By Matt Badcock,
Joan Luque says he will be forever grateful to Heybridge Swifts and manager Jody Brown for helping him to achieve his dream of becoming a professional
Just a year after arriving from Spain with a rucksack and very basic English, the 26-year-old has been signed by League Two side Lincoln City.
The attacker shone for Swifts in the Bostik North last season by scoring 30 goals and assisting 22 to earn a place in the division’s Team of the Year and a trial at the Imps.
He impressed boss Danny Cowley before being handed a deal that the former Barcelona academy player says has made all the sacrifice worthwhile.
“I’m just so happy, it’s a dream come true,” Luque told The NLP. “I’ve been playing football for 21 years trying to be professional. Now I am officially a professional. I’m so happy because I’ve been brave with some of the decisions I’ve had to make my own life. Like being away from family, being away from my country, my girlfriend, my friends – everything.
“When you get your reward… it’s something I can’t explain. When they said they will agree a contract I was crying on the phone with my family. I’m so happy.
“I was so lucky to land at Heybridge because of the dressing room and with Jody – he’s been like my dad here. I owe him and Heybridge everything. Without them I would not be here.
“Jody believed in me from the first day, let me into the team, gave me the chance to play and show what I am capable of. He kept believing in me and always had my back.
“I am so thankful for him. I owe him everything. I don’t know how to give him back everything he has done for me.”
How Luque arrived in England is all part of the fairytale. After speaking to defender Guillem Ramon, Brown drove an initiative called ‘The Chance’ where international players were invited over during pre-season.
Staying in a B&B, they would attend coaching clinics with Brown twice a day and Luque’s talent quickly stood out. The wideman was signed on £35-a-week and promised all the support he needed to make it.
After learning what was expected in English football, Luque quickly combined the ability he already had to electrifying effect and soon became one of the most talked about players in Non-League.
To help improve his limited English he worked as a waiter in Wildwood while playing for part-time Swifts, who he also helped reach the FA Cup first round proper.
“My English was basic,” Luque said. “I started working in a factory but they didn’t allow me to speak that much because you had to be focused on your work. I thought, ‘I need to improve my English, I need to talk’ so I went to work in a restaurant in Chelmsford as a waitor.
“When you’re working eight hours a day you need to improve to understand the customers! At the beginning I was asking about absolutely every gap I had. I wasn’t shy at all to ask about anything. I didn’t mind if people thought I was silly.”
Luque is determined to keep pushing on in his career with Lincoln after proving the move to English football was the right one.
“It was a very hard decision,” he said. “My family weren’t too sure because I had an offer from a Spanish club earning good money to be in my city with my family after three years away. It was going from the standard I was in Spain to starting from zero. I was unknown so it was risking everything – absolutely everything for one dream.
“What I said to my family was, ‘Don’t worry about the money, don’t worry if I will get less money than you think I deserve. I know that I will make it happen in one year or as soon as possible’. Now I’ve done it, I can just be proud of myself. I’ve made lots of sacrifices.”
Proud Brown said: “I hope this inspires a new generation of young Heybridge players. Luque was 25 and had so many set-backs in his career, yet kept striving – it’s never too late if you do things right, train hard, commit and believe.”