By JUSTIN LILLECRAPP
Our unique football league spans over two states and two territories, with players coming from far and wide before they set foot on the NEAFL stage.
Humble Beginnings is a six-part series featuring players from each non-AFL club, uncovering their journey from junior football to NEAFL.
Matt Thomson is the epitome of the larrikin Australian sportsperson, who loves to tell a joke and take the mickey out of his mates.
We all know one of these from our time in a sporting team. They bring colour, laughter and banter to an environment which can at times be tense and monotonous.
Matt Thomson is also a bloody good footballer. In 2015, Thomson became Redland’s games record holder, breaking club legend Phil Carse’s record of 148 senior games. Having made his senior debut at 15, Thomson has extended his record to 191 senior games for Redland.
Thomson started his football journey at Redland Sharks at the age of five and has remained at the club ever since.
When Thomson talks about Redland Australian Football Club, the loyalty and love he has for the club is profound. It is a refreshing outlook in this environment of constant switching of clubs to taste premiership success.
How Thomson ended up at the club is also a unique story.
“I went down to the Redland Sharks with Dad and we were just watching an Under-8s game and I’m pretty sure he asked the coach if I could start playing that night, like in the middle of the game,” Thomson recalled.
“The guy was like, ‘ah nah, it doesn’t really work that way. You have got to come and sign up’.
“I think it was the next weekend, we went down and signed me up. (I have) been playing at the Redland Sharks and Bombers ever since.”
Thomson remarkably made his senior debut at a young age. After doing the pre-season with the seniors, Thomson debuted in the last match of the season.
While the memories of his first game are less vivid now, Thomson’s recollections give great insight into the confident teenager he was.
“I finally got my chance, I was like, ‘oh yeah this will be awesome’,” he said.
“I think I was less than 60kgs, so I would have been tiny.
“I always had decent confidence in my ability, so I don’t think I would have been that nervous.
“I just thought it was another game and I would be fine.”
During this time, Thomson had an up and down junior representative career highlighted by his desire to bounce back from disappointment.
“I played in Under-15s and just missed out on the state team,” he said.
“I remember being really upset, like I think I was crying after the carnival.
“I was like, alright, I am going to put my head down and really work hard because I want to make it next year.
“I was lucky enough in Under-16s to make it and eventually won the MVP for Queensland that year.”
The same cycle occurred once again, as Thomson missed out on the state team as a bottom-ager in Under-18s and again came back more determined the following year, winning the MVP for Queensland.
Like all 18-year-olds, Thomson had high hopes to be drafted to the AFL but understands he ‘probably wasn’t quite up to that level’.
Through these experiences, as a talented footballer who was hungry for success, there were times when Thomson considered changing clubs as Redland were losing by 100 points regularly and struggling to make finals.
“Earlier on, I was pretty stubborn and could butt heads with coaches in the past, I even thought about not playing footy anymore,” Thomson said.
With the ultimate success in footy being a premiership, Thomson explained how that ultimate goal was a continuing factor in both him playing football and remaining at Redland.
“I just want to win that premiership. Even when I think, do I want to keep playing or go somewhere else, I will be like ‘nah’,” he said.
“I want to win with this team, I don’t think it would mean the same somewhere else.
“I have invested so much and love to play (at Redland) so much, it wouldn’t be the same if I left.”
The pride and passion Thomson has for Redland is palpable. When Thomson talks about the people at Redland, it is easy to understand why he never left and wants to remain a one-club player throughout his career.
Key to an inclusive, vibrant culture at a footy club, are the people who make up the football club.
Thomson believes the people are what make Redland such a great club to be involved in.
“It still (after moving to the NEAFL) has that local footy club feel. I am confident to say, if I go into the footy club at any time, I can spend a couple of minutes with anyone and just have a chat,” he said.
“I think something that we pride ourselves on and not so much talking footy, but when we bring players to the club, it is always are they a good person.
“Every single person who leaves or comes (to the club), the main thing they say is that everyone here are such good people I think that is pretty hard to beat, having that sort of thing.”
With the carrot of one day winning that elusive premiership remaining firmly in his sights, Thomson is bullish about Redland’s potential on the field despite enduring another difficult season on the win-loss column.
Injuries have once again plagued Redland’s ability to get a string of consistent performances together.
Thomson’s optimistic nature has finals always a possibility, however slim.
“It might sound weird because of where we are sitting now and this could be just how I am,” Thomson said.
“I literally sit here and think, if we win every game, we are still a chance.
“I look at our team when we have our best team on the park and I look at other sides and we match up as well as anyone.
“We kept the majority of people last year and we have built on it again. We are moving in the right direction.”
Playing in the NEAFL is a unique experience, and it’s something Thomson is proud of.
“When people ask what you do on the weekend, I tell them that we play footy and get to fly around and play all these teams in different places,” he said.
Thomson is on the cusp of returning from a hamstring injury sustained against the GIANTS in Round 8.
His qualities epitomise why Australian’s have such an affinity to playing sport. He is determined, loyal, gives his all and loves playing footy with his mates.
The jokester of the team, Thomson will no doubt continue to go ‘all guns blazing’ on the field in his pursuit to achieve the ultimate success in footy with his beloved club.
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