Former Truro City keeper Matt Armstrong-Ford set for Middlesbrough tie
FOUR years ago Matt Armstrong-Ford couldn't get into the Newquay team. On Saturday the 23-year-old will be lining up against Championship side Middlesbrough in the third round of the FA Cup.
It's safe to say the former Truro City goalkeeper, who made a handful of appearances for the club in the Southern League Premier Division in 2009, is not your average footballer and prior to this weekend's tie at the 35,000 all-seater Riverside Stadium, his rise to prominence has taken a far more unusual route than most.
The 6ft 5ins keeper is a qualified game ranger, his father Gerry Armstrong is a tennis umpire, who famously disqualified John McEnroe at the 1990 Australian Open.
And following his release by Exeter City 19 months ago, Armstrong-Ford worked as a naked butler.
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It was through his studies that the goalkeeper arrived in Cornwall in 2008, on a works placement at Newquay Zoo.
After settling down in the area during the summer, and with the start of the 2008/09 season looming, Armstrong-Ford walked into Studs Sports in Newquay and asked the person behind the counter if there were any local teams he could train with.
The shop owner he was talking to was, by chance, Penzance manager Trevor Mewton.
But already covered in the goalkeeper's department, Mewton handed the teenager the number of Newquay manager Jim Hilton.
And while Armstrong-Ford will be aiming to keep out Middlesbrough's £9m strikeforce on Saturday, he had to wait for his chance to impress after joining Newquay.
Hilton explained: "We already had Ian Chatfield in goal, so Matt had to wait for his chance. My assistant at the time was Symon Winnan, and he'd brought in Ian from west Cornwall.
"He played the first seven or eight games, before Matt was given his chance. It took him a while to get in, but he was one of the most dedicated footballers and nicest guys I've met. I'm really not surprised he's done so well."
It was during his spell playing for Newquay in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League division one west that Armstrong-Ford was invited for a trial with Charlton Athletic.
Hilton added: "When he came back from Charlton he was so confident, and in his remaining games for us he was outstanding.
"You can see he wanted to succeed so much, so to get this chance in the FA Cup on Saturday is fantastic."
Armstrong-Ford also had a brief spell at Truro City, before returning to Peninsula League football with Saltash United on loan from Exeter City in 2010.
After being released by the Grecians last year, he signed for Horsham, before joining Hastings United of the Isthmian League Premier Division (one level below Conference South) in October last year.
He has been an ever-present in the club's record-breaking FA Cup run.
And despite playing on with a knee injury in Hastings' dramatic penalty shootout win against Harrogate in the last round, he will be fit to face Boro this weekend.
He said: "I'll be all right for the trip to the Riverside. It's too easy to say the club has no expectations and we are just going up there to enjoy the occasion. That might be true but professional pride is forcing me to do well.
"I have other things I can do with my life and they are exciting but I want to show my worth as a goalkeeper. People tell me there's time. I haven't set myself a deadline but I know I can't hang around."