Cutting ties with your local football club’s first team after rising through the academy system is a difficult tie to cut, but it is something West End striker Brieg Matthews knows about all too well.
After playing for the club for 14 years, joining the club as a six year-old, this August, Matthews made the difficult decision to leave his local side, Cwmamman United, in search of regular first-team football.
Clubs and national media alike love to revel in the success stories. How hard and persistent work leads to breakthrough, and development at your local side. What they fail to pinpoint is that for every success story, there are ten of hardship and despair.
Sometimes the timeline of progress of a club does not line up with the development of a youngster rising through the ranks. This is very much the story of Matthews.
Growing up just five minutes away from the first team pitch, he always harboured hopes of developing into a first team player who would lead the line for the Blues. After evolving from junior to youth team player, the forward begun to make noises in the second team. Making his debut for the senior side of his local Welsh League outfit was a moment he’ll never forget. Lining up with the men he’d once admired as a child, he finally got to don the blue of Cwmamman United for the very first time.
“I spent a lot of time at the club, I played through all the age groups and also played at senior level from the age of 16 for the club. My father at the time was the second team player/manager at the club so I’d often go straight from my games in the mornings to watch the seconds play. My debut was quite special because I got to play with some of the players I use to watch every week and looked up to, my senior debut was a Neath League Reserve Division Two game against Park Travelers away!”
However, his maiden appearance for the first team in the Welsh League is a moment that will stick long in the memory.
“I scored my first senior goal for the club in that game which made it even more special. My Welsh League debut was coming on as a sub against Rhoose at Jenner park, that was a special moment because I got to play my first Welsh League game with my best mate Rhydian Jones who also came on as a sub that day.”
The special moments continued for the striker at his hometown club, as he continued to make waves tin the Amman Valley as an emerging talent. Meanwhile,the club was proving to be a success on the pitch too. In the 2016/17 season, the Carmarthenshire club needed to win their final two games to secure promotion from Welsh League Division Two. With one victory in the bag, and the second in the balance, the club sent the youth prospect on with just 15 minutes left in search of the goal that would secure promotion. On the big stage, the home-grown talent delivered, and secured promotion to Welsh League Division One for his club. That was a feeling he’ll never forget having come through as an academy product.
“It felt amazing! We needed to win our last two games to be promoted and at 1-1 with 12 minutes to go I was sent on and I was lucky enough to get a chance and scored the winner to take the promotion hopes into the last game of the season which we won! The whole squad and people behind the scenes worked really hard to get the club promoted and to be part of a great squad with some quality players was a great experience.”
A local, academy product scoring the winning goal in the dying embers of the game to send his side up to Welsh League Division One is a story few could hardly have scripted. But, the elation of scoring the dream goal was soon over. Having won promotion for his side, Matthews had essentially scored his way out of breaking into the first team.
With a young striker with little to no experience banging on the door of the first team picture, there was little margin for error with the stakes so high. Being on the periphery of the first team squad, however, for two and a half seasons eventually took its toll. On the cusp of being a fully fledged first team member, the striker’s emergence probably came at the wrong time with the club now in Division One.
But, Matthews took all of this in his stride and holds no grudges about the fact he had to cast his net to gain the experience he needed to take his game to the next level.
“The club were playing a high level of football and there were players there who were bigger and more experienced at that level, obviously it was frustrating being on the bench but when given a chance I felt I was playing well and had more to offer.
“I was happy at the club at the start of the season, felt I had a good pre season and was fit and scoring goals. After the first 6 games of the season I hadn’t played one minute on the pitch so then it became clear to me that manager at the time Mark Snell didn’t have me in his plans going forward that season.”
The 20 year-old linked up with West End in Welsh League Division Two, a club rooted in the relegation zone, and seemingly set for relegation after a few seasons miring in the drop zone. However, what transpired has been an adequate paring, as the striker has already notched 15 goals to drag the Swansea based side out of the dreaded relegation spots and the forward thanks the club for making his transition into the side a straightforward one.
“The minute I transferred the committee, managers and players made me feel welcome at West End. They took a gamble starting me and I was lucky enough to score in that first game! Since then I’ve worked hard to repay the faith they put in me and thanks to the hard work from the whole squad I have been lucky enough to benefit from the chances the team are creating. West End are a really close-nit and hard working side and I’m enjoying my time at the club.”
And whilst there are no indications if this is a long-term move with Matthews’ heart always set on his local valley side, he knows the important thing right now is to secure survival.
“If I’m honest i haven’t thought about next season at all. All my focus is on enjoying my football at West End and hopefully as a team we can move up the table and stay in Division Two.”
Matthews may have been one of the unfortunate few who isn’t made into a success story, praised for his perseverance to succeed at his local side. However, he must be commended for taking the bold decision to take his career to the next level. It was an undoubtedly difficult decision to cut ties with the club he holds close to his heart, but at least he’s the one holding the scissors.