In his first season of Aviva Premiership rugby Juan Pablo Socino has become one of six players shortlisted for the Newcastle Falcons Heineken Fans’ Player of the Season Award.
After less than a season in the top flight of English rugby, Juan Pablo Socino has become a well-known figure, with fans and opposition teams highlighting the Argentine for numerous impressive performances.
Nonetheless though, for the man himself it was surprising to find out he’d been named on a shortlist for the Newcastle Falcons Heineken Fans’ Player of the Season Award.
“I’m really happy. It’s a massive surprise, especially my first year in the club and first year in the Premiership. For me it’s just being able to play every week has been outstanding and to be chosen for the fans award is even better.
“Personally I think the season has been going really well. Like I say I like playing and the fact that it’s my first year and I’ve been able to start pretty much every game in the Premiership and play 80 minutes being injury-free and loads of stuff has just been amazing.
“Obviously results haven’t gone really well for us as a team but I’m happy with my performance although there’s always space to improve and get better but so far I’ve been really pleased and really happy with how my season’s been going. “
Starting the season as the reigning RFU Championship Player of the Season after moving from Rotherham Titans, many questioned how Socino would cope with stepping up a league.
From the outside the 26-year-old has taken it in his stride, but was the change in pace noticeable for him?
“Yes I noticed it, it would be a lie if I said not. But fortunately I think I’ve been able to cope with it quite well. My biggest fear was before my first game – every time you make a step up there’s always insecurities and things like that; you doubt and think am I going to be up for the level or not – but I’m really happy that I’ve been able to play and to be involved in the team as much as I could so I’m really pleased with it.”
And for the club overall, how does he think 2014/15 has been?
“The whole season we’ve come close in way too many games. It shows you we’re doing things right and we’ve got the potential to take the next step just we haven’t been able to do so yet.
“Obviously it’s frustrating for fans, it’s frustrating for us because we are going on the pitch and feeling what everyone feels that we’re just not quite there.
“But we believe in what we do and hopefully we can turn the corner next season, we just need to be more consistent, be able to consolidate the team, and hopefully we can start winning the games we left behind. Moving forwards we’ll be trying to compete a lot higher than where we are; I think we can and I think we should be competing a lot higher than where we are now.”
And what would Socino choose as his highlight of the season?
“The highlight for me was my first game, what it meant. It took me four or five years to get to where I am and looking back it’s been a long journey so just to be able to play at Welford Road and have a shirt with my surname on has been absolutely amazing. I was watching the Premiership five years ago on the TV and it seemed so far, and now being here is just unreal for me.”
The journey from Buenos Aires to Newcastle has been a long one, with spells in Spain, Wales, France, Nottingham and two stints in Rotherham along the way, Socino explains:
“Initially my goal was just to play professional rugby, when I left Argentina I got the opportunity to play professional rugby in Spain I took it. From there it just kind of happened. Coming to the Premiership was never really a main objective, it was just to see how far I can go. But I think that’s why it’s so unreal – to go from where I started to where I am now, I’m just really happy.”
The debut of a new artificial playing surface coupled with a season that has seen Falcons' crowds up by over 27% meant a warm welcome for Socino on his first season with the club.
To have a big really supportive crowd behind you helps a lot and it gives you confidence, takes the pressure away a bit because obviously they’re enjoy watching. The pitch I think has helped massively too – it’s easier, faster to play on, easy to stay on your feet and easier for the big collisions – and hopefully it the next few years it can be a really strong aspect of our game playing at home on this pitch in front of this crowd.”
Having recently committed to the Falcons for another three years, Socino must be excited to be part of those plans for the future of the club.
“Obviously when they offered me the long contract it was me buying into what this project is and what we want the club to be in the next few years. I think it’s really important for players to commit to the whole club – what it wants to do and where it wants to be.
"It’s really nice for me to get this contract as well after this first year, and for them to trust me and say ‘we want you to stay here for the next three years’ means a lot to me and is an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.
“I’ve pretty much fallen in love with the city and the area, and obviously we’ve got a good group of Argentinians between the rugby and the football which helps massively. The fact it’s my first year in the Prem and like I say the club trusts me and I embrace it like my own.
“Every club that I’ve been to has been my club right from amateur rugby because that’s how I’ve always felt about rugby. Obviously it’s a job but you’re playing for the person next to you, playing for the colours, playing for the crowd, that’s how I feel.”
Between Socino and his teammates Gonzalo Tiesi and Juan Pablo Orlandi and Newcastle United players Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, Newcastle is developing quite the community for Argentine sportsmen, what difference does that make to the Argentina U19s, U20s and Jaguars player?
“It’s a big difference. Since I first came over obviously I’ve always missed my family and friends but I’ve always been happy being able to play and doing what I love – it’s like living the dream. But for me it helps massively having players from my own country. And when you feel sad or you’re missing home it’s a lot easier to rely on them or just phone them.”
So with the 5’8” powerhouse taking his place among a shortlist of six for the Fans’ Star of the Season Award, who would be his pick for player of the season?
“I think it’s tough. There’s a few players have had a really good season. You can’t deny Sinoti every time he touches the ball just lights everyone up and he’s scored some amazing tries.
“But for me I think it would be Mark Wilson, he’s been the most consistent in attack and defence. I think sometimes if you don’t read the game properly you don’t see how much he’s doing but he’s been really good and really consistent so he’d be my player of the year.”
Is Juan Pablo Socino your Newcastle Falcons Heineken Fans Star of the Season? Fans have until 5pm on Friday 15th May to cast their votes and be in with the chance of winning two tickets to the club’s end of season celebration and award ceremony on 19th May at Kingston Park.
Click here to cast your vote and enter the competition to win this and other prizes. Each fan is allowed one vote per day up to and including the final deadline.