A year ago Luke Matheson’s football dreams stretched no further than a place on the plane when Rochdale flew off for pre-season training. But a lot can happen in 12 months.
Now the 17-year-old is a Wolves player. His goal for Rochdale in their Carabao Cup draw at Manchester United — the League One club lost on penalties — last September brought him to the nation’s attention but it turned out Matheson was already on the Premier League club’s radar.
So now he waits for the next step in a career that has been set into overdrive ever since he drilled a far-post cross into the net at Old Trafford as a 16-year-old with a psychology exam the very next day.
Luke Matheson is heading into his second season at Wolves following his move from Rochdale
The teenager scored a memorable goal in the League Cup against Manchester United last term
‘Every time that goal pops up on my phone or someone sends it to me, I still get goosebumps and the hairs stand up on my neck,’ Matheson told Sportsmail this week.
‘I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling. That night I was chuffed to even be on the coach never mind starting the match and then scoring. Nobody could have predicted this and I am just so grateful. It’s been a crazy year.’
Right back Matheson signed for Wolves last January but was immediately sent back on loan to Rochdale. Currently billeted in a Wolverhampton hotel, he is awaiting news of manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s plans for him.
Another loan is possible and if so that won’t faze an intelligent, grounded teenager who has not lost the ability to keep his career in its proper perspective.
Born and raised in Manchester, Matheson used to do his schoolwork on the bus to Rochdale away games. A year into his A-Levels, he has two hours of private lessons after training every day and drops in to his home town’s Trinity High School whenever he can.
Matheson is a year into his A-Levels, he has two hours of private lessons after training each day
‘I am still on their system,’ he explained. ‘Wolves have sorted me out private tuition but if I am in Manchester or have days off I can still go into Trinity and get a day of learning done. I will still do all my exams there, I think.’
‘I have signed the odd autograph which is a bit crazy. Going in after the United game I suddenly had this crowd of younger kids around me. That day I was kind of a celebrity but it didn’t last long and that is what I am so grateful for. Trinity see me as Luke, not a footballer who comes in every so often. I am just a kid like all the rest.’
Matheson is talking via Zoom from the Wolves training ground. He still looks like a young boy and his dad Rob lurks protectively in the background.
But this is a young footballer with a remarkable maturity about him and his life has not always been straightforward. In the months leading up to his starring role at United, for example, his mother Roz had been seriously unwell.
Matheson owes a lot to his parents for developing his attitude as a youngster
‘A lot of my attitude comes from my parents,’ said Matheson. ‘Sorry, my dad is laughing here… but they have been through so much to get me where I am today. I am never going to be shouting and screaming about what I have done as it’s not just down to me.
‘My mum is much better now. She is not 100 per cent but basically back to normal. She hadn’t been to watch me for about three years and the first one back for her was the United one so that was kind of special. It is a weight off my shoulders, not to have to stress about it any more.’
He has been at Rochdale since he was eight and there are some lovely stories about his progress.
When he made his debut at 15 against Bury in the Checkatrade Trophy, he was so young he had to change away from his team-mates because of safeguarding issues. When his league debut came last January, he was not old enough to have the EFL Sky Bet logo on the sleeve of his kit.
He remains grateful to those who helped him. This week he was revealed as the League One Apprentice of the Year and at a time when the EFL continue to fund and promote playing opportunities for homegrown players, he has emerged as a timely role model.
Matheson is still grateful to Rochdale – the club that made him before his £1million transfer
Funding into EFL youth development has risen by a third in the last five years and in the past two seasons alone lower league clubs have made almost £100million in transfer fees from the sale of homegrown players. Matheson’s move to Wolves netted Rochdale £1m.
‘This award is not for me, it’s for the whole Rochdale academy and everyone who works there or passes through there,’ he said.
‘I don’t get this award if it’s not for those coaches. People like Tony Ellis, Lee Riley, Kevin Gibbins and the manager Brian Barry-Murphy. They have taught me everything and it’s nice to get some recognition for last year’s hard work by everybody.
‘Back in the day I did all the apprentice jobs. We would clean boots and every day we would move the goals to the first team pitches, set up the cones and then pack it away. Everybody has to go through that phase and I wouldn’t change it.’
Matheson has moved on with everybody’s best wishes. His senior team-mate Jim McNulty, 35, still talks of him with affection. ‘I love Jim with all my heart and he taught me so much,’ Matheson said.
He will find out more about his next move at Wolves as he is set to meet Nuno Espirito Santo
‘I sat next to him on the bus and he took me under his wing. I would be studying as it was quiet and the lads would all have their headphones on. Jim always took an interest, wanted to know what I was working on. Things like that mean stuff.’
Matheson’s next career step should be known soon. Nuno and his staff are due to have a meeting about his future this month. Interestingly, right back Matt Doherty joined Spurs last month.
‘I haven’t thought much about playing in the Premier League,’ he said. ‘Every little boy dreams of it and I am no different. But I have just spent this pre-season trying to learn the Wolves system as it’s different from Rochdale.
‘It is just me learning. I am always learning — that’s what it’s about. And I will continue my A-Levels too as football is not a guarantee. I need that back-up plan of getting those and maybe even going to university and doing a degree. Anything can happen in life, can’t it?’