A number of English goalkeepers have moved abroad to play their trade over the past few years.
Matthew Towns joined the likes of Scott Carson and James McKeown as an English-born keeper to have played abroad when he joined Floriana in 2011.
In June 2011 Macclesfield Town players were dreading the start of a cold English pre-season. However, former second string goalkeeper, Matthew Towns had different plans.
The former Silkman, joined Maltese giants, Floriana in January 2011 after spells with Presttyn Town and Droylden.
Towns achieved success almost instantly after winning the Maltese FA Trophy in a 1-0 win over Valletta.
After just seven months in Malta, Towns swapped Floriana for rivals Valletta. The goalkeeper achieved success for a second time in the 2011/12 season when the Lilywhites won the Maltese Premier League.
The English born goalkeeper joined his third Maltese side in 2012 when he signed for St. Andrew FC. Towns spent two years at the club before moving to Icelandic side Knattspyrnufelagid Aegir.
Towns returned to Malta a few months later when he signed for San Gwann FC.
At the start of the 2015/16 season, Towns started with Hibernians as a player/coach. After not getting much playing time the former Macclesfield goalkeeper decided to move back to San Gwann in January. Towns still remains as a coach with Hibernians.
You started your career at Macclesfield Town where you came up against Everton. What do you remember from this game?
Everything! I had broken my wrist earlier in the season during training and I had been battling to get fit to be involved with the game as soon as the draw came out. I made the bench but my wrist still wasn’t right.
I remember Nat Brown had a great chance to score for us from six yards out to put us one up. It was harder to miss than score… and yes he missed. Then Leon Osman scored for Everton to make it 1-0.
There was a point in the game when our keeper Jonny Brain was surely going to get sent off and I was warming up thinking I wasn’t fit enough to play when the referee pulled out a yellow card for Brainy and not a red. I don’t know if I was disappointed or relieved not to go on, due to not being fit.
The rest of the game was pretty boring until the last kick of the game. Tim Howard didn’t touch the ball all day and then in the last minute he pulled the ball out of the top corner to deny us a trip to Goodison Park. From that day I realised the concentration it takes to be a world class keeper!
Keith Alexander managed you during your time at Macclesfield. What do you remember about the legendary manager?
I was signed for Macclesfield as a non-contract player by Ian Brightwell and John Askey during the January (2008) of my last year at Derby University, where I was studying and playing.
During my time at Uni I was fortunate enough to gain one appearance with the England Universities Team. In the February that season Keith Alexander took over as Gaffer and asked me to continue coming to training around my studies and had ultimately asked me to come in the following pre-season where he offered me a one-year pro contract.
When I think of the Gaffer I immediately smile and think how much I owe him for my career in football and how grateful I am that he saw something in me and gave me the opportunity to remain at the club when he came in. He was very down to earth and would always have a chat to you when you needed it. He showed great belief in me when he signed me from University football and for that I am, and always will be thankful.
The Gaffer was a true gent and an honest guy who wore his heart on his sleeve, he could be the most placid person, but if you crossed him you knew about it. He was someone that you wanted to do your best for day in day out.
As I said before the 2008/09 season for me was a difficult one as I was injured for a long period of time and couldn’t show my full potential which led to me getting released the day after the final game of the season – The Cheshire Senior Cup Final against Crewe Alexandria.
Even when Keith released me he was straight with me and to this day I remember his words “Townsey, it’s a difficult one son, if you’d had been fit all season and able to play like you did last night, we would be sat here talking about a new deal, but unfortunately we are gonna have to let you go.”
He then told me that he would do something that he didn’t often do when he had to release a player and he said he would give me a reference to any manager that called him about me.
He then put me in touch with the manager of Northwich Victoria at the time. So even at one of the worst points of my career Keith Alexander still showed belief in me and what a special person he was.
I feel lucky that I met and worked with Keith Alexander. Without him I wouldn’t have achieved what I have, I’m sure.
Why did you choose to move to Prestatyn in 2009?
When I got released from Macclesfield Town I had a car crash where I suffered injuries to my shoulders and back. This meant any trials arranged with League clubs had to be canceled and as I had nobody representing me or to advise me on my career I decided that I should remain local to the North West.
An ex teammate from when I was at Macclesfield Town in the youth setup called me to go into pre-season as he found out I was training with Droylsden in the Conference North.
So when I recovered from my injuries it was a case of going where I was promised game time.
After a brief spell with the Welsh side you moved to Droylsden. What differences were there between Welsh and English football?
During the pre-season of 2009/10 I started to train with Droylsden in the Conference North and Prestatyn in the Welsh Premier League so that summer I was almost training full time.
Both clubs Droylsden and Prestatyn, along with Rhyl (also in the Welsh Premier League) offered me contracts. I chose to go to Prestatyn as the manager there, Neil Gibson had told me he was after a number one and he felt that I fitted the bill.
