Jordan Hulme’s memorable part in Salford City’s well-documented recent rise meant that plenty outside of the North West’s non-league scene became familiar with the lively striker. Despite the irrepressible personality he is associated with, his Ammies departure was not so easy to brush off, but at high-flying Altrincham this season, he has been kicking back into gear in emphatic fashion.
As April gets into full swing, Alty are the side towering above the rest in the Evo-Stik Premier, some eight points clear under ex-Nantwich Town manager Phil Parkinson with just six games to go. It is never down to individuals, though Jordan Hulme’s 24 league goals (30 overall) have proved pivotal, with the 27-year-old adding the latest to his tally as the Robins won 2-1 at Lancaster City on Saturday (7th April).
While he has scored throughout the campaign up to now, the ex-Ramsbottom United man explains how the first steps of 2017/18 were actually in marked contrast to the current state of play.
“Personally, it wasn’t a great start for me. My head wasn’t right and I wasn’t playing, and then after a few games, I kind of got my head on things and things started to pick up for the team as well.
“If you’re playing up top on your own, and you’re not playing well, it’s hard for the team to win games. I felt like I kind of let them down a bit and I still owe the team for those performances, but luckily I’ve been repaying them.”
Alty look well on their way to the National League North, the division Jordan was fighting to help Salford City get out of this time last year. With the Ammies, he made an impression on the club, and then some.
His scrambled play-off final winner in the 87th minute at Moor Lane against Workington to send them up to the sixth tier in May 2016 prompted mass celebrations on the far touchline and will be an enduring image in the club’s history. It meant a second successive promotion for Jordan and the club after he had joined his former Ramsbottom managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley at Salford in January 2015, while it also made it four in five seasons with their Rammy days included.
Last season saw the club sizing up the next big jump on their climb through the divisions since the 2014 takeover of ownership group Project 92 Limited, chiefly comprising Peter Lim and five of Manchester United’s famous ‘Class of ‘92’ (Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt). Jordan struck double figures in a rocky National League North season for the team that saw them come so agonisingly close to prising open the door to non-league’s top tier.
As it transpired, the play-off semi-final shootout heartache against FC Halifax Town was essentially a gut-wrenching farewell for Jordan. The ever-popular personality had signed a two-year professional contract as the club transitioned to a full-time model over the later months of the season, but he would leave along with another goal hero of that 2016 playoff final, defender Billy Priestley, in July.
That departure, along with finding his feet amongst a new team and setup, were the factors behind him not hitting the ground running at Alty, he says. Nevertheless, the Robins’ number nine is now firing on all cylinders, with Alty ultimately proving exactly the environment he needed.
“It’s a great club, to be honest. It’s not just the football; it’s everything that’s going on at the club.
“When I first joined I didn’t have a job, because I’d left my job to go full-time and that didn’t work out, so there were loads of people at the club throwing jobs at me, trying to help me out. Luckily, I got one and I’ve been doing plenty of work.”
Recently gaining jobs through casting agencies after going along to an advert shoot when he joined Alty, Jordan had been at university while playing for his hometown Ramsbottom United. A Physical Education and School Sport graduate, he recalls a short-lived attempt at teaching in a primary school but says he soon found that, for once, he didn’t quite have the required enthusiasm!
“I think Parky and Neil are great managers and encourage you to play their style of football…”
His current gaffer, Phil Parkinson, is a sports science lecturer, as well as the manager who oversaw marked progression during his time in charge at Nantwich. Captain and winner of the 2006 FA Vase as a player, he took the Dabbers from the Evo-Stik Premier’s relegation zone to 5th place, alongside the FA Trophy semis in 2016.
With Alty falling two divisions from the National League with successive relegations, Parkinson was appointed in April 2017 as the man to steer the ship back towards more agreeable waters. During his time working under ‘no nonsense’ bosses in Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson, Jordan enjoyed great success, but he explains how Parkinson, who is assisted by former Crewe Alexandra midfielder Neil Sorvel, has exerted his own approach to help set him on his way to a stellar personal season.
“Well I’ve only ever had a couple of managers in non-league, but he just gives you the confidence to do whatever you want to do on the pitch. He doesn’t hold you back, he just gives you your set jobs and says, ‘Apart from that, go out and do what we all know you can do.’
