By Matt Badcock
Luke Hannant went to university to get a degree and the Step 6 Northern League to get a football education.
The 24-year-old Gateshead midfielder started out at Norwich City when he was eight, and when 14 when he joined Cambridge United and played in the Eastern Counties League for CRC (Cambridge Regional College).
He made a few pre-season appearances for the U’s but when he was let go decided to get a degree under his belt.
A scholarship took him to Northumbria University where he studied sports science and, at the weekends, played for Team Northumbria in Northern League Division Two.
“I wouldn’t say I lost the love for football, but I wanted to get something to fall back on,” Hannant, 24, says. “I thought why not do it while I’m young and then if football comes up again, like it luckily has, then I can give it another go.
“I got a scholarship and as part of that you play for Team Northumbria. For the first season I was working a lot on Saturdays, but for the next two seasons I played nearly every game. I must have played 60 games in the Northern League.
“It’s a tough league, a good standard and a lot more physical than it is down south – you’ve got lots of big lads who just want to kick lumps out of you!”
From there he had a trial at National League side Gateshead and was signed on non-contract terms by then-boss Neil Aspin. Hannant signed dual registration with South Shields to get game time and continue his education on the pitch.
“Coming up north made me stronger,” Hannant says. “And I got my confidence back playing for Team Northumbria because I was around lads similar in age and I enjoyed it more.
“Towards the end of my time at Cambridge I felt like I was under pressure to get something. That’s why I went to Uni, picked football back up and grew in confidence.”
Aspin gave him his Heed debut last season against Alfreton and this year he feels he’s really establishing himself at the level.
Rumours are circling that Aspin is interested in him at Port Vale, while Lincoln City and Crawley are also thought to be keeping an eye out.
Hannant is just focusing on his own game. Playing in a midfield three, he says he’s learning lots from team-mates Russell Penn and Paddy McLaughin, who have both played in the Football League.
“When I first came in I soon realised how quick the tempo is, but once I was in the environment I got myself quite comfortable,” he says.
“I want to obviously keep myself in the team and pushing forward. When you’re enjoying your football that’s when you play your best. I’m not playing with any fear at the minute. I’m playing with confidence so I just need to keep performing every game.”
Steve Watson’s side have been hit by postponements recently but Hannant feels they have the quality to rise up the table.
“If we can win our games in hand we’re six or seven points off the play-offs,” he says. “If you can put a run together, similar to how we did last year, then you can put yourself in a good position.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday