‘I fell out of love with football after Manchester United release’

Fifteen years on from the most painful moment of his career, Halifax-born Jake Lawlor is within touching distance of realising a long-held ambition of playing in the Football League.

Thursday, 27th August 2020, 6:07 am
New Harrogate Town recruit Jake Lawlor in pre-season action against Middlesbrough Under-23s. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Released by Manchester United in his early teens, the six-foot-four centre-half admits that he “fell out of love with the game” and didn’t foresee any kind of a future for himself within the professional ranks.

But, having worked his way back up the pyramid, he will begin 2020/21 a League Two footballer after becoming Harrogate Town’s second signing since they secured promotion to the fourth tier via the National League play-offs.

“I’m delighted to be here; this is a great opportunity to prove myself as a Football League player,” said Lawlor, who played in the same youth team as Danny Welbeck.

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“There’s been interest from League clubs in the past but it’s not quite been the right time or the right move. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long while, but there have been points where I didn’t think I’d make it.

“When I was released by Manchester United at 14 it was the worst thing ever. I fell out of love with the game. I wasn’t interested any more.

“I lived in Brighouse and travelled there three times a week from the age of eight. I loved every minute but when they let me go I was devastated.

“I just wanted to play with my mates and that’s what I did for a while. I thought that was it.”

Lawlor was eventually lured back into semi-professional football by Northern Counties outfit Liversedge at the age of 17, but his decision to accept a place to study at Sheffield Hallam University less than a year later seemed to indicate that his future lay away from the game.

Though he was at that stage of his career operating in the lowest reaches of non-league, so considerable was his talent, the former Red Devil soon found himself on a rapid upward trajectory.

A spell with Ossett Town as an 18-year-old led to a move to the town rivals of his current employers – Harrogate Railway.

“Billy Miller took me to Railway and I enjoyed it there in the Evo-Stik League,” he added.

“I was used primarily as a midfielder and I’d only been at the club about six months when we played Guiseley and I must have caught the eye of Steve Kittrick and Mark Bower because they came in for me.

“I only played the odd game at first but then I established myself and had six really good years there. We got promoted to the National League and survived twice after going up.”

Brief stints at AFC Fylde and Salford City followed before Lawlor moved to Wrexham where he spent the last two seasons.

He became a free agent this summer upon the expiry of his contract in North Wales and Harrogate boss Simon Weaver – a long-term admirer of the 29-year-old – wasted little time in making an approach.

And, it took just the one meeting with the man who has overseen two Town promotions in the last three seasons to convince Lawlor that Wetherby Road was the place for him.

“Before we knew how last season would be concluded my agent told me there was interest from Harrogate and I asked to speak to the manager,” he said.

“I knew straight away after meeting him that I wanted to sign here. I told him I’d come whichever league they were in.

“Just talking to him, seeing the stadium, knowing the way they play football, it really appealed. I can’t wait to get started now.”

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James Mitchinson