Lol­ley has come a long way in ca­reer

Nottingham Post - - SPORT - PAUL TAY­LOR

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

PIC­TURE: DAN WEST­WELL

Joe Lol­ley scores for For­est against Mill­wall

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