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Keith Lowe on a previous Wolves' pre-season trip to Spain

The last time Wolves took a pre-season trip to Spain, also to Alicante, defender Keith Lowe was among the travelling party.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Nottingham Forest 6.11.04
Kevin Cooper celebrates with Keith Lowe and Kenny Miller following his goal from the penalty spot during Wolves 2-1 win at Molineux
Pic Malcolm Couzens West Midlands Soccer
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Nottingham Forest 6.11.04 Kevin Cooper celebrates with Keith Lowe and Kenny Miller following his goal from the penalty spot during Wolves 2-1 win at Molineux Pic Malcolm Couzens West Midlands Soccer

Glenn Hoddle had resigned barely 48 hours earlier, leaving Stuart Gray in caretaker charge of a depleted squad soon to grow even more threadbare before Mick McCarthy took the reins just under three weeks later.

Lowe, then 20, had already made the last of his 16 appearances in his beloved gold and black, deemed surplus to requirements as McCarthy’s new broom swept through Molineux back in the summer of 2006.

And, as much as he will never forget the delights of his Wolves career, Lowe is happier to block out thoughts of the rigours of pre-season.

Particularly the trip to Spain for a training camp under Hoddle 12 months earlier, at the Montecastillo Golf Resort in Jerez.

On that occasion there was a very early morning wake-up call to the first tee, but there wasn’t a driver or pitching wedge in sight.

“Anyone who knows me will know what I think about pre-season,” Lowe laughs.

“I am happy to play 50 games a season, every single minute no problem, but when it comes to a 5km or 10km then I’m not really your man!

“It’s fair to say I never really enjoyed it.

Lowe was part of a previous pre-season trip to Spain in July 2006 – it is not one of the defender’s fondest memories from his time at Wolves

“That one in Jerez, I remember we’d get a really early morning call reminding us to meet on the first tee at about 5am.

“There was a route set out which we had to run, then you’d have a rest, then do it again, and again.

“I know there are far worse jobs you can have and we were fortunate to be footballers but doing that at 5 o’clock in the morning wasn’t much fun!”

Memories of pre-season for Lowe can now be consigned into just that from now until eternity. Memories.

Because this summer, for the first time in two decades, he hasn’t been put through the mill of a ‘full-time’ preparation for a new campaign.

After leaving Kidderminster Harriers for the third time at the end of last season, Lowe brought the curtain down on a hugely impressive career. Well, he maybe half did.

Having hung up his boots in terms of full-time football, Lowe is still continuing, at 36, to play at a decent level having signed for Rushall Olympic.

And that will be combined with the ‘day job’, working as a teaching assistant at a school in Stafford as he takes a change of direction with the next chapter of his career.

“Obviously I’ve been keeping myself ticking over and working hard and I’m delighted to have joined Rushall who are a good club heading in the right direction,” says Lowe.

“But this is the first time in 20 or so years that I’ve not had to do a full pre-season.

“It was difficult to move on from Kidderminster because I have met so many great people there and it was tough to say goodbye.

“The manager (Russell Penn) is a really good friend of mine and is doing a great job there and it had been a successful season.

“It all made for a really nice send-off at the end of the season and I can’t wait to get back there again to take in a game.”

Lowe’s is the sort of career which should perhaps be celebrated more than it is.

He is one of those players that managers love, low maintenance, ultra-professional, and, as a defender, as the phrase goes, he does everything that it says on the tin.

Along with his natural calm and composed personality, many of those attributes were formed and developed growing up in Wednesfield and on the Sunday League pitches of Wolverhampton, and then emerging through the Wolves’ Academy.

Tony Parkes spotted Lowe’s defensive prowess whilst turning out for Danesmore Casuals and took him to Wolves, training on the ‘sandy astro’ at Aldersley in the hope of being signed on schoolboy forms.

Which ultimately, proved easier said than done!

Celebrating a goal for Kevin Cooper versus Forest in 2004 with Kenny Miller

Lowe wasn’t one of those players whose ability was immediately spotted, and was therefore immediately snapped up.

Parkes was his biggest advocate, banging the drum for his young recruit, but it eventually took something of a speed test to – almost literally – push Lowe over the line.

“I was on trial at Wolves for a long time, a very long time,” he explains.

“Normally you go on trial for four to six weeks and a decision is made but for me it went on for months and months.

“In the end, I was pretty much there on a week-by-week basis and I was captaining the team on a weekend even though I wasn’t actually fully signed up.

