Matthew Lazarides may have been a late bloomer when it came to entering the world of football, but he has made impressive strides on the pitch no less.

In 2019, the 27-year-old signed on with NPL team Hume City, marking a tremendous year not only for himself, but for the team too. His road to Hume however started long before then.

“When I was 15 I went for a trial for the Pascoe Vale under 21s reserves and I ended up making the team. I was really excited to be so young playing for the reserves. I ended up breaking my leg the first week before the season started and I missed the whole year. Luckily I was young and that healed,” Lazarides told Neos Kosmos. 

At 16 he joined the Northcote City reserves, training with the seniors just a year later. His heart had other plans, calling him back to Pascoe Vale to his tight knit, “family club”. It wasn’t until a family friend at Hume City called him over for a kick that Lazarides made the decision to move once again, with the perk of his family living closer to home base.

While his family has always taken turns in taking Lazarides to his games as a youngster, it was through the support of his father in those early days when he realised how important it was to have a good support system around him

“We went through the soccer journey together. Both my parents were but my dad took me to training, always tried to get the best out of me to succeed through football. He would always stand there in his hi-vis work jacket near the fence, whistling at me when I did something wrong and cheering when I did something well,” he said.

Lazarides talks pre-match rituals, his favourite years of football and moving through the next phase of life.

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What drew you to football?

I sort of played basketball for a couple of years from nine until 12 and then I sort of got into soccer. I played around school as a kid and you kick a ball around with your mates and run around and I said, ‘Oh yeah, you know I might give it a crack’. So I started fairly late, I was 12.

I enjoyed it from then on in and grew a bit of a passion and went through the state teams at 14 and then thought maybe I’ll just keep keep playing. I wasn’t the best player, or most technically sound, but I was always pretty fast. I went up the ranks and made it to under 15s and then into a reserve team. I had a couple of setbacks along the way, some injuries, but then I got into the NPL with Paco at 17 or 18.

I just went with it. It gave me a bit of an escape from things as well, whether that was school back then, and now it’s work and it gives me a reason to keep fit.  It’s been a 15 year journey now. I’m 27 and I look back and it’s like you click your fingers and it just goes, time just flies.

It’s game day, what do you do to get in the zone before the match?

It’s a bit of a tradition I guess. I wake up Saturday morning, we usually play Saturday nights, and you know it’s game day, you’ve got this buzz. I typically go for a morning coffee and a little morning walk or something to tick over the legs. I’d usually go for a half hour massage at the shops just to get the hammies rubbed down, which is a bit of a superstitious thing.

I try to have a small breakfast and then obviously have pasta just before I leave for the game and carb up. It’s definitely a routine and very structured. The night before, I try to do something chill, like spend time at home with my partner and just try and have a nice early night, get a good sleep in. Obviously no alcohol or partying or any of that.

I’ve done that throughout my entire career and try to keep focused. You know your position is always at risk when you’re expected to perform at a high level, and you want to do your best to help your team succeed.

So I try to do everything I can to prepare as best as I can, but then you get to the game and you still get those goosebumps warming up and running out before the game, which I think will never go away.

Top three training songs?

I’m a bit of an R&B sort of person. I like a bit of bass, something that can get you going. I’m into new radio music. I try to keep up with the trends, but I’m not a big music head. I just look forward to my weekly Spotify discover playlist and seeing what new songs are coming out and if it’s good it goes into the playlist.

Matthew Lazarides was 12 when he first got into football Photo: Teyfik Baser

What do you find most challenging about the game?

I put a personal pressure on myself and I set high personal expectations and I try and strive to reach them or succeed in every game. I beat beat myself up if I make a mistake. I feel like I could have done better, just because of the standards I set myself.

I probably get a bit too worked up and get a bit of white line fever as well; getting angry at the referees on a bad call. I get very into the game. I think it encompasses me, it sort of swamps me, but I’d say just setting high standards and trying to reach them.

I feel a bit let down when I feel like I don’t reach those goals. As a defender if you make a mistake, if you have to stop the ball and it goes under your foot, you get a bit frustrated.

It’s good to be enveloped into the game because you’re focused, but sometime I feel like I forget to have fun.

You’re healthy, you could be injured and your season could be over. We could be in lockdown, so when I’m playing I feel like now I’ve got more of an appreciation to have fun and enjoy it and enjoy the time with the boys.

What has been a highlight in your sporting career thus far?

