The rise of Matty Elsdon

July 2020, a very weird time in the lives of us all. After three and a bit Months of lockdown, socially distanced drinking in back gardens, ‘working’ from home and DIY haircuts (shout out to Jon Knowles for shaving my crown off btw) we were finally allowed out the house and hoped Covid was becoming a thing of the past.

In the world of Blyth Spartans, we’d gone from being nailed for the glue league to being reprieved due to the leagues below us all being wiped out. Interim manager Micky Nelson was made the clubs permanent manager in the May, and quickly re-signed Baldilocks (Rhys Evans), Corey and Sir Robbie Dale who would of course go into a temporary retirement that October.

Due to the uncertainty about how the 2020/21 National League season would play out, it took until late June for a proper retained list to be sorted out. Nels was quick to sign up South Shields youngsters Callum Guy and Kieran Charlton, before moving to make his first ‘big’ signing in early July, that being Mr Matthew Elsdon.

Matty had come through the ranks at Middlesborough where he was part of a squad that won the Under-18 Premier League and got into the UEFA Youth League where he played against the likes of Torino and PSG. In his final season he was loaned to Inverness, but only featured in 3 league games. He was released in the summer of 2018, aged 21 without making an appearance in the first team.

The Durham born defender was however quickly picked up by Barrow in the National League. Still in full-time football, Barrow seemed like a great opportunity to kick on and work his way back into the Football League. Manager Ian Evatt had him involved in the first team from the beginning of the season but sadly, Matty would suffer a torn meniscus in only the second for Barrow, knocking him out of action until December. He returned in an FA Trophy game, winning the sponsors man of the match against Halifax. However, he would struggle for game time, and only made 8 appearances in total by the end of the season.

In the summer of 2019, Barrow brought in Matty Platt from Blackburn to create more competition at the centre back position. By the end of August, Eldson was loaned out to Whitby Town where he’d spend 3 Months on loan before returning to Barrow, featuring in only 2 games for the Cumbrian’s (both in the FA Trophy) before being shipped out on loan again, this time the Red Rebels of FC United of Manchester. That loan spell ended right before Covid kicked in, and once the dust had settled on the delayed end of the 2019/20, he was released by Barrow.

Just days later of course though, he was snapped up by Spartans. Upon his arrival manager Micky Nelson said “Matty is someone we’ve had a look at and had very good reports on. We’ve seen footage and I know of him myself – he was very highly thought of as a youngster at Middlesbrough. He is a local lad and there has been interest from other clubs in the area, so the success of those two areas has been a massive help in allowing us to get it done so quickly after Matty left Barrow. He looks the part – good size and comfortable on the ball. He’s only young and has experienced time in and around professional clubs. You need that at this level. You need some physical lads in your team to cope with the physicality of the league and he certainly gives us that. I’m sure everyone will see when the season gets going, he has a good passing range – short and long – and knows how to look after the ball. He has learned in a good environment during his time in academies – I’m sure that will stand him in good stead. Matthew fits the bill for what we are looking for.”

When signing for Blyth Elsdon declared “I’m buzzing to be joining Blyth and can’t wait to get the games started. It feels good to be back playing in the North East after being away for a while. I’ve played with Kieran Charlton and Olly Scott before, so I’m looking forward to settling in. The manager played a huge part in my decision to join. With him being a centre-half, I feel he can help me a lot. I’m buzzing for the season to start up and for the games to begin as it’s been a while now since I played 90 minutes.”

Based on the press release focusing on the ‘Future Fund’ donations and the 1899 club fundraising, it would be fair to assume Elsdon was one of our higher earners that season (I mean there wasn’t exactly much competition like) and thinking back, was probably expected to be the anchor of the defence going into the new season.

Initially, I was thrilled with the signing! Throughout the previous few year’s editions of Football Manager, Matty would always be a great loan signing and usually get released by Middlesborough a year a so into a save and would be a great free agent pick up all the way to the Football League if you were managing Blyth.

In real life though, things didn’t really work out like that. By the time the league was scrapped in January, Blyth were rock bottom with only 1 win in 14 league games and leaked on average 2.5 goals a game at the back. As a ‘ball boy’ for most of the behind closed door’s games at Croft Park, I got a front row seat to most of those shitshows. Defensively we were a total shitshow. From memory, we played decent football for about 45 min’s and if it hadn’t been for Paul Blackett, I very much doubt we’d have registered a point on the board.

