Nearly a year has passed since Jack Stobbs last played first-team football.
Stobbs was part of an influx of Sheffield Wednesday youngsters thrust into action by the former Owls manager Jos Luhukay during the club’s early-2018 injury crisis, and earned a two-and-a-half-year contract shortly after.
Already, he has entered the final 10 months of that deal, the first five of which will be spent on loan at Livingston after he sealed a move to the Scottish Premiership side earlier this week.
— Jack Stobbs (@jackstobbs7) August 20, 2019
The decision to leave was one of Stobbs’ own making, although the destination is one that caught him, like many of those looking on from the outside in, a little off-guard.
“It sprung me by surprise,” he exclusively tells SheffieldWednesday.News. “Bully (Lee Bullen, the Owls caretaker boss) spoke to me about coming up and training for three or four days. That was probably about three weeks ago. It was a quick turnaround. I came up two weeks ago on the Monday to train and see how it was and see if they liked me. Within a week it was all sorted. I knew that my game time was going to be limited if not non-existent in the first team (at Wednesday), so I knew I needed to go on loan to play some games. When this opportunity came about I just jumped at it.”
Bullen was also his boss when the winger made his first strides at Under-21 (now U23) level.
And it was through the Scot’s connections – he was born and raised less than 20 miles east of Livingston, in Edinburgh – that the chance for Stobbs to move arose.
“I’ve known Bully for years,” Stobbs adds. “Obviously he knows me well as a person and as a player. He obviously felt this is a good fit for me, which is why he recommended me. He said, more or less, just go up there and show what you can do. Obviously, it’s only until January. It depends on whether they want to extend, or Wednesday want me back there, or I go elsewhere. There’s no clear indication of what’s going to happen. It’s just basically, see how it goes up here.”
Unlike Bullen, Stobbs knew little about Livingston prior to his move. His new manager and teammates were all previously unfamiliar, while he admits that the name of the team’s home ground, currently known for sponsorship reasons as the Tony Macaroni Arena, was news to him when the Lions’ interest emerged.
Livingston, though, are a team on the rise. Promoted two seasons running, they finished ninth in their first campaign back in the top flight. Off the back of last year’s success, players like Liam Kelly and Ryan Hardie (who was also on loan, from Rangers) earned moves to England with QPR and Blackpool, respectively.
“The Scottish Premier is a big league,” he acknowledges. “There’s some massive teams here. The chance of playing under 60,000 at Celtic Park and 50,000 at Ibrox is not really something you can turn down. Livingston is a good standard as well. They did a lot better than people expected last season and as soon as you come in and train with them you can see why.”
Stobbs has been on Sheffield Wednesday’s books since he was six years old, having been spotted by a scout while playing Sunday-league football in his native Leeds. But while his dad “has always” supported the team most local to them, the 22-year-old insists that he, much like Bullen, is now an adopted Owl.
In fact, so ingrained in the Hillsborough furniture is Stobbs that, unusually for a player in his position, he is captain of the U23s there and has been for “quite a few years now”. Looking after some of his younger Owls teammates, he explains, is part of his responsibility.
One of those, the wing-back Matt Penney, also left on loan this week, reuniting with the man who gave both players their latest contracts, Luhukay, at FC St. Pauli.
“Matt’s a year younger than me, but he’s at an age where you want to be playing games,” Stobbs explains. “It’s the same for Matt (as it is for himself), he’s played a lot of games in the Under-23s and there’s only so far you can get before you need to go to the next level. It’ll be a great move for him, especially being in a different country and with the atmosphere they’ve got in Germany. I’m sure it’s one that he’ll enjoy and do well in.”
Penney and Stobbs find themselves in identical situations in terms of their Sheffield Wednesday deals.
And the latter acknowledges that being away from Hillsborough, at this moment in time, is perhaps his best opportunity to remain there beyond the current campaign.
“I just want to play as many games as I can and obviously do as well as I can (for Livingston),” Stobbs says. “I don’t know what the plan is in January, I might have to get myself in the shop window if I’m not wanted back at Wednesday. All I can do is try to impress. As long as I’m playing games, I must be doing something right.”
His first chance to impress could come at Ross County on Saturday. But before he steps onto the pitch, he may have to win over his teammates away from it, through an initiation ritual that is now commonplace for new recruits at most clubs (and one that is particularly encouraged by Bullen at Sheffield Wednesday).
“I’ve not heard anything so I’m hoping I won’t have to do it,” he says of the prospect of singing for his colleagues. “I suppose they might spring it on me. I’ve got something prepared, just in case!”