As a young goalkeeper on the books of Scunthorpe United between 2006 and 2012, Josh Lillis was able to see the upwards rise of the club first-hand.
|During the coming days, we'll republish past interviews with former Iron players from our matchday programme.|
Lillis’ first involvement with United came when he was just 12 years old after he was offered a trial.
He later made his way through the age groups before signing as a YTS player and then professionally.
Josh went on to spend six years at the club and kicked things off by telling us how his initial affiliation with Scunthorpe came about.
“I went down to Quibell Park, trained on the old astro turf pitches and was eventually offered a trial by Scunthorpe,” he said.
“I managed to do okay in my trial and things just kicked on from there really. I played for the under 14s, 15s and 16s and just made my way up before I signed as a YTS player.
“I only lived about 20 minutes away from the ground and a lot of my family and friends support the club so obviously I was delighted to go on and sign as a professional for Scunthorpe.”
Josh followed in the footsteps of his father, Mark Lillis, when he signed for United in 2006 at the age of just 17.
Mark played 68 league games in claret and blue, scoring 24 goals, between 1989 and 1991 and eventually became the club’s assistant manager so the family are certainly no strangers to life in North Lincolnshire.
And Josh was pleased to build on what was already a strong bond between the Lillis’ and Scunthorpe United.
He continued: “It’s always nice when you’ve got a good connection with the club and that’s certainly what we have.
“He’d (Mark) been at the club before me so he knew it inside out and he’s still got nothing but positive thoughts about the club.
“It was very easy for me to settle in as well because I knew a lot of the staff before I actually signed, like Brian Laws and Russ Wilcox, Nigel Adkins and a few more which was good for me.
“I went to school just outside of Scunthorpe so I was familiar with the area and it was just an ideal situation really.”
Having been involved in two promotion winning campaigns during his time with the Iron, Lillis has a number of fond memories to look back on.
He made his league debut in an away game at Millwall during United’s march to the 2006-2007 League One title and was an unused substitute in the 2009 League One Play-Off final, also against the Lions.
And those moments, as well as the chance to play with several talented players, are things that Josh will forever cherish.
“Making my league debut away at Millwall in December 2006 is something that I will always remember,” he explained.
“Steve Torpey scored the winner so it was a good game to have been a part of and that stands out for me massively.
“I was involved with the club during quite a successful time. We were promoted twice and to have played a little bit in both of those was brilliant.
“There were some great players at the club back then like Billy Sharp, Andy Crosby, Steve Foster and more. We had a top side and some of the lads went on to much bigger and better things.
“We had some great nights at the stadium and some great away days as well. We went to Wembley twice in one season and were unlucky to miss out on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy but we went back at the end of the season and did the real business by getting promoted.”
Josh’s appearances between the sticks for Scunthorpe were limited, largely due to the performances of Joe Murphy who was firmly established as the club’s first choice throughout the majority of his time with United.
And whilst Lillis knew that he had to be patient, he did state that it was quite a frustrating time.
“Looking back on it now, it was quite a frustrating period for me,” Josh admitted.
“When I came up from the youth team, Tommy (Evans) and Mussy (Paul Musselwhite) were battling it out for a spot in the side and then Joe came in during my first year as a professional.
“Maybe I could have gone out on loan and got some first team experience but I still had the opportunity to learn from one of the best in Joe Murphy.
“Nigel Adkins coached us for a while and then Kevin Pressman came in and carried on from where Nigel left off so despite the fact that I wasn’t playing much, I still look at it as a positive because I was learning from some very good goalkeepers.”
At the end of the 2011-2012 season, then Iron manager Alan Knill brought in several new faces in order to put a fresh spin on the United squad.
That meant that many players would be allowed to leave following the conclusion of their contracts and Josh was one of those.
He eventually joined current club Rochdale but insisted that there are no hard feelings.
“The time had come for me to move on and the manager wanted to change a few things,” he said.
“The likes of Cliff Byrne, Sam Togwell and Andy Wright were also let go and I think 12 of us were released overall.
“But there are no hard feelings. I understood that those sorts of decisions have to be made and I accepted that because there’s no point in sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.
“I was quite sad to leave in a way because I felt I never really showed my full potential at Scunthorpe but I wish the club all the best."