Growing up, Matthew Towns had a love hate relationship with football. Having played for Macclesfield Town youth sides as a teenager, the goalkeeper gave up the sport at the age of 21 to move to Australia and focus on cricket following a family tragedy. But then eight years later, he was playing in the Europa League. A return to Macclesfield and a move abroad had reignited his love for the game.
“When I came back from Australia, I started to study at university and decided to play football again for the uni,” says Towns. “This lead to me having trials for the England University Squad and subsequently be selected for the squad, which sort of got my hunger back for playing.”
Now 36, Towns is player/manager of SK Victoria Wanderers who play in the Gozo Football League Premier Division, the top flight of football on Gozo, a Maltese island. The league is not currently part of the Maltese pyramid structure but the goalkeeper has had plenty of success playing in the national divisions.
After a wrist injury halted his progress at Macclesfield, he left to find first team football at Welsh Premier League side Prestatyn Town in 2009, before playing in Conference North with Droyldson. It was then he was offered the chance to play abroad in January 2012.
“I was playing for Droylsden at the time and my agent asked me if I would be interested in a move abroad to get back to full-time football and I obviously said I was open to anything.
“Two days later I was on a flight to Malta for a trial.”
After impressing on trial, Towns joined Maltese Premier League side Floriana for the rest of the season. Floriana are historically one of the biggest clubs in Malta, with 25 Premier League titles to their name but the last of those came in the 1992/93 season.
Despite the lack of recent success, Town’s arrival at the club coincided with a great run of form for the side as they went on to finish second in the league and win the Maltese FA Trophy, a competition which holds the prestige of a spot in the Europa League for the winners.
“Finishing second and winning the FA Trophy was a great honour,” he says. “It was the first piece of silverware Floriana had won for around twenty years and it still remains as one of my best memories in football.
“When you realise what it meant for the club and the supporters it is something very, very special and in that final we defeated a very good Valletta team, who had just gone the whole season without losing a game.
“These are the memories footballers dream of having and achievements nobody can take away from you.”
Towns played in the quarter-final, semi-final and the final which was held at the National Stadium in Ta’Qail, a ground which holds 17,000 spectators. All the success the goalkeeper had in his first few months in Malta would also pave the way for a seamless transition to living in a new country.
“Early on it was very easy to adapt to. I just buried myself in my job and was very focused to get back to my best. Life can be distracting for anyone in a new environment but I think the fact I had my own personal goals helped me a lot. I was also lucky to have a good network of people around me.”
The following season he would join the side he had defeated in the cup final, Valletta, serving as number two goalkeeper as his new club won the league title for a 21st time. Then came two seasons with second division side St. Andrews before he was on the move to another new country.
“The opportunity [to move to Iceland] came about in a summer of 2014. I had a few offers and we felt this was a good opportunity to take.
“Iceland was fantastic, it allowed me to re-focus on being in the best shape possible to play and I made some very good contacts and friends in football there.
“It’s a place I would like to return to as a player or maybe more likely as a coach going forward.”
The enjoyable season in a new environment was with third-tier side Knattspyrnufélagið Ægir, a club based in the tiny town of Þorlákshöfn in the south-west of the country. Towns’ performances between the sticks helped his side avoid relegation and he believed the style of play in the country suited him perfectly.
“I would say [the standard] was more like the English League Two or Conference. It’s very physical and fast and there’s more aggression in the game.
“I really enjoyed it out there as being 6ft 3ins some days I actually felt small going against some of the strikers and defenders out there. I think it was fantastic for my development even at the stage of my career I went.
“I almost made the move out there again but it fell through, which was obviously a disappointment as even though I have a decent showing of myself in the first stint, I’m sure my second would have been even better.”
After Iceland, Towns returned to Malta, playing for several different clubs across the country, including a spell at Hibernians where he was on the bench during Champions League qualifiers. Although disappointed about not securing a return to Iceland, he was happy to return to the routine which he had previously shaped during his first spell on the Mediterranean island.
“Since leaving university I have been a full time professional footballer,” he says. “But I have always combined roles with some sort of coaching role to help myself detach from my own game and also develop professionally as a coach for after my playing career.
“I’ve also filled time with some personal training, mainly due to the fact that I like to keep on the go. I’ve never been a player who finishes training and goes and sleeps or heads to the golf course.”
Now in charge of Victoria Wanderers and still playing in goal, Towns is as equally focussed on what is to come in life after playing football as he is on his current role on the pitch. Throughout his career, he has always thought ahead to his post-playing days, as he previously mentioned, but for the goalkeeper in particular, it has become very apparent that he needs to make the most of his career after a serious health scare.
“I think with the nature of football it’s important to have a fall back or a plan for after playing and I was given this wake up call two years ago when I had testicular cancer.
“My plan after playing is coaching and being in the game fully, as it always has been.”
It’s been a difficult start to the season for Towns’ side as they currently sit in second bottom after five matches but the 36-year-old has come through much worse, from the death of his father to surviving cancer, and these experiences put football into context. However, he is determined to keep fighting on the pitch, just like how he has done in life.
“My ambitions for the future are to continue playing and coaching and obviously in a few years when the time comes to hang the gloves up, I will continue my coaching career.
“I have a number of plans after my playing days that go hand in hand with my coaching ambitions. The obvious next plan is to work hard during my two year player/manager contract at Victoria Wanderers and go on to do my UEFA A Goalkeeping License and my UEFA PRO License.
“Anything which helps me develop is also in the plans as well.”
Towns is a man of resolute strength and determination. He has been through a lot and is prepared to go through even more to achieve success.