Close calls, big clubs and over 550 appearances – but it almost ended far too soon for Oswestry’s Matt Done

“I was close to sacking it off. I remember being sat at home in my apartment with my missus. I was 23 and I was looking at coaching courses with the PFA and even looked at golf coaching.”

Growing up in a small rural town everyone knows the lads who are good at football. The ones who are good enough to make it, and make a living out of the game.

However not many of those go on to fulfil their potential.

Matt Done was one of those footballers who people in Oswestry knew had that talent to go on and become a professional footballer, and he has done that and then some.

The midfielder has made over 550 appearances in professional football and still has plenty of years left in his legs yet, at the age of 32.

He’s had a rollercoaster career in the Football League and has gone from Sunday mornings at Oswestry Boys Club to playing for one of the biggest club’s in the country.

In amongst that he has suffered highs and lows as every footballer does, but as Done explains, at the age of just 23 he almost gave the game the elbow after losing trust with key people around him.

“I was at Barnsley and Crystal Palace under Dougie Freedman made a £500,000 offer,” explained Done, who lives in Manchester.

“The club said the offer wasn’t right. I spoke to them but didn’t end up going and then on the first day of the season against Middlesbrough I did my knee and was out until Christmas.

“Then the manager got the sack, I turned down a new deal because I wanted to go on a free but then I was loaned up to Hibs.

“For the next few years I was left thinking what if, as Palace got promoted to the Premier League that season. I’m not saying I would have played in the Premier League, but I would have been part of the promotion side.

“It took quite a while to get over. I went to Hibs who were chasing Europa League football but it was the wrong decision at the time, however it made me the person I am today.

“It made me realise I need to look after number one and not go to please people, because Barnsley just wanted to get me off the wage bill.

“For that sort of 12 months I was bitter at the world really. Barnsley offered me a deal and I wanted to play at the highest level, then two weeks into pre-season they took it off the table.

“I was getting annoyed and it was at this time I was close to sacking it off, I had trust issues in football and I was being let down by people.

“I remember being sat at home in my apartment with my missus, and I was looking at coaching courses with the PFA and even looked at golf coaching.

“I was close to doing it and I was only 23 at the time.

“Contracts were being pulled, I didn’t trust anyone, my agent had promised me things and I was just annoyed with the whole world.”

Even at that point Done had done more than many others in the game.

After starting out at Oswestry Boys Club as a youngster he was signed by Wrexham, but in the early days it was his parents who had to persuade Done to keep going to training as he admitted to hating it.

But he continued to progress at The Racecourse, training with the first team at 14 and signing a YTS straight out of school.

By this time he had also had interest from Liverpool and Everton but was advised by Wrexham coach Joey Jones that the Welsh club was the best place for him, and the European Cup winner was right.

His first taste of first team action was a friendly against Liverpool, and from there he spent three years in the Wrexham first team, making 64 appearances and winning young player of the year.

It was at a time when Wrexham went into administration and down to League Two, before that famous game against Boston in 2007, where the loser would be relegated to non-league.

Looking back Done acknowledges how big of a game it was, but at the time he was that relaxed he even enjoyed a game of golf with another Wrexham player just days before.

Done at Wrexham (Wikipedia)

“I was a bit annoyed to begin with at Wrexham going away and not playing but looking back not many 16 year old lads are around first teams.

“The club was still in a good place getting 4,500 to games, and there was the last day game against Boston.

“At the time I didn’t think about it but Boston could have gone bankrupt if they lost.

“The other day I was talking about how me and Simon Spender were playing golf on the Thursday evening.

“His family were big Wrexham fans and his missus’ father rang him and said ‘what are you doing, it’s the club’s biggest ever game on Saturday’.

“But we were totally relaxed. The day was red hot and it was a special day.”

Wrexham won 3-1 but in the following years dropped out of the Football League and have failed to return since.

With Wrexham hitting financial troubles Done was sold to Hereford, at the time a League One club.

But despite 56 appearances for The Bulls, he admits the club was out of its depth.

“We were playing Leeds at Elland Road, who actually went up that year and the likes of Brighton, and we were miles of our depth, it was a different level.”

It was at this point in 2010 that his first of three spells at Rochdale came around, under a manager who Done admits just gets the best out of him.

“Keith (Hill) just gets the best out of me. That first year we missed out on the play-offs on the last day.