“I think Parky and Neil are great managers and encourage you to play their style of football, which I’m benefitting from. Away from football and at training they are great lads who do whatever they can for you.”
Still based in Ramsbottom, Jordan joined his hometown club at the end of 2011 after stints at Clitheroe and Padiham. It meant continuing a pretty significant connection, with his dad Martin ‘Tommy’ Hulme a Rammy stalwart in the 90s on the wing, making over 500 appearances and becoming synonymous with the club.
Part of a setup that took them to the highest point in club history under Morley and Johnson, Jordan says he wanted to emulate what his dad did there but ultimately had to keep moving on in his own career. What some may not be aware of is that he tried his hand a little bit further afield, in the southeast, though not at Whitehawk or Eastbourne Borough.
This particular adventure played out in Louisiana, as he joined up with a team that could have almost been named with him in mind – New Orleans Jesters. The side were competing in the USL Premier Development League (PDL) at the time and Jordan fills in the details on how that one came to be.
“It was a bit random actually. I wasn’t a regular at Rammy, and when they won the league (North West Counties Premier Division) I was on the bench, so I had to run on the pitch and dirty my knees for the picture so it looked like I’d played!
“I went to America to play over the summer for three months, trained every day and was treated like a king, pretty much. I came back and I was absolutely flying and that’s when my non-league career sort of took off.
“Gary Stopforth, who’s been at Stockport this season (now with Colne), he was at Rammy with me and he had a few connections out there and I said it was something I’d love to do. Within a month, he’d sorted it out for me and I was on the plane with my pal Phil Dean.
“We kind of didn’t know what we were doing, we just turned up at the airport, some American guy picked us up and the next day we were in for training. You’d wake up about half six, seven in the morning, and you were living in a flat with eight other players, so there was never a dull moment!
“They’d pick you up in a truck and 20 minutes later you’d be at training. Obviously out there you had to train early in the morning because it’s boiling hot in the middle of the day, so you’d train eight until ten or eleven, and then the rest of the day was yours.
“We’d go to the gym as a team but it wasn’t really like a gym; they’d have their own outdoor pool and bar. Then just explore the city and do whatever 20-year-old lads do!”
On the inside of so much progression at Salford, Jordan’s Ammies stats will tell you he scored 31 goals in 120 games, but the impact of the character he brought is not so easy to measure. As detailed in Bernard Morley’s interview to start off the ‘Bosses’ Lounge’ feature on here in December, Salford’s recent ascent up the leagues has been told through several documentary series.
Beginning on the BBC, the most recent instalment, ‘Class of 92: Full-Time,’ was shown on Sky Sports towards the end of 2017. With series one and two featuring the appointment of joint-bosses ‘Jonno’ and ‘Bern’ in January 2015, and their back-to-back promotions and 2015/16 run to the FA Cup second round, the last one focused on not just their tilt at reaching the National League, but also the behind-the-scenes aspect of transitioning to a full-time club.
“…if you’re winning and the cameras are there that’s fine, but if you’re losing then people are saying ‘no wonder we’re losing with that pointing in our face.’”
Jordan was one of those whose backstory was delved into, with focus on him leaving home, his friendship with defender Steve Howson, and ultimately being one of the players to earn a professional deal. There was also his meeting with Ryan Giggs as he was offered some advice on what it takes to become a full-time player, which included him responding to Giggs’ question of what his diet was like in typical fashion – ‘Can’t stop eating Chineses.’
The insight the documentary provided has undoubtedly entertained viewers, non-league fans and otherwise, but for the people living out the storyline for real, as Jordan was, how did they find it with the camera rolling while players’ futures were up in the air and the pressure to win promotions was burning away?
“I think it was like everything: if you’re winning and the cameras are there that’s fine, but if you’re losing then people are saying ‘no wonder we’re losing with that pointing in our face.’ That got said a few times but when you were winning, everyone was trying to get on camera!
“I mean it’s a good thing to have because it’s not just for Salford, it’s for non-league as well. To be honest, I loved the attention I got off it, I’m not gonna lie!
“I was in Manchester on a night out recently and people were taking selfies with me and stuff, so that’s pretty weird, yeah. I’d say (the documentary) is a good thing.
“On the pitch, I’m a completely different animal and I’ve played against lads who said ‘I didn’t like you on the pitch but off it you’re sound.’ That’s just what I have to do to play well, I don’t know why that is, but everyone says my personality came over a lot more on the second (series).
