Photo: AFC Fylde

Being a Manchester lad with a Ukrainian surname puts Matty Kosylo in a fairly exclusive club, though the relative elite of the Football League (EFL) is the one the AFC Fylde wideman would really love a membership for. Holding on to a starting place in Dave Challinor’s side is the most immediate hurdle the sprightly attacker has his sights on clearing, but he is confident of soon tearing into full flight.

It was in the wake of Stockport County’s relegation from the Football League in 2011 that Ray Mathias, who would leave just two months later following an ultimately unsuccessful takeover by Tony Evans’ consortium, released 11 players. Among those was youngster Matty Kosylo, a local product but little known, as a soon-to-be-19-year-old yet to make his senior debut.

You’re not 19 forever, though (and more of that later…). A sharpshooting wide player, he has since carved out a firm reputation as one of non-league’s most recognisable and well-regarded forward talents.

The Evo-Stik Premier Division’s Young Player of the Season for 2015/16 while at Nantwich Town, he became a key player at FC Halifax Town as the Shaymen earned promotion and subsequently re-established themselves back in the National League over the last two years. The ex-Hyde United and Ashton United winger has attracted his share of interest in recent seasons, with a move to the EFL certainly mooted once or twice.

At the end of May, he was announced as a new capture for AFC Fylde, a club holding little back as they bid to burst through the doors to League football. Recalling his conversations with manager Dave Challinor prior to signing, Matty explains how he saw the Coasters as the golden goose of non-league suitors this summer.

“I think the manager’s main thing was he wanted players who are obviously ambitious and he wanted attacking players who would run in behind as well as come to feet this year. I think he wants to pose a threat that way a little bit as well, and I’d say I tick the boxes for that.

“With them being one step short of getting promoted to League Two, you’d say they were the best team in the division to join. I had conversations with a couple of other clubs, but they never really came to fruition, so once they sent me an actual offer at Fylde, it was a sort of no-brainer.

“I went and met them and I was more than happy signing.”

Described by his new gaffer as someone who had ‘always been the standout player’ at Halifax, the 27-year-old recently kicked off his third season at this level. Having helped his old club to 16th and 15th-place finishes, he paints the picture of how lining up now for 2018/19 play-off finalists Fylde has presented a new kind of assignment come match day.

“I think it has been getting used to the different style of play. I’ve been in teams before where we’ve sort of played on the counter-attack; obviously here we try and dominate the ball a lot.

“I have been trying to understand what the manager wants from his wingers or his number tens, and it’s been a learning curve, but I’m sure we’ll kick on from here.”

Matty (right) alongside AFC Fylde manager Dave Challinor as he signs for the club in May 2019. Photo: AFC Fylde

By his own admission, last season coincided with some personal distractions to contend with, while a change in training model at Halifax was unexpected for him, with the club triggering the option of another year on his contract last summer. It meant some juggling of arrangements, with Matty working full-time.

“I’ve always worked outside of football. From 19 I started tutoring, and that started with sport courses and I’ve gradually progressed with that.

“I did my personal training and started teaching that, so it was this summer that I had to knock my job on the head because obviously Fylde’s full-time. Last year with Halifax, they did the hybrid model where they train for three mornings, so I was able to sort of work around my job with that.

“This year it’s quite far, geographically, to get back and be able to do the job.”

Joining Fylde on a two-year deal, with the option of a third, relinquishing his non-footballing job was always going to be an inevitability on his pursuit of League football. Recently-promoted Salford City were one of the clubs to bid unsuccessfully for him in the past, but his new employers are on a very similar upward trajectory.

Last season’s FA Trophy victory over Leyton Orient at Wembley made the Coasters the first club to have won both the Trophy and the FA Vase, having lifted the latter in 2008 as Kirkham & Wesham. Had their 3-0 play-off final loss to Salford eight days earlier transpired differently, it would have been an astounding seven promotions in 12 years under David Haythornwaite’s chairmanship, and would have seen the former West Lancashire League side reach that Football League ‘Promised Land’.

Like his new club, who set out their aim of League football by 2022 over a decade ago, Matty has no intention of just settling for seeing what happens. There is a driven urgency to reach those top four divisions as soon as he can get there.

“I think that’s my ambition. It always will be until it happens, otherwise there’s no point playing if you don’t want to play at the highest you can play at.

“I’ve signed at Fylde for two years, so my personal aim, and I would hope holistically as a group, is to get promoted. Then you’re a Football League player, and I think all the lads are good enough, and it’s definitely achievable this season.”

