Jake Walker ready for Europe after release by Aston Villa
Some go down the pyramid and get out of football, some get other big clubs and some get into part-time football in hopes of maybe one day getting back into the game full-time.
For Jake Walker, who signed for Villa aged nine, the latter applies to him.
The 21-year-old, from Bayston Hill in Shrewsbury, was a key figure in Villa’s youth teams across age groups and featured for Villa’s youth side who won Liverpool in the FA Cup in January 2021.
However, at the end of the season, the defender-turned-midfielder was without a club.
After being tried with a number of English clubs, he opted to sign a one-year deal with Newtown in the Cymru Premier and is now heading into the Europa Conference League qualifying campaign with the Welsh club after a exceptional season.
When he faces a side from Andorra or San Marino in July, it will be just over a year since he left Villa after such a long spell.
But reflecting on his exit from the club, Walker, who lives in Shrewsbury, insists it was something he took in his stride and didn’t let get the better of him.
He said: ‘I signed when I was nine and stayed as a researcher and then got a two-year professional contract – and there were certain times when there could have been opportunities to push into the first team. There were times when I thought it was possible – but you have to be lucky and it just didn’t happen.
“To be honest, it wasn’t really a difficult time for me – I was mature enough to realize that you have to be in the right place at the right time.
“Yes, it was disappointing, but looking back, it wasn’t the end of the world and we have to keep going.”
Walker rose through the ranks with a number of other players, including Jacob Ramsey, with whom he still speaks regularly.
And Walker admitted that from an early age you could see he was going to do something.
He added: “I still speak with a few guys now. Jacob Ramsey is one, and you could see he had the potential to do something.
“He came on at 18 and really kicked off, and it showed with what he’s done this season, he’s just grown and grown.”
Walker, who is completing a degree in sports science through an open university, has just signed another one-year extension at Newtown ahead of their European campaign.
And it was the lure of potentially playing in Europe, something many lower-league English players never experience, that initially lured him across the border.
“I’m buzzing now, we have the draw in a few weeks and we can’t wait to see who we get,” the midfielder explained. “When I arrived last year the team had just been knocked out of Europe by Dundalk, and when I can it’s something I wanted to experience.
“We have a very good team here, so if we can get someone from Andorra or San Marino in the draw, we will have a good chance of potentially going through and playing against big teams in the next round. “
Beyond his European experience, Walker looks ahead to next season and has more games to his name in Wales’ top flight.
Longer term, he still has ambitions to get back into the game full-time – but for now he’s happy where he is.
“I would love to come back full-time at some point,” Walker said. “But as I explained, you really have to be in the right place at the right time and I’m happy with where I am at the moment.
“I want to have 20-30 games under my belt next season – so maybe see where that takes me beyond that – but even with this league it’s a very good league that’s only getting better.”