Matt G

Jan 10, 2018
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August 1982-May 2017:

So this is it I guess, the end of an era.

The ironic thing is…while my playing career saw me bouncing around the English Football League, I first got into the game north of the border.

Born in 1982 in Bristol, the summer of 1988 saw me move from Yeovil, Somerset to a village in Aberdeenshire. Within a year, I was playing centre mid for my school’s Primary 3 team and following Aberdeen FC. I had missed the Alex Ferguson era at Pittodrie, but that first team I followed back in 89/90 was still good enough to win the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup double that season with Fergie era veterans like Willie Miller and Alex McLeish in defence, Theo Snelders having established himself in goal and Eoin Jess and Scott Booth up front. McLeish was one of three Dons players that made it into Scotland’s Italia ’90 squad. I supported them for the group stages only to join my Dad in supporting England for the knockout stages…which promptly made me the **** of school jokes.

Anyway, by the 93/94 season, Willie Miller was the gaffer of a Dons team that was best of the rest behind a dominant Rangers, I was the captain of my primary school’s main team…and got the attention of somebody at Pittodrie because they gave me a trial. I thought that made me a Dons player of the future. I reckoned without Dad’s work dragging me back south of the border that summer.

94/95 saw me having to start from scratch in the south west suburbs of London. That proved not to be a major issue, I was not only one of the first names on my new school’s team sheet within a couple of months but before Year 7 was out, the local professional team, Brentford gave me a trial.

The Bees were in the third tier that season, then known as Division Two, missing out on promotion despite finishing 2nd​ in the regular season. Of course I started supporting them at that point, though I also followed Fergie’s Man United in the Premiership as well as keeping half an eye on the Dons north of the border. 95/96 saw me join the Brentford under 14s squad where I played alongside future Bees stalwart Kevin O’Conner, before being promoted to the under 18s the following season.

May 1999 saw me take my GCSEs while MUFC did the Treble and while I’d attended a intro day at the local college, I was pretty sure that my Bees under 18s form meant I wouldn’t have to take A Levels. Or would it? Having been relegated in ’98, the first team went on to win the 98/99 Division Three title, going straight back up at the first time of asking. A 16 year old in a just-promoted squad? Then-gaffer Ron Noades must have seen something he liked because he still gave me a professional contract that summer.

Still, the first few months of the 99/2000 season was spent in the reserves, with a brief drop back to bail out the under 18s for a game in September. Luckilly I was still living with my parents because the money wasn’t much. Then the first team squad got hit by an injury crisis and I found myself on the first team’s subs bench for the club’s first match of the 21st​ century, a 1-0 home defeat to Stoke. Then it was back to the reserves for a couple of games before finally coming off the first team bench for the last few minutes of a 2-1 home win over Bury. The rest of the season saw me bounce between the first team bench and the reserves starting lineup before making my full first team debut in the last game of the season at home to Colchester, after we had long secured safety.

The early stages of the 00/01 season saw me continue to bounce between the first team and reserves for a bit more money, it took Ray Lewington taking over as manager in November for me to really get a run of matches in the first team. At which point I caught fire. 2nd​ December 2000 saw me score my first League goal in a 2-2 home draw with Wigan. In Janurary, a journalist for the local paper The Informer compared my passing to Paul Scholes. By Easter there was talk of First Division clubs sniffing around me. 22nd​ April saw the only Cup final of my career, the LDV Vans Trophy final at the Millenium Stadium. We lost 2-1 to Port Vale that day and my performance wasn’t exactly vintage…the transfer rumours died down.

And then at the end of the season came a jawdropper. Millwall manager Mark McGhee wanted to talk to me. I knew McGhee as a legend from the Fergie era at Aberdeen and he’d just taken Millwall to the Division 2 title. I’d been one of the better Brentford players at a 1-0 defeat at the Den in February but well…even I wasn’t certain I was First Division standard. Still…

The summer of 2001 was when I moved out from under my parents roof to move into a flat in south east London. It was also when Millwall fans questioned my presence in what they already saw as a perfectly good squad. McGhee bowed to their caution to start with, initially putting me in the reserves. I eventually made my Division One debut by coming off the bench for the last few minutes of a 3-1 home win over Barnsley on 18th​ September. I gradually got longer stints off the bench before starting alongside a certain Tim Cahill in a 3-3 home draw with Nottingham Forest mid-October.