Oh there’s probably a couple. I think winning the national championship at 14, in my second year playing football was something that I didn’t think I’d ever do.

I went to Ivanhoe Grammar and I took great pride in playing first team soccer and winning the championship in my last year there in year 12. I took great pride in what that meant for the school.

And of course the success with Hume in 2019. I think in terms of a football year, it’ll be hard to beat. We won the Dockerty Cup final and held the trophy. We went through to the FFA Cup quarter finals and travelled interstate together. We played an A-League team in the quarterfinals.

We’re sort of on track for it, we’re doing well this season but we have a long way to go.

I’ll always be grateful to the staff and to the coaching staff for helping guide me and  giving me that sort of confidence and looking after my body. So 2019 as a year as a whole, it’s probably something that I’m excited to to tell my kids about one day.

How has football impacted your life?

I think back over the last 15 years when my parents were driving me to training and how my family, in particular my dad and how he probably got more joy seeing me play, than I did playing, and that’s always been the case. He gets in my ear and tries to get the best out of me.

It’s brought my family closer together just because it’s taken up so much time. The trainings and the game days and preparing and I probably put football before social life throughout my career because I took it seriously. Over weekends I tried to put myself in the best position to succeed.

I still say that even though I didn’t go overseas or do anything crazy or play the A-League, I still played the NPL for so many years and I sacrificed a lot to give myself the best possible chance to succeed.

It’s impacted my family, even now. My partner now, she gets a bit excited that we’re in lockdown because there’s no training, we can see each other more, so life has a different dynamic without soccer. You go ‘oh wow soccer’s taken up so much time, it’s very tiring on the body’ but then when the season ends and we have a two to three month break, you realise how much you miss it. You get really get really caught up in the moment, but soccer is definitely a big part of my life and my family’s life.

What is something you learned about yourself through playing the game?

I think I learnt the importance of having a good supportive crew around you. It’s the importance of friendship and how football brings everyone together. It’s given me friendships that have lasted a lifetime. It’s moulded me to be a bit of a leader and it’s allowed me to work better in a work environment.

It’s done a lot more things than I probably give it credit for. I couldn’t picture my last 15 years without football in it, and I probably haven’t had a real chance to sit back and really acknowledge that and embrace it and be grateful for it.
When I retire one day everything I’ll think, ‘did I take it for granted?’

I don’t feel like I did, but it’s all these things that go through your head, but I think it’s taught me a lot of life lessons and camaraderie, respect, morale, teamwork, things I take into my day-to-day work.  I think it’s just made me a better person in general.

2019 was one of Matthew Lazarides’ greatest years on the pitch Photo: Teyfik Baser

What do you hope to achieve in the next year?

The most important thing for me is to see ourselves behind COVID and behind lockdowns. I don’t wanna be living with that thought of ‘oh okay, if we come out when are we going back in or what does that look like?’

I’d like to have gone through a whole football season like we did in 2019. Go through healthy and have a good successful year. A full year with no breaks.

What’s something someone might be surprised to learn about you?

Probably my day-to-day, like what I do for work. I tend to keep my cards close to my chest. I felt like I was always very determined at school and I did well. I went through four years of uni for a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering which took a lot of time out of me.

I always did my best to give myself the best possible education and always try to be a bit of that class nerd which people don’t really see because I’m very outgoing and confident and pretty outspoken. I’ve been working full time now as a flooding and storm water engineer for about five years now and was promoted to a senior engineer about a year ago, so I take my work very seriously and I always have

Favourite way to unwind after a game?

It’s probably just sitting down and watching a movie, spending time with my partner and having a glass of red wine. Or a bit of poker with the family. If we win, we might go get a desert on the way home. It’s all about getting that rest in.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

I purchased a house recently so I’m looking forward to moving in with my partner when we’re slated to move in December. Just settling into that next phase in life, with responsibilities and debt, which is exciting.

It’s this new chapter that we’re looking forward to going through together. We’re trying to make the most out of the last couple months before Christmas comes. Hopefully there’s no lockdowns, but yeah, probably just looking forward to that next phase in life.

What is something you want to be remembered by?

I’ve never really thought about it. Off the cuff, it’s probably being remembered as someone who was full of respect, who was humble.

I want people to know that I always gave my all and did my best. I want to see my family and my partner happy. I want be known as someone who was considerate, who worked their arse off and never took anything for granted.

I guess I think that’s what most people want, but that’s something that I would like to be remembered for.