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Luke Matheson: How life has changed for Rochdale teenager since goal against Man Utd

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Scoring at Old Trafford was ‘pure emotion’ – Rochdale teenager Matheson

To say it has been an eventful four months for Luke Matheson would be an understatement.

If you recognise the name, it’s probably because he was the 16-year-old Rochdale defender who scored a brilliant equaliser to take Manchester United to penalties in his side’s Carabao Cup defeat in September.

On Tuesday, Matheson’s League One club take on another Premier League side when they visit Newcastle United in an FA Cup third round replay.

The now-17-year-old set up the equaliser for Aaron Wilbraham at Spotland on 4 January to earn the replay for Brian Barry-Murphy’s side.

BBC Sport went to speak to the teenager to find out just how much life has changed – personally and professionally – since that memorable night at Old Trafford.

The morning after – back to school

After getting a flurry of A*s and As in his GCSEs, Matheson started studying for his A-Levels in September. And it was back to reality the morning after his heroics against United, as he sat a psychology test at Trinity Sixth Form in Manchester.

It wasn’t my best piece of work and my teacher was understanding of that. She let me redo it when I’d had more sleep!

My education is something that I’m so passionate about. Hopefully I have a long playing career, but education is something you can fall back on, regardless of who you are and what you’ve done.

If I work really hard in football and my education for the next two years it’ll be more than worth it. I go to college whenever I have a day off here, I stay a couple of hours after everyone else sitting with the teachers, I do a couple of hours after training, or a couple of hours after a game.

It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it.

The playground superstar

Matheson scored the equaliser for Rochdale against Manchester United in the League Cup in September, aged just 16

It wasn’t just the psychology test waiting for Matheson when he got back to school the next day as he became an overnight celebrity.

To my friends they still see me as Luke, but to the year sevens (11- and 12-year-olds) I’m some sort of superstar.

That’s so weird to me because I was in their shoes, wearing that exact same uniform, taught by the same teachers, sitting in the same classrooms, writing with the same pens and pencils and now they’re coming up to me with their planners for their homework asking me to sign stuff and I’m getting told off by my old head of year because I’m not allowed to.

I still get recognised on the tram on the way to Rochdale for training. I have been recognised at the Trafford Centre.

I’m just a kid, I’m 17, I’ve done nothing in the football world so for people to come up to me and want to take a photo, it’s so weird.

Signing a professional contract

Matheson signed his first professional contract at Rochdale weeks after his 17th birthday

Matheson made his debut for the club at just 15 years and 336 days – becoming the youngest player in Rochdale history. Just over a week after that famous night against United, Matheson turned 17. That meant he could sign a professional contract.

That was a very, very proud moment for me, that was when I could officially call myself a professional footballer.

It’s a dream every little boy has to be a footballer, to be one of the very few that get that opportunity, it’s amazing.

Rochdale’s the only football academy I’ve been at, I’ve been coming here since I was eight. They gave me an opportunity to play up as a 12- and 13-year-old and they’re still giving me that opportunity now at 17 to be starting first-team games. Lee [Riley] has been my coach since I was an under 14, now he’s first-team coach, he’s still sending me the same messages – he’ll tell me if I’m playing awfully, he’ll tell me if I’m playing amazingly.

They don’t owe me anything, I owe them everything. They didn’t have to take a punt on that eight-year-old and sign me, they could have gone for that bigger, faster kid, but they went for me, the little kid that still wore glasses back then.

Matheson as a youngster

Money and mates

With a professional footballer’s contract comes a professional footballer’s wage. He’s having driving lessons so will hopefully be able to trim down his two-hour journey between his home in Fallowfield and training in Rochdale.

Nothing’s changed, I’m just Luke to my mates, I’m just the same person I was five years ago.

I’ve offered to pay when we’ve gone out to Nando’s, but they’ve just said no. The money is not something I think about – I’ll just play my football, the money will come no matter how much or how little that is.

I don’t see myself as a big superstar. I’ve done nothing in the football world, I’m just getting started.

Social media mayhem

Matheson had a fairly impressive 2,300 followers on Instagram before the United match. Now he has more than 18,000. The goal against United – and the media exposure in the hours and days that followed – got him recognition from fans and footballers alike.

James Maddison tweeted about me saying I had a fantastic interview and that was unreal. I followed him at Norwich and now he’s at Leicester – for someone like that to be watching a video of me, that is just ridiculous, that is amazing to me.

I have grown up in the social media world, and it doesn’t bother me whether I have 1,000 or 17,000 followers. Social media is a place, a horrible place at times, but it’s also an incredible place and I’m very aware of what I post and the influence that I can have on people.

There’s always going to be that one person who comments on something – they always go for my hair – but you’ve just got to ignore them, you know what you’re doing, it’s through a screen and it doesn’t mean anything. I may give a goal away in the 90th minute to lose a game but that’s the profession we live in and you’ve just got to accept that.

And on that distinctive hair…

My mum wanted it long when I was little, so she grew it long, and I’ve just kept it long. I’m trying to trademark the long hair and headband!



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