Matty Burrows, Ronaldo's Favourite
The Glentoran footballer on narrowly missing out on the FIFA goal of the season award
In the space of just three months, Glentoran footballer Matty Burrows has gone from being a relatively unknown Irish league player to a worldwide star. The 25-year old, who just last season was struggling to make the starting XI with the east Belfast club, is now a world-wide phenomenon thanks to a back-heeled goal which has, so far, attracted over 4.5 million hits on Youtube.
Burrows' incredible journey began on October 5, 2010, when the Glens were playing Portadown. They hadn't had a shot on goal for the whole second half. Most players, including Burrows, felt that they were heading for a no-score draw. Then, in one brilliant move in the 92nd minute, Burrows would change the course of his career, and put Glentoran and Northern Ireland back on the sporting map.
'The ball came at me at the right height and I just thought that I had to get enough power on it,' Burrows explains. 'I was going for the goal, but I knew straight away that if it didn't come off then the team wouldn't be happy.'
But it did come off, and it became one of the most remarkable goals ever seen, with repercussions far greater than Burrows could have imagined. Once Glentoran TV uploaded the goal onto Youtube the spotlight was thrust upon the striker, who learnt his trade at the now defunct St Andrews club on the Shankill Road.
The New York Times called Burrows' attempt the goal of the season, and the wonder strike was shown on the big screen in Time Square. Television stations, radio programmes and journalists from across the globe wanted to talk to Burrows. 'I was happy with the interest, but I panicked as well. It was a bit overwhelming having all these people wanting to talk to you. My phone didn't stop ringing.'
But the attention for the goal wasn't just good for Burrows, it came at a welcome time for Glentoran, who badly needed some good news. In July of last year, the club reported that it had cash-flow problems and soon after, news emerged that Glentoran were in danger of going into administration.
'The goal took the attention away from the problems that are going on with the club for a while,' Burrows said. 'The chairman even said that I had put the club on the map. I went to get my hair cut the other day, and a man started talking to me about the goal, even though I had never met him before in my life.'
Burrows is clearly grateful for the experience, but ten years ago, he didn't care about the sport. He started playing when he was in primary school, and played for St Andrews until he was 11, before moving on to play for teams in Bangor and Holywood. But when the side he was playing with folded, Burrows stopped playing.
'At the time I didn't feel that I wanted to play, but I was still young,' he recalls. 'I just sort of lost interest. I am a bit sorry about that because if I hadn't taken those two or three seasons away then I might have been playing for an even bigger team. So that is a regret of mine.'
Fortunately, on the advice of a friend, he got back into the game. 'One of my mates got me to go along to play for Bangor Swifts. They wanted me to sign for them.' He didn't, instead moving on to Dundela, where he recorded an amazing tally of 56 goals in one season. Performances like that earned him the attention of Glentoran.
Last year, Burrows found it hard to get his place, citing a disagreement with the then manager, Alan McDonald. But when McDonald left, and was replaced by Scott Young, Burrows was thrust straight back into the team.
When he found out that he had been nominated for the FIFA Ballon d'Or Puskas Award, the trophy given to the 'most beautiful goal' of the year, the humble Burrows' greatest concern was whether he'd be able to be there when the winner was announced: a rumour had spread that only the top three nominees would attend the ceremony in Zurich. He needn't have worried.
'Allison, the secretary from the club, rang me and told me that they had received a fax to say that they were going to bring all the nominations to Switzerland. It was a big relief. I just wanted to be there.'
In the weeks running up to the ceremony, Burrows said the hype grew and grew. 'People were saying to me that I was a cert to win, but at the time I couldn't see myself going up there to collect an award in front of all those great footballers.'
His attitude soon changed when, at the ceremony, the greats of the modern game told him otherwise. Cristiano Ronaldo said that the goal deserved to win, while Jose Mourinho agreed, and joked that he wanted to sign Burrows up.
'Wesley Sneijder [Dutch footballer who won the Bronze Boot and Silver ball at the 2010 World Cup] said that it was the most beautiful goal he had ever seen. Just to have players like Wesley Schneider and Ronaldo say that about my goal was amazing.'
In the aftermath, when it was announced that Turkey and Bayern Munich Star Hamit Altintop had won goal of the season, the regret set in. 'The goal that won it was from Turkey, they had the whole of Turkey voting for it. It was a great goal but I have seen goals like that before.'
Does he think that he will ever be nominated again? 'I don't think I will ever win it if I can't win it with a goal like that,' he admits ruefully, before joking. 'Maybe, I had better start practising over head kicks from the half way line!'
Whether he wins or not, the name Burrows will live on in our memories for a long time to come - as well as on Youtube, of course. Check out the Glentoran FC website for information on forthcoming games.