Barcelona to Maidstone, via Ibiza and Mallorca, and don’t forget the likes of Heybridge and Lincoln either. Joan Luque’s journey has encompassed its rough and tumble but it is one the 28-year-old is overall glad to have been on so far.
In this most unusual of football seasons, he has got his on-field action so far at Maidstone United, and made a sizeable impression, too. Since officially signing for the Stones in mid-October, the Catalan creative talent has been involved in a number of goals (scoring two himself), which saw him recently named the club’s Player of the Month.
From juggling jobs and football in the Balearic Islands and as a newcomer in England, to the summer when Lincoln City were #UpAllNightToGetLuque, he takes a look back on his experiences so far. He talks life outside football, ambitions for the future, as well as the less accommodating side of the game, which is impossible to sidestep when recounting his 2020.
Firstly Joan, you’ve had an impressive time at Maidstone so far, how are you feeling as we speak now – mind, body and soul?
I’m feeling good. I think I’ve gone through a really tough time since the start of January, I would say. I was having a bad time not playing (at Dagenham & Redbridge), then COVID appeared, I split with my girlfriend, and when I was meant to come back, the club told me ‘you have no flat any more’, which was part of the deal, so they basically left me homeless. Then going into pre-season, not playing, not even involved, so all the hard work that I did to come back as fit as possible and try to show the manager I was good enough, from the first day he made me feel like I wasn’t welcome. It was a tough time, but if you keep yourself focused on where you want to go and just believe in yourself, keep being professional and not do anything silly for them to have an excuse on you, then all that hard work can pay off. Now that work is paying off, obviously it’s just the start, but to have a start like I’m having at Maidstone is really good. I can say I’m as close to being happy as I have been since January.
Before leaving Dagenham, was there a conversation with Daryl McMahon where he said you weren’t in the plans etc.?
Yeah, he said I wasn’t in his plans. The worst bit is that my deal before this manager came in was to have accommodation, plus whatever I was earning, so you can’t then change that. They said ‘you haven’t got the flat any more, it’s not available’; if it’s not available, the club have to provide me accommodation, which they didn’t. Then pre-season, it was just trying to make you not welcome, but I’ve gone through it now. Some of the things I don’t even wanna mention, but these things happen in football, I’ve learned from it, and now I’m really focused on Maidstone, doing well, and hopefully, coming back to the National League soon.
Not to dwell on it but did you have to then go and live with a friend, when you were told the flat was no longer yours to live in?
They said if I could send my friend’s address, so someone could go to the flat, collect all my stuff and deliver it to me. I was like ‘I’m gonna do that myself, when my quarantine is finished, no one is gonna touch my stuff.’ Just asking that is ridiculous, to be fair, but I’m living in my friend’s house, with four people plus me, so he’s doing me a favour. It’s lucky that I have that friend, because if not, I was homeless.
You joined Maidstone on a short-term deal, which (manager) Hakan (Hayrettin) has spoken about wanting to extend. You obviously knew (assistant) Terry Harris from Dagenham & Redbridge as well, what were the conversations with the management about coming to the club initially?
They asked Dagenham, I think, for a loan deal. I started training with them after I finished my contract. Obviously, my priority was to play in the National League, but Dagenham took so long and left me only one-week-and-a-half until the start of the season to sort myself out; by then, pretty much all the clubs were set up. They said ‘we’re really interested in you, obviously we don’t have the money available at the moment because of the COVID situation, but we’re gonna have it because of the grant from the government.’ I was like ‘okay, I’m just gonna come training.’ Obviously I couldn’t have kept doing that for too long, but luckily, we got it done a few weeks ago. I knew the lads already from training there, playing some games, and it gave me a little bit of help for the start of my own season, because by the time I started competitively, they had already played a couple of games. It’s just good to have a manager that trusts you, like Terry does and Hakan does, and Terry knows me from Dagenham and how I play, and how I am as a person as well. I’m pleased to be working with him again, and with Hakan as well, and at the moment, things are working, so hopefully we can keep it going!
In a vote more hotly contested than the state of Georgia, the winger made an instant impact during his debut month, picking up a third of the votes cast. pic.twitter.com/cHdBTysSZd
— Maidstone United (@maidstoneunited) November 6, 2020
Which part of Catalunya was it you grew up in? Was it Barcelona itself or somewhere else?
