Port Vale midfielder Luke Joyce says Saturday’s reunion with former club Carlisle United will be a ‘strange one.’
Joyce left the Cumbrians in 2018 after a four-year second spell at Brunton Park and has enjoyed two solid seasons since as a Valiant.
Tomorrow at 3pm, the 33-year-old be lining up in black and white against the Blues for the third time following his departure but his warm regards for Carlisle remain clear.
Speaking to The Gazette ahead of the Vale Park clash, the former Accrington Stanley skipper said: “I’ve never really left a club on bad terms.
“I left with the best wishes from and for all the staff there and everyone the club.
“Saturday will just be a strange one because of obviously no fans being there.”
The lack of Cumbrians travelling to the match is thanks to the recently-scrapped plans to have fans return to spectating elite sport by early October.
Having only played a handful of games without supporters inside the stadium, League Two’s players are still adjusting to the new normal and Joyce will miss out on another no-doubt warm reception from the away end.
“It’s a little bit selfish in a way but it’s nice to get that round of applause from the fans of the team you’re playing against.”
“It shows they’ve got fond memories and they appreciated what you did while you were there,” he added.
“You feel for Mike Jones (Joyce’s former teammate) going back to Brunton Park last Saturday.
“He had four good years at Carlisle and he gave his everything but there was no one really there to see it.”
Nevertheless, he’s not giving up on seeing the Blue Army again.
“Hopefully, when we go to Brunton Park in April, fans will be there,” he continued.
“You never know, we could be going there looking to progress whether it be via automatic promotion or through the play-offs.”
Contrary to his Burslem-based side, Carlisle have recently undergone the biggest squad churn in the fourth tier and Joyce admitted he won’t see many familiar faces during the fixture.
“It’ll pretty much be a game against a team that I used to play for but don’t really know any of the players,” he declared.
“I’ll know assistant manager Gavin Skelton, kitman Collin Nixon, and Amy [Nixon] and Andy [Hall] who do the media side of things.”
4th-placed Vale will be without another former Blue for the encounter as David Amoo is set to miss the match through injury.
However, Carlisle’s leading goalscorer and assist-maker in the 2019-20 term, Harry McKirdy, is set to feature against his currently 11th-placed ex-side.
Forward McKirdy endured a difficult time at Brunton Park after falling out with fans on social media before not being offered a new contract following the campaign’s early curtailment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Troubles aside, fellow Vale man Joyce has seen signs of promise in the 23-year-old, saying: “You wonder what went on but he’s been fine – he’s definitely a character.
“In terms of a player, he’s looked bright, he’s looked really lively,” he remarked.
“He’s an attacking threat and a tough opponent in training because he’s got the skill to beat a man, the ability to find a pass and he’s got a finish in his locker.
“He’s definitely a player who can make us better and adds competition to the squad.
“Being from the Stoke area, he knew a few of the lads which helped him settle in.
“We’ve got a good changing room with experienced players and we make sure everything’s done right.”
Joyce was a stalwart in Vale’s 37-game campaign last term, missing just one match through suspension – the team’s only fourth division home defeat of the season to Walsall.
After extending his stay this summer, his sort of midfield solidity echoes his third term back at Brunton Park after leaving as a youngster to join Stanley and rack up 276 appearances back in home county Lancashire.
Despite Keith Curle’s Carlisle missing out on promotion in 2017, Joyce’s team are looking for a similar season.
“Every year you set out to win every game and finish top of the league,” explained the experienced pro, who runs a coaching business near Bolton.
“I know that’s not always achievable and you’ve got to be realistic with the budget or group of players but our aim is to improve on last season, which was tinged with disappointment.”
The Wigan Athletic academy product went on to say: “We were on the heels and one point behind Northampton who got promoted, so you look at that and realise how close we were.
“You do think what could’ve been because we were the form team in the top eight – I think we’d beaten every team above us – but it wasn’t meant to be.”
That last line has an eerily similar sound to how things ended at Carlisle but now three points tomorrow certainly wouldn’t hurt his current team’s chances.