Luke Hannant takes nothing for granted in second chance at Cambridge United
Luke Hannant makes a valuable point when asked if he values being a professional footballer more given what it took to reach this position.
“I didn’t take things for granted,” he says, looking back on his initial attempts to break into the Football League.
“People have been in that privileged position where they’ve got to play football all their lives and started earning good money from a young age, and coming up through big clubs.
“I’ve had to go away, re-evaluate what I wanted to do but I always wanted to get back into football.”
Hannant’s story to earn a two-year contract at the U’s last summer is one of determination, resilience and mental strength.
A part of the academy structure at the Abbey Stadium as a teenager, aged 18 he was faced with the crushing blow of being released by the club. Football had been his life, so it became a reality check as to what to do next and much soul-searching followed.
“There was a month period where I wasn’t working so I had no income,” he explains.
“It got to the point where I nearly went on Jobseeker’s Allowance as I wasn’t getting any jobs – I was getting interviews everywhere but wasn’t getting anything.”
It was a friend that helped him get a job at Tesco, which was initially on minimal hours before becoming a full-time role to provide an income.
“Getting released did dent my confidence quite a lot,” he says. “All my mates around were getting pro deals and I was going to work at Tescos.
“I had to stay mentally strong, and the people around me – like my friends and family – supported me and told me I was good enough.”
Football became centred on playing semi-pro with Dereham Town, alongside former team-mates from his Norwich City youth days.
It required working from 6am to 2pm, five days a week, with midweek games placing a big demand as it could mean long trips and late finishes, coupled with early starts.
“I know what it’s like to be on the other side where you’re going out and having to work for a living and then going to play football,” says Hannant.
“Now I’m in a privileged position, I’m working hard each day as I know what it is so I don’t want to have to go back and do that.
“I know at some point I will have to get a job outside of football, but I want to make it last as long as I can.”
The 10 months working at Tesco had helped shape Hannant’s future plans.
It allowed him to save up enough money to head to Northumbria University to study for a degree in sports science.
“Education wasn’t a big part of my life when I was at school – I wasn’t really excelling,” he says.
“I was getting good grades, but it wasn’t something I thought I would ever do, go to university.
“It just got to the point where I thought football wasn’t happening for me for whatever reason so I wanted to go to university to get my degree and then play football just enjoy it.”
The time in the North East was the turning point for Hannant.
It helped Hannant mature as he was surrounded by people in a similar situation, who had been released by professional clubs and were now on sports scholarships, and was having to cook, clean and learn life skills for himself.
The football was a good standard, with Team Northumbria in the Northern League, and in a men’s league that was helping him develop physically and mentally in the game.
There was also a significant benefit of the studies for Hannant on the pitch as well.
It helped keep him fit and understand his body better – which you can appreciate given his all-action, lung-busting displays this season.
Part of his degree is strength and conditioning and, with a friend owning a company in that sphere, Hannant had a job lined up on completion of his course.
However, a passage back into the professional ranks opened up, with a two-week trial at Gateshead in the Conference Premier.
“It was an opportunity I knew I had to grasp,” says Hannant.
“I worked hard each day to prove to the gaffer that I was good enough, and luckily enough that extended to a six-week trial and I did really well in the pre-season games and he offered me a contract.
“You don’t often get chances to get back into playing full-time football and that to me was make or break.
“I had been waiting for maybe three or four years for that opportunity to come again.”
After a year-and-a-half at Gateshead, former manager Neil Aspin paid an undisclosed fee to take him to League Two side Port Vale in January 2018, aged 24.
He was an ever-present to the end of that season, and then missed just one league match for the Valiants during the 2018/19 campaign.
“I never knew I was going to get an opportunity like that come up again,” he says. “I was quite lucky in the fact that I got given that opportunity.
“I had a strong mentality that just one more chance was all I needed to get back in.
“To be fair, I didn’t think I would get back into the Football League – that was a massive surprise for me and a massive achievement.”
Having done the hard yards to get back into the professional environment, seven years on, the circle was complete when Hannant returned to the U’s last summer.
“Being back at a club that I was at previously, I felt when I signed there was a bit of a point to prove,” he says.
“I wanted to show everyone that I am good enough to play at this level and I am capable of going higher as well. I just want to go out every game and prove to everyone that I deserve to be where I am.
“I always wanted to get to this position, and am lucky to be where I am which is why I will never take it for granted now that I’ve got it.”
With his performances this season, few would disagree that Hannant has proved himself worthy of a place in the Football League, and is definitely not taking anything for granted.
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More by this authorMark Taylor