What happened to the Premier League's once-youngest player Matthew Briggs?

Premier League debut on the Sunday, back to school on the Monday

Harvey Elliott became the youngest footballer to ever feature in the Premier League when he made his debut for Fulham against Wolves on 4 May. The young midfielder certainly has a long career ahead of him, and at the tender age of 16 - born in the year 2003 - the world, quite literally, is his oyster.

That is not to say that everything will be plain sailing for the Chertsey-born starlet, though. There are many factors in which can halt progression in the professional game and at such a young age, it is all about the choices he makes in the forthcoming 5-7 years that will ultimately decide his fate. Not every player is lucky enough to realise their full potential, with unwanted set-backs frequently putting an end to players' career at the very top of the pyramid.

For ex-Fulham left-back Matthew Briggs, this feeling is all too familiar. Once the Premier League's youngest ever debutant - before Elliott's introduction to the fold at the end of last season - the now-28-year-old has fallen out of the professional game all together, and is now plying his trade in the eighth-tier of English football.

Matthew Briggs
Briggs played against some of the Premier League's biggest names at Fulham.

Briggs was introduced as a late substitute for Moritz Voltz by former Cottagers manager Lawrie Sanchez in May of 2007, aged 16 years and 68 days. Life was as surreal as it was exciting for Briggs, who at the time was still studying for his GCSE's. The very next day, the wide-eyed teen was back in school with friends, who cheekily vied for his autograph.

Briggs' cameo against Middlesbrough was to be his only first-team appearance for Fulham for another two-and-a-half years, however, as the 16-year-old returned to the youth team. When he did return to the first-team fold in west London, Briggs' career was sadly was riddled with injuries; he remained at the club until 2014 - loaned out to four different Football League club's within four seasons - before departing Craven Cottage permanently for Millwall five years ago, aged 23.

After making just a handful of appearances for the Lions, Briggs was sent out on loan to Colchester United, where he played the most regular professional football of his career to date. The move to north-Essex was made permanent the following summer and Briggs would go on to play over 50 times for the U's spent over two seasons, across two divisions - League One and Two.

"I was leaving at 4am and not getting back until 7pm"

Briggs would then join Chesterfield, where off-field issues - including looking after his severely-ill partner - would start to make things extremely difficult. Talking to BBC Sport, the former England U21 international explained how he was still living in Colchester whilst playing for Chesterfield, a 10-hour round-trip to training each day.

"I was leaving at 4am to get to training for 8.30am, and getting back home at 7pm," said Briggs.

When it all became too much, Briggs left the Spireites in December 2017 and fell out of the game all-together. He took some time away from football towards the back-end of the 2017-18 campaign, but returned to the game last summer with Isthmian Division One North outfit Maldon & Tiptree, a semi-professional club based in Essex whilst also labouring on a local building site.

Introduced to the club - who play in the eighth-tier of the English footballing pyramid - by former Colchester coach Wayne Brown, Briggs had no qualms with dropping down the leagues to regain his love for the game.

"My mindset was 'I've got to prove everyone wrong'," Briggs told BBC Sport.

"I've got to have a consistent season, be consistent in my performance and show everybody I've still got it and shouldn't be at this level."

Despite narrowly missing out on promotion thanks to a heartbreaking play-off final defeat, Briggs unsurprisingly stood out for Tiptree, winning their player of the year award after scoring a number of goals from left-back.

"It's only this season at Maldon & Tiptree that all the doubts have gone - I've enjoyed my season, the best season I've ever had," he added.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed my football - no pressure, no stress, just expressing myself."

International comeback

Though Briggs represented England up until U21 level, due to him never featuring for the senior side, he was eligible for a call-up to Guyana through his grandmother. Offered a lifeline by the international minnows in 2015, Briggs grabbed his opportunity with both hands.

The 28-year-old has just returned from representing Guyana at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, alongside ex-Crystal Palace midfielder Neil Danns, former Reading front man Callum Harriott and Newport County wide man Keanu Marsh-Brown. Briggs featured in two of his country's three Gold Cup matches, including a 4-0 defeat against the USA, where he lined-up against Chelsea's new £58m signing Christian Pulisic.

"This time last year I was working on a building site and to have changed all this around, to then be playing in a big tournament like the Gold Cup means everything to me," said Briggs.

"I was so depressed about it [working on a building site] and my uncle said to me, 'Listen, just come and work', so I did and, to be fair, I take my hat off to the construction industry because I learned a lot," he added.

"I learned how to put walls up, build blocks and do all that. I learned some life skills.

"I thought, 'Is this what my life has come to?' No disrespect to the construction industry but playing at 16 in the Premier League to then working a construction job, it's made me more hungry to turn it back around."

Matthew Briggs
Briggs faced the USA at this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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