Unfortunately, though it didn’t really go to plan and I decided in the January that it was a better option to sign for Droylsden, who back then had a fantastic squad and was as good a club as you could get in Non-League football.
They are a club with a great fan base and a chairman and manager in Dave Pace who encourages his team to play football. The main difference in the two leagues are the fact that the game in the English Conference and Conference North (in my experience) are more technical and you are playing with and against some very high quality players who are either striving to get in, or back in to the full time game and maintain that attitude. The Welsh Premier only had TNS who were full time and that showed when I was there, it was a very physical league with some very good players in though.
In January 2011 you moved to Malta when you signed for Floriana. How did this move come around?
While I was at Droylsden I linked up with an agent who over a coffee asked if I would consider going abroad to play, to which I told him I was open to anything. So in the 2010/2011 pre-season I came to Malta for 10 days with Floriana, but Droylsden offered me another year so I stayed there and made a handful of appearances in a season that we enjoyed a historical FA Cup run, before I suffered another injury.
I went out on loan to Witton Albion and had dual registration with the two clubs at the start of January to help my recovery and get games. Then within three weeks of being back in action my agent called me and told me that Floriana wanted me on a plane the next day and we decided it was an opportunity that I should take.
What did you notice was different about Maltese football and the way it is played in Britain?
Maltese football has changed over the last five seasons since I arrived. It used to be a case that Maltese football would be quite slow compared to the English game and a lot less physical, but this has changed and the Maltese game is speeding up in tempo. As a keeper you tend to get a lot more protection in the Maltese game, which I don’t complain about.
How easy was it for you to fit in when you first moved to Malta?
To be honest I travel well and adapt to most situations, but when I arrived at Floriana the club were fantastic, they made me very welcome and those people within the club who helped me settle. The fans who supported me are people I will always respect for that.
What needs to be done for Maltese football to improve?
Maltese football is improving year on year and it is adopting a more professional attitude. I’m a big believer in the talent that Maltese football has to offer. I think that it’s on the right road and investment in playing facilities and structure will only further help football in the country.
I think research into other nations of similar size and population would further enhance the progression of the game here. But I’m sure that there are number of people in the right places that want the game in Malta to progress which can only be good for Maltese football.
You have played for a number of top Maltese clubs including Valletta, Floriana and Hibernians. Where have you enjoyed your football the most?
If I’m honest I’ve enjoyed and I’m proud of my time at all of the clubs I have been at in Malta for different reasons and I feel lucky to have played for Floriana, Valletta, St. Andrews, Hibernians and San Gwann.
I have always tried to represent all clubs to the best of my ability and with respect and most importantly I have moved on from most of them with no hard feelings, although sometimes frustrated, but I certainly maintained respect for them all.
If it’s from a playing point of view I have to be honest and say that once I broke into the team, playing an active part in winning Floriana’s first trophy since 92/93 during my time there in 2010/11 was pretty special. We finished runners up in the league and beat Valletta 1-0 in the FA Trophy Final in a season that Valletta only lost that game (that still remains the last game Floriana beat Valletta some five years later).
You had a brief spell in Iceland. Why did you take a break from time in Malta?
It was a fresh new challenge that came about and to experience a new football culture was something I enjoyed. I had come to an end of a two-year contract at St Andrews and after playing 24 games in my first season, a change in coach meant that I only managed to play eight games the following season for one reason or another, so when my agent said there was a new opportunity I fancied it immediately and made the most of it.
You started the season as a player/coach with Hibernians. But you moved to San Gwann in January. What made you make this move?
I returned from Iceland and helped San Gwann to win the Second Division last season. When the opportunity to go to Hibernians came about as a player/coach it was something that you can’t really turn down, especially being involved in the Champions League, even when I had other offers of just playing roles.
To work again with the best players in the country and some of the best coaching staff was something I couldn’t turn down. Although I am very focused on playing for the foreseeable future to be able to go to a club like Hibernians and develop as a coach whilst continuing my playing career was something that anybody in my position would take.
The fact that at Hibernians I was finding playing opportunities limited meant that as a player something had to be done. The coach of San Gwann contacted me in January and asked me if I’d be interested in returning to San Gwann and remain at Hibernians as a coach, for me it was the perfect fit. It works for both clubs and myself and I am grateful to those people at both clubs that made it possible.
As you still remain a coach at Hibs. How can the side regain the BOV Premier League title?
Hard work, belief and togetherness. Oh and getting more points than any other team
What are your plans for the next five years?
In five years I will be 38. I’d love to still be fit and playing whilst developing as a coach. I feel great and appreciate my time playing, which has made me work harder in order to push to play at the highest level possible.
On the coaching side it’s just a case of passing on my current knowledge, learning from and supporting those around me and developing more so that I am able to continue my career.
Do you wish to return to England in the future?
It’s been something I’ve thought about for the last couple of seasons, opportunities have come up and it almost happened at the start of this season before joining Hibernians. So it’s a case of never say never, although I am extremely happy at Hibernians and San Gwann right now and for the foreseeable future.