“Eventually it came to crunch time, and I remember there being a few questions about whether I was quick enough to play at the back.

“We did some running – fortunately for me it was on a full-length pitch so I was able to get a head of steam going and show everyone I could pick up speed!

“And that was it, I was signed up.

“I suppose that sort of experience stayed with me, and was ingrained into me, about having to work hard to earn absolutely everything you get in football.

“I have never ever played a game of football without giving my absolute all, and I think it probably all started back then.”

Lowe remains hugely grateful not just to Parkes but a string of coaches who helped shape his future during those formative years.

It starts with Charlie Hooper and wife Carol who first took him to Danesmore, and then John Perkins, Keith Downing, Terry Connor and John Ward who progressed him through the ranks from a Wolves trainee to professional.

“I couldn’t have had a better start than what Charlie gave me and then those four coaches at Wolves were incredible,” says Lowe.

“They helped me so much not just as a player but also in terms of the person I became.

“They are all such good people and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to spend a lot of time with them and to have had their influence on my career at that stage.”

There was certainly no danger of Lowe getting carried away. Everything indeed had to be earned, fought for, agonised over.

When he first appeared on the bench at Newcastle for the final away match of the 2003/04 Premier League season, and for many of his starts in the following campaign, he was still an Academy scholar, still waiting for his first professional deal.

“I had done my Under-17 and Under-18 years and the option was with the club in the third year in terms of a professional contract,” he explains.

“The biggest chunk of my games at Wolves were as a trainee, not a pro, but I didn’t really care.

“At that point I was in dreamland, playing for my home-town club, and whether I was a YTS, a pro, nothing else mattered.”

Lowe had long been a Wolves season ticket holder, attending games with his Dad Steve and younger brothers Tim and Alan.

So, when stepping out on the Molineux turf, knowing family and friends were watching, was always quite a moment.

Keith Lowe with his family

Lowe did so under the managerial tenures of Dave Jones, Stuart Gray as caretaker and Hoddle.

It was a time when Wolves still boasted plenty of high profile names – Paul Ince, Mark Kennedy, Colin Cameron, Carl Cort and Kenny Miller to name just five.

Was it daunting? Not perhaps on the pitch, as demonstrated by Lowe quickly raising his hand in the dressing room ahead of his debut in the League Cup at Rochdale when asked who would be willing to take a penalty.

“As a defender you don’t get many chances to score so in that situation I always put my hand up,” says Lowe.

And he explains that occupying a dressing room with so many household names, some of them his heroes, was something that was more likely to affect him off the pitch rather than on.

“Yes, I would be nervous before I played but that soon disappeared once a game kicked off,” Lowe recalls.

“The biggest part of my ability was how I could read the game as a defender, and that is something that was never affected by who I was playing with or against.

“People used to say that I had an old head on young shoulders and that certainly helped me.

“It was more off the pitch that I was affected more when I was a younger player.

“Travelling with those sorts of guys made me more nervous, I mean they were my idols.

“But they always welcomed me and gave me great advice and Stuart Gray really looked after me when I made the step up, as did ‘TC’ (Connor).

“Then there were also players like Joleon Lescott and Lee Naylor who had already done exactly what I was trying to do by coming through the Academy, and they were excited for me and helped me through it as well.”

Sadly, Lowe’s spell in the Molineux sun was to prove short-lived.

A talented and more than dependable right back or centre back, as was then shown over a lengthy career, he had already embarked on several loan spells before returning to play three of the final four games of Hoddle’s tenure.

Not long after Spain, McCarthy arrived, and while his quickfire and necessary refresh of the squad didn’t include Lowe, the way he delivered the bad news was certainly appreciated.

“Mick was straight up with me right from the start, there were no heirs or graces,” Lowe recalls.

“He told me he was bringing in Gary Breen and also wanted Neill Collins, so I wasn’t really going to play.

“I had a year left and he had already found me somewhere to go on loan in Port Vale, and already spoken to their manager Martin Foyle, and it was a move which suited me as it wasn’t far from home.

“I would much rather be dealt with in that way, when you know exactly what’s happening, because as you move on and are in the game for a long time you soon realise that there are a lot of people who don’t talk to you like that or have the respect or integrity to be honest with you.

He went on to become a favourite at Kidderminster, leaving in the summer

“It was massively disappointing to be leaving but if it was going to happen that was the best way, and the honesty which Mick showed was refreshing.