Something clicked…and by Xmas I’d put both mine and the fans doubts behind me. Tim’s attacking instincts meant that I had to adjust to a more defensive mindset but no one could argue with the results, that was the best team I have ever played in and when the dust settled we made it into the playoffs. We really fancied our chances in the semis against Birmingham, and a 1-1 draw at their place made me think I was going to be heading back to the Millenium Stadium, this time with much more at stake. If only. We got done at the Den right at the end, it was absolutely gutting.

Still, at the end of the season, the gaffer asked if I would be willing to play for Scotland, technically my primary school days up there qualified me, even if I hadn’t been back up there since ’94. I told him that I wouldn’t turn them down but they never did come calling. Supporting England in that summer’s World Cup, I thought it was only a matter of time before I’d be playing top flight football.

If only. The team as a whole had a dire start to the 02/03 season and just when I and the team started to get our bearings again…disaster. Breaking my leg in training in early October turned out to be career-changing. I was out of action till after Xmas and when I returned, I just couldn’t get my old form back. A losing run in February saw me dropped. The team found form without me late on but we missed out on the playoffs and I found myself on the transfer list.

The summer of ’03 saw me drop into depression but a lifeline came from a familiar source. Brentford were now managed by Wally Downes and hadn’t had a brilliant 02/03 themselves. Downes didn’t know me, but plenty at the club still did and I decided that returning to Griffin Park could get me my mojo back.

Of course, the Bees were now paying me more money than they did first time around so while I started by returning to live with my parents, I soon got my own flat nearer the ground…and I was put straight into the starting lineup for 03/04. The fans were more than happy to have me back and my individual form was such that I was seen as one of the few bright spots in what was looking like another dire season. Instead it was Downes that got the blame for another relegation battle. We went through two gaffers that season. By season’s end, the man I called “boss” was Martin Allen. Watching my old Millwall teammates in the FA Cup final that season was hard but what was done was done.

For 04/05, the Second Division was renamed League One. Allen made me vice-captain under Michael Dobson and everything started clicking again. We certainly had our bad patches but when we were on it we were on it and on it enough to make the playoffs and I got to play in an FA Cup 5th​ round match for the first time in my career. In the Cup…well, drawing with Premiership side Southampton made us think we could pull off an upset in the replay but instead we lost 3-1 at Griffin Park. The playoffs had Sheffield Wednesday see us off in much more straightforward fashion.

The summer of ’05 saw QPR and Crystal Palace make enquries about me. Well I talked to them but decided I was better off staying another season at Brentford. That proved to be a good idea. We hit the ground running and were soon very much in the promotion mixer…and then in Janurary came ‘the’ match. FA Cup 4th​ round at Griffin Park against Premiership dead-men-walking Sunderland. I put in a solid performance but it was DJ Campbell that did the business in a 2-1 win.

That led to DJ getting snapped up by Birmingham pretty sharpish. Another Premiership side, Charlton saw us out of the Cup and we fell short of the automatic promotion spots and lost the playoff semi 3-1 on aggregate to Swansea. In the meantime…my Brentford contract was up and I was getting plenty of attention from other clubs for 06/07. In the end, it was time to say farewell to Griffin Park, this time for good. I was heading back up to the second-tier, now known as the Championship. Also time to say good bye to London after over a decade. I was going back to live in the Westcountry for the first time since I was five years old, to Plymouth.

Since winning the L1 title in ’04, Plymouth Argyle had established themselves as a midtable-Championship side. Gaffer Ian Holloway thought that I could finetune things in midfield. Plymouth was not a city I had ever really gotten to know but it was Holloway, a man with Brentford connections, that had tried to sign me up for QPR the previous season. I was on the subs bench for the opening game of the season at home to Wolves, coming on at halftime only for us to concede early in the second half for a 1-1 draw. I gradually settled into the team in a midfield supersub role, before getting my first start against Holloway’s old team QPR, putting on an impressive enough performance to get a mention in Holloway’s press conference.

The highlight of that season proved to be my playing in an FA Cup quarter final for the first and as it turned out, only time, a 1-0 defeat to Premiership Watford on our turf. Other than that though, it wasn’t quite a return to the glory days of 01/02 with Millwall, Argyle very much remained a midtable side that I was doing a solid but not spectacular job for. Over the course of that season though, I did fall in love with and get married to a local girl Stacey and we married in the summer of ’07.