“Then Keith went to Barnsley and took me with him and we had a good season in the Championship.”

After the Barnsley and Hibs chapter, Hill was on the phone again to Done. He told him if he went back he’d get him another move, and sure enough he was right.

After 60 appearances back at Spotland, Done was off again as he earned another move to a big club.

“He said he would get me that move and he did. I learned so much from that experience at that time, it made me mentally tough.

“I signed for Sheffield United, still one of the biggest clubs in the country, and it had been a rollercoaster to get there.

“I had scored 15 goals before January as a striker because we had sold Scott Hogan to Brentford and I had to go up front.

“Then Nigel Clough signed me at 11pm on the deadline day and on the way back I pulled over on the M62 and gave myself a little pat on the back because of where I had been.

“Clough was a great manager and we just missed out on the play-offs.

“The next season was tough and wasn’t great under Nigel Atkins. I dislocated my shoulder in pre-season and was out until November.

“Then the fans turned on the manager and the players and we were terrible to be fair.”

It was at this point that Chris Wilder arrived in the Bramall Lane dugout, and as they say, the rest is history.

“Chris came in and we lost the first four games.

“I think Sharpie (Billy Sharp) has told the story. We lost 2-1 at Millwall, and he called Sharpie to the front of the bus and he had pulled over in a hell hole.

“He gave him money and they went and got crates of ale on the way back, and after that we went on an 18 game unbeaten run and won the league with 100 points.”

Wilder and Sheffield United have taken the Premier League by storm in recent years, and Wilder has, quite rightly, been lauded for his tactics.

His well publicised 3-5-2 formation was instilled in that League One promotion season, and Done has praised his former gaffer for not just his tactics but for knowing what to do in terms of man management.

“He played the 3-5-2 and it just worked because we had the players.

“It has worked in the Premier League so imagine how easy it was in League One.

“He had the personnel and the man management skills to make it work. Like the Millwall game, and then we won at Coventry in a mental game on Sky to go top, and he had a go at us.

“I’ve spoken to lads in the last year who say when they win he will sometimes go off on a tiny detail. But that is how good he is and sometimes it is to keep players on their toes.

“And credit to Alan Knill his assistant, he was the mastermind behind the 3-5-2 and we were so good at home it was amazing.”

After winning promotion Done decided against a final year and called time on his stay with the Blades, and looking back, despite their run to the top flight he has no regrets.

“Chris had said I wasn’t part of his plans. If they would have gone up again straight away I would have been disappointed, but I was 29 and wasn’t going to play much.

“I was old enough to know it was the right time and I would be going out on a high.”

Many of Done’s former team mates are now in the United Premier League side and the midfielder believes one player in that bunch will go and represent his country.

“I went up at Rochdale with Jack O’Connell and also at Sheffield and for me without doubt he will play for England.”

After a trip to Old Trafford in the cup during his latest spell with Rochdale.

From there it was a third stint at Spotland and a reunion again with Keith Hill. He has made over 100 appearances for the club in his latest spell and admits it is a special place for him.

“I went back to Rochdale as I knew Keith and the club, and I’ve now made over 550 appearances in professional football and even got an award this year.

“When I was a kid if someone said I would be making 550 appearances, I would have taken that.

“I’ve still got years in the legs to go to 35 but this current situation changes things.”

That current situation has seen Done, like many others, facing the uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis.

He is lucky and has another year on his deal but other players are out of contract and coming to the end of their careers.

It has brought life after football into the spotlight for the midfielder, who is keen on a future in property and youth coaching.

He admits it is a concerning time for many players, but there has been a positive among all the negatives.

“It has been hard. We’ve been paid so I am not going to sit here and moan because people are in worse situations than us.

“One enjoyable thing, like many lads have said, is we’ve had time with our families we otherwise wouldn’t have had.

“I’ve spent the last few months with my little girl and I wouldn’t have had that.”

But the biggest negative, according to Done, is the damage the crisis will do not just to clubs but players too.

He fears the worst for many clubs, but he also believes people may have seen the last of some professional footballers.

“Rochdale is a club that has never had a big budget and has been run well.

“But some clubs have big wage bills and no income coming anytime soon.

“I do fear the worst for many League One and League Two clubs. It is tough for lads too.

“Some are contracted but some aren’t and are coming to the end of their careers and don’t know what will happen.

“I think there are some lads who simply won’t play football again due to the pandemic.”

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