Prior to the two-week suspension of the National League North, Nick Haughton made his return to action following a frustrating spell on the sidelines. A grade three hamstring tear against Boston United momentarily halted the midfielders fine form. His performances up until that point had caught the eye of many,  netting six goals in the opening thirteen games of the season.

His contribution has helped The Coasters challenge at the top end of the National League North table, scoring three memorable late winners against Darlington, Kettering and Spennymoor Town. From afar you will see a player enjoying his football; a player hungry to succeed and prospering under Jim Bentley’s guidance; but his journey to this point has been far from plain sailing.

Growing up in Stretford, Manchester, Nick progressed through Bolton Wanderers’ academy system before he was released at the age of 15. Such news for any teenager can be crushing. For a 15-year old, who’s life experiences and emotional intelligence is yet to be developed, the cut-throat world of football is particularly unforgiving. Rejection, self-doubt and a loss of identity are the prominent themes in the stories of those released from academies at a young age.

For Nick, though, giving up on his dream was never an option. For the creative midfielder, the footballing journey began at 10 years of age, signing for then Premier League outfit, Bolton Wanderers. “I loved it at Bolton until I got released at 15. I felt at home, so when I found out I was being let go it was a huge blow; I was devastated,” he said.

Of those that fail to make the grade at academy level, a high percentage turn their back on the game completely. Hopes that had been built up over the years are suddenly dashed away, and disillusion usually begins to set in. In Nick’s case, however, there was always a sense of ‘inner-drive’ to go and prove the doubters wrong – the one’s that decided he wasn’t good enough at the tender age of 15. “Giving up on football was never really an option for me,” he said. “I know so many that have been released and never recovered. For me, It was always just a case of, ‘right, where else can I go?’; ‘‘where next?’. “And when you’ve put everything into trying to make it and it doesn’t work out it is tough to take, but my mentality was to just get on with it.”

In the weeks and months that followed, Haughton spent time on trial at Bury and Accrington Stanley, but after numerous training sessions and in-house games, there was no scholarship offered at the end. “It was another hurdle to overcome but my family were a big influence on me, and still are,” Haughton said.

“My Dad would drive me all over the place and has always been really supportive of everything that I’ve done,” he added. Without a club and with the dream of becoming a professional footballer growing increasingly distant, Nick began studying Public Services alongside a BTEC Sports course at the Sixth Form attached to his old high-school. He also began working part-time at Pizza Hut to bring in some income. “It was time for me to get a job as I wasn’t earning,” he said. “In the end, I was doing shifts at Pizza Hut and playing for Curzon Ashton on the side. Curzon’s first team were brilliant the year I was there – going on to achieve promotion from the EVO-STIK Premier Division to the National League North – and because of that I wasn’t really given an opportunity. I was 18 at the time, and I remember being frustrated because I wanted to play football and progress. But you can’t really do that if you aren’t given minutes on the pitch.”

Graham Alexander at Fleetwood Town was the man who eventually swooped in and identified the Mancunians potential, tying the number 10 down to a 12-month contract on the back of an impressive trial. “I had played in a game against AFC Blackpool for Runcorn Town, and that was where Fleetwood saw me play and invited me in for a trial. It all happened really fast after that; I was given my first professional contract after three days and made my debut three months later against Port Vale. It was extra special because at the time I was going to college and working, so it was the break that I had been waiting forever since leaving Bolton as a kid.”

Nick went on to play a total of 40 league games for the Cod Army, scoring one goal away at Sheffield United in his first season. A move to Salford City followed before he returned to the Fylde coast to join The Coasters in October 2018. “Being released by Bolton, you can take that rejection two ways – either fall out of the game or try and prove people wrong, which is how I felt. My family would tell me to keep at it, and I would always go and watch [Manchester] City at weekends, so even when things weren’t going smoothly, my love for the game never died. I’ve been fortunate enough to play football full-time since Fleetwood, which I’m grateful for. There were times when I didn’t think that it was going to happen, so it makes you appreciate it when it does.”

A cameo appearance at AFC Telford at the start of January marked the long-awaited return to action, and now it is a case of awaiting news from the National League on the resumption of fixtures. “The injury was a setback, it was frustrating at times but I’m thankful to Gareth Thomas for the work he did with me in the treatment room. I’m back now and raring to go, so the games can’t come fast enough.

“Things were going great, but it’s still early days. We are only fourteen games in and there’s a long, long way to go. I have personal targets; my goal is to go on and get double figures this season, but the main target will always be a promotion if I can help the team achieve that by scoring goals and creating them, then brilliant.”