It is tricky to venture too far in the direction of success without accomplished players, but history would also seem to show that clambering out of non-league doesn’t happen without a solid foundation of character. Take fortitude and formidability and top it off with fun and many would say you have a winning concoction.

Although still in the infancy of his time at Fylde, Matty feels they aren’t lacking in that department.

“I think you get that everywhere. I’ve been involved in different changing rooms throughout non-league and each have had different types of leaders and characters.

“I think we’ve got that here. We’ve got a couple of captains in Lewis Montrose and Neill Byrne.

“You’ve got Dan Bradley who’s quite loud and a bit of a joker.”

Along with scoring 31 goals in his three years at Halifax, Matty also left an impression as a combative kind of winger, which perhaps qualifies as unorthodox. One characteristic he undeniably has is an element of unpredictability; a golden trait no matter the level.

As with any new signing (but for the unbelievably fortunate ones), he had his moment to step up and take top billing when it came to his initiation song recently.

“I sang Courteeners ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ – didn’t get a great reception!”

Different approaches work well for different players, and sometimes it may not even require a large degree of fondness for their manager, so long as there is the underlying foundation of respect. Asked when he has enjoyed his football the most up to now, Matty pinpoints the time largely spent playing under now-Alfreton Town boss Billy Heath, as well as an earlier spell alongside a man who has since made tremendous strides as Altrincham gaffer.

“I would say my first two years at Halifax, as well as probably the year before that at Nantwich under Phil Parkinson; he really had a positive effect on me and that’s when I started to realise that I could start to make a few steps up. I went to Halifax, didn’t really start great, but once I got in the team I felt like I could stay there, and I did do.

“Especially the start of the National League season when we got promoted, I had a really good patch of form and then unfortunately got a bit of a knee injury, which kept me out for two-and-a-half months. I think I can hit really, really good form at Fylde, and hopefully, if I can get a run of games and we start shooting back towards the top of the table, I’m hoping to have a major impact for them.”

An undoubted highlight of his time in the game was Halifax’s National League North play-off final win over Chorley two years ago, sealed with Scott Garner’s 100th-minute header, with the 7,920 crowd at The Shay setting a record for that level of football. In the semi-final, they had to overcome Salford City in even more dramatic circumstances, winning on penalties, with Matty stepping up to score the first.

Salford’s managers that day could have been Matty’s this season, with Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley trying unsuccessfully to sign him for Chester over the summer. It would have been a sizeable coup for a National League North side, even one with the standing of Chester, so was it the drop down a division that ultimately scuppered it?

“Yeah, possibly. Being brutally honest – it’s no disrespect to Bernard and Jonno, if anything it’s through respect – I was honest with them and I told them I wasn’t looking to sign, but at the same time I wanted to go and meet them and listen to what they had to say, just based out of respect.

“That was one of the main factors, that it was the league below. I wanted to go and keep testing myself and try and get higher, and like I said before, Fylde was the best option in this league because they almost did the job.

“So it was literally a discussion based out of respect, and I had a couple of other discussions with Conference North teams, like Altrincham.”

Despite his North West roots, Matty’s surname says more FC Lyiv than AFC Fylde, with Ukrainian heritage in the family. He explains the background on that one.

“My granddad moved over here during the War, and then obviously my dad was born in England, in Manchester. I met my granddad; I think he passed away when I was six or seven.

“I don’t speak any Ukrainian but my dad knows a bit here and there. I was born in Oldham but lived in Moston, then Middleton, and I grew up there.”

Having played the whole game in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Halifax, he started Monday’s goalless home draw with Harrogate Town, so while results have been a mixed bag in the opening seven games as Fylde sit 14th, Matty’s momentum as a regular starter is beginning to build. Alongside the likes of attacking midfield talent Nick Haughton, former Watford winger Mark Yeates and two-time consecutive National League Player of the Year Danny Rowe, it is difficult not to see them among the frontrunners when that business end of the campaign moves into view.

Along with honing his craft, when it comes to interests away from the pitch, it is handy that Matty has typically tended to lean towards an area so applicable to his now-day job.

“I’ve always been keen on my fitness. I think I learned a lot of lessons when I was a young lad; I’ve always been quite fit but I probably didn’t make right decisions in terms of attitude and stuff.

“Not that I backed out of anything or I didn’t work hard, because I did, but maybe if things didn’t come my way I sort of shut off and got disappointed. So I think looking at the psychology side of things has been an interest to me, and learning lessons that way.

“I think that would be one of my key interests, that side of sport.”

Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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