Sean and Matty Longstaff interview: Newcastle brothers on dream debuts, sibling rivalry and turning down cricket
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They are two brothers with a shared childhood dream, the local lads who have given Newcastle United a timely lift after a summer of misery, but this is a story that should be cherished by football supporters everywhere.
It is a tale of sibling rivalry, good parenting and a strong family, of two humble boys from North Shields who still cannot quite believe they are playing for the team they have supported since birth.
But it is also a lesson in how to cope with rejection and why hard work, dedication and determination will always be just as important as raw talent in the development of young players.
Sean and Matty Longstaff sat down with a handful of reporters in Newcastle to discuss their match-winning performances against Manchester United - and everything that came before it.
Was Matty nervous before his debut against United?
SL: He didn't really speak about the game. The night before, he was probably a bit quieter than he normally is. He's normally running around the house shouting, singing, annoying people, but he just sat there and then he went out for a bit. My mam said: 'I think he's a bit nervous for tomorrow.' I just said he'll be fine. From the first day he came in for pre-season he's been outstanding. All the lads would say that as well. He deserved his chance.
Matt, did you get a good night’s sleep before the United game?
ML: Better than I thought. I woke up pretty early and thought I’d try and get back to sleep but it’s playing on your mind, playing in the Premier League against Man Utd. It’s like Christmas morning, as stupid as it sounds.Credit: getty images
It must be special to spend your whole life with somebody and then step out onto a football pitch with them?
SL: It’s been amazing. I think to be able to do it as brothers, it just doesn’t happen a lot. It fills us with pride. Just before the game, I looked across at Matty and I thought how worldwide the Premier League is and to have two brothers from North Shields at 19 and 21 starting a game is pretty crazy.
You have always been really hard-working, in football as well as at school. Why?
ML: It’s a big thing that comes from our parents. They were pretty strict in school and if we got wrong [were told off] they weren’t very happy. The way they brought us up, not just my mam and dad but as a family, nanna and grandpa and everything, they played a big part in how we grew up. They were pretty disciplined with us.
Is it right you were both talented cricketers and might have gone down that path?
SL: Matty was the best cricketer. I used to spend hours bowling at him and couldn’t get him out. There was a time when he gave up football for a bit to see if he could make it at cricket. My dad had to have a little word with him saying ‘I don’t think you should do that’. He made his own decision in the end. We do love our cricket.
ML: I remember when I was in the under-13s, I wasn’t doing so well, but in cricket I was doing really well. People were saying I could go to the top. I told my dad I might concentrate on cricket and he gave me a clip round the ear for saying it, as if to say: ‘There’s not a chance that’s happening.'
Sean, did you have the chance to go to Durham?
SL: That was just recently, when I'd grown, I did get better at cricket and there was a finals day at Tynemouth. Some of the Durham coaches were asking the lads at Tynemouth, 'Who's that? Does he want to come and have a trial?'
I think when they asked the guys from Tynemouth they laughed and said: 'If you can persuade him to leave Newcastle and come and play cricket then best of luck to you!' It's great to have other options in other sports but this is what we've always wanted to do.
Sean, can you describe what you felt when Matt's shot hit the back of the net against United?
SL: I’ve had that feeling before, but for him to do that on his debut against Manchester United, it was such a big game, 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. I had to try and jump on someone and hide a bit. It was pure happiness.
You were right behind it?
SL: 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.
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. From that night, he said nobody is going to be able to do this to me again. He worked so hard.
I look at him and if I could work as hard as he does, I don’t know where I could get to. His work-rate, 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.
What was that rejection like, Matty? Your brother still finds it upsetting.
ML: It was one of the toughest things you can go through as a kid. We have supported Newcastle since we were little. I remember Middlesbrough and Sunderland constantly asking me to 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 it was in here [the room where the interview is taking place] and they pulled me and one other kid in here 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----- me off. Looking back, being able to do what I’ve done since then, it all comes from that moment.Credit: Reuters
Where did you go after that?
ML: I went back to North Shields. 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. There was only one club that I wanted to play for and thankfully I got back into the set-up. I was about 11 at the time, and I came back and signed for the under-13s. It was pretty quick. I had more of a fire in my belly, I didn’t want to ever be rejected again.
Was it harder because Sean was still in the set-up?
ML: Not really, he was always one of the top players in his age group. I used to be here almost every night when he was training or playing and I would have my little ball on the touchline and I used to think I wish I was playing for Newcastle. When I eventually signed for them, it was a pretty good feeling.
It doesn’t look like you fight as brothers?
SL: We got the fighting out of the way when we were younger. We used to fight a lot and my mam had to go into Newcastle and the club 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. There was no major proper ones where we were bleeding and stuff.
Who would win a fight now?
SL: Probably him. He was the tougher one growing up. Probably when we were younger to when we were 13-14, then 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 load and loads of people you can trust. I know my brother will have my back every step of the way.