Careers cut short: Talking to ex-Hammer Matthew Rush


Talent dictated that Matthew Rush became a Premier League footballer – even though it was never his dream – while injury sent him into teaching.

As a youngster, Rush’s ambitions were sky-high, but only because he wanted to work in aviation. Despite joining West Ham at the age of 11, his ambitions lay beyond professional football, and yet he still made the grade at Upton Park.

“It was very much still a club investing in players in the sense of loyalty and West Ham was renowned for that,” Rush recalls.

“I signed under Billy Bonds, who was a West Ham legend, so the environment was one of a club investing time and energy into their players, so at the time, at 19, I was under the impression I would be there for the rest of my life because it fostered that kind of attitude.”

Rush’s interests were a long way from a football pitch, as he focused on education to ensure he had more than just the option of becoming a sportsman.

“West Ham wasn’t my childhood club nor dream and neither was football but it was something I was very good at and there were clear pathways as a junior to develop through the ranks and systems, so I went with it and it all happened very organically.

“I was looking towards doing the exams which were required to get into aviation. I was a little bit of a geek, going to the science lectures after school at the Royal National Institute, not your typical football player.”

The winger played over 50 games from West Ham following his debut as a teenager and also earned caps for Republic of Ireland Under-21’s.

His performances did not go entirely unnoticed and Kevin Keegan thought Rush’s skills and attitude would be suitable for the exciting team he was building at Newcastle United but advice from Andy Cole meant he had no interest in the move to St James’ Park.

“Kevin Keegan and Terry McDermott flew down and had an interview with me in London. I met them at the airport. Before I met them I had a long conversation with a friend of mine, Andy Cole, who was up at Newcastle and he was saying that even though he was treated well by most of the fans, his family and friends who visited Newcastle weren’t received that well, so I decided it wasn’t a move for me. That and and it was quite far north. Once I gathered various bits of information, it wasn’t for me.

“He said there was a bit of being southern but that’s just a bit of jovial banter, but he said his family and friends did receive quite a lot of racial tension there. When I played at Newcastle I was subjected to it as well.”

Eventually, Rush would leave West Ham in 1995 after Harry Redknapp decided he did not want the winger at Upton Park. Norwich City were the first club to put an offer in, so Rush slightly unwillingly headed to Carrow Road.

“It was made very clear to me by the manager that he did not care for me as a person or a player. His people management did not appeal to me either so I left at the first opportunity.”

Just a few days after arriving in Norfolk, Rush ruptured his knee during his debut against Sunderland and would require reconstruction surgery. His Norwich career was over before it began as he only played three league games for the club in two years.

“I didn’t really want to leave London and I definitely didn’t want to leave my wife and family there, and I went to a club…not that I didn’t want to go there, but I didn’t want to leave West Ham.

“So that combination of things was bad enough and then to be hit by a career-threatening injury, when my cruciate ligament snapped – which is painful in itself – well, it wasn’t the most positive time in my life.

“When you’re a young man, especially one who is a footballer, you have a great big ego, a God-like complex, which got me through as I thought I was indestructible and I’d get back and carry on playing football as I was doing before the injury.”

The spring of 1997 saw Rush head north as Oldham acquired his services, but just over a year later he chose to retire rather than face later complications with his health.

“I had some other surgeries, so from my first reconstruction to my last, it was just under three years and in that time I’d had ten surgeries. The tenth being the last. A God-like complex, which is something you have as a young, fit sportsman, made me think I’d get fit as I’m a very good trainer.

“Then when I spoke to the specialist he said he knew the attitude I had towards training and I’d get back fit again, even though my knee had been compromised but I’d get back fit again and then he said, which will stay with me forever, that if I didn’t sustain any more damage through my knee just through injury, just by the constant wear and tear as a football player, I would probably require a waking aid by the age of 45. When he said that it was time to retire.”

Rush quickly focused on the future, enrolled at the University of East London and set about qualifying as a teacher. Upon graduating he did his training at a school in east Manchester, where he got a stark insight into life within a comprehensive school.

“In football you’re involved in a high-performance sport whereas teaching is far from high performance. When I finished my degree and my post-grad, I had these ideas that these kids were of a certain ability which within the first week I realised wasn’t the case – they were bloody awful for the most part.

“It’s 20 years since I started teaching and if anything, it’s getting progressively worse. There wasn’t a great deal I could bring from football to teaching but because of my past career, the boys in particular were, not hero-worshipping, but they had an instant respect because of my previous occupation and then you can use it as a teaching aid to engage the kids.

“It was one of the most deprived wards in Europe at the time. Again because of my career, the kids had an instant respect for me but a lot of teachers have to fight tooth and nail to get that kind of respect and some never achieve it. I saw chairs throw across the classroom and books thrown out of the windows, I almost felt remorse for the poor, academic teachers.”

After six years as a teacher, Rush gave it all up to focus on his daughter Lana, who was singled out for her tennis ability. So Rush took her to Barcelona to train full-time at the age of ten.

“She was ten when I moved to Barcelona with her but before that I was heavily involved in making sure she was developing as an athlete and her academic career. She went full-time with tennis at ten, when we moved to the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy and she trained there every day apart from Sundays.

“I basically made sure she was watered, turned up to the training and did all her school work – there was an American school based in the academy, so the kids then joined the American system of education.”

The Rush household is an impressive one, with wife Caroline the chief executive of the British Fashion Council. She has a CBE, a couple of honorary degrees and is regularly in the company of royals and celebrities.

“Socially, as a football player lots of doors were opened, but with her and the position she’s in there is a different social strata that has opened up, which even as a footballer I had no access to; I remember I tried to join Soho House, which is a private members club, and I was refused and now I’ve visited every Soho House globally many times over.

“With her I’ve been in the company of royal families all around the world; she’s entertained by royalty, A-list celebrities, ambassadors of countries all over the world, she has been incredibly successful and achieved an awful lot.

“Quite often they want you involved in pictures but I prefer not to be in them and let her do her thing – everything she’s done is off her own back. I am incredibly proud of what she’s achieved but I don’t want to be involved, I am much happier to be on the side.”

Will Unwin




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