Cat Scratches Feature: From English Prison Guard to the UK Soccer Complex

Sept. 8, 2009

He has a beard. He speaks in a deep, mature voice. His play on the field is not that of a freshman. Leadership comes naturally.

Oh yeah, and for the last year, he worked as a prison guard in England.

When asking Kentucky men's soccer coach Ian Collins about freshman midfielder Matt Lodge, the 16th year head man has a hard time containing his excitement.

"He is quality, that is the only way to put it," Collins said of his 19-year old standout. "If you asked me right now, who is the best player on our team, he is the best player. That is quite a statement about a guy who has been here for a month and a half. Just the quality he brings every day, the effort level, the intensity, the competitiveness. All of those things are very good and he is just very good."

A native of Rossington, England, Lodge spent the summer working as a prison guard in England. Defined as a "blue collar" worker and player by Collins, Lodge developed a toughness and fearlessness rarely found in college freshmen. While most incoming freshmen do typical summer jobs like lifeguarding, mowing lawns and waiting tables, Lodge was dodging prison riots and escorting criminals to their cells.

"It was a pretty laid back job to be honest," Lodge said. "I wasn't dealing with prisoners as much as I could have been. I pretty much just escorted them in and out of their cells, to and from their work places and guarded equipment."

While the prison was not holding the fiercest of criminals in England, it was defined as a "Category C" prison holding, among others, drug dealers and thieves.  While dealing with the prisoners, Lodge was often the victim of verbal abuse but that just added to his tough exterior. 

"I suppose growing up where I am from; it is a tough environment," Lodge said. "My big brother toughened me up more than anything."

While Collins was recruiting Lodge, the head coach scheduled a phone call with him to discuss the program and some of the possibilities. But, while working in the prison, Lodge was trapped in the midst of a full prison lockdown, keeping him from the call.

"I couldn't get out to call him," Lodge said. "There was a prisoner on top of the roof. They had to do what they call a lockdown. So they locked everything down and no one could leave or come in. I ended up missing the call."
Thankfully for the UK soccer program, that obstacle did not keep the dynamic talent from coming to Lexington.

THIS GUY IS GOOD

In December of 2008, Collins and UK recruiting coordinator Matt Wilkerson traveled to England to watch a trial of amateur players. While watching the trials, Lodge kept standing out as a player just oozing with talent.

"I didn't know about him before we went over to England," Collins said. "A lot of the guys that we look at internationally are recommended to us or come from friends of mine. I have a pretty good network in England, in terms of scouting players. Wilko and I showed up at a game where we were looking at a bunch of players and he was heads and shoulders above everyone else, and it was a good group of players. Right away, we got pretty enthused about recruiting him and right away, we found out that he was very intelligent and he had a real strong desire to come over (to America)."

It took Lodge all of three weeks of practice to solidify himself as a potential star, coming off the bench in the first exhibition game of the season against No. 18 Dayton to fire a team-high three shots - including two on goal. In the second preseason tune-up at Marquette, Lodge scored the go-ahead goal in the first half. Lodge's goal at Marquette was truly world class, collecting the ball at midfield, firing from over 40 yards away and beating a leaping keeper in the center of the net.

Then, when the exhibition season was over and UK opened the 2009 campaign in the annual UK Invitational, Lodge started both of UK's wins in midfield, netting his first career goal to get scoring started in a 4-1 win over Bowling Green Sunday. Lodge's goal was extremely impressive, securing the ball inside the box in traffic and beating his defender and the keeper with a hard hit, low-lining shot.

While interviewing Lodge's teammates, one word kept standing out about the freshman - intensity.

"Lodge is a great player," senior midfielder Chad Hagerty said. "He brings intensity and bite to our team that may be a bit more then we are used to, but it is definitely not a bad thing. He has a great shot and he is a leader, he leads by example. He is very vocal and for a freshman that is rare. He is definitely going to help us become a more successful team."

"He is intense, he gets forward well," senior co-captain Jason Griffiths said. "He shoots a lot, which is good. He should score a lot of goals this year."

ADJUSTING TO KENTUCKY

Sometimes the transition to American college soccer can be difficult for an international player, but Lodge has adjusted well. With fellow English players Griffiths and David Harrison, as well as an English head coach, the transition had been made a bit easier.

"It is a lot easier having English people around," Lodge said. "A lot of people don't understand my accent and it helps to have them translate a few things for me. It makes me feel a lot more at home. The hardest thing for me has been the heat and the humidity for training. I am used to playing in only cold weather, so this has been an adjustment."

While Lodge adjusts to playing college soccer in a new environment, Collins maintains high hopes and expectations for his freshman midfielder. And after spending his last few months guarding prisoners across the pond, Lodge welcomes the challenges associated with being a top-tier collegiate player.

"He is just a great kid, a funny kid," Collins said. "He gets along great with all of our team, he is very humble and he loves to play, go to school and do well. He represents the program very well. The people who watch him play for us are going to love him. He doesn't stop, he plays every minute, plays with an unbelievable engine, just a great player. I am really anticipating how far he can go.

"It is early, so early in his career, probably too early for me to make statements about him, but if he continues at this curve, he is going to be unbelievable."