U21 defender Matt Dench reflects on his landmark start to the season, including his inaugural call up to the Australia U20 squad and making his first-team debut for the Addicks...
Having only signed his first professional contract in SE7 just six months ago, Matt Dench has already reached some memorable milestones this season after making his first-team debut for Charlton and representing Australia at U20 level.
He said: “It’s going well so far. It’s a huge bonus having signed my first pro contract at this club, then followed that up with being called up to the Australia U20s and making my first-team debut. I’ve had some incredible experiences so far this season.
“The opportunities that have come along have been amazing. I’ve hit many of my targets and reaching them creates new ones.”
The 19-year-old made his senior debut for the Addicks in a 3-0 triumph over Gillingham in the Papa John's Trophy back in August when he replaced U21 teammate Harris O’Connor in the 67th minute.
Reflecting on that matchday experience, he said: “It was very insightful to be in and around the lads. All the first team were very helpful to me, and all the other boys involved. Being in that environment shows you what you have to do to make sure you stay there.”
This season, Charlton have seen a significant increase in the use of academy graduates within the first team and Dench said: “It definitely motivates us. It shows that there are opportunities there. It’s all about making sure you take those opportunities so that you get more chances to impress and showcase yourself again.”
In addition to his domestic success with the Addicks, Dench has also reached great heights internationally with the U20 Socceroos, receiving his first call-up for Australia’s ‘Four Continents’ tournament in Spain back in September.
“I couldn’t believe it really,” said Dench. “Steve Avory called me into his office and told me that I was in the squad and that I’d be travelling to Spain the following week. After that week, we had the qualifiers for the Asian Cup and the World Cup. Steve pulled me into the office the following week and told me the good news again. It was unbelievable. I called my parents straight away.”
Dench’s journey to the Charlton academy wasn’t the easiest path. Having moved to Australia with his family at the age of four, at 16 he headed to England in order to pursue a career in football.
“Leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “The first two years were a struggle, but there are great people and supporters at this club. Living with the likes of Tracey Leaburn and the boys, they’re like my brothers and they really made me feel like I belong. I knew Charlton was the right place for me.”
The versatile Dench joined Charlton’s esteemed academy set-up from ECU Joondalup and has gone on to play regularly for Hamza Serrar’s U21 side this season.
“I went to a few other clubs before Charlton but when I came here for two weeks, I felt a difference,” he said. “It felt more friendly and welcoming. I knew that if I was travelling the entire world by myself, I needed a place that suited me, and Charlton did. It’s a great club and I made the right choice.”
A special moment was made even better as he prepared to take on England in the Four Continents Cup. His family travelled all the way over to Spain in order to surprise him ahead of the fixture.
“I actually had no idea about it until the day before the England game,” he said. “I was having breakfast with the squad and one of my teammates pointed to the door and said, ‘I think your family is there.’ I was in denial.
“I turned around to see my parents, sister and girlfriend. I was just shocked but so happy because that was the first game they were going to watch me play in three years due to Covid. For the first game to be against England and playing for my country was amazing.”
Due to his international achievements, Dench was presented with a framed shirt alongside Northern Ireland U21 starlet Euan Williams at Sparrows Lane in October.
“To be presented with that in front of everyone was an amazing thing,” said Dench. “It’s a great feeling knowing everyone is behind you. It shows the togetherness at the club and motives me to achieve my new goals which are going to the Asia Cup in March and the U20 World Cup in May with Australia, as well as to keep progressing with Charlton and hopefully getting more first team opportunities.”
Charlton fans can support the academy by signing up to the Valley Gold scheme. Valley Gold enables fans to support the club's academy in unearthing the talents of tomorrow, as well as giving them the chance to win cash prizes.
(Article by Alex Forrest)