Matty Longstaff reveals his response to Sunderland approach
Sean Longstaff was almost in tears on the pitch. He felt “pure happiness”, and he wanted to cry.
As a 10-year-old Matty, his younger brother, had left Newcastle United’s training ground in tears after being rejected by the club as a schoolboy.
And here he was scoring on his Premier League debut against Manchester United at St James’s Park.
What's more, Sean had been by his side in midfield.
Sean pushed past team-mate DeAndre Yedlin to celebrate with his sibling, who was kissing the badge on his shirt after beating David de Gea from 20 yards. The 1-0 win lifted the club out of the relegation zone.
“I think I did shout ‘just hit it, Matty’,” said the 21-year-old. “I’ve had that feeling before, but for him to do that on his debut against Manchester United ... the emotion was crazy. I actually froze for a second. I didn’t know what do, I didn’t know whether to just fall down on to my knees.
“I filled up, I thought I was going to start crying – and you can’t do that out on the middle of a football pitch. I had to try and jump on someone and hide a bit. It was pure happiness.
“I think it was a better feeling than when I scored my first goal. Just the occasion, him being so young, and it being his debut, knowing everything he has been through to get to that point when he was younger.
“He was turned away by Newcastle when he was 10 or 11, but he fought back. I was in the car with him when he was rejected on the way home, and he was crying. That night, he said ‘nobody’s going to be able to do this to me again’.
“He worked so hard. He probably does work harder than me. I look at him, and if I could work as hard as he does, I don’t know where I could get to. His workrate, everything he does off the pitch, is better than me.
“It felt like everything had been building to that moment he scored. It was unbelievable, and, even now, I get a bit emotional talking about it. I can’t remember what I said to him on the pitch afterwards – I just grabbed him.”
The Longstaff siblings, relaxed and at ease, are speaking in the same room in which Matty had been let go by the club all those years ago. It proved to be a pivotal moment for the 19-year-old, who is set to be rewarded with a new long-term contract at the club and could keep his place for tomorrow’s game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
“It was one of the toughest things you can go through as a kid,” said Matty. “We’ve supported Newcastle since we were little. I remember Middlesbrough and Sunderland asking us every year to come and join them, and my dad saying ‘he wants to go to Newcastle’.
“I finally got the chance to come in and train with them. It was a four-week thing, and they pulled me and one other kid in and said ‘look, thanks for coming, but we’re not going to keep you’.
“I walked out crying. When you look back at it, it probably fired me up to get where I am. It really p****d me off. Looking back, being able to do what I’ve done since then, it all comes from that moment.
“I went back to North Shields and played for them again. I remember Sunderland asked me three or four times if I would go and play for them, but no, I wanted to do everything I could to get back to Newcastle.
“Middlesbrough came in for me as well. But there was only one club that I wanted to play for, and thankfully I got back into the set up. I had more of a fire in my belly – I didn’t want to ever be rejected again.”
The brothers, both talented cricketers growing up, played their way through the ranks at the club’s Academy. They also argued and fought.
Sean said: “When we were younger we used to fight a lot, and my mam had to go into Newcastle and Newcastle had to have a word with us and say ’you need to behave at home and stop fighting!’. We’d be playing a game and whoever lost would start trying to fight the other one, and it escalated from there.
“We grew out of it. Football became a bigger part of our lives. We realised we had to help each other more than fight each other.
“It happens every now and then – we argue like any brothers – but to be where we are now, there’s not loads of people you can trust. I know my brother will have my back every step of the way.”
Sean – who broke into the first team last season – had Matty’s back on his debut. So too did the club’s mascot.
Matty said: “This might sound dead stupid, but the thing that calmed my nerves down was when I walked out with the mascot and I was playing passes with him! You pass the ball and you’re thinking ‘just concentrate on the pass’.
“I remember thinking just before the game ‘just get some good touches in here’ – as stupid as that sounds! I’m thinking ‘I know it’s just a little kid, but I might as well make my passes good!’.
The family talent doesn’t stop with the brothers. Their father David, cousin of former Celtic midfielder Alan Thompson, captained Great Britain’s ice hockey team, and their mother Michelle was a fine netball player. Millie, their younger sister, plays netball at county level.
“She’s probably the best sporting one in the family,” said Matty.
But who’s the best footballer?
“I've got a bit of catching up to do,” said Matty. “I got man of the match, but I thought Sean was the best player of the match by a mile, so I've still got a bit of catching up to do.”
Sean disagrees. He said: “He's ready at 19. At 19, I wasn't ready. I couldn't have done what he's done.
“He's controlled the tempo of a Premier League game. That's not easy, but he's gone and done it in his first game. So, for me, he's miles ahead of me and miles ahead of where I was at his age.”