His football career so far has involved making a few difficult decisions along the way – and Joe Lewis was forced to choose between the two sports he loves at the age of 13.
A very promising cricketer in his formative years – he represented Welsh youth sides – Joe opted to ditch the white pads to pursue his footballing dreams.
Joe talked extensively to us for the matchday programme about the wrench of leaving his boyhood club Swansea City, why he chose football over cricket, and singing Elton John’s Your Song on the pre-season trip to Spain!
For those who missed it in Saturday's programme, the full interview is reproduced below.
Was it always football for you?
I would say yes, but I played all sports when I was younger and cricket was always my second sport. I played to county level for West Glamorgan and represented Wales against English county teams. I did consider trying to go further. I was playing for Wales youth teams at the age of 10 and 11, but when I got to 13 I had to make a big decision. To keep playing football and cricket would have been difficult.
I definitely would have given cricket a real crack - to play professionally – if football wasn’t such a big thing for me.
What made you come to that decision to choose football?
Even though I was young I still think it was my decision. My family helped me, like they always have, but I felt that there was the potential for me to go further in football.
So you had one eye on the Ashes recently?
Absolutely, I loved it!
Who have been your cricketing heroes?
I remember Simon Jones playing in the 2005 Ashes, but I was a bit young then, so I would say Jimmy Anderson, Alastair Cook, and Stuart Broad, who has just retired now. It’s that generation who I’ve admired as players.
When did you actually start playing football?
It was when I was very young for a local side, but I wouldn’t go onto the pitch without my Dad! He would have to encourage me, and that was a massive thing for me. I was a bit like that as a young child – I needed encouragement to get out there.
All my family have really helped in my football career. My Mum, Dad, Nan and Grandad, and my Aunty, were all amazing in taking me around everywhere as a young player. I was always close to my Grandad, and he was a massive influence on me. He was more from a Rugby background, but he helped me all the way.
In terms of coaching, who have been the biggest influences on your career?
An Academy coach at Swansea called Jon Gray was a massive influence on my career. He coached me through a lot of the age groups. The Academy started at Under-9s, but I was younger than that when I started there, probably an Under-8. I was there until the age of 21, so it was a long time.
I didn’t play a competitive game for the first-team, the closest I think I got was a 19th man. I trained with the first-team for about six months before I left.
What made your mind up to leave your boyhood club?
I needed regular first-team football. I had previously been on loan at Torquay and I tried to go out on loan again at the beginning of the season that I left, but it didn’t work out, so by the time January came around I was itching to get going. I felt that if I wasn’t playing first-team football I was wasting my time.
It was a massive decision for me to leave. When I played initially at Torquay, it wasn’t permanent, and it became the reality that I was going to have to leave the club that I always wanted to play for. I had supported Swansea since I was a young boy. I remember sitting down with my parents and trying to work out if I was doing the right thing. In hindsight, it’s probably the best decision I have ever made.
Was that the toughest decision you’ve had to make in your career?
Yes. As a footballer, you have to make decisions all of the time, but that one was very big and it felt like a big moment for me in my career.
I wasn’t expecting to come here initially as I thought I would be going back to Stockport, but they got in touch with me early in the off season and said that Wimbledon were interested. I took a couple of days to think about it and then it became quite clear that it was a really good decision. The management here showed a lot of enthusiasm to bring me here, which is a massive green flag for a player. The more I looked into it, the more attractive the idea was of playing for Wimbledon. The ambitions of the Club, the new stadium, and the staff here, were all factors that stood out. I was on the bench when I came here with Stockport and I remember that there was a great atmosphere.
Also, I’ve never lived in this part of the world before. I’m living locally in Worcester Park and it’s all a new experience for me.
Was it attractive as well to play for a club that has fans so invested in it?
I didn’t fully realise before I came here the extent to which the Club is so important to the fans, but it was highlighted to me early on after I joined that AFC Wimbledon is owned by the supporters. My experiences with the fans, whether in Spain or since being back here, have all been really good. I know it’s a cliché, but you can tell how much the fans care about the Club, given the history and what has happened here in the past.
Did the management here play a big part in you coming here as well?
I’ve only been here for a month and a half, but it has been brilliant so far. When I first came down here to look around the main reason was to meet the manager and Terry. I really wanted to get a feel of what they are like as people – that genuinely was massive in my decision to come here.
I didn’t know Craig Cope before I came here, but his ambitions are quite clear, but after being here for a week you could tell how much he’s driving to push things forward. There’s a real intention to progress and he has been great for me personally as well.
What are your ambitions for this season and looking further ahead?
For this season, I want to do as well as possible for this football club. Hopefully, to be play a real part in pushing us as high in the table as possible, so that we push for the promotion places. I feel that the squad we’ve built is really good, so there’s no limit in terms of what we can do.
Long-term, I want to see how I far I can go in the game, but to make sure I’m enjoying it. That is massive for me, I have to be enjoying it or there is no point.
The pre-season trip to Spain seemed to provide a real platform to build camaraderie in the squad. Remind us of your initiation song and did it go down well with your team-mates and staff?
It was ‘Your Song’ by Elton John. It was okay, and everyone got involved in the chorus, so that was nice. I think I was very lucky that my first week with my new team-mates was in Spain. I was chucked right into the mix with all the lads, so I got to know everyone really quickly. That was perfect for me and the camaraderie and spirit amongst the group has been great. Hopefully, that will be shown on the pitch every week.
Who have you shared a room with so far?
In Spain I was sharing a room with Jack Currie, but at the weekend for Grimsby it was Armani Little as he wasn’t there.
And it must help you have a familiar face here with Ryan Johnson also on loan from Stockport?
I didn’t realise he was coming here because it hadn’t been announced that he had signed when I initially joined. But it’s great to have someone here who I already knew. I felt that we all worked together well as a defensive unit at Grimsby. We did a great job in terms of keeping them out and Alex Bass made some great saves, but their opportunities were from outside the box. As a back five, we were happy with that. Obviously, Ryan had to play out of position, but I felt that he was excellent and he was more than willing to do what he could to help the team. I thought he was superb.
At Stockport last season you came tantalisingly close to promotion and you were in the squad for the play-off final at Wembley. What characteristics do you think are needed to really be successful in League Two?
I think the most important thing in a league that includes a lot of good teams – and one where there is not a lot between them – is belief and the togetherness of your squad. I genuinely think that is what makes the difference. It’s very important how comfortable people feel within the team and how willing they are to work for each other.