I pretty much picked up where I left off in 07/08…while starting to realise that I would have to give up on the dream of playing in the Premiership. And then the gaffer got snapped up by Leicester. His replacement was Paul Sturrock, an Aberdonian who had previously managed the club in the early 00s.

I tried to get on with Sturrock, but he wasn’t as easy to get on with as Holloway. I half expected Holloway to snap me up for Leicester, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen and besides, at least we stayed up that season and I kept performing solidly for Plymouth and we finished 10th​, not so bad. Leicester eventually went down.

The highlight of the 08/09 season was getting to play at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal in the FA Cup 3rd​ round. Even if we did lose 3-1 that’s my only good memory of that season. After that, Sturrock started getting on my case. Our Championship campaign was a mess and he started to act like I was part of the problem. That lead to me cracking under the pressure, my form went and with that, I was dumped in the reserves for the tail end of the season, not that it helped the first team one bit as we barely dodged relegation. With my contract running out and seemingly no one wanting my services, particularly Sturrock, I was toast.

The summer of ’09 saw me without a club. My old team Brentford had just won the L2 title under Andy Scott and he was more than happy to bring me back to Griffin Park once again…only for Stacey to not want to leave the Westcountry because her Mum had cancer. In the end, it was Exeter City that took a chance on me. City, sworn enemies of Argyle, fresh off back to back promotions to L1 having finished best of the rest behind the Bees in the 08/09 L2 campaign.

09/10 was a weird season in a lot of ways. As an ex-Argyle guy, I had a lot to prove to the City fans who were on Paul Tisdale’s case pretty quickly for signing a “Plymouth reject”. Tisdale kept faith in me but it was a tough campaign made tougher by our teammate Adam Stansfield being diagnosed with cancer but by the end of the season, I was performing well enough for the fans to get off my back and we managed to stay up. Returning to Griffin Park in April as an opposition player for the first time was awkward as **** though and the gaffer had to substitute me at half time.

The summer of 2010 saw me become a father, our son Rick was born. Argyle getting relegated from the Championship made things even more tasty for the 10/11 season. December saw my return to Home Park, this time in an Exeter shirt. Paul Sturrock was no longer their manager but I still felt I had a lot to prove, and performed well even if we lost 2-0. The return match was in April and I scored the winning goal – that secured my place in Exeter hearts. We finished 8th​ that year, just missing out on the playoffs.

Off the back of City’s best season since 1980…I decided to extend my contract. I was possibly getting too old to get another opportunity in the Championship, I was now trying to raise a kid…and we were unlikely to get relegated the following season. Guess what? We got relegated the following season.

With not even any L1 sides sniffing round me in the summer of 2012…I found myself playing fourth-tier football for the first time in my career on my 30th​ birthday. On the plus side, I was made club captain for the 12/13 season and I started on coaching badges. My first L2 match as captain…we lost 3-0 to Morecombe but we got our act together after that, were leading the division at one point and if not for a disasterous end to the season…might have finished higher than 10th​.

13/14…saw Argyle join us in L2…and that rivalry got fierier than ever. As City captain, I didn’t try to stoke it up but…the fans of both teams didn’t exactly need any encouragement “Matty Grimsey is a red – he hates Argyle”. “Matt Grimsey’s an Argyle reject”. There were still some highlights in the last few years of my playing career, the summer of 2014 saw us tour Brazil, I led the guys to a 2-2 draw with Liverpool in the FA Cup 3rd​ round in 15/16 which saw us get to play at Anfield for the replay…

The summer of 2016 saw me with one last year on my contract and I told the gaffer that that would be it, I was already helping out the youth team with some coaching, one last season, then I hang up my boots. We had a dire start to that season, couldn’t seem to buy a win at home but started getting our act together in October, but really get ourselves out of the **** in December and things then clicked for the tail end of that season, we reached for playoffs for the first time since being relegated.

Beating Carlisle 6-5 on aggregate in the playoff semi…well…if I hadn’t broken my leg back in ’02, who knows how my career would have gone but I did at least get to end it saying that I had played at Wembley, as a team captain no less. Winning the match and securing promotion to L1 would have been the icing on the cake but Blackpool had other ideas, hitting a second half winner.

The coach back from Wembley to Exeter was weird, City had become the club I’d been at the longest, though I’d still not been there long enough for a testimonial, Paul wanted me to stay at the club and become the youth coach, I decided to take a break and think things over – I had a National “A” Level coaching badge, enough for me to manage a first team somewhere in theory.

(this backstory secures me "Professional player - Regional" status I believe)
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