Whilst at Photography class in the Art School at the Shrewsbury College of Art, a weekend documentary project entitled, "My Weekend", resulted in a spur of the moment idea to photograph Oldham Athletic v Shrewsbury Town on March 26, 1988.
The then Commercial Manager of the club, Ivor Hookway, secured a press pass for the fixture at Boundary Park with stern words of encouragement. Confidence grew the following week when a selection of images from the game appeared in the Shrewsbury Town matchday programme. Photographing his footballing idols and soon to be friends, this gave a new direction in life to the hardcore Shrewsbury Town fan whose matchday experience up until then was attending as a fan from the stands or on the terracing.
Continuing studies at Art School, months of mistakes were made both on the Shrewsbury Town training ground and on game day, but with dedication and a yearning on how to perfect blakc and white film processing and develop prints in the darkroom went hand in hand with the important but long road embarking on mastering on how to manual focus with long heavy lenses.
The start of the 1988-1989 football season saw the very first newspaper publication of an image of Michael Brown playing for Shrewsbury Town in action at Crystal Palace in London. Michael is still a personal friend to this day and is someone who shares the same birthday!
17 September 1988 - Crystal Palace v Shrewsbury Town - John Pemberton of Crystal Palace and Michael Brown of Shrewsbury Town
Learning the language of sports photography continued as every single Shrewsbury Town fixture was enthusiastically covered. As the players trained, so did Matthew, continuing to be self-taught with very high standards and goals. Every published image ensured a £25 income, with all monies reinvested in big spends on photographic paper and chemicals as the desire to master black and white printing overtook A levels and college work. With no goal or actual ambition, personal bank balances went into the red with the purchase of Nikon F3HP camera bodies, Matthew just took every day as it came with much cherished help and encouragement from the then photographers of the Shrewsbury Chronicle newspaper.
Soon, the ability to anticipate a picture became instinctive as every frame on a roll of film mattered, unlike today whereby photographers can at the press of a button take 14 frames per second, with digital failures easily deleted via the trashcan. After much hard work and a strong desire to succeed, slowly results became more consistent. An introduction to longer 600mm manual focus lenses helped and soon 60-70% of images on a 36 exposure roll of film were acceptably sharp for professional reproduction.
As the photography improved, so did important social skills. Befriending defender David Moyes who later became manager of Manchester United and understanding the merits of club confidentiality and not exposing training ground fights or rumours, most of which were true, the ability to trust was a very important trait to acquire.
Whilst most of his age group were out clubbing on a Saturday night, putting newly acquired cameras away after the referee's final whistle meant the job was only half done. Long evenings and nights were spent in darkrooms turning the afternoons efforts into 10x8 prints for newspapers and magazines.
After spending two years understanding how to technically master transparency / slide film, the need to keep up with the evolution of colour publishing continued. Another new skill had to be professionally acquired with the introduction of colour print photography at the local newspaper.
4 September 1991 - Shrewsbury Town v Stoke City - Carl Griffiths of Shrewsbury Town
Using the latest Fuji Film technology, the results were remarkable for every photographer using it. Manual colour balancing became more proficient during printing but it was not long before an invite to a leading football based photographic agency was on the table and seven years later it was time push forward in the career of football photography.
Despite now working for the UEFA Champions League, doing portraits of the likes of Zinadine Zidane and flying around the world covering FIFA World Cup qualifiers, days off still resulted in taking pictures and going to Gay Meadow the home of Shrewsbury Town! The likes of Nigel Jemson were more important than any World Cup superstar!
One of the most eventful days was when the river flooded the town of Shrewsbury. Sneaking past Police lines along with Ron Miller, the chap who dressed up as Lenny the Lion, the football club mascot, one of the club's most historic images was captured.
Missing Shrewsbury Town matches were tough but cashing in holidays to attend important fixtures like the club's 1000th Football League game resulted in material for later projects.
With the amount of countries visited now in the 50's, there was an even greater enthusiasm to take pictures of hometown Shrewsbury Town players. Goalkeeper Joe Hart was a pupil at the same school that Matthew attended, Meole Brace in Shrewsbury. This portrait of Joe holding a copy of the late 70's Shrewsbury Town newspaper called Town Times typifies Matthew's constant subliminal references with a picture of Ivor Hookway, the man who obtained the first press pass accreditation on the front page.
Now Joe is a world famous goalkeeper playing for Manchester City and of course England, but a nod and a wink when they were together at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil for example, cement the Meole Brace roots.
Visiting stadia is an enthusiastic part of the job, but when it was announced that Shrewsbury Town was moving home, Shrewsbury Town photography went into overdrive as personal projects took over any spare time. Having a kick about in a wheat field with player Kelvin Langmead put the duo in the record books for the accolade of being the first people to play football on the land that became the new stadium.
On becoming freelance in 2006 and starting AMA Sports Photo Agency, one of the first clients was Shrewsbury Town. After professionally documenting the building of the FIFA World Cup Stadia in Japan and South Africa, documenting the building of the new Shrewsbury Town stadium and the sorry demolition of Gay Meadow became a very personal affair.
One highlight was the self-published coffee table book, Goodbye Gay Meadow.
Using the latest digital techniques experimented on Shrewsbury Town players, it was the club who benefitted. A regular winner of matchday programme of the season with AMA's pictures proudly on the front and inside accompianing the words from the hard working writers.
After attending his first Shrewsbury Town football match at the age of 5, forging a career out of the passion for his local club has resulted in global travels. Growing up with footballers the same age, Matthew's left foot was never good enough for professional football but his left eye has taken him to five FIFA World Cup and 18 UEFA Champions League Finals amongst others. Regardless of the global travelling, documenting the ups and downs of Shrewsbury Town Football Club remains a lifelong passion.