Given his surname, it seems logical that new Greenwich Borough manager Luke Medley wants his players to be able to utilise a mix of attributes. After a dream start to professional football, the ex-Bradford City forward has felt some of the sharper edges to the game, but with his playing career on hold for the time being, he is a young coach with time on his side and value to offer.
‘The boy’s electric, he really is. He’s got great pace and when Luke Medley’s in that mood, he’s unstoppable. He frightens any defender.’ That was the endorsement given to the young Mansfield Town striker by his manager, the late Duncan Russell, in November 2010.
A former Tottenham Hotspur youngster, Luke only turned 29 this summer, but is already some miles down the road on his coaching quest. While he intends on resuming his unsettling of defences in the not-too-distant future, the lightning-quick goal-getter is assuming a steadier pace at present, in his new role as manager of Greenwich Borough.
Greenwich-born, Luke describes the background to his arrival as gaffer at the Bostik League South East club last month.
“I was with Cray Wanderers last year and after about four games, I suffered a hip injury. I had a few scans, saw physios and could have had an operation.
“I could’ve been playing this year; they did say it was a long-term injury. I’ve been coaching for six years, worked at various Premier League academies, and I work at a private academy called Nigel James Elite Coaching.
“I know some of the players that are at Greenwich Borough; they told me the situation and I made a phone call to the board. They liked my CV, I went to coach a few sessions and they offered it to me.
“Playing is still on the agenda but at the moment I’m just focusing on the managing.”
Indeed many will be keen to see him revive that playing side at some point. Luke’s goals helped Mansfield Town to a number of National League wins in the 2010/11 season, while in more recent times he has rattled the net with regularity for the likes of Walton Casuals, Chatham Town and the aforementioned Cray Wanderers.
It was a career which properly began at Stuart McCall’s Bradford City in 2007 – and what a start it was. Just 18 at the time, Luke came off the bench in late-August for the experienced Barry Conlon as the Bantams searched for a winner at home to Wrexham in League Two.
With the score at 1-1, he was the reason for the celebrations just a couple of minutes later. Over on the far left side, just outside the penalty area, the ball sat up for Luke to strike a pearler of a shot into the far corner, sending the home fans behind the goal into a frenzy.
In actual fact, it was his first touch in a competitive match in professional football, and still his most memorable.
“I look back at that goal, I was looking to cross it but there was no one in the box, so I thought ‘I’m gonna have a shot.’ Thankfully it went in and that was a fantastic experience for me.
“We went out that night. It wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t a big drinker, but I was away from home, I was excited.
“I watched it on TV the next morning. My family back in London were listening to it on the radio, so they were happy.”
Nevertheless, it was a shock to the system as the teenager first tried to make the transition from young academy player to Football League pro.
“When I left Tottenham, I could have stayed for another year as a third-year scholar, but they said the best thing was to go and be in an environment with men. I went to Lilleshall – I’m not sure they do it now – and did the exit trials, where all the players getting released, they all come together, stay overnight for a couple of days and then they play in games.
“I got scouted by Cheltenham, Gretna, Motherwell and Bradford, and Kettering, I think, in non-league. I went up to Bradford, David Wetherall was the caretaker manager, I played a reserve game, trained for a week and they offered me a one-year pro (contract).
“They’d just been relegated into League Two and I watched the last game of the season, so I got a feel for what it was like up there. I moved there at 18 and Stuart McCall said ‘if you wanna get in my 16 you need to lose some weight,’ so I had some work to do.
“It was a bit of a shock; like ‘I’ve got to work for this.’”
After his explosive start, Luke would score another for Bradford in his ninth appearance, but he had to wait until May of that season for it, and had even been out on loan at Cambridge City. Scoring in the Bantams’ 2-1 loss at Wycombe Wanderers, he left the West Yorkshire side at the end of the season, which he admits, ten years on, may have been the wrong choice.
“I was the top goalscorer in the reserves that season, played at some good grounds. I was young and there were some men (in the first team) coming to the end of their careers who could give you that guidance.
“They offered me another year, me and one other player, and I turned it down to sign for Barnet for two years; I was actually in Barnet’s youth team previously. I wasn’t really homesick (at Bradford).
“The way it turned out, it was probably a bad decision, but it’s easy to say now. I went to Barnet under Paul Fairclough, but he didn’t have a great start to the season and he stepped down after the first nine games.”
Leaving Barnet in 2010 after a two-year stint which included loans at Havant & Waterlooville and Woking, spells at Mansfield and latterly Kidderminster Harriers followed for Luke. It was after he left Harriers that he met with an extremely significant checkpoint on his path.
In that Wrexham game for his Bradford debut, Luke was one of a number of players who later became managers, with David Wetherall, Paul Heckingbottom and Mark Bower all on his side. The difference with Luke, though, is that it was very clearly taking shape when he was still in his early-20s.
“My background was football; that’s all I had known since I left school. Then the PFA sent me a letter asking if I wanted to do my (FA) Level 2 coaching.”
He recalls the especially sobering situation, the like of which many footballers have found themselves in, when playing is all you really know in terms of expertise and experience, but it is suddenly no longer there to lean on.
“I finished at Kidderminster Harriers in 2012 and was training with Gillingham at the time. I suffered a knee injury when I was playing with my friends, so I had an operation and they said I was going to be out for a year.
“My background was football; that’s all I had known since I left school. Then the PFA sent me a letter asking if I wanted to do my (FA) Level 2 coaching.
“It was something I had never even thought of, but I was out for a year; I didn’t have anything else to do. When I found myself on the Level 2, there was the likes of Mark Viduka, Luis Boa Morte, Jamie Lawrence and a few other footballers I’d kind of watched growing up.