The defensive ineptitude can be best summed up by the 6-1 defeat away at Gloucester and the 6-0 defeat away at Darlington, where Spartans defended like my high school football team that got battered about like Durham City every week (shout out to the 2009/10 Astley High School year 10 alumni, fuck me we were terrible). The highlights of both games are out there on YouTube, I won’t link you to them as they are absolute fucking horror shows that should be illegal but… if you’re into that sort of thing, throw on the Darlington highlights and skip to 3:10. I’m sorry in advance.

Looking back, I feel bad to single out Matty Elsdon as that team was just tawtful from the start that season despite having some good players, at least on paper. From memory I remember feeling a bit let down by the likes of him. Maybe it was my unrealistic expectations of him from Football Manager, maybe it was the bit of hype surrounding him in the pre-season or even his impressive CV as a youth/under 23 footballer and his experience with Barrow, but I honestly expected to see some stand out performances from him and they just never came to fruition. Of course, he had the odd decent moment in a Blyth shirt, especially when bringing the ball out of defence and driving up the park to pick out a pass. Sadly, in my view at least they were heavily out weighed by the many defensive calamity’s we witnessed. Mind in fairness, the rest of the defence didn’t cover themselves in much glory at all.

When it was announced that Matty was amongst the 13 players released by the club at the end of the season, I was far from sad about the news. Admittedly with Blyth ‘getting the band back together’ with the likes of Maguire, Buddle and Reid returning I was keen to forget about the many horror show’s I’d watched in the previous season and more or less forgot about many of the lads that left that summer and didn’t bother to pay attention to any of them ended up.

Away from my ignorant gaze, Matty landed at Scottish outfit Clyde in August of 2021 in the 3rd tier of Scottish football. Initially signing on ‘amateur terms’ terms (the exact definition of that in Scotland escapes me) he was awarded a full-time contract only a month into his spell to the delight of Clyde fans looking at Facebook. He would go on to play a key role in the team that managed to avoid relegation, finishing 8th in Scottish League One and avoided being dragged into a relegation play off.

Fast forward to July 2022, where I’d managed to sneak an invite to the ‘behind closed doors’ friendly/training game at Sunderland as media on the grounds of ‘Football Manager 2023 research’ which somehow worked. After finally getting through ‘security’ I ended up being stood around with some of the media lads catching up on random bollocks and having to watch Niall geek out on every Sunderland player walking past. As someone who doesn’t watch Quest TV, I honestly couldn’t tell you who any of those people were.

The match it’s self though was erm… well, a bit pointless for us really. The 60 min’s of football saw us just run around chasing them for the most part. We had the odd chance on the counterattack, but we never really bothered them, or spent much time on the ball. With captain Nathan Buddle away getting married, Trialist Nelson Digbeu partnered Toby Lees at centre back, who seemed to do okay for the most part. With only Lees and Bud’s at centre back on contract, it was clear we needed reinforcements at the back.

Alas the following Saturday saw us without a game, to my dismay. With it being Pieface’s birthday day/night out we’d planned on going early (I know so unlike us, isn’t it?) and we thought we’d take a can or 4 of lager down and call in to Wensleydale to catch the lads in a training game. To say the quality of most of the trialists on show was poor would be an understatement. I’d be lying if I said any of them came close to standing out. In fact, most of them were so poor they never even made it to a proper pre-season game. One of the Spartans players even said to us at one point “I don’t know who most of these lads or where the fuck he (Terry Mitchell) has got them from”.

It wasn’t until the training game got underway, I noticed Matty was taking part. Immediately I turned to Niall Bromley and said something along the lines of “Is that Matty Elsdon? What the flying fuck is he doing he? He’s fucking shite!”. Now, myself and Niall will disagree on just about anything. If he says the sky is blue, I’ll say it’s red. We just see the world in completely different ways and when he said “Ner he was our best defender in the covid season” I’m pretty sure I burst out laughing. It turned out of course Matty had left Clyde at the end of the season prior. According to google he’d been released but Niall reckons they wanted him to stay, so Christ knows.

