Not so long ago Lewis Montsma was juggling turning out for Dordrecht in the Dutch second division with a burgeoning career on the catwalk but when Lincoln welcome Liverpool in the Carabao Cup third round on Thursday, it will be more Alexander-Arnold than Alexander McQueen. It is two years since the defender travelled to London for a Burberry fashion show surrounded by some of the industry’s famous names, including Kendall Jenner and Irina Shayk. “I was quite nervous but I enjoyed it,” he says. “The next morning I flew to Holland really early to get back to training on time, around 10am.”
Montsma showcased last year’s spring/summer collection, wearing sunglasses and a long coat, but his successful audition for the show stemmed from a chance meeting with Philip Riches, an agent and photographer formerly on the panel of Holland’s Next Top Model. Riches approached him while Montsma was helping his father, Jelle, whose business rents equipment to film-makers and photographers, by driving models between sets from Zandvoort, a beach resort west of Amsterdam, to the city. “I was just out of bed, not dressed up or anything but he asked me if I wanted to do some photos,” he says. “I said yes, fine, and I thought: ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
If Lincoln require a model for the Christmas catalogue, they need not look too far – “I’ve already done the home, away and third kits!” – but last year Montsma made the decision to pursue taking centre stage on the pitch full-time. “He [Riches] contacted me a few weeks ago to do another shoot but I have stopped. It’s not easy to do both and now is the time to focus on football. After I did the show, there were a lot of big agencies interested in me but if you sign with them you have to be available every time. But that wasn’t possible, so it was a no-go, and football has always been my first choice.”
Montsma – whose Swedish mother, Hannah, picked his forename after being inspired by Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland – was born in Amsterdam, where he played for AFC, one of the city’s biggest amateur clubs, and attended St Nicolaaslyceum, the same school as Matthijs de Ligt, now of Juventus. “Every break time we played football outside and it was always me and him against the rest,” he recalls, laughing, before explaining his journey to here.
He spent four years at Heerenveen, during which he duelled against Justin Kluivert at youth level – “I used to hang around with him a lot before he went to Roma” – and lived in a house once home to Hakim Ziyech, the Chelsea midfielder formerly of Heerenveen, before being released at 18. Trials at Serie B and Serie C clubs followed but he returned to the Netherlands with Cambuur and then Dordrecht, from whom he joined Lincoln in July.
It may not match the Total Football of the Netherlands in the 1970s or, indeed, Liverpool’s relentless style, but Lincoln’s front-foot ethos is clear. “There are not a lot of teams here that really like to play football in the way Michael Appleton does,” says Montsma, whose manager describes him as a “physical specimen”. Montsma grew up supporting Ajax, admiring Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, but hopes to line up against another idol in Virgil van Dijk at Sincil Bank.
“I do look up to him. He is a great player, a great defender and I’ve learned a lot from him, even from watching him on TV. The same with Gini Wijnaldum; they are both great players from Holland and I’m buzzing to, hopefully, play against them. In Holland they teach you to ‘get along’ with the ball, have good feet and I think that’s why a lot of central defenders in Holland are comfortable playing. When I was younger I played a lot in the streets, so I learned a lot there too. Everyone is quite technical in Holland.”
Lincoln supporters have been quick to warm to the 22-year-old, who has scored in the past two rounds of the cup, including on his debut at Crewe, and been ever-present for Appleton’s side, who are unbeaten in five matches this season. “It is great to have positivity in the air,” he says. “I’ve seen some videos from last year, which the director of football [Jez George] showed me, of the ‘617 Squadron’ [fans’ group]; they made a lot of noise and I think it’s a big thing to scare away the opponents. If fans were allowed into the stadium on Thursday, it would be a crazy atmosphere. I just have to enjoy it and show my best qualities and, as a team, we need to make the best of it.”