Matthew Joseph was a youth team player with us in the late 1980s and early 90s, but didn't quite make the grade. Now he is back working with our academy as our recently-appointed Academy Coach Developer. Here he tells us about how his career went full circle:
My Arsenal journey started back when I was 12 or 13. I’d actually started in football quite late – I was at school in Islington and was playing for the district and county sides when I got scouted. I trained with Arsenal until I was about 14, before I went to the national school at Lilleshall until I was 16. I came back to Arsenal and signed YTS forms, then signed pro for a year before I was released at the age of 19.
I was in the same age group as Ray Parlour, Paul Dickov, Mark Flatts, Scott Marshall – quite a few that actually went on to the first-team. I really enjoyed those days – they are right up there with my best times in football. I was with a group I really enjoyed being with, and we were successful as a youth team. I had different attributes from the other players but in hindsight, I wasn’t confident enough to play for the Arsenal first-team.
When I was in my first year of YTS we won the league title and my first year as a pro we won the league again, so the standard was incredibly high. As an aspiring defender I wasn’t going to displace the likes of Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams or Nigel Winterburn – then behind them was David O’Leary. I wasn’t good enough to get into that team.
I started off as a wide player then tried to move to full-back because there were just too many players ahead of me in the reserves. You had people like David Rocastle, Paul Davis and Michael Thomas, then even the likes of Colin Pates and Siggi Jonsson were playing reserve team football at the time. Andy Cole had gone on loan too, so there were loads of players trying to come through, and there was a bit of a bottleneck. You had to be the best of the best.
I grew up as an Arsenal fan, so when I was released it was one of the most traumatic times of my career. In today’s world, you would say it was handled badly, but back then it was just how it was done.
That day I walked into the Marble Halls as an Arsenal player and walked out of them just like everyone else. It was a very close decision whether I stayed for another year or not, but in the end I was told that they were releasing me and that was that. At the time it was a shock – I really didn’t expect it. To be honest they broke my heart.
"When I had an opportunity to come back here in this present role – well, there are only a few clubs I would have left the FA for"
I loved being at Arsenal and met some people who I am still close with today. I worked in the box office as part of my work experience and people like Lynne Chaney and Joe Harney are still here now; I’ve known them for 30-odd years. There are others that I still speak to who I’ve known basically all my life. I was only here as a player for a few years, but I made lifelong connections in that time, which to me tells you everything about being at this club.
So when I had an opportunity to come back here in this present role – well, there are only a few clubs I would have left the FA for. I worked there for 15 years, so to come back here now is like finishing the cycle for me. I played for England as a youngster at Lilleshall, then worked for them for all that time after my playing days, but now I feel really fortunate to have come back to Arsenal for a second time.
When I left here as a player, I went to 21 clubs in about 18 months. I had lots of rejections, and signed three pro contracts but two of those clubs were under embargo so they couldn’t be ratified. Eventually, I went to Watford for a few weeks, and from there got a trial at Cambridge United and signed for them. After five years there I played for Leyton Orient, and at 32 I went into non-league.
That’s when I started my coaching qualifications, because I knew at that time I wanted to go down that road. I started by doing some volunteering work and began making contacts in the game that have stood me in good stead ever since. I was with the likes of Martin Ling, Alex Inglethorpe and Dean Smith at Leyton Orient, then Richard Allen, who was academy manager at QPR and is now working in Japan. In fact, two of the players who I worked with then are now working at Arsenal – Leonard Smith, the goalkeeping coach, and Mehmet Ali, our under-21 head coach.
I started working at the FA on grassroots football as one of the skills coaches, helping to upskill coaches at that level and going round the schools as well to provide provision there. After about three years I became a regional coach developer. My remit covered London, Middlesex, Cambridgeshire, amateur, Jersey and Guernsey FAs – so lots of coaches to work with!
"You need to be outstanding, and that’s the challenge that motivates us every day"
Essentially it was coaching coaches, and putting programmes on before moving on to do the same role, but with professional clubs. I did that for 10 years and in the last three of those years, Arsenal was one of the clubs I worked with. An opportunity then came up here, which I applied for and thankfully I got. So now I do a similar job here, working with the coaches in the academy at Hale End predominantly, and sometimes at London Colney.
I’m only a few months into the role so I’m still getting to know all the players, but whenever there are sessions going on at any age group I’m out there working with them, watching our coaches and seeing how we are developing the next generation of coaches.
The scale of the academy here is much bigger than when I was a young player, but coaching is still coaching. The extra resources we have nowadays are helpful, but they are not the be-all and end-all, especially if you can be impactful with the players and help them where needed.
My first couple of months here have been busy, fun, enjoyable – all of the above! I’m trying to make sense of everything first, because when you get here you appreciate how big a club Arsenal really is. There is football literally every day – here at Hale End you could watch football Monday through to Sunday, every single week. It’s relentless, so there’s a lot for me to get into and it’s something I’m looking forward to.
What we want essentially is for every single one of the kids to be a success here, but realistically that’s not going to happen. So what we can do is make sure we value them, give them all a great experience and instil that Arsenal DNA in them, even if they go on to leave the club for elsewhere. We want them to have had a good time and to have spent it with good people. Every player matters and every second of their development counts.
At the moment the first-team are top of the table and long may that continue, but what that means is that the standard these young players have got to reach is even higher, and the expectations are even higher. You can’t just be really good, you need to be outstanding, and that’s the challenge that motivates us every day.
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