Lauren Watson spoke to injured striker Lee Matthews as the Vale man gave his reaction to some critical comments.
Lee Matthews hasn’t had an easy footballing career. What with a track record of injuries at Leeds and Bristol City. Now at Port Vale it’s a similar story and the critics haven’t changed their opinion of Matthews either.
But the man from Middlesbrough has come out to tell the doubters what he’s really made of.
”I know it sounds terrible, but I don’t really care what people think of me. I’m confident about what I can do and I know when I’m fit I can do it.”
A harsh remark from a player who is on the sidelines with a back injury which has limited him to one substitute appearance for the Valiants this season. But Matthews hopes to be back in the near future.
He said “It’s coming along, I should be back by next week, but it’s been a slow process. I’ve been to see a few different specialists and stuff. I’ve got strength programmes for my hamstrings, gluts, thighs and stuff. Core work, strength work and stretches. All boring stuff!”
It’s been a dreary time on the sidelines for Lee. The newly married man reveals why.
“It’s been more frustrating than ever before. I had worked really hard in the summer to come back really fit and have a good season. Then obviously I did my knee, then came back and did my hamstring. It’s hard to keep motivated. I’m just desperate to get back playing. At the minute I’m just a bit deflated, because it feels whenever I come back I keep getting knocked back.”
Despite feeling down Lee is still managing to maintain his up-beat personality. This is no mean feat when you’re being constantly judged on performance. Matthews held nothing back about his thoughts whilst in the treatment room.
He said “I don’t think I’ve learnt anything. Things come to a head, where you realise that people will still turn on you again.
”Last season I came back and started scoring goals and people were buzzing for me and really happy. You think everything’s great and you come back and get injured and you see the ugly side of it again. Its not that I’ve learnt it, it just brings us back to the forefront. It really does give me the hump. I am a quite out-spoken person, so if someone’s got something to say, say it to my face and I’ll happily stand there and argue and say what I like.
”But what I can’t stand is people talking behind your back and unfortunately that happens a lot in football when you get injured. You’re not stupid, you hear comments, even within the club and that really does annoy you.”
One man who has always had high regard for Matthews is manager Martin Foyle and although he’s disappointed with the club’s injury situation, he’s keeping his cool.
Matthews said “The gaffer has been alright. He’s been a bit frustrated at times which is understandable. He thinks if I was fit I probably I would be playing.”
Foyle has played somewhat of a father figure to Matthews in his time at Vale Park. He ran out of time last season to try and repay him for the chances offered, when other managers turned him out on his ear, but Lee hopes that opportunity will arise.
He added “Fair play to the gaffer. He took the chance on me when others wouldn’t because of my injury record and I was hoping to repay him for giving me that chance. And I’m a little bit gutted I got injured again. I’m confident with 30-35 games left that I can repay him.”
Matthews had better get his skates on, he’s in the final year of his contract, but he feels another set-back and it could be his last.
He said: “It’s contract time coming up, but I think if I get another injury after this I don’t think I’ll get another contract here. If I can stay fit from now until the end of the season I would be confident I’d do enough to get a contract.”
On if he’d like to stay Lee added “Well, course. I’m hoping we’ll go up and then we’ll see what happens from there. But yes, of course you want to stay. But if not, I’ve moved to many clubs now, to be honest I don’t mind where I play as long as I’m playing football.”
It’s moves to clubs around the country, on-loan or otherwise, that have made Matthews stronger mentally but may have hindered him physically. But Matthews is hoping he can get back and help the squad.
He said “People can have a go at me or whatever. But when I do play I do get stuck in and I will give defenders a hard time physically and hopefully add a few more goals.”
Asked where he sees the team at the end of the season, he added “I honestly think there’s a good chance we can finish in the top six. And what I’ve seen so far, we haven’t played everybody, but no one has played us off the park. The games we’ve lost are because we’ve played rubbish. There’s no team that’s really stood out. Nottingham Forest were tipped to win the league and they are just beginning to get their act together. But apart from them there’s no real team that worries me in this league.
”I think definitely top six and if we can keep everybody fit there’s no reason why we can’t push that little bit further.”
So it’s fingers crossed that once Matthews is back terrorising defences and scoring goals he can tackle a sleeping problem, which is driving his wife, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child, up the wall.
He revealed “The one thing I can’t do when I’m injured is sleep. I just sit awake at 3-4 in the morning watching telly at home. I’ve got so much excess energy and my mind’s playing up. I hate it. I can never sleep when I’m injured and obviously when you get no sleep you’re in a bad mood anyway. When I’m playing I’m so happy and relaxed when I go home I find it easy. My wife goes mental when I’m injured because it drives her up the wall.”
I’d get your sleep in now Lee, you may just need it!
Interview reproduced by kind permission of Lauren Watson