All-rounder Blake aims to be a big hit
Matthew Blake’s dream of becoming a professional footballer with the team he’s grown up supporting became a reality with an offer to join the under-23s set-up next season.
But it could have been a different story for the Ynystawe-born defender, who might have focused on hitting balls rather than kicking them.
Blake has been a part of Swansea City’s academy since he was just eight years old.
He progressed through the youth system to become a regular feature in the under-18s’ starting XI over the past two seasons, and will now step up to the Swans’ development squad.
But it is not only the football pitch where Blake has displayed sporting talent, for he is also at home on the cricket field.
So gifted is the 18-year-old, in fact, that his cricketing ability has been noted at national level.
“The cricket really is down to family ties,” Blake says with a smile.
“All my family played cricket for Ynystawe, where I grew up, from my grandfathers to my dad. I guess I just followed their example.
“Just like with football, I started from a young age with my local team and progressed from there. My older brother still plays and captains the side.”
Blake balanced playing football and cricket throughout his youth. As he came through with the Swans, he was also playing for Glamorgan’s academy. Not only that, but as a schoolboy he was picked by Wales and attended an England camp.
Football eventually won through as Blake’s main focus, although the all-rounder still likes to get back to the crease when he gets the chance.
“I do take football more seriously as a profession, but I would never discard cricket,” he says.
“I love both sports and any chance I get I still like to play for Ynystawe. My brother is often on my back for me to be an extra player.
“Last summer I played about half the games and had the best batting average and was in the top four or five for wicket taking.
“I find playing during the summer is a good way to keep fit in the off-season from football.
“It is something I have spoken to our strength and conditioning coaches about.
“Being a fast bowler is still quite tough on the body. Bowling 10 overs on a Saturday is quite hard, especially if you play another game the following day.
“It is better than doing nothing over the summer. The past few seasons I have found I’ve come back for pre-season training fitter and stronger with a higher tempo.”
Blake’s off-season exploits certainly did not damage his progress with the Swans in 2017-18.
The left-back was a regular for the under-18s and played a number of times for the under-23s.
He enjoyed a dream debut at development level in December, claiming two assists in a 5-1 win over Colchester United in the Premier League Cup.
“Playing for the under-23s was a big step up,” he says. “If someone had said to me before that game I would have that much impact, I would not have believed it.
“It was a great game to be a part of. Playing at that level helps you improve your game at a faster pace.
“Taking that next step was very important to me and I feel has helped me earn a new contract for next season.”
Blake went on to play eight games with the under-23s and, while he is passionate about both football and cricket, there are no doubts about his sporting ambitions.
“It’s my dream to play first-team football for Swansea City,” he says.
“To be honest, the way England performed in the Ashes, I better stick to football!”