An ex-Premier League player becomes a seventh-tier club’s latest signing ready for the 2021/22 Southern League Premier Division South season.
Gosport Borough have completed the signing of defender Matthew Briggs, who has represented England at under-16, under-17, under-19, under-20 and under-21 levels, and has represented Guyana at full international level.
The 30 year old has moved to the non league outfit after a spell with Danish First Division side HB Koge, and now he’s excited to get going.
✍️| NEW SIGNING
— Gosport Borough FC (@GosportBFC) July 23, 2021
Gosport have signed Guyana International and former Fulham defender Matt Briggs ahead of the new campaign.
Shaun Gale has made Briggs his latest summer signing and is a huge coup for the club. The 30-year-old defender has just returned from International duty with Guyana in the Gold Cup and is set to feature this Saturday at Privett Park.
Briggs spoke to the club’s media team as he donned the yellow and blue saying he is “excited for the new challenge and to get the journey underway”.
With Premier League and Europa League experience under his belt, Briggs is looking to take the club to the next level and was motivated by the Chairman’s ambition for the club.
“Speaking to the Chair, Gosport is a club with ambition to get promoted to the next league and I love that and I wanted to come here and bring my experience and help as much as I can and help the team progress to the next stage,” he added.
The former Fulham man made his debut at 16 years and 68 days, featuring 13 times for the Cottagers in the Premier League before having spells at several Football League clubs including Colchester United where he played a total of 65 times for the U’s.
The left footed centre-half was most recently turning out for Vejle Boldklub in the Danish top flight until the coronavirus pandemic cut his stay in Denmark short and Gosport were able to sweep in to sign the defender.
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👀| NEW SIGNING
A new signing was training yesterday, but who could it be?
— Gosport Borough FC (@GosportBFC) July 23, 2021
Gosport Borough becomes the 15th club Briggs has been associated with in his 14-year career to date.
He is expected to play for Shaun Gale’s side in their pre-season friendly with National League South Hungerford Town at Privett Park at the weekend.
Matthew Briggs recently discussed his journey from being the Premier League’s youngest player to ending up in non league.
“Where people don’t know the ins and outs, they only see what they see,” Briggs says. “They don’t know what’s going on in somebody else’s life.
“I think the reputation I was given was that I wasn’t committed and probably didn’t take things seriously or wasn’t bothered, which is not the case at all. I was obviously going through some stuff, as any human being can do.
“I was talking to my agent recently and he wants me to go full circle, to get as close as I can back to where I used to play. Obviously, he knows the pedigree I have, and he believes in me. I want to get back into the League where I can play week in, week out, and just impress.”
From early on in his career, Briggs seemed destined for success. He was taller, quicker, stronger and more confident than others, always played above his age-group and had been picked for Fulham’s reserves at just 14.
A couple of years later, with Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham United eyeing a move, he was searching where to sign for his scholarship.
Briggs was handed a debut on the final day of the 2006-07 season which was a win over Liverpool a week earlier had safeguarded Fulham’s Premier League status for another year, and they they went to Middlesbrough with little to play for.
Although there wasn’t much riding on the match, it was a huge occasion for their young prospect who made history at the time.
“I remember travelling and when I got into the dressing room, I saw my shirt with my name on the back. It was very, very exciting for me. I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really here and involved.’
“Previously there’d been a couple of times where they’d taken me on away journeys, but to actually be involved and in the squad was just an unbelievable feeling.”
Briggs recalls the time he was feeling nervous but also excited as he waited on the bench. Thirteen minutes from the end, with Fulham losing 3-1, his time came, replacing Moritz Volz, he became the Premier League’s youngest player at just 16 years and 65 days old.
“My friends and family were extremely proud of me,” Briggs says. “My mum was there. I remember looking up at her after the game and she was crying because she was so proud, clapping me off the pitch.
“I remember going to school the day after and everything just felt different. People were looking at me like, ‘Wow!’
“I had friends coming up to me asking for my autograph and I didn’t really know how to deal with the situation. It felt weird for me because they’re my friends who I see every day. Dealing with the transition from that was kind of odd for me, but it was enjoyable at the same time to know what I’d accomplished.”
Briggs stayed with Fulham and was confident of being part of Lawrie Sanchez’s squad going into the next season, though he returned to a spot in the youth team instead. It was three years before his next first-team appearance, a testing period during which he questioned the club’s motives in giving him his debut at such a young age.
