by Jeremy Walker
From battling Derby County for Nottingham Forest to taking on the Wanderers for Sydney FC, Sky Blues winger Joe Lolley knows what it takes to win a derby.
The Redditch-born winger, who plied his trade for Nottingham Forest between 2018-2022, competed in nine East Midlands derbies against crosstown rivals Derby County – only tasting defeat on one occasion.
And with Sydney FC facing another crucial test against the Western Sydney Wanderers (WSW) at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, Head Coach Steve Corica is certain to call upon Lolley’s vast derby experience.
“It’s nice being part of those fixtures,” said Lolley. “Obviously it’s a great atmosphere … when the crowd is full the atmosphere is hostile, it’s great to be part of.
“The games [against WSW] have been very good quality, the standard raises even higher in those games. We’ve played against them twice and to be honest, I think in both games anything could’ve happened.
“Two 1-0 games, two teams that are pretty evenly matched in fairness and it’s about defending your own box and being good in the opposition box and that’s what both games have come down to.”
Hoping to net his first goal against the Wanderers, Lolley will be eager to showcase a ruthless attacking display in the derby.
The 30-year-old has bagged five goals and three assists so far this season in the 2022/23 Isuzu UTE A-League – the most productive of any Sydney FC player.
And with the attacker relishing his time on the field in Sydney, there is no doubt he is enjoying life off the field too.
“Especially when the weather’s been as good as it has been, it’s been really enjoyable!” said the Englishman.
“I live close to the beach in Bondi so I love where I live and I love that area and going for little walks and spending time on the beach.
“Donchs [James Donachie] and I spend a lot of time together and go out for food. A few of the boys as well … we’ll go out for food and socialise and stuff on the weekend.
“Recently we went to the Elton John gig with a few of the boys, obviously it was at Allianz Stadium. We enjoyed that for the few of us who went there so that was good too.”
Growing up in the West Midlands, Lolley naturally supported Aston Villa as a youngster, looking up to the likes of James Milner, Ashley Young and Gareth Barry at the club.
The forward began his youth career at Birmingham City however, Villa’s local rivals, before studying Sports Coaching at the University of Lancashire – affording Lolley the chance to represent Great Britain at the 2013 World University Games in Russia.
“That’s sort of how I ended up playing professional football,” Lolley explained. “I was lucky there was a coach there who was coaching Kidderminster Harriers which was my first professional club.
“He basically got me a trial to Kidderminster so it all came about through that.
“It was of luck because before I got put forward from my uni, I wasn’t really close to being signed at a professional level or even looking for that matter.
“I was just enjoying playing with my mates.”
Fortunate or not, Lolley certainly made the most of his opportunity at the professional level, going on to represent Huddersfield Town between 2014-2018.
At “The Terriers”, the winger played 91 times and amassed six appearances in the Premier League during the 2017/18 season – scoring once against West Ham United and sharing his top flight delight with a certain Socceroo.
“I played with Aaron Mooy who was one of the best players I’ve played with,” said Lolley.
“He’s just an incredible player and to do it while going off on international duty as well three or four times a year to Australia and back, you realise how difficult that would be.
“But we got promoted to the Premier League which was an incredible achievement for the size of the club and the budget we had in the league at the time.
“Playing at the Emirates, the Etihad, never good memories usually in terms of the results and scorelines! But even other grounds like St. James’, Elland Road, you get some real great atmospheres, forty to fifty thousand that are just sold out and have incredible support.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have some great experiences.”
On the winter transfer deadline day in January 2018, Lolley would then join Nottingham Forest on a four-and-a-half year deal, going on to score 26 goals and assist 27 times in 171 appearances for the club.
The 2018/19 campaign also saw the winger claim Forest’s Player of the Season award for a prolific 11 goals and 11 assists in just 46 Championship appearances – before helping his side to Premier League promotion in 2021/22.
“It was an incredible club to be part of,” said Lolley. “It was one of those clubs you don’t realise how big they are until you get there … it’s just such a big club and when you go there the whole city is so football orientated.
“We sold out every game 30,000. The atmosphere was always incredible and to sort of end my career there with promotion was pretty special.
“It’s a great club with huge potential to kick-on.
“A club that will probably stay close to my heart for a long time.”
Now growing in the hearts of Sydney FC supporters, Lolley will certainly be a key figure again for the Sky Blues as Corica’s men look to win back-to-back derbies against the Wanderers on Saturday.
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