I was the youngest player in Premier League history, but it was all downhill from there… and I now work as a personal trainer.
BECOMING the youngest Premier League player in history would make any wonderkid proud – but that doesn’t guarantee a stellar career.
Just ask Matthew Briggs, the former Fulham defender who held the title for 12 years and was chased by Manchester United and Arsenal as a child.
But let down by clubs and coaches, he never lived up to his potential – and Briggs, now 31, is reporting for Gosport Borough in the seventh tier and working as a personal trainer.
15-year-old Arsenal midfielder Ethan Nwaneri has won the title of youngest player in the Premier League after his brief appearance at Brentford last weekend.
Briggs was just 16 when he was thrown into Lawrie Sanchez’s first team at Middlesbrough in May 2007 to ensure he signed a deal at Craven Cottage.
He told SunSport: “We had a meeting and they said they wanted me to travel with the first team, but to play you have to be under contract.
“I was considering going to Arsenal for my scholarship.
“Fulham said if I came I would be the youngest player in the Premier League.
“At this time, at this age, no one will turn down this opportunity. One to break a record and then play in the biggest league in the world.
Briggs was on top of the world after his debut, returning to school on the crest of a wave.
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He said: “It was so awkward, people coming up to me and saying they saw me on TV and asking me to sign things.
“And they were my friends that I saw every day!” Everything just changed after those debuts.
But it was over two years before his next first-team game for the Cottagers.
Friends and family stopped asking for autographs and instead started asking why he wasn’t playing, which undermined his confidence.
He said: “It was confusing to me. I never got an explanation of why. The pressure of being in the locker room of young people and kids of that age pushing you, teasing you…
“And there was pressure from outside the club with friends who had huge anticipation, asking me when I would be next.
“I almost felt embarrassed to even answer it because I didn’t know why. I was just very confused and lost my confidence.
Fulham routinely blocked loan moves for Briggs or quickly recalled him from loans when they needed cover, never allowing him to regain that confidence.
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His career after Craven Cottage took him to Millwall, Colchester, Chesterfield and Barnet.
Then, at 28, he moved to non-league with Maldon & Tiptree and started enjoying football again.
This led to a brief stint in Denmark as well as playing at international level for Guyana, having played for England at various levels up to the Under-21s.
Sanchez revealed much later that it was boardroom pressure that made him debut at someone so young.
Briggs, who hosts fitness sessions online from her Instagram account @matthewbriggs_12, added: “They should have handled me in a totally different way. I don’t think they thought about what it did to me.
“I would never take it back, having the record for 12 years. But there’s a part of me that wishes I progressed more slowly.
This treatment has sucked the joy out of football for Briggs, whose advice to Arsenal’s Nwaneri is to make sure he plays for the love of the game for as long as possible.
He said, “Try not to let anything cloud your judgment.
“The agents are going to be swarming, everyone will want a piece of him because he’s hot right now.
“Football is not always easy navigation. Do what you think is right – just enjoy the moment.
“Stay disciplined and focused on what you want to accomplish.”