Foot in both camps: Damian Matthew

Having come through the ranks at Stamford Bridge and gone on to play for the Blues, Damian Matthew also enjoyed a two-year spell at Burnley later in his career. Ahead of Sunday’s meeting between the teams we caught up with our former midfielder, who reflected on some of the stand-out moments from his time at Chelsea...

Every player wants to be involved in the biggest matches, and during his time at Stamford Bridge Damian Matthew certainly played in his fair share of high-profile encounters.

A talented midfielder who was good on the ball, Matthew captained our youth side and went on to spend five years in and around the first team before moving to Crystal Palace in 1994.

Interestingly, it was against the Eagles that Matthew, along with his friend Graham Stuart, made his Chelsea debut towards the end of the 1989/90 season.

‘Getting signed is every schoolboy’s dream and Chelsea was a really good club to join,’ Matthew tells us. ‘I could have moved to other clubs in London but there was always something about Chelsea for me. I remember walking through those big blue gates as a kid.

‘When I signed as a 15-year-old it was a great time. We used to train and then go to college one day a week with boys from Arsenal and QPR. You’re living your dream, but the best thing about it was that you were doing it with your mates. Naturally, when you get the offer to turn professional it’s an excellent feeling.

‘Myself and Graham Stuart were in the same age group, and then you had Jason Cundy and David Lee in the year above. Gareth Hall was two years above and that was our crowd. Then, underneath you had people like Eddie Newton, Frank Sinclair, Craig Burley and below them it was Andy Myers, Ian Pearce and Neil Shipperley. We had so many good young players and then they added the likes of John Spencer and David Hopkin so it was the perfect example of a top youth system because they looked to get the best of the players in London and the south east, and then extend it out to Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

 Picture courtesy of Mark Sandom

‘Ideally we would have all stayed together but in the end the club had to sell Graham to Everton and Jason went to Tottenham, but these things happen unfortunately.

‘I made my debut on Easter Monday in 1990. It was perfect for me really because they had a man sent off early in the game, which made it a breeze.

‘We didn’t know until about 1.30pm that we were going to play but luckily both my and Graham’s parents were there to see it. Graham went one better than me and scored, another one of his lucky goals, but to make your debut with someone you’d played alongside since the Under-14s was a really nice feeling. I remember it well because I passed my driving test that week as well, so you couldn’t wish for a better week as a young player.’

It was during the following campaign that Matthew really kicked on and began to show his quality on the big stage.

When we headed to Old Trafford in the November for a game which was broadcast live on terrestrial television, Matthew was one of four youngsters who had come through the ranks chosen by Bobby Campbell to start what proved to be a memorable game, the Blues winning 3-2 after Manchester United had fought back from 2-0 down.

‘The team had been on an indifferent run and hadn’t won for a few games, but fair play to Bobby Campbell, god rest his soul,’ says Matthew. ‘He was great in terms of developing young players and the positive thing for us was that Gwyn Williams [formerly in charge of youth development] had progressed up the ladder and he was assistant manager, so it helped us in both ways. We had Gwyn who knew us inside out and would back us to handle it, and more importantly we had a manager who gave us an opportunity.

‘To go to Old Trafford and win in the way we did was excellent, I remember it well even to this day. Andy Townsend scored a great goal and Wisey won it for us with a penalty. Whenever I speak to Chelsea fans nowadays they always mention that game to me.’

A couple of months later Matthew, who won nine caps for England Under-21s, started a goalless draw against Tottenham at the Bridge in the fifth round of the League Cup, and in the replay at White Hart Lane he produced what was at that point his best performance in a Chelsea shirt.

Given the task of nullifying the threat of a certain Paul Gascoigne, Matthew was outstanding. The team, as a whole, put in a wonderful display in north London and having gone into the match as underdogs, we progressed courtesy of an emphatic 3-0 victory.

‘That was a great game,’ he recalls. ‘In the first match we played really well and missed a couple of chances. Gazza, who was such a big player at the time, was suspended, and everybody assumed that when he came back for the replay they would beat us at White Hart Lane.

‘Obviously for all Chelsea fans and players, any game against Tottenham is massive, so we didn’t need any added incentive. We were outstanding that night, we totally dominated and won the game comfortably in the end.

‘Myself and Andy Townsend were up against Gazza and Vinny Samways in midfield. For me, to play with Andy was a dream and at that time I was in form and feeling at the top of my game fitness wise, I thought I did well that night and it’s one of those games that stays with you.

‘To play in those matches and be able to compete gave you so much confidence. You always have the belief but to actually go out and do it was special.

‘I think Andy and Gazza were involved in a bit of rough-and-tumble at one point, but it was a great team performance.’

That season Arsenal finished as champions, with their only defeat coming at Stamford Bridge. Stuart had given us the lead midway through the second half, and with two minutes remaining Matthew had a great chance to wrap it up, but opted to pass rather than take the glory himself.

‘If I had the chance again I would have been more ruthless and tried to score myself but I laid it on a plate for Kerry Dixon who was lethal from four yards,’ he laughs.

‘Those type of moments were great for me because when I first joined the club I was Kerry’s boot boy. As an apprentice you were there doing all the jobs and aspiring to play with those guys, so to then be alongside such great players in the team was a real honour.

‘That year we were very successful against other London sides. The derby matches used to bring the best out of us and it was just a shame we couldn’t replicate that in some of the other games.’

Matthew, who now works in a scouting capacity for Everton, spent two years at Burnley between 1996 and 1998 and it’s a period he looks back on fondly.

‘I had two great seasons at Burnley,’ he says. ‘I knew John Ward, the assistant manager, and I remember it taking me about six hours to get up there. I went from Maidstone to London, London to Preston and then had to get a two-carriage train from Preston to Burnley. My cab pulled up outside Turf Moor and straight away I thought it was a proper football club. I went inside and spoke to Adrian Heath and I was delighted to join.

‘We just missed out on the play-offs in my first year, then Adrian left and Chris Waddle came in. It was a very good side, we had Waddle, Glenn Roeder, Gordan Cowans but I don’t think the club realised what was needed to make us successful at that level.

‘Chris had brought a lot of new players in and it wasn’t a great year but we took it upon ourselves to not get relegated. We ended up staying up on the last day of the season. I played over 60 games for Burnley and it was probably the best run of games I had in my career. It’s a great club with passionate supporters.’

Matthew has been impressed with the job Sean Dyche has done at Turf Moor, and he explains how the two men could have been team-mates at Stamford Bridge many years ago.

‘It’s funny because Sean Dyche came down to Chelsea as a schoolboy,’ says Matthew. ‘We were both around 14 and we were staying in some digs in Stanmore. I remember asking him if he was going to sign and then the next time I saw him we were lining up against each other in the tunnel when I was playing for Burnley and he was at Chesterfield.

‘He was a bit bigger by then, I reminded him of our conversation and he just chuckled and told me he would have signed but his mum and dad wouldn’t let him. He’s a top man and he’s proving himself to be an excellent manager.’