FROM PENZANCE TO SEVILLE: MEET THE CORNISH FOOTBALLER HEADING TO THE WORLD CUP THIS SUMMER
Whilst the focus has been on the Womens World Cup in France so far this summer, Cornwall has its very own England player who is also heading to a World Cup. Matthew Robinson from Penzance has joined up with the England CP squad who are in Spain at the 2019 IFCPF World Cup. Before Matt jetted off he took the time to answer some questions for us;
So Matt, tell us a little bit about how your football journey started?
I was sat at the dining room table when I was around 7 years old and my parents asked me what I wanted to do when I left school. I told them that I wanted to be a footballer and play for England…
My mum and dad got very emotional as they knew this probably would never happen because of my cerebral palsy. But because they always encouraged me to try and achieve as much as I could in my life with my disability, they signed me up to a local youth football team, the Ludgvan Lions.
When I was 13, my parents received an email from my PE teacher at Humphry Davy School. He explained that Cornwall FA had been in touch about holding an England Disability Talent Day at Cornwall College, and would it be okay if he put my name forward to attend. My parents didn’t know anything like this even existed but said I should give it a go.
After the training session was over, Martin Sinclair, England Senior CP squad player who was a guest on the day spoke to my parents, he said he would like me to go for a trial with the South West CP Centre of Excellence (SWCPCoE) who trained and played in Taunton, Somerset. I attended that trial and was sent a letter a couple of weeks later to say that I had been successful and was invited to come and train with their U16’s team. My dad used to take me to training in Taunton every Saturday, we had to catch the 5.20am train from Penzance station and we would get home after a very long day around 6.30pm. We didn’t miss a training session and there were 20 sessions per season.
When I was 16, my dad decided contacted the head coach from Tottenham Hotspurs disability centre, when the Tottenham trial date was sent out, I also received an email inviting me to a trial for the England U21 Development squad. That weekend I attended the Tottenham trial on the Saturday in London, and then the England trial at St George’s Park on the Sunday. A week later I received the news that I had successful in both trials. That season my parents drove me to Tottenham at least 3 times a month for training and fixtures, and I also attended several England training camps at SGP and my football really improved for it.
It was a tough decision but with my exams starting at school I decided it was best to leave CP football and concentrate on exams and college. The break from CP football gave me a chance to reflect on what I had already achieved, and to give me some time to try something different. I decided to give coaching a go and was given the role of Coach/Manager for Penzance AFC U9’s. I eventually became an FA Level 2 coach and my first season, my team won three tournaments, and I won the Cornwall Sports Partnership Young Coach of the Year.
Who has been there to support you the most throughout your journey from a youth footballer in Penzance to England player going to the World Championships next month?
Easy Answer… My parents.
Obviously there have been a lot of people like teachers, coaches, medical professionals who have helped me along the way. But my mum and dad have done everything they possibly could to get me where I am today.
Who was your football icon growing up and how did this influence your game?
I used to watch a lot of football on TV before I started playing football myself. I support Arsenal so I always used to love watching Thierry Henry, Bergkamp, Viera etc. But because I wanted to play for England, my Idol was David Beckham. I watched him play pretty much all of his England games and have always dreamt of achieving similar things for England in CP football, as he did in the mainstream game.
Have you had to overcome any major challenges to get to where you are at now? Tell us a little bit about them and what you did to work through them?
Travelling always was and still is a major challenge to me, especially with CP football. The closest team for me to play in is based in Bridgwater (Somerset), and England train mostly at St George’s Park in Staffordshire. So not only has it meant travelling hundreds of miles and staying in hotels over weekends just to train, it has also cost my parents a lot of money in doing it.
Another major challenge has been trying to find a mainstream football team who would allow me to play regular football. Thankfully my manager (Darren Dayus) at Penzance Reserves has supported me in that and I’m very grateful to him for giving me game time, as this is what England want all of their CP players to do.
The other challenge that I have had to deal with but thankfully not too much, is bullying. There have been times where I have been on the end of a lot of abuse because of my disability. I have had names called out at me from players and supporters, but through the support of my parents, my manager and team mates, I have learnt to ignore it and concentrate on my football.
Tell us a bit about your plans for the World Championship which start next month?
Since being selected, my plans have only been to try and be as fit and ready as I possibly can. I have trained every day and reported my progress back to the England team via a group app. On top of the training I have done a lot of swimming, I have had quite a lot of massages, sports massages and cup therapy. And I have been watching as many videos of CP football matches as possible, trying to find out as much as I can about some of the teams I could be playing against.
What are your ambitions for the future?
To play for England as much as I can, and to play football for as long as I can.
I’m sure I will return to coaching football one day in the future, but for now I’m just loving what I’m doing and training hard to keep doing it.
Finally Matt, have you got any messages to other young footballers across Cornwall to help inspire them on their journeys?
When you are a young player, football should be fun. As you get older the game gets harder, so to be successful you need to practice as much as you can.
I have learnt from football that things don’t always go to plan or go the way you think they should have, even when you get close to where you want to be.
You need determination to succeed and be prepared to work and train even harder than you have before. But never give up as sometimes dreams do come true!
The Para Lions are among 16 nations competing for the title in Seville, after securing their qualification for what is the biggest competition in CP football when they finished fifth in the IFCPFC European Championships last summer. They open their tournament against European rivals Germany on Monday 8th July before facing Japan on Wednesday 10th July. The final group game with Brazil is scheduled for Friday 12th July, before the quarter final stages begin across the weekend of 13 and 14 July. Good luck to Matt and the rest of the team!