“That affected me massively and that’s when the pressures of actually having that title started to weigh heavy on my shoulders. You start thinking, ‘I’ve made my debut, everyone’s probably wondering why I’m not playing.’ That started putting doubts into my head, thinking, ‘Am I not good enough?’
“When I look back and see players I played with who are now playing regularly in the Premier League, there are parts of me that maybe wish I was integrated more slowly and given the chance to go out on loan as much as the other players did. At the time Fulham were very reluctant to let me go out on loan to get the experience I needed, which was quite frustrating for me.”
Looking back, Briggs has some regrets about how his development was handled but acknowledges that the club wasn’t solely to blame. As a teenager with newfound wealth and status, he was drawn into the stereotypical footballer’s lifestyle.
“I maybe felt entitled. Obviously when you start earning a lot of money at such a young age, seeing the people around me with nice cars, you feel like you have to live up to that expectation and do the same thing. Partying, and stuff like that. I kind of went a bit excessive on it. I kind of lost my focus a little bit.”
Enduring limited opportunities at club level, Briggs was an important member of the England youth set-up being part of the team that reached the final of the European Under-19 Championship in 2009, alongside Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Andros Townsend and Danny Welbeck.
A year later, there was interest from Manchester United and Bayern Munich in his services, but Fulham were reluctant to sell another young defender having just lost Chris Smalling, setting a £10million asking price was never met and Briggs stayed at Craven Cottage.
He had more appearances under manager Martin Jol, mostly in the Europa League. At the start of the 2013-14 season, Briggs he tried to play through the pain of a groin injury, before needing surgery.
He was out of action for several months and by the time he returned, Felix Magath was in charge with Fulham looking set for relegation and any chance of a new contract had disappeared.
“It was heartbreaking,” he says on being let go. “At the time I was actually the longest-serving player in the first team, even though I was still quite young. I’d always been there. All these players would come and go, and I would always be the one that would remain.
“I’d been there for most of my life, basically. To go from thinking I’d got a three-year extension to all of a sudden getting released was hard to take.”
Finding another club was tough for Briggs before he eventually joined Millwall, and then went on loan to Colchester United.
He played regularly for the U’s, signed permanently in summer 2015, but saw more injuries and personal problems which ended his spell there and then went to Chesterfield.
“My missus was pregnant. There were complications and then my son was born three months premature. Dealing with that was difficult. I was having to miss training sessions and had that constant worry.
“I remember playing a game one time and giving the physio my phone in case there was an emergency. I wasn’t fully able to just focus on playing football. My mind was kind of elsewhere.”
In 2018, Briggs found footballing life draining, though his partner and son were doing well. Unfortunately, his career had suffered his confidence was low and he admitted to losing his love for the game until he started playing for fun at eighth-tier Maldon & Tiptree.
Briggs instantly stood out at that level, felt valued by his manager and team-mates and good form saw him a call-up to the Guyana squad for the Gold Cup, where he played against the USA, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.
“That was a good experience. It had been so long since I’d played that sort of calibre of game, at that high level. It felt good to be back doing that in big stadiums. It felt like home. It felt like what I’m used to, what I’d been wanting to do for so long and hadn’t been able to.”
After offers from several clubs, Briggs joined HB Koge of the Danish First Division and though it started well, bringing in decent results and assured performances, broken promises brought his stay to a premature end.
“The reason I had to leave there was because we had agreed that after the winter break they would organise for me and my family to come back together. We needed accommodation and for my kids to be set up at school but, in the end, they didn’t uphold the agreement. It just fell through and I ended up having to leave.”
It took until March for Briggs to be released from his contract, meaning that he could no longer sign for an EFL club. He then signed for Dartford to keep himself occupied until the end of the season, which ended up being cancelled shortly after his debut as Covid set in.
Briggs knows he was once this 16-year-old footballer who had the world at his feet but lost his way – however the reality is much more complex than some would think.
Another Fulham prospect, Harvey Elliott, broke his record by joining Liverpool.
“It was a bittersweet moment,” says the defender, reflecting on Elliott’s debut. “Having a title for 12 years, it’s always going to be sad to see it go. You want to hold onto it as long as possible.
“At the same time, having it be broken kind of lifted the pressure and expectation off my shoulders. It feels like a weight has been lifted. That pressure is no longer there so I can just enjoy my football again.”
He adds on hoping to get back to the top in some way again: “I’ve constantly got this thing where I’ve got a point to prove. It’s time to prove it now, and time for people to see.”