Where on the pitch are you going to play when you’re an unusually tall 10-year-old? In England, the chances are your team-mates are going to think of you as a budding Peter Crouch and stick you up front.
That’s exactly what happened to Matt Macey - until a freak injury to a team-mate led to him going in goal and discovering that, actually, he was pretty good between the sticks. Nine years on, the 6ft 6in stopper finds himself at the Arsenal Academy and, after a fine first season stopping shots for the youth teams, he’s aiming to follow another tall keeper all the way to the first team...
When asked about his brief stint as an imposing striker during his primary school days, Macey gives a wry smile and recalls his early days as an improvised forward.
"I was a tall kid and a good target man back then," he tells the Arsenal Magazine. "This was ages ago, playing Sunday league football at under-10 level.
"But something drew me into being a goalkeeper. I think there was a game when our goalkeeper broke his wrist and I played in goal and had a really good game. It stuck from there because I wasn’t doing the best up front."
It was a decision that Matt is unlikely to ever regret. The youngster from Bath spent the majority of his teenage years with local side Bristol Rovers, where he was voted Youth Player of the Year as he helped their under-18 side to a double-winning campaign last year.
"I like playing with a bit of pressure and I feel I'm at my best in the bigger games"
His performances were enough to attract interest from a number of clubs, with Everton seemingly leading the race to secure his signature. Matt admits he was close to joining the Toffees until Arsenal offered him a trial last autumn.
"It was looking like I was going to go to Everton at one point over the summer," he says. "They were really interested. Arsenal came in for me a bit later on and I thought they were the best option in the end. I had trials at other clubs but it was only Everton and Arsenal that made the effort to sign me.
"My trial was for the under-18s against Man United at Colney and it was a bit nerve-racking. But I like playing with a bit of pressure and I feel I am at my best in the bigger games. I knew I would go into the game being the oldest on the pitch. Even though we lost that day, I thought I did well and I played for the under-21s the following week, which was a bit more of a test."
Those two games were enough to secure Matt a professional contract and he hasn’t looked back. Sixteen appearances and eight months later, he has forged himself a growing reputation at Arsenal and the Englishman has his sights set on reaching the dizzy heights of first-team football in the not-too-distant future.
"It’s been a brilliant season. It’s been exciting but a bit of a whirlwind as well. I’ve settled in quite quickly and enjoyed so much of it. I can’t remember having a bad day in the last year, which is a good sign.
"I had to get used to the pace of the game and the speed at which the ball moves across the pitch at this level. That was the thing I struggled with at the start and that’s the main thing I’ve improved on. You’ve got to expect anything and you’ve got to expect it quicker than when I was at Bristol Rovers.
"I remember my first training session - I was like a rabbit in the headlights"
"A striker’s backlift is so much smaller and shots come out of nowhere half the time,” adds Matt, who cemented his position as the Gunners’ under-21 goalkeeper over the course of the season, playing 19 of the 25 games for Steve Gatting’s side.
"I remember my first training session - I was like a rabbit in the headlights. I couldn’t believe how quick it was and I was all over the place. I was worried at first but I thought with good training and the standard of coaching here I would get there in the end.
"It’s more professional at Arsenal. You get more guidance because you’ve got more staff who are giving you input, and the food at the training ground is a great example of what you should be eating at home. It’s what you’d expect from a club like Arsenal – it’s up there with the best, and you can’t go wrong here if you work hard."
Matt’s progress this season is particularly impressive given the fact that he is one of five academy goalkeepers. The 6ft 6in stopper - the tallest man at the training ground in fact - was arguably the under-21s’ stand-out performer during a mixed campaign that saw them finish 14th in the league table.
He produced a string of outstanding displays during the winter months, most notably away to Chelsea in the quarter- finals of the League Cup where he pulled off several fine saves before Benik Afobe grabbed an extra-time winner.
"Playing regularly for the under-21s was always the aim when I first came here," he says. "It’s good to have the competitiveness when you’re at a big club. When we look back on the season we’ve all had a good amount of games - it’s not like one of us has played way more games than the others. It works well but it’s competitive in training so you have to keep on your guard and not relax too much.
"It’s competitive in training so you have to keep on your guard and not relax too much"
"I speak a lot with the goalkeeping coaches because it’s a specific position. I talk to Gerry Peyton and Tony Roberts and they give me feedback on how I’m doing. They’re happy with how I’ve done this season so I just need to build on that for next year."
Matt began life in north London in digs before moving into his own flat in January - quite a challenge for a player still in his late teens, but the prospect of an independent lifestyle hasn’t fazed the intelligent and unassuming keeper.
Macey has certainly experienced a change for the better since his arrival at Arsenal, the same cannot be said for his boyhood club. A torrid season for Bristol Rovers saw them drop out of the Football League for the first time.
"I have quite a lot of friends who are there and were involved this season," he says. "It’s not been a good year for them but they are such a big club at that level. I’ll be surprised if they don’t come back up.
"It’s strange to see them there - Bristol’s football teams should be doing better than what they are. For such a big city, you expect a higher standard of football but Bristol Rovers are getting a new stadium so that should boost them a little bit so I’m confident they can get back up the season."
While Matt’s childhood club has faced the ignominy of tumbling down the divisions and into the non-League for the first-time, their former goalkeeper’s career is most definitely on an upward trajectory, which many believe will see him reach the very top.
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