“And of course, even though I was disappointed, I had managed to live my Wolves dream!”

The Wolves education served Lowe well, as he went on to represent 13 clubs in total either permanently or on loan, chalking up almost 600 senior appearances, and a host of team and individual accolades.

He was Player of the Year with Cheltenham, Clubman of the Year with York, and in the National League North Team of the Year during one of his spells with the Harriers.

The biggest highlight however, down largely to circumstances, was in playing every single minute of the 46 league matches as Macclesfield Town secured promotion to the Football League in the 2017/18 season.

During the closing stages of that campaign the players weren’t paid on time and for a spell the following season weren’t paid at all but they had been able to maintain focus and concentration to storm the National League by ten points.

“That is such a highlight because it was so unlikely and, at the start of the season, we were second favourites to be relegated,” Lowe points out.

“Winning the league by ten points as we did was unheard of!

“The wages side was difficult as although I was at a stage of my career where I was able to cope, some of the younger lads were paying rent, had just bought a house or were saving for a deposit.

“Some lads were literally being served eviction notices which wasn’t nice to see and we had to get a lawyer involved in the end.”

Another highlight, with what would later prove a strong Wolves influence, came in one of the loan spells earlier in Lowe’s career, with Swansea.

He was only there for a month, making six appearances, but one of those was the Football League Trophy final win against Carlisle at the Millennium Stadium.

Swansea’s manager was Kenny Jackett, and one of Lowe’s defensive colleagues was Sam Ricketts, although there had been a slightly more painful Wolves influence on his first appearance, in the second leg of the semi-final against Colchester.

“It was an eventful time for me at Swansea,” recalls Lowe.

“On my debut I got put in an ambulance and taken to hospital.

“I went up for a header with Chris Iwelumo and he fell on top of me afterwards, so I ended up with blood coming from a few different orifices!

“I was taken to hospital but fortunately ended up getting the all-clear and being back in action a few days later.

“I enjoyed working under Kenny and he actually spoke to me about possibly making the move permanent.

“But I was a little bit young and naïve at that time, and nothing would have taken me away from Wolves.”

Lowe is very much older and wiser now, and so with the time having come to consider a tweak of the career, he had already discussed the options with wife Sophie.

And that has now led to a permanent role as a teaching assistant at Barnfields Primary School near the family home in Stafford, where the couple’s three children – seven year-old twins Harrison and Emilia and three-year-old Ezra – all attend.

“I had flitted around a few things to see what I wanted to do when I stepped down from full-time football to try and find out what might pull me in,” says Lowe.

“I was chatting with Sophie and she was saying how good I was working with children, so why not try something at a school?

“I started volunteering as a teaching assistant at Barnfields until the pandemic came along but I carried on afterwards and then a job came up.

“I went in for the interview and fortunately was successful, so after finishing with Kidderminster on the Saturday I actually started at school on the Monday!

“It is still very early days and it has been good to get my feet under the table before we break up for the summer holidays but after 20 years in football, I already feel very, very lucky to be going into another job that I love.

“It’s nice also to bump into my kids now and again at work – they love going to school so we are very fortunate in that respect as well.”

Working with young people feels particularly apt, because the story of Lowe’s career is certainly one which should act as inspiration to anyone aiming to follow their dreams in the same way that he has done.

Never a player to hog the headlines – albeit there was that limited edition run of ‘Keeeeeeith’ mugs during his final year with Kidderminster – he is perhaps a player who only really received sustained appreciation towards the end of his career and since finishing full time.

“I am really proud of everything I have achieved in football,” he reflects.

“Since I have taken a step back it feels like I have received a bit of praise and people have been saying: ‘Do you know what? He did o-k and perhaps went under the radar when he was a player,’

“It’s been a little bit overwhelming if I’m honest, with people popping up here, there and everywhere to pass on congratulations – but it’s been really nice and lovely to get that bit of recognition.

“Now I’m into a new chapter and with another great responsibility to have.

“I suppose I have been a role model for much of my adult life so far but am now in a position to try and help the children at school get the confidence and self-worth to grow up into good people and learn as best they can so that they are able to thrive - just as those coaches and people at Wolves helped me at the start of my career.

“If I can do a little bit to help them along the way then that will be my job done!”

For an example in ambition, determination, professionalism, those young charges being assisted by Mr Lowe over the coming years will certainly not go far wrong.

For 5am runs, on a golf course in Spain? Maybe less so.

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