Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

He’s lov­ing life at For­est

ASIZE re­ally mat­ters in some sports. For ex­am­ple, it helps to be tall if you’re a bas­ket­ball player. Yet in foot­ball, you don’t have to be from the land of the gi­ants to be a suc­cess. In­deed, some ‘shorter’ play­ers have be­come stars of the beau­ti­ful game.

PLAY­ING in the Pre­mier League should have been a dream come true for Joe Lol­ley. This, af­ter all, was a man who’d once turned out for Lit­tle­ton in the 11th tier.

But as Hud­der­s­field rev­elled in their first top flight sea­son for 45 years, the 26-year-old just couldn’t get into the spirit.

In­jured. Mis­er­able. In and out of the side. Even a goal against West Ham in what turned out to be his fi­nal top-flight game for the Ter­ri­ers failed to shake off the blues.

By the time Not­ting­ham For­est of­fered £500,000 in Jan­uary, Lol­ley was, in his own words, al­ready else­where.

Now, that fee looks like a mon­u­men­tal bar­gain. The winger has been in siz­zling form for Ai­tor Karanka’s For­est side, chip­ping in with some vi­tal goals, too.

So why did the Ter­ri­ers never see the zippy, in­ven­tive and care­free at­tacker now light­ning up the City Ground?

“It was a com­bi­na­tion of things, re­ally,” ex­plains Lol­ley, who joined the York­shire out­fit from Non-League Kid­der­min­ster in 2014.

“I had a lot of prob­lems there in terms of in­juries. I never re­ally got fit enough. My con­fi­dence - in both my body and my game - had gone, and with it my en­joy­ment of the game. Day to day, I wasn’t hav­ing fun.

“That’s the big­gest thing in foot­ball, es­pe­cially at the high­est level. Con­fi­dence al­lows you

to per­form, to ex­press your- self. If you’re wor­ried about play­ing, noth­ing comes nat­u­rally. “To play in the Pre­mier League, you have to be 100 per cent at it ev­ery sin­gle game. I don’t think I was at any stage. “Along­side that, the club changed a lot af­ter David Wag­ner took over in Novem­ber 2015. I lost a lot of good friends. “When you’re not hav­ing a great spell, you need peo­ple like that to help you through it. You can go into train­ing with a smile on your face, even if you’re in­jured or not play­ing. “But if you haven’t got many close friends in the dress­ing room, you don’t en­joy things as much. It kind of grinds on you and the en­joy­ment leeches away. “By the time I even­tu­ally got my­self to a state where I could phys­i­cally play, men­tally I was gone. I have to be hon­est about that. It was a tough year or 18 months which got me down quite a lot.” Lol­ley does not blame Wag­ner for his fail­ure to fire at the John Smith’s Sta­dium and says his roots in the Non-

League game may have in­flu­enced his mind­set.

Born in Worces­ter­shire, Lol­ley was re­leased by Birm­ing­ham’s academy at 16 and spent his for­ma­tive years in the youth set-up at Broms­grove Rovers.

Un­wanted again, he even­tu­ally dropped into the Mid­land Com­bi­na­tion with Lit­tle­ton, a part-time side with an av­er­age gate of less than 100.

“I do think that made an im­pact,” said Lol­ley, who scored 88 goals in 83 games be­fore be­ing snapped up by Kid­der­min­ster in 2013.

“For me, foot­ball was never about fi­nance or pres­tige. Back then, my am­bi­tion was to join a club who might chuck me £50 to play.

“It’s about en­joy­ing your­self. Play­ing with your mates, hav­ing a smile on your face. And I think that if you’re happy and play­ing well, the fi­nan­cial things take care of them­selves.

“That’s why I left Hud­der­s­field. I didn’t have to. I wasn’t forced out. There was no real des­per­a­tion in terms of the man­ager or club want­ing me out. I’d ac­tu­ally started a few games.

