“IF it wasn’t for my family, friends and the people at Leeds, I don’t know whether I would have continued playing.”

Imagine being on the verge of achieving your lifelong dream, breaking into the first team of your boyhood club, only to be struck down with a potentially career-threatening injury. This happened twice to new Bradford (Park Avenue) signing Matthew Downing.

The left back joined the Whites over the likes of Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers at the age of five and was excelling at a rapid rate throughout the age groups, even claiming the Apprentice of the Year award in 2016, before he was hit with a 19-month layoff.

Downing regained his fitness and returned in September 2018, but broke his leg the following January.

The 20-year-old talks about the mental challenges during those times but thanks all those involved for helping him through it.

“My two years as a scholar went excellently and could not have gone much better,” he said.

“Things were looking really good. I had played loads of games with the Under-18s and I had signed to transition into the Under-23s, but sometimes you don’t know what is around the corner and unfortunately it has been a few bad injuries.

“Although I haven’t been able to show it on the pitch, the things I have learned have been priceless. While I haven’t been playing, I have been analysing games and learned a lot about myself.

“I have had to dig deep these last three years and I am hoping that I am able to take that into my game.”

Avenue have had a history of signing injury-prone players in the last few years. Most notably, Oli Johnson, who was riddled with fitness problems upon arriving at Horsfall.

However, physio Tally Clayton worked wonders to ensure his body could cope with the busy non-league schedule and the striker went on to make more than 100 appearances in his two spells at the club.

Downing has already been working with Clayton and believes creating a programme with her expertise could be key in keeping his fitness up.

“I went to see some guys over in Ireland to help me with a long standing groin injury. I am almost there now, it is just about refining those little bits and putting a programme together that works for me,” he added.

“It is tough because I love being active, playing every minute and participating in every session.

“It has maybe needed me to have a step back to see what I need right now, which is refining these exercises, even if they are not interesting, to take away the pain and allow me to get on the field.”

Downing could have been part of the Leeds side currently on track for promotion to the Premier League.

However, the defender is not bitter at all and wishes his former teammates, who have made it, well.

He also states his parting with the Championship side had to happen for him to progress.

“The likes of Jamie (Shackleton), Ollie Casey and Robbie Gotts all came through at the same time as me, so it is tough to see because ultimately that is where you want to be,” the full back said.

“My contract got extended until the end of June to allow me to get more fitness in. I didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye, with the virus. It is weird moving out because some coaches, like Andy Wood, I have worked with since I was five.

“There wasn’t much talk of me staying on after this year because both parties knew there wouldn’t be any opportunities. It is time to move on and get a fresh start.”

Downing talks about how he joined Bradford and is hopeful of playing a part in the club’s revival.

He said: “I had played with Lewis Knight and Martin (Avenue’s director of football) said to come up and play. He told me what Avenue are looking to do and what their plan is. It works perfectly with where I want to go in the next year or so.

“I like to defend and get forward where possible. I am not afraid of a tackle and like to get crosses in the box. I want to contribute going forward and also as a defender.

“I just need a run of games and to put in some good performances to impress people at the club and the fans.

“I have played against a few of the lads at the club and there is some really good players there, so hopefully we can turn things around and get higher up the table.”