Phil Baki | Special Assignment to BPA
“If you’re enjoying your football, the goals and assists follow naturally.”
The sentiment from Bradford (Park Avenue) striker Lewis Knight is simple but rings true. That echoes Lewis’ ability. The 20-year old’s approach to the game is simple and lethally effective. In the 2018/19 campaign, Knight tallied six goals and 14 assists, claimed a National League North Team of the Weekend award and showed what a force he can be going forward as Bradford look to challenge its way in to the National League. His ability to run onto balls in behind the defence and use his pace to his advantage, is an age-old striker archetype but one that he has perfected. His journey to Bradford was not quite as traditional though and his experiences have given him even more perspective on what playing for Bradford could mean for the team and for him.
Lewis Knight is a product of Leeds United’s Academy where he was the captain of the U-18’s in his final season with the club. Leeds provided an environment that is extremely competitive but also conducive to high level development. Knight added, “At Leeds if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. The expectation is that the best players will get their opportunity with the senior team.” This idea might seem extremely obvious in England, but when Lewis left Leeds and went to Marshall University in the United States, he encountered a different mindset. “College football was a different game. Older players were more likely to play and the focus was not so much on winning as it was on giving the time to the guys who had been around the team.” Despite this, Knight made 19 appearances, scoring nine goals and three assists in 2017, his only season in the US before heading back home to return to English football.
Some might not understand the decision to leave college, but for Lewis, the decision to come back to England was easy. “Playing men’s football [as opposed to college], it’s about winning. The style of play is somewhat similar in that a lot of teams play physically at this level, but the amount I’ve learned being back in men’s football is immense.” The ability of a young player to come to a club like Avenue as a developmental stop is an approach that is heavily favoured by the club’s directors, Gareth Roberts and Jonathan Collura, and Lewis fits that vision perfectly. Lewis has felt those benefits already, “I do see it as a stepping stone. Being with the club has helped my game an awful lot. Playing at this level allows us to fight for results and allows me to learn from the more senior members of the squad.” The approach of the club, signing players with the intent of moving them on to the next level will certainly benefit the players, but the expectation is that the club will benefit from their quality as well. The club is expecting to feel the impact of Knight’s involvement this season.
This preseason has featured some great matchups for Avenue fans to be able to see how the team is shaping up, and Lewis feels the group is on the right track to have a great campaign. “The team looks fit, everyone is running for each other and offering options for each other,” Knight added. The group is having to gel quickly under the new management team of Garry Thompson and Shaun Gardner and Knight believes that the squad can hit the ground running despite the change in management. “[Mark Bower and Garry Thompson] are very different managers in training, but the style of play, getting the ball on the ground and playing football, is similar and I think we can have a bright start since we are used to the style.” This approach also favours how Knight prefers to play as evidenced by his goal and assist return last season. He continued, “Holding onto the ball and making the opposition chase gives me opportunities to get behind the defence. I want to be that bright option at forward who will stretch the backline and create opportunities for myself and my teammates as I did last season.” The excitement around the team, especially in the wake of the closely contested Tom Banks Memorial Trophy match against Bradford City, is well-deserved, so how high does Knight see the club going this season? “Promotion is always the aim. You hope you can start well and then grind out results that keep you in the picture, then anything can happen. As for his personal goals for the season, Knight added, “I want to stay healthy and enjoy the football. Play the full 42 match season, really see what it takes to be involved the entire season and be an option for selection for every single match.” As he said, “the goals and assists will follow naturally.” If Knight can remain available all season, his impact will no doubt be felt. Avenue fans will be hoping that Knight and the team can improve on last year’s finish, which saw them finish 7th and suffer a 1st round exit in the playoffs with a 1-0 loss to Spennymoor.
Lewis Knight’s journey to Avenue gives him plenty of motivation to succeed and ultimately move to a higher level, but he is still invested in #ProperBradford. “We hope [the motto] integrates into the ethos of the club and ultimately gets as many people behind the club as possible.” The promise of this season for the club and Lewis should be reason enough to get behind them now.
Feature Photo Credit: Tom Pearson