I was born in Barcelona and always lived there, until I was 22. Then I moved to Ibiza for three years, then to Mallorca for one year, and then I came here, nearly three-and-a-half years ago now.
Is it right you’re a Real Madrid fan, though?!
Yeah, I’m a Madrid fan from Barcelona – I’m weird! You won’t find many people in Barcelona like me!
With the media interest in you a couple of years ago, doing so well at Heybridge Swifts and then joining Lincoln City, you have spoken a bit before about the other jobs you’ve had to do alongside football in the past. What kind of things were you involved in when you were in Ibiza and Mallorca?
We trained four days a week, at like 8 in the evening, half 8, so it’s not really part-time, but the money is part-time. So I worked in Mango, in the shop, and then I worked for a company in Ibiza that was selling furniture; I was delivering it and building it as well. In Mallorca, I was a gardener, so just different things.
When it came to the initial lockdown this year, did you go home straight away? What was that overall time period like for you?
Well one day, a couple of ladies turned up at the club’s flat and said they were here to clean the flat and switch everything off and that. I said ‘woah, I’m living here at the moment.’ Then I called the chairman and asked what was going on, because we were meant to be training on the Monday, at the beginning. He said basically ‘it’s not a problem if you want to go home to your family, because it’s going to be a tough time, and if anything happened, which I hope it doesn’t, I want you to be close to your family,’ which was a nice thing from them. I went back to Spain and spent from March until 1st August there. The lockdown was more strict even than here, but it was a good time being at home and being able to be with my family for a longer time than normal. Normally when I go back, I’m going for like two days and rushing everything, not seeing everyone that I would like to see. This time, I was able to see my family, my friends, and luckily, nobody really got the virus in a bad way.
My brother was there as well, so we would do training sessions in the morning. My flat is quite big but it wasn’t like you had a garden, so we would just train in the living room. Then I was just chilling, watching TV, I started streaming and playing FIFA, just laughing and playing with my friends online. At night, when my dad came back from working, we would play things like card games. That was pretty much it! As soon as we were able to go outside, I would go out running.
I know Heybridge Swifts would stand out here, but this can be anywhere you’ve been at all in football. What stands out as the happiest you’ve felt overall in the game up to now, as an all-round picture?
I have to say Heybridge. Heybridge, and two years before I became senior, which was Under-19s, when we reached the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey youth (with Cornellà). I played against Madrid and that season was an unbelievable season, we made history at the club, but I would have to say Heybridge, because of what we achieved, and what I achieved personally as well. For it to be my first season here and to do really well, and obviously that got me a move to the Football League, which is what I came for, my aim from the beginning. When I signed my contract at Lincoln was one of the happiest moments ever in my life; I was so emotional on the phone! I didn’t have my family here, and that was a moment where I wanted a hug from my dad, something like that just to say ‘well done, son’. But I would say that season at Heybridge, and a little bit at Lincoln; my goal at Blackburn (in the League Cup).
A dream come true! Over the moon to sign for @LincolnCity_FC and become a professional player.
I can’t wait to wear the imps shirt in a competitive game!
See you all on Saturday!💪🏻#ImpsAsOne #UpAllNightToBeAnImp pic.twitter.com/E30UKCY4E5
— Joan Luque (@JoanLuque19) August 9, 2018
What about the most difficult time?
I would say this last half-season and pre-season at Dagenham was really tough. One moment that was tough to take as well was when I was at Concord and we got in the play-offs; the moment that they told us we couldn’t play because of the stadium (grading). All of the happiness you had from being in the play-offs and doing well is just thrown out the window, for reasons that you can’t control, which is the worst bit. Back in Spain, there was a season where we escaped relegation in the last game, and that was tough to take, but at least we got the job done. It’s been good moments, bad moments, but altogether, an enjoyable journey so far.
What kind of approach do you think gets the best out of you from a manager?
I think you have to know what kind of player you’ve got with me. Some managers say ‘just hook it’ and everyone will run, but it’s not what I will do, I will try to pass it and to try and find another solution. I think that’s the most important thing for a manager to understand, it’s not the kind of football I’m used to. Obviously as well, everyone likes to be loved, in a football environment, to feel like the manager trusts you. I think that’s the most important thing in football.
