start a new career."

Adshead is charged with finding a team to compete in the new Australian A-league starting in August and has been busy clocking up the air miles, watching games on both sides of the Tasman following his arrival in New Zealand in January.

While he would like to assemble a team of Kiwi players, the reality of professional sport means there will be more than a sprinkling of overseas talent.

The squad he inherited had four players - Kiwis Danny Hay and Noah Hickey, Englishman Darren Bazeley and Danny Milosevic from Australia - and he recently added another two foreigners with Dutchman Frank van Eijs and Australian John Tambouras. With only 20 places in the squad, it means there are only 14 contracts left for Jackson and every other hopeful to scrap for.

While Jackson still feels in his twenties, he admits it's difficult overcoming social perceptions that suggest a player is on his way out as soon as he hits 30.

To help his cause, though, the midfielder is renowned for being the first guy to arrive and the last to leave training. He also follows a strict stretching and rehabilitation programme. It's part of the reason why he's missed only one game for Waitakere United in the national league this summer. It's also helped that his whole focus, like most of the past 20 years, has been football.

Jackson makes no apologies for being on the dole - it's something he's done in the past. While some might question the ethics of this, it's something of a double-edged sword because, for a player who might not have been blessed with the natural talent of a Wynton Rufer or Mike McGarry, it's all been about hard work.

"I bunked off school so I could train," he says. "I'd never change what has happened because if I'd done something else my focus wouldn't have been soccer and I wouldn't be where I am today. Soccer was in my heart - I just wanted to play.

"Financially it has been tough at times. I've had cleaning jobs and I've been a butcher's hand - dirty jobs. I was on the bones of my arse for a few years but I didn't really think about it because it was all about playing my next game."

Having grown up in Napier, he played for Napier City Rovers and had the chance to trial with Wimbledon on a four-month scholarship as a 15-year-old. While a national title arrived with Napier in 1989, playing professionally was the aim and every five years he found himself trialing with English sides like Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Stockport.

He got close, very close, to securing a contract with Stockport only to be told there was no money left to sign him. All the while, he also played in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand and racked up 72 caps for the All Whites, ranking him 10th on the all-time list of internationals played.

As well as captaining his country, Jackson was also handed the tiller for the opening game of the old Football Kingz' life in the Australian league and is one of only three players, along with Harry Ngata and Riki Van Steeden, to have been with the Kingz throughout their five-year existence.

"I'm really determined to play another season for the Knights - another two, three or four if I can," Jackson explains. "Particularly after what happened last season when we were bottom of the league - I don't want to go out like that."

He's also struggling to deal with the fact his international career is more than likely over. He was overlooked for the All Whites' miserable World Cup qualifying campaign in Adelaide last year and knows that under new coach Ricki Herbert his chances of a recall are slim.

"It sort of crept up on me," Jackson says ruefully. "I miss the tension and pressure of playing at the highest level. It's quite sad because I've played for and captained my country and nothing in daily life can match that."

Jackson has thought about what he might do if it is the end. There are probably options to play in Australia or Asia but he's thought about being a soccer coach or PE teacher. "I haven't really been overseas so I could do my OE and be a feather in the wind," he says, shaking off the melancholy in the air.

Whether the wind blows him back to North Harbour Stadium as a Knight is entirely up to John Adshead. But one thing is for sure - Jackson will be ready to take the call if it arrives.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY