Ex-Fulham starlet Matthew Briggs has opened up on his battles with anxiety during his early days at Fulham, and detailed his journey from Premier League record-breaker, to building site labourer.
Briggs’ story is a fascinating one. Identified as the ‘next best thing’ from such a young age, and flung into the big bad world of Premier League football weeks after his 16th birthday – Briggs is a victim of football clubs’ greed when it comes to spotting young talent.
He opened up about his footballing career with ex-Fulham captain Danny Murphy, in a feature length interview in the Daily Mail:
“I joined at 10,” began Briggs, now 29-years-old. “I always played above my age and was in the reserves at 14. Everyone was raving about me. I was thinking my career was going to take off. Instead it turned out to be a negative turning point.”
In 2007, Lawrie Sanchez handed Briggs his Premier League debut at the age of 16 years and 65 days – a record that stood until last year when Harvey Elliot broke the record, also with Fulham.
“I’d always played football freely, suddenly I had all these expectations placed on me,” Briggs continued.
“When I wasn’t in the first team for the next two seasons, I was like: ‘Hang on a minute’. I didn’t understand it and maybe became a bit arrogant to begin with. More likely, I lost my focus.”
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Briggs spent seven years in the Fulham first-team between 2007 and 2014, making 30 appearances in that time. His time at Craven Cottage was besieged by loan-spells, before he along with eight other Fulham first-team players were released.
“I went into a shell and gradually lost confidence,” said Briggs. “It wasn’t until 2010 I started to play and the gap affected me massively, particularly as I wasn’t allowed to go and get games on loan either.
“I’d be quiet before games, over-thinking. My mindset was: ‘I don’t want to mess up.’ If I had a bad first touch, it would stick in my brain, sometimes for 90 minutes. If I did something good on the ball, the worry would go.
“I’d started to play well under Martin Jol who was my favourite manager. He believed in young players and had time for me.
“He offered me a three-year contract but then I got injured and he was sacked. Felix Magath came in and wouldn’t let me sign until I got fit. In the end, Fulham were relegated.”
From Fulham, Briggs started his descent down the Football League, first signing for Millwall, then Colchester United and Chesterfield in 2017.
Since then, Briggs has featured in the Isthmian League, the Danish 1st Division, and is today playing in the National League South with Dartford.
“I hit rock bottom after Colchester and Chesterfield,” he explained. “In 2018, I wasn’t even playing any more. I ended up working on a building site, my uncle’s firm.
“I remember one day carrying a breeze block and thinking: ‘What has happened to me. What am I doing?’ I was in a bad way. Complete darkness. My missus saved me. She brought me back home. It was a turning point to sort myself out.”
Football can be a cruel mistress. Footballers are thrown into situations way beyond their mental capacity and without second thought to the long-term effect it might have.
Briggs is a perfect example of that – hailed as one of the best young footballers of his generation, and playing in the Fulham reserves at just 14-years-old was always going to take it’s mental toll, but his journey isn’t over just yet, and a return to the Football League would be a huge achievement for Briggs.