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The American Dream: From Swindon Town FC to US Soccer Scholarship

The American Dream: From Swindon Town FC to US Soccer Scholarship

With many scholars leaving the game after the end of their 2-year scholarships, finding another club can sometimes not be a straight-forward…

After spending 10 years with Swindon Town FC, Luke Matthews was released after his two-year scholarship and embarked on a new life in America on a soccer scholarship programme.

PFA’s Riz Rehman recently met up with Luke at the County Ground, where he was a guest speaker as part of a Careers Day facilitated by the PFA’s ‘Achievement Through Sport’ programme for students on the clubs Football in The Community post-16 education programme.

How did you find today’s event at your old stomping ground?

First and foremost, it was a pleasure to be asked by Jon Holloway (Head of Swindon Town FITC) to be part of this important day to inspire young students on the trusts education programme. I came through the community programme at Swindon as a young kid so I know the great work the club do and the opportunities they make available for everyone. Today was a great buzz to share my footballing and education journey with the young students in the room and hopefully I’ve open the mind sets of one or two of them in the room.

Tell us about your time at Swindon up until you got released?

I began playing football at the age of six, attending Swindon Town Football in the Community holiday camps and after school sessions. From here I was signed by the academy at Swindon Town at the age of eight. I played for Swindon from u8’s until u16’s before signing a 2-year youth contract at the club. Unfortunately, after the 2 years I was told I was not to be offered a professional contract and was released.

Zesh Rehman, Riz Rehman, Jon Holloway and Luke Matthews

How did the scholarship over in America come about?

After being released from Swindon I attended the League Football Education (LFE) exit trials. After which, I was then contacted by British and American Universities. Speaking to the coaches and family members, I chose to commit to Elon University in North Carolina, USA.  

What process is involved from being successful at the trials to being accepted by the University?

Before being able to attend or being accepted by universities in the US you must complete two tests (SAT or ACT). The tests are between 6-8 hours long with English and Math sections. On the tests, you are given scores for each section and each school has a minimum score for them to accept you. At the time, I didn’t feel completely ready to take the tests as I hadn’t studied Maths or English during my two years whilst being a YTS. I therefore paid for a tutor to help prepare me for these tests, it was the best decision I had made and if there are other lads thinking of going over to the US and not comfortable in Maths or English I recommend the swallow their pride and seek support.

What are you studying and how long is your course?

I am currently studying Sport Management and the course is 4 years long. The first 2 years are core subjects that are required to be taken like English and Maths. Then the next 2 years are focused solely on your Major and course. 

What's a typical day like for you?

On a typical day, we’ll train in the morning for around 2 hours. On Tuesday and Thursday, we’ll usually have gym sessions after training. Once we’ve finished practice we’ll have food in the canteen as a team before having lessons, normally we have 2 per day. During the season, we’ll have games every Saturday and then usually games on Tuesday or Wednesday, so it’s pretty similar to that of England.

What is life like for you now?

If I’m honest, life is different. I’ve met people who will be friends for life and people I respect. I only get to go home twice a year, Christmas and summer. Training and playing every day is what I enjoy and it’s similar in many ways to still being at a professional club. The facilities and staff are unbelievable and better than most clubs in the UK.

Do you work alongside your studying?

During the school year, it’s hard to work many hours. However, it’s possible to work on campus or around the university. I have done some coaching and helped with football camps in the summer at the university. When I come back to England during the summer, I now do some coaching for Swindon Town community trust on the holiday courses.

What is the standard of football like and crowds?

The standard of football is really high. It’s different to England, the games are a higher tempo and more athletic. Players are quick, powerful and agile so you have to adapt to that and the style of play.

How does the academic year run?

The academic year is split into 2 semesters, Fall and Spring. The football season is throughout the Fall semester and begins in August and can run until mid to late November. The fall academics run from the beginning of September until mid-December. The Spring academics run from mid-January to mid-May. There are four holidays over the year, you have fall break which normally lasts for around 10 days, then you have winter break over Christmas and new year. In spring you have a break which again is around 10 days, then comes summer break which is normally the longest of the breaks but can vary depending on whether you play a sport or have an internship. For the football season universities normally start back between mid-July and the beginning of August.

What challenges did you face packing up here and moving to America?

Not knowing what to expect or not knowing anyone there at first was hard but everyone there was really helpful and I soon made good relationships with everyone at the university. There are people there that can help you with any problems or concerns you may have. The ability to message and facetime my family really helped too. Beginning studies again after 3 years was also a little challenging, getting back into the routine but the teachers are helpful and understanding to help you get through any problems.

What advice would you give to any young PFA member who is thinking about going over to America for a scholarship?

I would recommend this to anyone who is presented with the opportunity and willing to embrace a new challenge. The chance to earn a degree and play football everyday at a good standard isn’t possible in many other places. Even talking to the coaches and getting an understanding from them of what’s required and the benefits of this will help you. The way technology is nowadays you’re still able to stay in contact with everyone over in England and see family and friends regularly which helps with any fears of homesickness. Finally, the connections and chances you can earn will help you for the rest of your life. 

What support have the PFA given you?

The PFA have been unbelievable from the moment I was released from Swindon Town. They sent me across university options for both here and abroad as well as sending me regular updates about online courses I could enroll on. When I did secure my US Scholarship the PFA have also supported me financially with a grant towards books, stationary and my laptop.