MIXED RECEPTION: Joel Griffiths hopes fans will have moved on when he returns to Newcastle on Saturday.A FAN once used spray paint to change Griffiths Road to “Joel Griffiths Road”, and at the height of his stardom the striker rivalled Andrew Johns in the Newcastle popularity stakes.
Now a hired gun for Sydney FC, Griffiths expects a far different reception when he walks on to Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
“I will be surprised if I don’t get a few boos, if not a lot,” Griffiths told the Herald yesterday.
“That is how it should be. It is great that people have that passion no matter who you are and what you have done.
“There will be sections that cheer me and some who boo me.”
It has been four years since Griffiths played the last of his 59 games for the Jets – a period that produced a golden boot, Johnny Warren Medal, 2007-08 championship and Asian Champions League qualification.
“I can vouch for most of the guys, Jade [North], Andrew Durante, Ante Covic, my brother [Adam] . . . we all talk about that year and how good it was, how good the team and town bonded together as one to win that championship,” Griffiths said.
“I get the DVD out and watch it and still get chills down my back.
“I loved every minute of it, but time goes on.
“I could not be happier with the position I am in at Sydney.
“They are a big club, they look after the players really well, and I’m happy to be here.”
Griffiths, whose wife, Bianca, is expecting their second child on May 1, spent four years in China, where he helped lead Beijing Guoan to a Super League title, before a season at Hangzhou Shenhua alongside superstars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
He played for Beijing against the Jets in the ACL, but this will be his first visit as a member of a rival A-League club.
“Four years is a long time and I think a lot of people have moved on,” he said. “I’m sure it will be quite emotional, but at the end of the day you have to be professional and do the best for whoever is paying your wages.
“When I went to Beijing with Hangzhou and stepped up to take a penalty, there were 50,000 people screaming things you don’t want to know. It is part of football. It’s not ideal, but it keeps the punters happy.
“I just have to prepare like it is any other game.”
Griffiths has scored two goals in two games for the Sky Blues, a start that came as little surprise to Jets coach Gary van Egmond, who approached Griffiths before the club signed Emile Heskey.
He may now be 33, but on the early evidence Griffiths has lost none of his pace, ability to get in behind defences and eye for goal.
“It is always nice to score, but I’m still trying to find my feet a little bit,” Griffiths said.
“I missed most of last week with a hip flexor problem and I still have to work on my combination with Del Piero. I think that lacked a little bit on the weekend.
“Every game is tough, but Newcastle in particular will be tough. They have recorded some clean sheets and have been pretty solid.”
Joel will team up with twin Adam, who returned from a knee injury in Sydney’s 3-1 loss to Victory, against younger brother Ryan on Saturday.
It is the first time all three have been on the field since Joel and Ryan played for Beijing against Adam during the Jets’ ACL tilt.
“It is something unique,” he said. “I don’t think it has ever happened in the A-League.
“My parents will be pretty chuffed about it, but there won’t be much communication between myself and Ryan.
“We will just do our own thing.”
Sydney sit two points and three rungs below the fifth-placed Jets.