“All of a sudden I was in the same room as them trying to achieve the same outcome. I enjoyed it, completed the Level 2, and Nigel James gave me my first coaching job; it’s like an elite centre for grassroots players and we try and prepare them for Cat 1 (academy) status clubs.
“I’ve worked for Fulham Foundation, coached Crystal Palace Under-9s, and I did that after I completed my UEFA B.”
Alongside Luke on that UEFA B course was ex-England midfielder and current Match of the Day pundit Danny Murphy. By this time, coaching had undoubtedly moved into the ascendancy in his ambitions.
“I enjoyed the coaching and that kind of took lead over playing. I’d done my rehab and I first signed for Hayes & Yeading, then I was at Margate, Crawley Down Gatwick.
“I had a few clubs but I was coaching as well, so I never really took the avenue to try and go full-time again. Some people said I should have, but it is what it is, hindsight’s a great thing.
“The inspiration was other footballers I’d looked up to were trying to coach as well and I was rubbing shoulders with them, trying to achieve something. I enjoyed coaching as well, seeing young players do something they didn’t think they could do.”
During his year at Tottenham, Luke became good friends with another aspiring player in Cian Hughton, the former Lincoln City defender and son of Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton, who was on Martin Jol’s Spurs coaching staff at the time.
“People might be on professional contracts but not doing professional things, and there are people that aren’t on those contracts who are doing professional things.”
The likes of Ryan Mason, Jake Livermore and Andros Townsend were also progressing through the youth ranks and Luke recalls the elite environment he was part of, with one Dutch coach in particular leaving an impression on him.
“I was there at 17; I got there late. It was the likes of (Dimitar) Berbatov, Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, Tom Huddlestone, Edgar Davids in the first team.
“We used to watch those players train sometimes and I look back now and you realise how good they were. There was one coach, our skills coach called Ricardo Moniz (ex-Notts County manager), and I used to love getting coached by him.
“He was very demanding, high standards, very energetic, and when he was kind of grilling you, you felt good about it because he was very passionate. When I got into coaching, I used certain exercises that he did with me.”
As he is asked how he has changed since he was the teenage match-winning hero for Bradford, Luke admits it is something he regularly reflects upon.
“It’s funny, I was on a course and one of the tutors said ‘how would you coach Luke Medley?’ That was a very good question and I think of it every day.
“The difference now is about mindset; mindset’s a massive thing because anyone can have the ability. You need to have that professional mindset.
“People might be on professional contracts but not doing professional things, and there are people that aren’t on those contracts who are doing professional things. That’s how I’m different now; there was a time when I scored five goals in a row and the striker was coming back and I got dropped, and I had to deal with that.
“I probably wouldn’t have dealt with it well when I was 18/19.”
In his career so far, Luke has tasted life at varying levels of the game, from Premier League academy (as player and coach), to League Two, to the eighth tier. With Luke Medley the player at an interlude as we speak, where does he think he has been happiest in football up to now?
“I enjoyed my time at Mansfield; it was a great club. I started the season really well, scored a few goals and then we had a change of owner, change of manager, and it didn’t work out as well as I wanted it to.
“In Ryman South, I was at Chatham, and I was probably the player with most pedigree, but I wasn’t the highest paid. I just wanted to play football and I enjoyed my time there.
“We got relegated that season and I left to go to Cray Wanderers. I enjoyed it before I got injured; I just loved scoring goals.”
For now, it’s Luke Medley the manager who takes the floor, and in his native part of the capital, no less.
“I was born in Greenwich, grew up in Belvedere and then a bit later I moved to Rochester Kent with my family. A lot of family, all my cousins, we were all born in Greenwich Hospital; it’s not actually there now.
“A lot of tourists come to the town, you’ve got the university. Both my grandparents’ funerals were in Greenwich, so it holds a special place.
“As a club, (Greenwich Borough have) great potential. (Recent Bristol City signing from Cheltenham Town) Mo Eisa came from Greenwich Borough, so people will look at that now.
“In terms of what they’re trying to do down there, it’s giving youth a chance, giving players a platform to push them higher. For me as manager, it’s about being there to guide and educate them to play at this level where people do push on.”
Fuelled by the goals of the league’s top scorer Jack Barham, who has since signed for Barnet, Greenwich Borough made the Bostik South play-offs last season. The 2016 champions of the Southern Counties East Football League start this campaign at home to Luke’s old side Cray this Saturday (11th August), and the manager has a vivid picture of what he wants people to see from his team.
“They’ll see a certain style of football: possession-based, energetic, hard-working, very expressive. A lot of what youth’s about today is giving that platform to be free – ‘go and express yourself on that football pitch.’
“It’s about trying to prepare them for any scenario when they cross that white line on a Saturday. My daytime job, I’m an operational behaviour manager in a school, so there’s some challenging kids.”
While Luke doesn’t just want to make his impact on people in football, he knows just as much as anyone that it is a uniquely powerful outlet in enhancing lives each day. He is a one-time pro player determined to not only sharpen skills but to make a genuine investment within those he works alongside.
He shares the most important messages he wants to get across to his players.
“You have to value yourself in what you’re doing. You’ve got to know where you want to be, why you want to go there.
“‘Do you want to be a footballer to earn money and go clubbing, get girls, fast cars? Or do you want to do it because you love the game?’
“Don’t fall in love with the image of the game. Do it because you want to be the best player on the pitch, so your opponent’s walking off going ‘God that was tough, he was a hard player to play against.’
“But you only get that by investing in yourself. You have to put time and work into your training, ask questions and work hard.
“That’s the message I want to get across. Always be humble.
“That’s a word that stuck with me; Wayne Jacobs gave it to me at Bradford under Stuart McCall. He said ‘wherever you go, be humble,’ so that’s the kind of message I’m going to be sending to these youngsters.”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes