The ‘Spanish god’ of English semi-professional football: “I regret not having come earlier”

In Maidstone, a small town southeast of London, children do not want to be like Harry Kane or yearn to go to Stamford Bridge every weekend. At Maidstone, the youngest want to follow in the footsteps of Joan Luque (Barcelona, ​​1992), who is cheered on from the always packed stands of the Gallagher Stadium. “Last Saturday I took 700 photos and signed as many autographs. After every game there are 15 or 20 children waiting for me at the door of the locker room. My mother, who came last weekend, says that she felt like Messi’s mother. It is a reward for my work and my way of being. They make me feel at home”, discovers in AS a full Luque after being promoted with Maidstone United to the Fifth Division of England: “The feeling is strange because a few weeks ago I broke my cruciate and I haven’t been able to finish the season, but I’m very happy with what I have done. I only hope that the best games of next season, such as the visits to Oldham or Notts County, play in the second round, when I am already recovered”.

Joan Luque, who plays as a left winger, has become the great idol of the Maidstone United fans, who addresses him as ‘Spanish god’ (Spanish god): “I don’t want to move. I would even like to retire here. They love me very much and I’m very happy.” And is not for less. The Catalan winger ended the season with 22 goals and seven assists, which helped him win the National League South (Sixth Division), being chosen as the best Maidstone player this year and fighting for the MVP of the category. “I still can’t believe it. It’s the first time I’ve won a league. It’s the reward for all the work and sacrifice of recent years. I’ve been through times when I didn’t know if it was worth being so far from home”, confesses Luque, who left home at the age of 25 and with an uncertain future: “It was difficult, but I knew it was the right decision. I left him with my partner, my father was against it… And it’s normal because I started out getting £35 a week. It was crazy, but now the only thing I regret is that I didn’t come sooner. I wish I had reached 16, like David Raya. My career would have been totally different.”

All for a dream

During her first months in England, Joan Luque he had to combine football with other jobs that had nothing to do with the ball. First in a factory, then as a waiter. All in a season in which he reached the Heybridge Swifts, from the Eighth Division, after surprising with his technique at England THE Chance, an annual stage for Spanish-speaking players. Under the orders of Jody Brown, his great supporter in the United Kingdom, Joan Luque scored 30 goals in a single campaign, which earned him the leap to professional football. He participated in the V9 Academy, a concentration organized by Jamie Vardy that annually brings together the best non-professional footballers in England, and later he signed for Lincoln City, from Fourth. Although the short duration of the contract (six months) and the lack of opportunities for him sent him back to the Non-League. Since then, yes, he has dedicated himself exclusively to football: “Next year I will play in the Fifth Division and the people of Spain who do not know what it is will say: ‘Bah, Fifth Division, what a lower category’. But here in Fifth stadiums are for 15 or 20,000 people and in any field you can easily find 8,000 fans. Salaries, on average, are 1,000 and something pounds a week and there are games that are broadcast on television. But of course, that’s something you don’t realize until you get here and start playing football.”

Joan Luque broke his crusader, but he is already working to return as soon as possible

Luque didn’t know it either, which is why he continues to freak out when he plays in front of thousands of people every weekend or when his club, Maidstone United, pack 2,000 fans for a Sixth Division away game. “The passion there is amazing. How many Second or First RFEF clubs take more than 1,000 people to a rival field? There will be some who don’t even have them at home,” says Joan Luque, in whose stadium “he never catches a soul.” “My family came last weekend and they didn’t believe what they were seeing. Because here, in addition, the people are from Maidstone. There are some who support Crystal Palace or Tottenham, but prefer to go see Maidstone”, adds the Catalan, who enjoys like a child when the fans sing his name: “It’s gratifying, although what I like the most is when I take the ball on a counter and they get up because they know you can mess it up. That moment is indescribable. “Joan Luque has become an example for his fans-” there are parents who write to me on Facebook or Instagram to tell me that I have become an inspiration for their children. Sometimes I don’t even know what to answer, but what I do know is that it’s a pride”- and for all those who dream of a better future far from home. And he warns: “The best is yet to come”.