As a fan of Lisburn Distillery in the third tier of Northern Irish football it has been a tough eight months with only one competitive game since March. Normally by now we would be well into the season, if not in the league hopefully in one of the many cup competitions teams take part in at this level.

With no football to look back on or look forward to I have decided to take a look at my favourite Distillery XI in my time following the club, starting with the goalkeeper position.

There have been a few decent stoppers in my time following the club including our League Cup winning ‘keeper Billy Brennan, Ryan McBride who was a mainstay in the side during the three seasons we spent in The Championship recently and current number one Jonah Nicholl has put in a number of impressive performances in his 81 appearances to the club. There is however one ‘keeper who stands head and shoulders above the rest in my opinion and that is Phil Matthews.

Matthews joined the Whites in the summer of 2000 from Glenavon and had previously had spells playing for Bangor, Larne and The RUC and went onto make the number one spot his own over the next ten years at New Grosvenor.

The ‘keeper enjoyed a successful first season with the club, then in the First Division, as the side finished in 2nd spot and qualified for the promotion/relegation play-off against Crusaders but lost 4-3 on aggregate.

Perhaps the highlight of Matthews first season with the club came in the last league game of the season when he scored from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw against former club Bangor. It was the only goal the player would score in his time with the Whites but he remains one of only two goalkeepers in Distillery’s history to score a goal.

The following season Matthews and his teammates would go one step better winning the league and promotion to the Premiership by two points, the stopper saved a crucial penalty in a must win game against Ballymena on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Matthews would go onto establish himself, in many Distillery fans opinions at least, as one of the best keepers in the Premier Division over the next number of years as he helped the Whites stay up in that first season back in the top flight and in the 2003-04 season he helped the side to a 3rd placed finish, the clubs highest league finish in 33 years.

In his eleven years with the Whites, Matthews helped the club qualify for Europe on three occasions and perhaps one of his best performances for the club came in the 2006-07 County Antrim Shield semi-final against Linfield were he pulled off a string of simply outstanding saves, including a penalty save from Paul McAreavey, to help his side to a 2-1 win and our first senior final in quite sometime. Matthews played in the Shield final against Cliftonville, it would turn out to be the only senior final he would play in for the club but unfortunately it ended in defeat as a Mark Holland brace saw the Reds win 2-1 after Paul Muir had put Distillery in front with a free kick.

Saturday 8th November 2008 was a landmark day for Matthews, even though it may have been a day to forget for everyone else who was at Solitude when Distillery and Cliftonville played out a goalless draw. However, that clean sheet meant that Matthews became, and remains, the only goalkeeper in Distillery’s history to keep 100 clean sheets for the club. A massive achievement for a ‘keeper in a side perhaps not considered to be amongst the top sides in the country.

The 2009-10 season proved to be a mixed one for Matthews as the side had a disastrous start to the season, not winning their first league win until October. Despite the number of goals flying past him throughout the season Matthews remained one of the teams steadiest performers and things could have been much worse without him and in the end the side managed to stay up thanks to a strong end to the season.

The following season, 2010-11, turned out to be Matthews last season in football as a player and again it was a bit of a mixed bag for the experienced stopper. He enjoyed his usual strong start to the season and saved penalties in victories against Glenavon, Glentoran and Cliftonville.

Unfortunately an injury around the middle of the season put his season on hold and the club brought in the aforementioned Brennan from U.C.D. to replace the club stalwart. The new man’s impressive form kept Matthews out of the side for much the remainder of the season and unfortunately when the side made it to the League Cup final Matthews could only watch from the bench as the Whites beat Portadown 2-1, he did collect a winners medal though as a member of the 16 man squad.

The day before the final game of the season against Cliftonville, Matthews announced he would retire from playing at the end of the season. He was given a final start for the club and despite being unable to keep a clean sheet he did play his part in a 4-3 win and was given a standing ovation as he left the pitch for the final time at the end of the game.

One thing that was often noted about Matthews was that he was smaller in stature than a goalkeeper would traditionally be, which only made some of the saves I watched him make over the years all the more impressive.

It’s a shame that a goalkeeper of his undisputed quality couldn’t have enjoyed more success and perhaps due to the likes of Alan Mannus, Alan Blayney and Elliott Morris being in their primes at the same time as him he never got the wider credit he deserved but Matthews will always be held in high regard by Distillery fans.

In total the goalkeeper made 395 appearances for Distillery, the highest ever for a goalkeeper at the club and the 6th highest of all time and remains the clubs record clean sheet holder with over 100 clean sheets.