‘Dark, dark times’ to a ‘light bulb moment’ – Jon Nolan opens up on his journey from Everton to Ipswich Town
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Ipswich Town midfielder Jon Nolan has opened up about the ‘dark, dark times’ in his life after being released by Everton, his delayed light bulb moment and how the Blues could fare in League One. Here’s what he had to say to the club programme.
ON BEING RELEASED BY EVERTON AT 18
“It was a nightmare. I didn’t know anything different to playing football.
When I was coming towards the end of my time at Everton, I went on trial at Watford. Malky Mackay was manager, Sean Dyche was his assistant.
There were 30 of us on trial and I ended up on my own with the first team. They said they wanted to sign me. I played a reserve game for them the next day and did my cartilage in.
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As I still had two months left at Everton, I had to go back there to have the operation. They weren’t really happy with me. I didn’t do the rehab and they released me and I ended up not playing football for a year.
I didn’t do anything. I had no job and actually ended up signing on (the dole) a few times.”
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ON SUBSEQUENT ‘DARK, DARK TIMES’
“It was hard as hell. They were dark, dark times in my life.
I was going in to sign on with a hat on so that I wouldn’t get recognised by anyone. That was the longest year of my life. I didn’t work that year at all.
I was 18, 19. It should have been a six week rehab, but I wasn’t doing anything so I ended up not being able to play for a year.
I wasn’t going to accept that I was done at football. I was trying to figure out how I could get back into the game.
I went on trial to a few Welsh non-league clubs but I just couldn’t get going with my knee. I was going out drinking and all that every weekend and that didn’t help.
I’d sign on, get the money and go and blow it over the weekend. It’s depressing even talking about it now.
I have always been good at saving money. Even when I was a scholar at Everton I always had the most cash in the bank.
But when I left there it was dwindling because I wasn’t doing anything. It was my mum who got me out and sent me down to sign on.
Walking into that place was terrible. Everyone who knew me would say ‘Jon Nolan is going to be a footballer’ and there I was signing on.
I was embarrassed really. If I saw people I knew and they asked how my football was going, I’d make up some excuse and say Everton shouldn’t have released me.”
ON SIGNING FOR STOCKPORT
“I ended up getting in touch with Mike Dickinson at Everton. He worked in education and welfare there, is one of the nicest people in the world, and he rang the PFA and got me down to Lilleshall.
I was there for a few weeks and they sorted my knee straightaway. Three weeks it took. That was at the end of the season though so I ended up playing with my mates.
One of the older lads told me that he was buying Stockport and to go there for a trial. Didi Hamman (former Liverpool and Germany midfielder) was the manager and I ended up signing there.
That was the start of my non-league journey.
I can remember the last time I walked out of the dole office. It was probably the best feeling of my life, knowing I wouldn’t be going back in there again. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
ON HIS DELAYED LIGHT BULB MOMENT
“Going into non-league after a year out, I was appreciative of getting money to play football. But I didn’t screw my head on until I joined Grimbsy and worked under Paul Hurst.
I felt that I shouldn’t have been playing five years in the Conference before I got into the Football League. I felt I was better than that. A lot better.
It took those five years though for a light bulb to go off in my head.
Of course I can say I should have been at a higher level much earlier, but the fact is I wasn’t. My attitude wasn’t the best. I’m the first to say that. I’d be out every weekend and I wasn’t bothered.
The ability has always been there so I’ve only got myself to blame. I was young and stupid then. I’ve learnt from it. It’s made me appreciative of what I have now.
When I’m playing in front of 30,000 at big stadiums and against quality opposition. It’s a bit different from Boreham Wood away. I’ve still got to pinch myself sometimes.”
ON HIS DEBUT SEASON IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
“It’s been a challenging year for us collectively. For me personally, it has taken me a while to find my feet at this level.
I think that is normal when you are stepping up a league. It happened to me in my first year in League One.
I feel I have settled in now though and am playing okay. I’m enjoying my football, although I’m not enjoying the position we’re in. I feel comfortable at this level now.
At the start of the season I wasn’t enjoying it. We weren’t in games. We weren’t laying a glove on teams.
We’re having a go now. The fans can see that and the games are more enjoyable to play in.
That is one of the reasons my performances have been better, because I’m enjoying it.”
ON WHAT LEAGUE ONE IS LIKE
“In League One you can play more off the cuff. In the Championship, it’s more structured. More teams have a set style of play. There is a difference in the quality and sharpness of the players as well.
League One is more direct. There are not many teams who overly pass the ball.
If we go down but keep most of this team together then – it’s obviously not a given – but if we play like we have done in recent games, that will be more than enough to win matches in League One.”
ON LONG-TERM MENTOR PAUL HURST NOT LASTING LONG AT TOWN
“Of course it was tough. I’ve had the best times of my career under Paul Hurst. But he has admitted himself that it wasn’t going well, was it?
No-one was enjoying it and we weren’t winning games. When you are in that situation, something has to change.
I think it took us a bit too long as a team to find our feet.”
ON PAUL LAMBERT’S IMPACT
“Since he has been here, it’s probably the most I have learnt in terms of the actual game of football, coaching-wise and all that. His style of play does suit me.
We are playing with no fear. We have gone to big clubs and really taken the game to them. It’s just those fine margins that have cost us.”
ON TOTO NSIALA MEMORIES
“I was at Everton from the age of seven. Toto was there as well. He started a lot later than me, at 15.
I can remember his first trial game, my God! He had these big horrible clumpy boots on with white laces. His shinpads were like cricket pads. I was thinking ‘who’s this fella?!’ He obviously improved.”