“It was me. In my own mind, I was al­ready else­where. I was des­per­ate to leave the club and des­per­ate to get that en­joy­ment back.” And he has, with spec­tac­u­lar re­sults. “I en­joy the dress­ing room, I en­joy com­ing in ev­ery day,” says Lol­ley. “And I think that shows on the pitch. I’m prob­a­bly play­ing the best foot­ball of my life at the minute.”

If Lol­ley is a player reborn, For­est are also on the up af­ter a frus­trat­ing decade of false dawns, fi­nan­cial tur­moil and fluc­tu­at­ing for­tunes.

Fawaz Al-Ha­sawi - he of the in­fa­mous Carry on Kuwait head­line - has gone, re­placed by an owner in An­ge­los Mari­nakis whose own vast wealth has been more wisely dis­bursed.

At £13.2m from Ben­fica, Joao Car­valho, the Por­tuguese 21-year-old mid­fielder, was the head­line act of a sum­mer splurge that saw For­est out­spend all but one of their Cham­pi­onship ri­vals.

In Karanka, too, they have a man­ager who won pro­mo­tion with Mid­dles­brough and knows the Cham­pi­onship in­ti­mately. Pre-week­end, no side in the divi­sion had lost fewer games.

“A big rea­son I signed here was the club’s am­bi­tion for the fu­ture,” said Lol­ley. “I didn’t want to just sign some­where and stag­nate.

“They’ve been true to their word in that re­spect. They’ve brought in some re­ally good play­ers, from the young Por­tuguese ta­lent to ex­pe­ri­enced lads like Lewis Grab­ban and Michael Daw­son.

“The Por­tuguese lads (To­bias Figueiredo also joined, from Sport­ing Lis­bon) have been bril­liant. First and fore­most, they’re good, hon­est boys who work very hard. But yeah, their qual­ity al­ways shines through. You could see af­ter the first few games that they’d be huge as­sets.

“It isn’t easy for peo­ple who’ve come from abroad, es­pe­cially younger ones who aren’t used to this style.

“But you just need to man­age them well, keep their con­fi­dence high and - like ev­ery­one - give them rest at the right times. Peo­ple make a big thing of the 46-game sea­son, but no­body plays game af­ter game.”

And whilst Karanka ar­rived at the City Ground with a de­fen­sive rep­u­ta­tion, Lol- ley says he feels freer play­ing for the Spa­niard than he did un­der Wag­ner. “At Hud­der­s­field, the ap­proach was much more pa­tient,” adds the wide­man. “We dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion, but that gave you less free­dom on the ball. Here, we’re a lot quicker to at­tack, which def­i­nitely suits my style.

“Since I’ve come in, the man­ager has al­ways given me that free­dom to ex­press my­self go­ing for­ward. I never feel that I’m re­stricted de­fen­sively. As long as you’ve got a shape and you work to­gether, he lets the for­wards go. I wouldn’t say he’s a de­fen­sive coach at all.”

Now the aim is a re­turn to the Pre­mier League, with For­est in the mix in the ever-com­pet­i­tive Cham­pi­onship.

“To go from Lit­tle­ton to the Pre­mier League in four years – it was quite a jour­ney, and one I never ex­pected to make,” says Lol­ley.

“I’m thank­ful for that, of course. I’ve scored in the Pre­mier League and that’s some­thing I never thought I’d say when I was play­ing with my mates. What­ever hap­pens, I can look back on my ca­reer and say I’ve achieved more than I ever an­tic­i­pated.

“But hope­fully I’ll get that op­por­tu­nity again and things will be dif­fer­ent. I be­lieve that I can per­form at that level.”

Ec­static: Joe Lol­ley cel­e­brates scor­ing for For­est

Leader: Ai­tor Karanka

Sweet mo­ment: Lol­ley scores for Hud­der­s­field against West Ham

Old days: Lol­ley play­ing for Kid­der­min­ster, left, and Joao Car­valho

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