FEATURE: Former Premier League goalkeeper Matt Duke on rising through the leagues at Hull City, facing Steven Gerrard and getting sent off at Wembley

Now in the twilight of his career, Matt Duke is loving life back in non-league.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 4th February 2016, 10:50 am
Matt Duke.
Matt Duke.

The goalkeeper, 38, started out in the modest surroundings of Matlock in the late 1990s before going on to reach the very top of the game with Hull City.

It’s a career that has seen him rise through the divisions and reach the Premier League, turn out at Wembley and return to playing the game he loves after successfully battling against cancer.

Nowadays he splits his time between playing semi-pro at National League North side Alfreton and coaching the under-21s at Sheffield United.

Matt Duke walks after being shown a red card. Bradford City v Swansea City. Capital One Cup Final, Wembley. 24 February 2013. Picture Bruce Rollinson

And Duke admits the current situation is the ideal one after bowing out from professional football last summer following his release by Northampton.

He said: “In the summer I was looking to get a club and I got an opportunity to coach the under-21s at Sheffield United.

“That’s on a part-time basis and Alfreton needed a goalkeeper so it was a case of speaking to my old mate Ryan France to get the chairman’s number.

“Playing there allows me to do the coaching role and also still play, which is ideal.

14th Sept 2010. Hull City AFC. Keeper Matt Duke PICTURE GERARD BINKS

“I think it’s just a natural progresson and I enjoy coaching.

“I’ve played football since I was eight years old so to have all that experience from the last 16 or 17 years and not use it would be stupid.”

Since his last game in non-league he admits plenty has changed - with the calibre of players improving for the better.

He said: “I think more teams have advanced.

Matt Duke walks after being shown a red card. Bradford City v Swansea City. Capital One Cup Final, Wembley. 24 February 2013. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“I think teams try and play a little more.

“When I was in it first time around, teams played more direct.

“But now it’s definitely more football-based.

“I think teams are trying to play more and technically the players are better.”

14th Sept 2010. Hull City AFC. Keeper Matt Duke PICTURE GERARD BINKS

Those years in non-league with the Gladiators and Burton Albion stood Duke in good stead for his big move to Hull in 2004.

Despite enjoying the best moments of his career whilst on the Tigers’ books, Duke admits he had doubts that the club would race through the leagues as quickly as they did.

He explains: “I was playing at Burton in the Conference at the time when the manager Nigel Clough rang me and said Hull had come in for me.

“He said the club wasn’t going to stand in my way.

“He didn’t want me to leave but he said it’s a big club and they could be in the Premier League in a few years.

“I remember thinking to myself ‘not quite’ but he was proved right!”

He certainly was.

Duke joined when Hull were in League One but promotion followed before a memorable Championship play-off final win over Bristol City in 2008 earned the club their first ever top flight season.

And Duke says the whole journey was hugely enjoyable to be part of.

He said: “We were in League One when I signed but the club just went from strength to strength.

“You couldn’t have dreamed of promotion through the play-offs to the Premier League when I first signed.

“To spend a couple of years in the top flight and get to play some games as well was beyond what I could have ever expected.

“It was an amazing time.”

Duke played 21 times in the Premier League and says one player in particular stood out.

“The one that stood out in particular is Steven Gerrard,” he said.

“Even when you were on the pitch, you just had to say ‘wow’ at the range of passing that he had.

“It seems obvious to say him because he was such a good player.

“But playing against him you got to see just how good he really was.”

Duke had plenty of admiration for those who were also part of the incredible Hull journey.

He said: “There was a lot of good players who didn’t make it with Hull but went on to have good careers, such as Damien Delaney and Jon Walters.

“I think the stand-out ones I played with though were Nick Barmby, Jimmy Bullard and Geovanni.

“Barmby came at the same time as me and dropped down from Leeds.

“He was such a fantastic player.

“You could see why he made it at the top.

“He was probably the stand-out player for me, as an all-round person on and off the pitch.”

Despite the fantastic rise of the club, it wasn’t sustained and Hull were relegated in their second season.

Duke was later released in 2011 and ended up joining another Yorkshire outfit; Bradford.

During his second season at the club he played his part in the Bantams’ outstanding cup run as they reached the League Cup Final.

Along the way the League Two side recorded some big scalps and none bigger than the quarter-final win over Arsenal on penalties at Valley Parade.

They then knocked out Aston Villa over two legs in the semi-final before a sobering 5-0 loss to Swansea in the final.

As if that result was not bad enough, Duke was shown a red card just before the hour mark for bringing down Jonathan de Guzman inside the box.

Duke recalls: “That season with the cup run and the promotion was a dream.

“Especially when we played Arsenal at home.

“When we saw the teamsheets come out and all the big guns were playing we laughed because we couldn’t quite believe how strong they were.

“But we ended up winning and it was just a fantastic time.

“The final was ironic as it was the first time I’d ever been sent off.

“I suppose if you’re going to get sent off you might as well do it at Wembley!

“But it was a fantastic occasion and although it didn’t go according to plan, just us getting there was unbelievable.”

Despite those famous occasions now consigned to the past, Duke always has a strong sense of perspective following his battle with cancer in 2008.

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January of that year.

Luckily he was successfully treated and was incredibly back playing just three months later.

He added: “I’m happy to help because if it wasn’t for things that have been done in the past, then I may not have been as fortunate.

“On the pitch Hull were going great and I remember being sat at home watching the team go on a winning run and that gave me a massive incentive to get back.

“I think it was three months from being off to coming back.

“When you feel like you’re having a bad day there could be something much worse around the corner.

“You might lose a game on a Saturday but it’s important to have perspective.”