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'The Soccer Mentor' - Meeting Ex-SAFC Winger Matt Piper

Matt Piper was signed by Peter Reid in 2002 from Leicester City and with the world seemingly at his feet as a footballer his career was cut short due to injuries, a situation he naturally struggled to deal with. Speaking very candidly with Roker Report, Matt tells the story of his career and how having suffered his demons, a trip to the famous Sporting Chance clinic saw him come out of the other end a better man.

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Pipes! You joined us on the back of Leicester’s relegation from the Premier League, and both the fee that we paid for you and length of contract that you received were seen as bold at a time when Sunderland weren’t notoriously high spenders. What are your memories of the day that you signed for Sunderland?

In truth, I initially didn't want to leave Leicester. I had been at the club since I was eight years old and had played for every age group - it was my dream to play for Leicester, and I eventually turned that dream into a reality when I was nineteen.

I played the last twenty or so games of the 2001/02 season - we got relegated but I won young player of the year and signed a new four-year contract, and even though I'd be playing championship football I was looking forward to pulling the shirt on again the next season to help my city get back in the Premier League.

It was the first game of the season and I wasn't feeling well about an hour before the game. I went and told the gaffer (Micky Adams) and he just said, 'don't worry about it, go home, rest and I'll see you Monday morning because I have some exciting news for you.'

I went home and convinced myself I had made the England U21s squad! Monday came and I went straight to his office to be told the club had accepted a £3.5m offer from Sunderland for me. To say I was shocked was an understatement - I didn't even have an agent!

So, I called my old man and we got in the car to go and meet Peter Reid, who was great. We met in a pub for a chat with him and Mark Blackbourne (also a nice fella), and they both really made me feel wanted, but I told them I didn't want to leave Leicester. Mark quickly scribbled a five-year contract down on a napkin and said, 'this is what we'd offer you', to try and change my mind. The wages were five times more than my new contract I'd just signed at Leicester, but I stuck to my principles and said I wanted to stay at my boyhood club.

Leicester, however, wouldn't accept that and the powers that be at the club were fuming that I had turned Sunderland down, so then accepted a £2.5m offer from Southampton. So, me and the old man got back in the car the day after and went to see Gordon Strachan - also a really nice man - but I preferred Reid, so I turned down Southampton.

By now Leicester had stopped me from training and said there was no way I could stay at the club because they needed the money to stay out of administration, so I had to choose between the two offers made.

I chose Sunderland and I am so glad that I did - the staff, the fans and everyone involved at the club made me feel welcome from day one and I loved living on the sea front. It will always be a special club and place to me - I'm just gutted that I never really showed my true potential, obviously due to injury.

When you joined Sunderland in the summer of 2002 you were brought to the club by Peter Reid, who obviously is seen as a legend in the eyes of many Sunderland supporters. That said, Reid’s reign as our manager was on the decline by the time you had arrived at the club – what was it like playing for Reidy, and what did you think about the way that things ended with him?

I was absolutely gutted for Peter on a personal note, because he really was a top manager and a top fella. I know he had started to struggle a little, but what bright spark decided to sack him and bring in a manager like Howard Wilkinson? I'll never understand.

Reidy still had all the player's support and still remains one of the best characters I have ever met in football.

Despite our struggles on the pitch that year we had many big characters in the changing room – and you did of course get to play with Kevin Phillips. Where does he rank in terms of the best players that you have ever played with?

Even though I had a short career, I played with some great strikers - Jermain Defoe, Brian Deane, Peter Crouch, Niall Quinn, Tore Andre Flo, Paul Dickov, Emile Heskey and Stan Collymore but for me, Kevin Phillips was definitely the best natural finisher out of all of them.

He'd score goals in training that you'd think, 'how the f**k did he just score that?!' Jermain Defoe is a close second.

Who was the best crack out of all the Sunderland players that you played with?

Jason McAteer is a funny, funny man. Although half the time he wasn't trying to be funny, but hey, you don't get a nickname like Trigger for nothing.

"Jase, you want this pizza in four slices or eight?"

"Deffo four mate, I don't think I could manage eight."

True story!

