Luke Joyce says there was a turning point in his Accrington career – otherwise it may not have lasted as long as six seasons.
The midfielder admitted that he was almost going on loan to Barrow in the 2010/11 Play-Off season as he struggled to retain a place after chalking up 50 appearances for the Reds the season previously, his first campaign in Accrington.
He remembers vividly John Coleman pulling him to one side at Blackburn Rugby Club, the training ground at the time, and Luke thought he was off to the Bluebirds, a club he had been at previously on loan from Carlisle.
Instead he was told he was starting the next game – which was a 2-0 loss to Rotherham – and he never looked back, going on to captain the Reds and make over 250 appearances at the Wham Stadium.
“It was a turning point for me,” said the 32-year-old who is now at Port Vale and recently amassed 500 EFL appearances.
“I had signed that first season and it was a team which included Chris Turner, Andy Procter and I played quite a lot. I signed at the same time as Dean Winnard and Billy Kee came on loan from Leicester that season.
“We didn’t do anything spectacular, we stayed up which was the main aim, Eric Whalley was still around.
“I was actually known as a goalscoring midfielder when I signed and I remember going into the office with Eric and Jimmy Bell and Eric said ‘How many goals are you going to score?’ I said ‘Around 10 a season.’ I actually got to four once!
“The next summer John Coleman brought in Charlie Barnett and it’s probably the worst period for starts in my career. A few had come from Liverpool, like Charlie, Jimmy Ryan, Craig Lindfield.
“I remember I had been No 8 the season before and I walked into the dressing room and I saw I was No 14 – and I knew then that I wasn’t first choice. Your shirt number is a big deal.
“I got a few games but, in January, I know Barrow fancied me and that’s when John pulled me to one side.
“I had just got engaged to Emily that weekend, now my wife, and then the gaffer pulled me up and I was convinced I was off.
“Surprisingly he said ‘You are starting the next game.’
“I remember it was at the Don Valley and me, Proc and Charlie all played so I have no idea what the formation was! We lost but I had a decent game and then I kept my place since then and we went on an unbelievable run to reach the Play-Offs.
“Then in the Play-Offs, we were the form team going into them but Stevenage were more experienced than us, it was an onslaught at their place and every one knows what happened.”
Luke played regularly the next season as Coleman left to go to Rochdale in January 2012 and Paul Cook took over.
“I remember we were playing at Swindon, Paolo Di Canio was manager and they had Matt Ritchie who was running rings around us. It was February and Dean Winnard was captain and he came off at half-time.
“He passed me the captain’s armband and I wore it from then on. I loved it, I was only 23/24 and it was a great honour.”
He kept the armband through managers Leam Richardson and James Beattie and then, when John and Jimmy returned in 2014, he was still the ‘skipper.’
Luke admitted, though, he had tears in his eyes when, in 2015, he decided to join Carlisle United.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Stanley had offered me a three-year deal which was a good one but the financial package Carlisle offered was considerably better and Accrington couldn’t match it.
“I wanted to stay but, due to the finances at the time at Accrington, I had spent quite a lot of my time, as captain, in the office asking about money and wages, it was before Andy Holt took over.
“I had my daughter Eva and Ralph was on his way so I had to do my best for my family. It meant Emily didn’t have to go back to work and, even though it meant more travelling for me, I had to put my family first.
“It was gut wrenching and there were tears. Andy Holt came in after I left and I do sometimes look back and wonder what would have happened if I had stayed but I made the decision at the time and that’s all you can do.
“I love seeing how well they are doing now.
“For me, I was proud to get to 500 EFL games, I still feel fitter than ever despite the fact I am 33 in July!
“And, before the Coronavirus, Port Vale were on a good run, challenging for the Play-Offs and I had played every game except one this season.
“I have also started my own coaching academy which I love.
“I owe John and Jimmy a lot. They spotted me playing for Northwich Victoria on loan and they took a gamble on me. I took a wage drop at the time, as I was at Carlisle, but they gave me a great opportunity.
“We didn’t do anything spectacular at Accrington when I was there, except reach the Play-Offs that year, but it was brilliant to play my part there.”