Skip to main content
Published 17 May 2024 4 min read
England Para Teams

Matt Oaten: My grassroots story

Written by:

Matt Oaten

The England deaf star describes his journey to the top and becoming a role model

Inspired? Read more about deaf football

I will never take being an England international for granted. There are so many players that would love to be in my position, so I have to make the most of it and give everything every time I wear the shirt.

I think I was about seven or eight years old when I started playing football for a local team in Basildon, Essex, called Perry Street.

My dad used to take me over to the park with the dogs so when we saw a local team there, he asked if I wanted to try it out, so I did, and it all started from there.

I was there until I was 15 and then I stopped playing football for a few years to focus on my swimming before going back to football when I was about 18.

From a young age, I attended swimming lessons every week, earned all my badges and at the age of 14, a new leisure centre was built near my house, so we checked it out and they had some classes for swimming. From there I progressed and after a year or so, I represented GB.

My first competition was the European Championships in Russia when I was 15 and I went to Texas for the World Championships when I was 17 and the Deaflympics in Turkey when I was 18, but I stopped because I wanted to get back into playing football.

17 May 2024 8:24

England Players Take On Sign Language Challenge

Video description goes here...

I used to train 15 to 20 hours a week for swimming; I’d have to wake up at 4.30am every morning, go to school, and train in the evening every day.

On Sundays I would train for swimming for two hours in the morning and then go play a football game – by the evening, I’d be on the sofa shattered!

I did that for a few years but at 18 years old, when the training became too much, I went back to football because it had always been my passion.

During my time at Sweyne Park School, I was a part of the football team from year seven all the way to sixth form and made some great memories. I also competed in swimming, athletics, cricket and rugby at school. It was a mainstream school with over a thousand pupils and there were around 30 other deaf students there at the same time, so we were very well supported.

At the age of 18, I joined Fulham Deaf Football Club which was when I was first introduced to disability football as they were part of the deaf league. I stayed with Fulham for three years, and after two years I was contacted by England for a trial.

I must have impressed them because I received a call-up to join the development under-21s team. I was with the development team for about two years before progressing to the seniors.

Matt Oaten models England's new kit
Matt Oaten models England's new kit

To help myself improve I moved to St John’s DFC and playing with the likes of Jamie Clarke and Oliver Manoochehri really helped me develop as a player.

It was not long after that move that I got called up to the England senior team and I have never looked back!

Outside of football I am an accountant and work Monday-Friday 9-5. I train around my job so I go to the gym before work to do things like strength training and I will train after work. My weeks change a lot but normally on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I train with Rayleigh Town FC, my hearing team, ahead of our match on Saturdays.

With St John’s DFC, we take part in midweek competitions, as well as the Deaf Football League where we play other teams around the country on some Sundays.

Then with England, we now get together twice a month across a weekend, so I try to hit the gym three times a week and get some runs in alongside my competitive teams training and matches.

The introduction of England’s Para Football Programme has been amazing, all the England para-athletes have been brought together and we now feel like one team.

England Deaf prepare to take on Australia at the 2023 World Dead Football Championship
England Deaf prepare to take on Australia at the 2023 World Dead Football Championship

It is amazing the amount of support we receive from the staff and the FA. As players, we are getting better and better, and the exposure of the sport is growing.

Growing up I never really had a role model in terms of deaf football as I didn’t know about it. So as soon as I started playing deaf football for Fulham, playing for England and wearing an England shirt on the international stage was always something that I wanted to achieve.

Since then, it became a dream of mine and there is no better feeling than wearing the England shirt to represent your country and every time I do get to wear it, I never take it for granted.

I was recently involved with the England kit launch and days like that are so important when it comes to exposure for deaf children.

They might not have that many deaf role models so in the England Deaf team, we try to promote ourselves to show those kids they can do anything they want in life and overcome those barriers. No matter what, they can achieve it.

I sometimes receive messages from deaf kids’ parents and it is really nice and special as I feel like people now have role models to look up to.

I will always try my best to be that person to make sure the next generation has someone to look up to. It is so special to have that opportunity.