[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ormer Cambridge United youth graduate Luke Hannant will make his professional debut at The Abbey Stadium for the first time since accepting his scholarship as a 16 year old in 2010.
Hannant, now 24, will finally make his long awaited appearance at the U’s, but not as part of Joe Dunne’s side, rather as an integral member of Port Vale’s midfield after working in the retail industry only five years ago.
The Norfolk native came through the ranks of United’s Centre of Excellence with former first team players such as Luke Berry, Jonathon Thorpe and Luke Allen for CRC in the Thurlow Nunn League.
He admitted his release from the United in 2012 was ‘heartbreaking’ but became the catalyst to reach his ultimate goal of penning a professional contract.
I’ve been involved in football all my life so being told at 18 I wasn’t getting anything and I’d have to go out and find a job was heartbreaking but there was always that hunger inside of me that thought I could give this another go.
Personally, looking back I don’t think I was ready at 18 [for a professional deal] which is why it’s probably helped coming in at a later age into the game. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise.
Hannant stressed that at 18 it was difficult to accept a need for a ‘Plan B’ away from football.
The teen had to go the long way round, playing for Dereham Town in the Bostik League whilst holding down a full time job in his local Tesco Superstore.
He eventually made the decision to return to the books he’d so loathed at school and enrol at Northumbria University in 2013.
I had to go away and think what I wanted to do, whilst I was at University I was doing my degree in Sports Science and looking at areas to explore there.
Despite weighing up his options, there was none more attractive than remaining in football.
There has always seemed to be an unshakeable magnetism between Hannant and the game. When he joined up with the University first team, who compete in the Northern League Division One, the ninth tier of English Football, it enabled him to enjoy football once again.
Being surrounded by players your own age and coming from similar backgrounds [in Academy football] it put my love back into the game.
At the time of my release I didn’t like playing football as much as what I did when I was younger but playing at University [and being around like-minded lads] boosted my morale again.
This was when he found Team Northumbria football coach Derek Forrest who would eventually be the man who presented Hannant with the ‘post grad’ job he always dreamed of, getting him a trial at National League side Gateshead.
It’s hard for 18 year olds to go straight in [to first team football], unless you’re extremely good, and it can be quite daunting so I thought I came in as quite a mature person. I was ready to learn, which is maybe something I didn’t want to do when I was younger because I was immature.
Derek really kick-started my career I owe him quite a lot, he has done a lot for me.
When I came to University I’d had a season at Dereham Town where I was playing left back running up and down the wing and he really helped me re-focus.
The midfielder initially signed a dual-contract with South Shields at 22, four years after his Cambridge release, but only made a handful of appearances before Gateshead boss Neil Aspin decided to thrust him into the mix.
Hannant’s energetic style and hunger to succeed, driven by the mixed fortunes of his early years was palpable for all to see.
After winning two successive player of the month awards for Gateshead towards the end of 2017 he was signed by former manager Aspin at Port Vale in January 2018.
I knew there was some interest from Neil Aspin and Port Vale as well as some other clubs but after speaking to my family and my agent I felt after playing well under Aspin before that it was the right move for myself.
Hannant would quickly become a mainstay in Vale’s midfield four. He has started all 17 of the games he has been available for, playing 1,485 minutes of League football and helping the club to stave off relegation fears.
He has even managed to notch his first Football League goal in the 2-2 draw against Stevenage in March.
I always knew it was going to be hard coming into a team in League 2 and to try and get as many minutes as I can but I think it’s helped that I played well under the gaffer before and he trusts me, if a manager trusts a player you are always going to have a chance.
The Valiant’s win over Lincoln City and last minute equalizer against Mansfield Town in April have looked to have ensured another year of League Two football.
Nostalgia will be in the air at The Abbey Stadium on Saturday with the player going full circle to where it all began.
I respect the club, I still know quite a few people there and they’ve done really well since I left [getting promoted to League 2 in 2014] and produced a few players but it’s an opportunity for me to go back there to show how much I’ve progressed.
The Great Yarmouth born man has been receiving calls from up to a month in advance for tickets from close friends and family eager to be part of it!
I just want to go back and play well, a win there would be massive for myself personally but if I did score a goal I think I’d show them the respect of not celebrating.
He confessed it will be a special occasion facing the club that gave him his first opportunity in football but his sole focus will be on ensuring his new charges finish the season on a high. Even if that means taking three points off the U’s this weekend.
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