Roll onto the following Saturday and Elsdon started alongside Toby Lees as Spartans hosted Middlesborough Under 23’s. The game would end 0-0 and be a pretty boring affair, but Spartans defended pretty well looking back at it with Elsdon looking decent as did his replacement and fellow trialist Digbeu in the second half. Naturally I still wasn’t ready to accept that Matty might be half decent yet though.

The remaining pre-season games weren’t exactly worth getting excited about, as Spartans faced Northern League sides West Allotment Celtic where they ran out 2-0 winners in what was a comfortable game before playing an injury hit Ashington side, winning 3-0, where once again Elsdon played well. At this point he was the only centre back left still on trial so it was obvious we’d be signing him up.

And just days later, that was the case as Niall announced that Blyth Spartans were ‘delighted’ to announce the signing of Central Defender Matthew Elsdon on a non-contract basis. Upon his re-signing Matty said “I’m really pleased to be back, I still know a couple of the lads from last time which is good and them and Terry have welcomed me back. Things are a bit different to last time, so it has been nice in the last couple of pre-season games to be playing in front of the Blyth fans”.

Then manager Terry Mitchell would add “Matty’s an experienced player and been here before so knows what the club is about. He’s worked really hard in training and we’re delighted to have him here. He was up in Scotland last year at Clyde and was a regular in the team, so he’ll bring good experience to our backline”.

As you could imagine, this signing was met with genuine ridicule in the group chat. Partly because of Matty’s previous run with the club but really, when looking back it was mostly a result of Blyth failing to secure many new signings in the pre-season and frustrations simply boiling over. Alas with a week to go and what looked like only a 3rd choice centre back coming in, some of the social media reaction was a bit reckless and very harsh on Elsdon.

In the opening 2 games of the season, Matty was an unused substitute in the defeats to Kidderminster (0-1) and Kings Lynn (0-2) where Blyth were played off the park in both games. By the time our first Tuesday night fixture at Chorley came round though, Mitchell was out and former Player/Assistant Manager Graham Fenton was in the hot seat and immediately switched to a back 5 for the trip to Chorley.

My initial reaction to seeing his name on the team sheet “Ohh fuck”. That first half against Chorley was a bit better than what we had seen in the weeks prior. Chorley did take their goal well and to Blyth’s credit, we were pretty decent. In the second half though we came out firing on all cylinders and Lewi McNall smashed home an equaliser before Chorley began throwing everything at us to grab a late winner. From 1-11 Blyth were class in that 2nd half, no one more so than Matty Elsdon.

He was a total colossus at the back dealing with the likes of Connor Hall and Jack Sampson, throwing his body on the line and doing everything he could to ensure Blyth came away from that game with a point. At the end of the game he was given the ‘Blyth Live’ man of the match and not one person could grumble at that.

Saturday comes and we take on Gloucester at home and sadly, Elsdon was dropped back to the bench to the surprise of those of us who went down to Chorley. He did come on late in the game and showcase a bit of his talent. Thankfully though, he was back in the line up for the trip to Buxton on the bank holiday where once again, he was one of the standout defenders. In fact it’s fair to say he was one of our best players on the pitch that day as him and Buds did their very best to ensure Blyth remained in the game at 1-0 down.

By now Matty had rightly earned his place in the starting XI and had certainly won over our group chat. And since then he’s barely put a foot wrong. Elsdon has gone from being a name that a lot of us looked and thought ‘FFS’ to one we look forward to seeing on the team sheet.

As the weeks have gone on, he’s only gone from strength to strength with his crowning glory being his performance against Wrexham in the FA Cup. Again, every single of the lads on the pitch that day put in a performance to be proud of and played their hearts out. None more so than Matty Elsdon. He was example of everything we love to see from a footballer with his work rate and die-hard attitude. It’s at the point now where you have to wonder why we haven’t yet given him a proper contract.

And now here we are where Matty Elsdon is walking away with the Player of the Month vote. And honestly, no one deserves it more than him. His form since he returned has been beyond exceptional. It goes to show that as fans, we have no idea what’s going on in players personal lives and the in’s and out’s of why a team is or isn’t performing on the pitch.

For me, Matty has gone from a player where I’d die on the the hill of “He’s fucking shite” to him completely mugging me off by single handily keeping us in games at times and leading the race for our Player of the Season vote at the moment. And I couldn’t be more happier to be proved totally wrong by him.