Fulham Football Club stepped into the history books on the final day of the season when Academy prospect Matthew Briggs was handed his senior debut as a substitute at the tender age of 16 years and 65 days, making him the youngest player in Premier League history.
Briggs, who has been a solid performer at Under 16, Under 18, Reserve and International level, was given a taste of life in the top flight by new Manager, Lawrie Sanchez as Sunday’s match entered its final stages.
Speaking to fulhamfc.com, Fulham’s Head of Youth, John Murtough, was delighted to see Briggs on the pitch at the Riverside Stadium but was quick to point out that the young player’s journey has only just begun.
“Matthew’s a good lad and a good athlete,” Murtough explained. “He’s come in and hasn’t been fazed by anything we’ve asked of him. It’s still early days but he’s shown promise in the Reserves – Lawrie Sanchez saw him and rewarded him with an opportunity to travel with the First Team.
“No-one’s getting carried away yet. The boy starts his GCSE’s this week, so he made his Premiership debut on a Sunday and was back in school on Monday morning – so we want to concentrate on making sure he gets his exams done.
“He’s a local boy who has been with the Club for four years. He’s played the majority of the season with our Under 18 squad even though he’s registered as an Under 16 player. He’s a left back or left-sided centre half who has also played left midfield. He played for England’s Under 16s in the Victory Shield and had a big hand in England’s first goal in their recent match against Northern Ireland.”
Murtough was also confident that Briggs’ debut will inspire the up and coming crop of Academy talent to push hard for a similar opportunity.
“When a boy that age goes into that arena, albeit for 15 minutes, it gives him an insight into what is needed to be able to play in the Premier League,” he said. “He now has a target and knows what he has to achieve over the next year to 18 months. For a boy that age to make his debut in the Premier League and be the youngest player in Premiership history is fantastic for Fulham. It goes to show that if the players here are good enough, they’ll get an opportunity.
“And there are other good young players coming through. The Reserve side has been very young this year but Billy McKinlay and Ray Lewington have done a great job in introducing the lads. Gary Brazil and Vic Bettinelli have also introduced also a lot of the Under 16s into their Under 18 side.
“We’re always challenging and pushing our players, which means they’re able to play in the Reserves and then we can see if they’re good enough to move into the First Team. We’re taking it a step at a time but we’re all made up for Matthew and hopefully he has a bright future ahead.”