Becoming a professional footballer has always been the dream for Lewis Knight.
The electric forward dropped out of the full-time system after being released by Leeds United as a teenager, before travelling stateside in 2017 to study at Marshall University alongside playing for the University’s football team in the Conference USA division.
It was when playing part-time for National League North side Bradford (Park Avenue) three years after his return to England – alongside working shifts at a Starbucks in Hartshead Moor services on the M62 – that his second chance at living the dream arrived when Notts County came calling.
“When I came back from America and I joined Bradford, I had to wait a while for my visa and things, but the aim was always to get back into full time football,” he said.
“Working at Starbucks was just something to fill my time when I wasn’t playing, but I wasn’t ready to give up on the dream so soon.
“Bradford’s season was curtailed a couple of months before I went to Notts, and I’d kind of given up on the season really.
“I went on trial for Oldham, then Notts came through and offered me a contract but it took about a month before they’d even consider me because I was basically just doing a pre-season on my own.
“It was a massive difference, going back to full-time, and I can still feel it now. I’ve never been the best at long-distance running, so it took me a while to acclimatise, but I’m probably the fittest and strongest I’ve been in my career now as a result of it.”
Knight made eight appearances for The Magpies as injuries derailed any chances of regular football before heading back to Bradford (Park Avenue) on loan for the second half of last season, where he was a regular starter and scored five goals.
Come the end of the season, and with Macaulay Langstaff & then Cedwyn Scott heading in the other direction, the opportunity for Knight to make the switch to Tyneside arose.
“I’d spoken to Mike just after the season had finished and I liked the sound of how he wanted to play,” he said.
“I knew Macca was going to Notts and I’d been injured and out on loan, so I kind of knew my opportunities would be limited even though I had another year.
“It hasn’t quite worked out so far, with me being injured for so long, but we’re on the right path now.”
Again though, what should have been Knight’s chance to make his mark in the National League was thwarted by a freak injury in the opening week of pre-season.
“It was the third session,” he recalled.
“We’d just finished the warm up and I’d gone to shoot, and it literally just felt like my hip had come off.
“I didn’t think it would be as severe as it was, but after getting the scan and realising it was much worse, it wasn’t ideal.
“A few months later, I was very close to getting back and was on the bench once or twice but then I felt a little pop again, though nowhere near as bad as the first time.
“In the warm up at Chesterfield I couldn’t really get going, and that ended up being another month I was set back.
“When you’re that close to coming back it probably hurts you more than when you first get injured – I’d done all that work for months only to have another month added on.
“I came back into training and was still having a few problems with it, but not enough to make me stop, so I just said to Belly [Chris Bell, physio] that I was being cautious on it but something didn’t feel right.
“We had another scan and thankfully the actual injury is absolutely fine, it’s just a bit of muscle scarring.
“Once I got my head around it that I wasn’t doing my body any harm it meant I could go full tilt again.”
Knight would have to wait until an FA Trophy tie against Gloucester City – five days before Christmas, and 182 days after signing – to make his debut in the 72nd minute.
“With how long I’d been out, you couldn’t just throw me back into the starting 11,” he said.
“It was a case of building up minutes and seeing if my body could cope with it, but the lads have been doing fantastic as well.
“If I went straight in I would have been as shocked and surprised as anyone else, so for me if the team is doing well and I’m not starting I’ve just got to push as much as I can to get in.”
Knight was introduced as a late substitute in the next three fixtures before finally being handed his first start in last weekend’s FA Trophy tie against Oldham, playing his part for 61 minutes as Gateshead progressed to the last 16.
“I had an inkling that I might be starting the week before,” he said.
“I wasn’t 100% sure until match day, and you never want to assume in football because things can change within an hour.
“I felt really good, so to play 60 minutes and play well was a big thing for me.
“We all have personal goals as players, but right now for me it’s about the team.
“I need to do whatever I can to make sure we stay in this division and go on and do well in the Trophy.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to go to Wembley if we can keep playing the way we are, and in the league we’re not scared of anyone.
“It’s really exciting at the minute, and I think it’s something the fans can get behind.”