In terms of understanding and speaking English when you first came over, did you know some already, or were you starting almost from scratch?
No, it was quite basic, because I had like seven years with no studying English at all, so I forgot nearly everything. The first day in the changing room, I will always remember that day, because I was like ‘fucking hell, I don’t get anything from anyone!’ Everyone was talking at the same time, so I was like ‘okay, I’m gonna try and concentrate, and the two people in front of me, I’m gonna try to understand what they’re talking about at least.’ Obviously some words you understand and try to put it into context, but it was basic.
What kind of things would help you sharpen up with English? Would TV, music etc. come into it?
I was just asking people how to say things. The first two weeks, I was asking everyone how to say everything I needed to know on the football pitch, which was the most important thing for me. I started working in a restaurant, which helped me a lot to communicate with people and interact with them, but the first two days working in the restaurant were funny. I was going to the table and just coming back saying ‘I…didn’t know what they want!’ I can say I had funny days here where I was like ‘I didn’t understand anything today.’ I was calling my mum and she was laughing at me, ‘what are you doing there?!’ but I was like ‘don’t worry, I will get there!’
— Joan Luque (@JoanLuque19) August 26, 2017
We did touch upon Lincoln but what are the emotions when you think about that time now? Some happiness at getting to achieve a dream, some frustration?
I’d say it’s both. It’s happiness because of achieving a dream, and after I scored, I thought ‘I had a chance, I’ve took it, now I need to take the next chance,’ but after Blackburn, I didn’t really get any sort of chances. I speak to teammates now and they say ‘you deserved more of a chance’. It’s a shame for me, for whatever reason the manager didn’t play me, but I know they were big names in that team. The worst bit was that the contract was only for six months, because if it was a year, I would have had the experience of winning the trophy (League Two title). I think I could have been involved in some games, because I was doing well in training, but I was maybe just not the type of player that the manager wanted.
From your time in football overall, who are some examples of the big characters you’ve been around?
I would say one funny player, when we played together when we were young, Marc Muniesa; he’s one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. We were playing when we were 13 (at FC Barcelona) but we talk still today and our families get on well. Kresh Krasniqi from Heybridge and now at Maidstone, he’s a funny character, crazy man with loads of energy. There’s loads of them, to be fair. Matt Rhead was funny as well at Lincoln.
Have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a team?
Oh yeah, I had it a couple of times already. I had it at Dagenham and at Lincoln. It was new for me, because in Spain, we didn’t used to do this, but I was like ‘okay…I’ve got this!’ I did one from Shawn Mendes, I think.
Tell me about the coaching you’ve done, are you qualified up to UEFA B so far?
Yeah, that is something in Spain where if you sign for a club, they might say ‘we’ll give you the amount of money you want if you coach as well; if you manage the Under-13s, we’ll give you an extra 200 a month’ or something like that. So I’ve been doing that for eight years, and now that I’m in England, I’m missing it a lot, because it’s something that I really enjoy. I would like to set up my own one-to-one coaching, but it’s obviously difficult to set up anything at the moment.
What about any other interests away from playing, what else brings you enjoyment?
I like to play sports. I like to be on the PlayStation as well, I have to say! But I like to play a sport called padel, which is a bit like tennis, four walls, but not squash. It’s quite fun, so dynamic, and I used to play that a lot when I was in Spain; even when the lockdown finished, I started playing every week. I miss that as well, because here, there’s only a couple of courts and not many people I know who play. I like playing tennis as well. I’m quite a ‘home’ person, I like to be at home chilling, watching Netflix or TV, watching football. Speaking to my family, of course. I’m a calm kind of person.
Finally, as you look ahead, what do you want these next few years to bring you from football?
For me at the moment, my main objective is to go back up the leagues. I wanna play regularly in the Football League, to be starting and to test myself and see how far I can go. Obviously, I have to go step by step; sometimes you have to do a step back to do two forward. I hope that is the situation I’m in now. Hopefully this season goes really well with Maidstone, we achieve what we want, which is promotion.
Interview by @chris_brookes