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FEATURE | Luke Hannant: ‘I had no intention of playing football professionally again’
Jack McGraghan
Author: Jack McGraghan

8th February 2024

Twelve years ago, Luke Hannant was thinking about anything but becoming a professional footballer.

He admits he had ‘fallen out of love’ with the game after his release from Cambridge United as an 18-year-old in 2012, an age at which upon reflection he now realises he simply wasn’t ready for senior football.

Hannant’s route back into the professional game, taking him to Northumbria University on a football scholarship alongside a Sports Science degree, was somewhat unconventional compared to those looking for a way back into the senior game.

So why Newcastle, you may ask? It turns out the answer is surprisingly straightforward.

“I had offers from Brunel, Loughborough and Northumbria – in the end I just decided to go with wherever had the best nightlife!” he said.

“I wanted to take myself away from football. At 18, I wasn’t mature enough to be in a first team environment – I was just a bag of nerves.

“I wanted to come out of that, so I went to Uni and surrounded myself with similar people to who wanted a breath of fresh air, a new environment, and to start just enjoying their football.

“There was less pressure in playing alongside doing my degree, and it was just a good environment to be in in order to have fun playing football again.”

Hannant played for the university’s fully-fledged Northern League side, Team Northumbria, on a weekend, as well as playing against other university teams in the BUCS division on a Wednesday.

Although having fun was the primary thought in the midfielder’s mind, that isn’t to say that his experience with Team Northumbria was light work.

“We were playing against men in the Northern League, and we were only young lads,” he said.

“It probably matured us more quickly, especially with myself being from down south, as the Northern League was a lot more physical than what I was used to.

“On a Wednesday we played in in the top northern division in the BUCS league and that was competitive as well – I think some players from that league went on to play professionally.

“There are a few lads that I played with who still play at a good level in non-league, though I think I’m the only one who has managed to make a career out of it.

“Back then though, I had no intention of ever playing football professionally again. It was only once I was at university, and I was playing well and enjoying myself, that I decided I wouldn’t mind another shot at full time football.”

That shot conveniently arrived in the aftermath of Hannant’s graduation, at a time when he admittedly wasn’t quite sure what the future held in store.

Luke Hannant alongside Louis Storey and fellow Northumbria University graduates.

Clarity arrived – in Ibiza of all places – when his phone rang.

“I was there with two of my mates, and were all celebrating our graduation,” he explained.

“I got a call to say that Gateshead had asked me to go in for a one-week trial, because they’d watched some of my games in the Northern League.

“It was quite a big surprise, because I had no idea what I was doing after Uni.

“I thought, you know what, I’m more confident now and I’m coming from an environment where I was working at Tesco at Uni, so I think that made me appreciate things a lot more when I went into the footballing environment.

“I was a lot more relaxed, and I thought if I don’t make it, then I don’t make it, there’s so much more to life than football.

“I started that first week and I was so unfit – me and the two goalkeepers were the first three out in the bleep test!

“Once they got the footballs out they saw that I had quite a bit of quality, and once I trained with them for a few weeks I realised that I wasn’t really struggling in training and that I was capable of playing at that level.

“I wasn’t putting pressure on myself as I was just there to have fun, it was a free hit at the end of the day, so what could go wrong?

“I was just there to experience what first team football was like, and that mindset allowed me to play better and show the qualities that I had.

“Neil Aspin offered me a deal on non-contract terms, which let me go out on loan to South Shields for four games.

“I did well there, he decided to re-call me, and then I played pretty much every game from the New Year until the end of the season.”

Photo: Charlie Waugh

His original non-contract deal became a fully-fledged professional contract in March 2017, with then-manager Aspin locking him down on Tyneside until March 2018.

Hannant only remained at Gateshead until January however, with Aspin taking the midfielder with him to League Two side Port Vale for an undisclosed fee.

As fate would have it, he would go on to return to Cambridge United in 2019 and help the club earn promotion to League One in 2021, scoring seven goals in 48 appearances for The U’s that season.

Further spells at Colchester United and Dundee preceded his surprise return to Gateshead – five-and-a-half years after he had departed – but that same pressure-free mindset remains.

“I go into every game relaxed because football isn’t the be all or end all,” he said.

“I want to win and help the team do well, but I’ve experienced what it’s like not being in the game, so I have a more laid-back mentality towards it.

“I just go out there to have fun, and I think my personality shows that.

“I’m an older head in the team now being 30 – though I still like to think I’m 21!

“The first day I walked back in to sign, it didn’t feel like all those years had gone by, it just felt like the Gateshead that I was used to.”

His surroundings may have felt similar, but the 29-year-old Luke Hannant stepping back into Gateshead International Stadium was markedly more experienced than the 22-year-old University graduate who arrived in 2016.

Hannant’s experiences over the years have shaped him though, and now he finds himself wanting to use that in order to help those around him in a mostly young Gateshead changing room.

“I’ve been in changing rooms as a young lad where the older lot have probably been a bit intimidating,” he said.

“Now, I want to be that older pro who helps the younger lads, and is just a good person to have around the changing room.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to be nervous or feel unwelcome, that’s not the kind of environment that I want to work in and it’s definitely not the kind of environment that we’re trying to create here.

“I’d like to think that I bring the best out in people, and I go into every day just wanting to enjoy football and have a smile on my face.

“As soon as you stop having banter with the lads, I think it’s a sign to call it a day, but I feel like I’ve got more years left in me.

“I’m still going out there smiling and enjoying my football, so I want to keep going for as long as I can.”

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