Former Grecian Armstrong-Ford relishing his moment in FA Cup spotlight
Four years ago, Matt Armstrong-Ford could not get into Newquay's team. Tomorrow, the 23-year-old is set to line up for Hastings United against Middlesbrough in the third round of the FA Cup.
It is safe to say that the former Exeter City and Truro City goalkeeper is not your average footballer and, prior to this weekend's tie at the Riverside Stadium, his rise to prominence has taken a far more unusual route than most.
The 6ft 5in goalkeeper is a qualified game ranger. His father Gerry Armstrong is a tennis umpire, who famously disqualified John McEnroe at the 1990 Australian Open.
Following his release by Exeter City 19 months ago, Armstrong-Ford worked as a naked butler. "I turn up to a party and serve drinks for a couple of hours, just wearing collars, cuffs and a little pinafore," he told the Sunday Times. "Yes, you could say it was something a little bit different!"
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It was through his zoology studies, though, that the goalkeeper arrived in Cornwall in 2008, on a works placement at Newquay Zoo. After settling down in the county 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.
Already covered in the goalkeeper's department, Mewton handed the teenager the telephone number of Newquay manager Jim Hilton.
While Armstrong-Ford will be aiming to keep out Middlesbrough's £9 million strikeforce tomorrow, 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 had 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 has done so well."
It was during his spell playing for Newquay in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League 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."
In the summer of 2009, Armstrong-Ford played a few games for Truro when they were in the Southern League, and also went to Exeter for a trial. He eventually had a spell on the Grecians' books but did not reach their first team, and had loan spells with Saltash United and Bideford before leaving St James' Park.
Armstrong-Ford then moved back to his home county of Sussex and signed for Horsham. They released him after, ironically, his errors contributed to an FA Cup exit against Burnham. He moved on to Hastings, of the Ryman League Premier Division, in October last year.
Despite playing on with a knee injury in Hastings' penalty shoot-out win over Harrogate Town in the last round, he will be fit to face Boro. He insisted: "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," he added. "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."