Who was the hardest personality to get along with?

Howard F*****g Wilkinson!

To be fair, I got along with all players and staff at Sunderland and I know that seems boring, but its true. All the foreign boys were great, because sometimes you see that divide in a dressing room, but not at Sunderland.

We all went out as a group and we all got along and my laid back nature suits a team environment well, so there is not many I don't get along with, but Howard Wilkinson didn't like me from the very start and I didn't particularly have any time for him.

Think of an arrogant sergeant major that enjoyed the power over his young cadets - it's the best way that I can describe him.

So, as we speak it’s your 35th birthday. It almost seems mad saying that, because it feels like such a long time since you played for Sunderland – you actually left the club at the start of 2006 when the club were languishing near the bottom of the Premier League. It was a tough period as a supporter watching us struggle as much as we did, and in truth we suffered due to a lack of player investment which meant Mick McCarthy wasn’t able to give us a side capable of competing at the top level. What are your overriding memories of that season?

It was a hugely frustrating season for all involved at the club.

Mick McCarthy was another favourite gaffer of mine - he was a top bloke, a top manager and as honest as the day is long. I still speak to him now from time to time.

I remember that season feeling sorry for the fans and the lads, as you're right, there was a huge lack of investment at that time. I felt it was only right to defer my wages that season, as I was injured for most of it.

I think a few others might have also, but I truly grew to love Sunderland and I wanted to do my bit to help the club get through that tough period.

Sadly your playing career was ended very early by injury issues – how was it dealing with that? And how much of a help (or not) were Sunderland in helping you to come to terms with that, and to also move on to the next stage of your career away from the pitch?

It was the toughest part of my life so far.

I've been very open and honest with how difficult that period was for me. My biggest mistake was trying to go at it alone. I'm pretty sure that Sunderland would have helped if asked.

I put on a brave face for about a year after I quit, smiling all the time and telling everyone that I was fine, but sadly behind close doors that couldn't have been further from the truth. I began drinking heavily and within months I found my life wrecked. I fell out with everyone close to me and was acting like a clown to loved ones and ended up in hospital frequently for alcohol abuse.

It all came to a head one day when a doctor threatened to section me.

I had slipped in to such a depression. I was acting hugely out of character and destroying my life, but thankfully I found a place called Sporting Chance (Tony Adams' charity) and they helped me.

Within a few months I was back on the straight and narrow. After I came out of the clinic I felt like a new man - I found coaching and soon realised that I had a passion for that equal to what I had at playing the game, and from that point on I've never looked back.

I spend my life now looking forward and never looking to the past, or what could have been.

You are of course very active on social media, and you have a Youtube channel which is growing in popularity. Tell us a little about your plans for Youtubing.

YouTubing is basically a way to reach out to even more aspiring young footballers.

I love to coach the game, but not just that, I love to try and help the next generation with all aspects of the game - the ups, the downs, the technical, tactical, physical, emotional, social.

In my short career, before I made it, after it was all over - I packed a lot of experience in to my thirty-five years on this planet and if I can help a few young footballers with my coaching or help them to learn from my experiences then that is what I want to do.

That is why I called my YouTube channel "The Soccer Mentor". I love it and its fun, but I do it because I seriously want to help and try and make a positive difference to young players. I see YouTube as my vehicle to helping as many young players as possible.

You always seem to have retained a good relationship with the Sunderland supporters. Why do you think that is, and what is it about Sunderland and the fans that makes you still have a soft spot for us?

Sunderland AFC, as well as Leicester City, will always remain close to my heart - they're two great clubs that I forever feel very privileged to have played for. I remain close to the Sunderland fans for the support they have always shown me and for how welcome they made me feel when I first signed for the club.

I grew up an Arsenal fan (my old man is from Highbury) and believe me, If one of our star signings was always injured I'd be a very frustrated fan, but the majority of the Sunderland supporters stood by me and supported me (even though I had chocolate knees), and for that I will always be forever grateful.

HAWAY THE LADS!

Thanks again to Matt for speaking with us - make sure you follow him on twitter by clicking this link, and check out and subscribe to his Youtube channel, The Soccer Mentor, here.