Lolley has come a long way in career
NORTH and Middle Littleton, a Worcestershire parish with a population of just 900, does not merit much of a mention on Wikipedia.
A scant few paragraphs reveal the two villages are home to a church, a village hall, an animal sanctuary, a 17th-century manor house... and a football club. Littleton FC.
The Ton, as they are known by the handful of fans who turn up to watch them in action at their Five Acres ground, play in the 10th tier of the English football pyramid, in Division One of the Midland League.
Their Twitter account is filled with the usual brand of non-league fodder – irregular updates from matches, the odd photo and video of action and, if you look further back, to June 2017, a tweet congratulating “one of their own”, for making it into the Premier League with Huddersfield.
From 2011 to 2013, Joe Lolley scored 88 goals in 83 appearances for Littleton, combining “playing football with his mates” with studying sport coaching at the University of Central Lancashire. He may often have been vastly superior to many of the players around him but for Lolley, playing football for fun was the only priority.
Things have changed massively for the 26-year-old in the years since.
His journey up the football ladder was a rapid one, taking him from the 10th tier, to the fifth - for a short, but significant spell with Kidderminster Harriers in the Conference - and finally into the very top tier, in the Premier League, when he secured that promotion with Huddersfield.
Those early days with Littleton have provided Lolley with a valuable sense of grounding.
“Being from that level and being in the position I am now, I do see myself as being lucky to have got here,” said Lolley, who produced his best performance yet in a Forest shirt at Middlesbrough last weekend.
“I am in a position in my life, where I feel as though I have achieved something that I never dreamed I would.
“From that aspect of things, it has been brilliant. It makes you appreciate the little things a lot more.”
Lolley clearly found it easy playing at a lower level but he admits it was such a modest standard of football that he rarely gave much thought to what he might be capable of, despite the constant flow of goals.
“To be honest, even at that time I was not thinking about what might be possible,” he said. “It was so low down the football pyramid that it was more just a case of playing with my mates and enjoying playing football for the sake of playing.
“I never looked at it as being something that would lead to anything. I thought I might be able to play a few divisions higher, where I might get chucked £50 for playing a game.
“But it was never a case of looking at being a professional. It was quite a shock when it did happen.”
The key moment for Lolley was playing for his university team - and a subsequent call-up to play for GB Universities in a tournament in Russia. The team lost in the final of the tournament but, amid the trip, the winger made a crucial contact.
“That was in my third year at Littleton and in my second year at university,” said Lolley. “One of the coaches who was involved with the university team asked Kidderminster to come and have a look at me.
“It was only then that I started to even think that something could progress from this.
“Even then I did not expect to get to the level I have reached. I had six months with Kidderminster and it was a good six months - everything seemed to go right.
“I have good memories of being there because literally everything seemed to work out for me. It was a good time in my life.”
Lolley immediately flourished with Kidderminster, scoring 11 goals in 19 starts and six sub appearances and, with the club having already rejected a bid from Peterborough for him, Huddersfield then came up with an offer that was enough to prompt the Harriers to sell in January 2014.
From that moment Lolley has since found himself playing in a very different environment, in front of big crowds at top-class stadiums, in the Championship.
“I guess I am living the dream that a lot of players who play at that level will aspire to,” said Lolley. “I think it has kept me grounded. I lead a pretty normal life, I don’t think I am your typical footballer.
“It has helped me to stay grounded. There are times when you take a step back from things and remember where you were and where you are now.
“A lot of the lads who have come through the youth system who used to play in the big stadiums when they were younger.
“It was always their dream (to play at those stadiums in the first team). It was always something they worked towards.
“For me it was not the same. It is a different feeling for me to be there, because it is something I guess I had never expected to happen.
“I was studying sports coaching. I did two years of the course but, when Kidderminster came in, I thought I might as well give full-time football a go.”
The path has not always been smooth for Lolley. While his desire to get on the ball and run at opposi-
YEARS OF ‘PLAYING FOR FUN’ WITH MATES KEEP WINGER’S FEET ON GROUND
tion defenders made him a popular figure with fans at Huddersfield, injuries in key moments hampered his progress.
He missed five months of their promotion season with a broken foot and, every time he felt he was making progress, he suffered a setback of some description.
“I have had a small taste of the Premier League and it probably wasn’t as much as I would have liked,” said Lolley. “I would like to give it a go when I am at the kind of level I am at now and hopefully that will be at Forest, next season. I feel more at home here. I just felt like I needed a fresh start.”
If Lolley continues his current electric form with Forest, his progress might one day even be notable enough to merit an update on that North and Middle Littleton Wikipedia page.
Joe Lolley scores for Huddersfield in a Premier League clash with West Ham
Joe Lolley scores for Forest against Millwall