“It’s not annoyed me or anything, but I was pretty heartbroken, to be honest, when they said they didn’t want me any more. When I play for a club, I’m not just there to play football, and I put two-and-a-half years of my life into it, so to hear they’re moving on without you, it was pretty horrible.
“Looking back now, it might have been the right decision for everyone involved, so I’ve got no hard feelings. I’m at a great club now and the people involved are helping me as much as they can, and they’re trying to get promotion, which is what I want, so it’s working out quite well.”
Not hiding the dejection he felt at leaving, Jordan, who hit a hat-trick against champions AFC Fylde last year, has been glad to see his friendship with his former managers and various others remain.
“It was a great time and it’s a great club, to be honest. I met so many good people there and so I’ve not got any regrets about doing it.
“It was always going to happen at some point, that I had to move on. I followed two of my pals from Ramsbottom, and they’re still my pals now outside of football, so I suppose it’s just football in a way.
“They’re two great managers and they’ll carry on moving on, and I’ve got to carry on moving on in my career. The first few years at Rammy, it was like playing with 15 of my best mates, and then 17/18 when you mention Bern, Jonno and the coaches, Glenn (Moses) and people like that.
“It was just one big family, so that side of it, in the changing room where everyone’s having a laugh, that was the bit I loved. I always tried to be the joker but there was always a time to get serious and we knew when that was.
“We were winning games and having a laugh and that’s what it’s like now at Alty. You’ve got 15 top lads who I’d never dislike ever, but they’re all absolute idiots in their own way and that’s what you need.”
Alongside the fierce competitiveness and the love of scoring, the lighter side is everything to him as well, as he alludes to. When the music was blaring and the atmosphere was jumping in the dressing room after a Salford win, he was conductor-in-chief.
“I need to be around the lads, me, and involved in some sort of team…”
While all of us love pouring emotion into following what happens on the pitch, it is surely the beating heart of a club, its togetherness, where the true value lies. Jordan is happy to have found that again, and it is exactly what he cherishes most about non-league.
“I need to be around the lads, me, and involved in some sort of team, so when you can turn up on a Tuesday, Thursday night and have a good crack, just being part of the team is I think the best bit. Then the fact that you can just go in the bar after and have a chat with the fans; I was having a chat with them after a game recently and they were just saying ‘keep going’ and everything.
“A little girl came up to me and John Johnston and gave us both an Easter egg, so it’s just stuff like that really. When we were at Ramsbottom, we’d be in the club after with all the lads and we wouldn’t leave there until God knows what time.
“It’s just the community you get with it and all the people you meet. That’s what I like about it.”
Although ‘live wire’ might be a fair enough description of him, there is very much a driven edge behind Jordan’s footballing exploits. As he reflects on the past few years, he highlights how the goal of becoming a full-time pro has never really left his thoughts.
“I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit now. I was a bit of a mad ‘un a few years ago and I’ve had to chill out.
“If I’d have known when I was younger what I know now I think I might be playing at a higher level, but obviously you don’t get to know that until you start getting older and moving up. Because I’ve always wanted to do it, to be a pro, it’s something I need to do, whether it’s one year of my life, two, whatever.
“It’s something that I’ve got to strive for instead of settling for mediocre. It’s still a hope of mine that I can do that.”
A club with a history of FA Cup giant-killing, alongside two FA Trophies and a pair of Conference titles (though denied Football League entry both times), Altrincham are helping Jordan enjoy his football and plenty more besides. In turn, he is certainly rewarding them, with promotion and the Evo-Stik Premier crown no longer far off in the distance.
In his aforementioned interview on here, Bern Morley said of his former frontman:
‘I don’t think we’ll ever replace Jordan Hulme as a character. Great footballer, but as a character, just irreplaceable. I’ve met some good people in my nine years of managing and 15 years of playing, but Jordan Hulme, he’s hard to explain. I think if you were to put that out – ‘Jordan Hulme’s a character’ – there’ll be thousands that vouch for it.
The comment wasn’t lost on him.
“Yeah, I mean me and Bern get on like a house on fire still, so for him to say that, even though I’ve gone, it was a nice thing to say. I just think being in a team and having that camaraderie with the boys, that’s half the battle for me.
“If I can come in and make a team bond then that’s what I’ll try and do, because I think that’s a massive part of the game.”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes