SELECTION in the New South Wales team for the International Youth Football Tournament at Tokyo will have special meaning for Ian Matthews.
The talented Beechwood footballer will return to his homeland for one of the first times in May as he tests himself against the best.
New South Wales will represent Australia against highly-fancied opponents from countries such as Italy, Korea and South America.
Matthews has Japanese heritage and the tournament will be the first time many family members have seen him compete at a high level.
His great grandparents live about an hour from Tokyo and can’t wait to cheer him on.
“It means a lot to me because they’ve never seen me play soccer before,” he said.
The 13-year-old will celebrate his 14th birthday in a few weeks and was selected after a trial process down in Newcastle.
It means a lot to me because (my great grandparents) have never seen me play soccer before.Ian Matthews
“They picked a few kids who they thought had good talent for the trial and they did two days of trials down there,” he said.
He was quietly confident he performed well enough to gain selection, but it still came as a surprise when it became official.
“I was a bit nervous and I was confident I would make it in,” he said.
The quietly spoken student from St Joseph’s Regional College said he had ambitions of one day representing the Socceroos.
“I want to go as far as I can to hopefully play for Australia one day or in the A-League and try to get as far as I can,” he said.
Joining Matthews on the plane over to Tokyo will be Port Macquarie duo Jack Page and Taye Power O’Toole.
Football Mid North Coast technical director Larry Budgen said having the three players from the Hastings region was recognition of their development program.
“Ian has come through the development programs so it’s a reward for that commitment,” he said.
“The three boys from around here have represented at the national titles and they go down to Newcastle to train once a week.”
Budgen said the team would represent Australia in the form of a Northern NSW talent squad and it would be a challenging experience.
“It’s a world tournament; there will be UK teams over there and Boca Juniors (from Argentina) send a team as well so it’s the best of the best,” he said.
“The boys are in for a tough tournament, but it will be a great experience for them.”