England Cerebral Palsy footballer Matt Robinson's grassroots story
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My name is Matt Robinson and I’m a defender for England Cerebral Palsy and Penzance AFC down in Cornwall, where I grew up.
When I was two months old, I suffered a traumatic injury which left me with some brain damage and bleeding to the right side of my brain, which has led to left-side hemiplegia, where my muscles and limps on my left are not as strong as on the right.
I grew up wearing casts and splints but my mum and dad wanted me to go to a normal school. It was quite tough as I had massive plastic casts and people would ask ‘what is wrong with you?’
Football helped me through school as I played for the school teams and it took my mind away from being made to feel like the odd-one out. Even though I had cerebral palsy, when I was on a football pitch it didn’t hold me back and I was often better than the kids who played mainstream football, which helped me as well.
I stopped wearing a cast around five or six because I didn’t want to be the odd one out and you want to be like everyone else. I wanted to blend in and even to this day, most of my workmates and friends don’t know I have cerebral palsy because I don’t really like talking about it.
When I do talk about it, they are like ‘wow and you are doing what you are doing with England? Hats off to you and congrats.’
My football classification is FT2, which relates to the left-sided hemiplegia with my left arm and leg. It affects me sometimes, like if I get a knock then I feel it more than on my right. For example I had a dead leg two years ago and my left quad muscle calcified. So I do weights to build the strength up on that side.
My balance is awful on that side as well so I work on the balance ball to try to improve my weaknesses. It is not going to be the same as my right but if I can work on my weaknesses and try to get it closer to 50-50 then I will be fine with that.
Everyone in the England CP team has their strengths and weaknesses and we all work on trying to improve those.
My earliest memory of playing football was with Mousehole Minis at the age of five. They were the only club near me who were doing youth football at the time. My mum and dad put me into a lot of sports growing up and football was one of those things where as soon as the ball was at my feet, I knew I was meant to be a footballer. From there, I’ve kept the ball at my feet ever since.
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I have been playing CP football for ten years now. I started off with a team called South West Centre of Excellence, based in Taunton, Somerset. I was with them for three or four years and that was when I got my original call-up for England camps for the Under-21s.
I didn’t really come on the England CP scene until 2018. They had a trial at St. George’s Park, with around 90 players turning up. It was nerve-wracking, seeing 90-plus players here, but I got through and then got a phone call from Andy Smith to say I would like to invite you to an Under-21 camp for a classification.
It was around six or seven hours on the train and I did my classification and was meant to then go back home again but they were like ‘seen as though you have come a long way, why don’t you stay and train with the Under-21s’. So I stayed for the weekend.
It was so nice to receive the England kit because it is every kid’s dream to play for England.
Then as soon as my classification went through, they put me up to the seniors, so I ended up bypassing the Under-21s. My mum and dad were like ‘woah’. It is fair to say it wasn’t expected.
I was then only with the seniors for four or five months before the World Cup in Seville in 2019. That is when the real hard work began. We had a week-long camp, where we brought USA over, and then I managed to get selected for the World Cup squad!
I was straight on the phone and my mum and dad were crying and I was crying because it was my dream to play for England. Now I’m doing it! It is just amazing.
I didn’t have time to process it because it was all happening so quickly. There was no time for the emotions. I had to just go full steam ahead.
At that 2019 World Cup, all the senior boys and staff were so great. They were talking to me and giving me tips to help stay calm because as soon as you see the shirt hanging up with your name on the back, your adrenaline is pumping and you are running around like a headless chicken. So they helped me so much at my first World Cup.
Looking to the future, the FA launched the Football Your Way plan in 2021 and it is definitely a good thing. It is massively important that we try to spread CP football as much as we can to say ‘look, there is a chance you can play for your country’ because everyone has dreams and desires.
We need to let people know there is an opportunity to play for your country and play football. If you want it, you will have to work hard but there is a chance. We need to keep spreading the word.
Even if playing for England isn’t something you are aspiring for, it just shows that kids with disabilities can play sport. You can do it and you don’t have to be afraid of someone being better than you.
Hard work beats talent and if you work at it then you will improve so I would tell any child reading this to just go for it!