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Popular defender Partridge calls time on career to focus on fitness business and family

Popular Hungerford Town defender Matt Partridge has retired from football.

The 29-year-old, capable of playing at full-back, centre-half or in midfield, enjoyed spells in the Football League with Dagenham and Redbridge and Newport County before spending time at both Thatcham Town and the Crusaders.

Partridge, who was in his second spell at Bulpit Lane, had been a regular in boss Danny Robinson's side this season, playing 11 games – mostly on the right of a back three – and scoring once. However, the towering defender made the decision to hang up his boots after struggling to balance his football with his career as a personal trainer.

Matt Partridge wins a powerful header against Maidstone
Matt Partridge wins a powerful header against Maidstone

"It was a difficult decision. I've played football for as long as I can remember. I started at Thatcham Tornadoes when I was five," Partridge said.

"Playing football has always been what I've wanted to do and I consider myself really fortunate to have had the career I've had, both professionally and in non-league.

"It just came to the point where I was feeling like I'd been run over by a bus after games. I was waking up feeling beaten up on Sunday and I wouldn't recover until Thursday or Friday.

"I was very lucky to have a good relationship with Danny Robinson and so he didn't require me to train which allowed me to focus on my fitness business.

"My body couldn't take it anymore. I'm only 29, but it felt like the right thing to do. I've got a young family, so I'm really looking forward to being able to spend some more time with them."

Matt Partridge celebrates with Jake Evans, Callum Willmoth and Ryan Seager
Matt Partridge celebrates with Jake Evans, Callum Willmoth and Ryan Seager

Partridge – down to earth, affable and engaging – suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury towards the end of the first season of his second spell at Hungerford. He was sidelined for the entirety of last term, which ended in the Crusaders being relegated from the National League South.

And the former Reading under-18 captain admitted it was frustrating having to watch on as his teammates battled in vain to avoid the drop.

He said: "We'd had a great season but I injured my ACL about 10 games from the end.

"It took a while to get it diagnosed, so that held me back a little bit, and by the time I'd had a scan and then the operation the next season had started.

"It was tough. When you see the lads start struggling, it becomes even tougher. You're essentially helpless."

Partridge, who scored against his former club Thatcham in pre-season, feels Danny Robinson's new look squad – which contains less than a handful of players from last term – has the potential to challenge for promotion from the Southern League despite an indifferent start to the campaign.

Matt Partridge battles for the ball in the pre-season win over Thatcham
Matt Partridge battles for the ball in the pre-season win over Thatcham

The Crusaders, who demolished Plymouth Parkway 7-0 on the opening day, are unbeaten at home but – like last season – have struggled on the road, picking up just three points from a possible 18 on their travels so far.

Yet the versatile defender remains confident that Town, who are 11th, can compete towards the top end of the table come crunch time.

"It's been a bit hit-and-miss so far, but I think when they get things right there are good times ahead," he said.

"You look at some of the players in the squad, they're proven at this level. They've got leaders, league winners, goalscorers. The squad's got strength, power and height – they've got everything you need to be successful.

"It's just a case of everything coming together. Bulpit Lane is a fortress at the moment. If they can improve their away form, then things will be looking up."

Matt Partridge in action against Maidstone
Matt Partridge in action against Maidstone

Boss Danny Robinson was full of praise for Partridge, hailing him as "one of the best players and best people I've ever had the privilege of working with".

And Partridge credits the larger-than-life manager with playing a crucial role in his career, even helping him fall back in love with football when he phoned him in the summer of 2018 and persuaded him to sign for Thatcham.

He said: "I was considering stopping football when I first spoke to Robbo.

"I was only 26 and I was falling out of love with football. Robbo gave me a phone call. I'd never spoken to him before but being from Thatcham I was well aware of what he'd achieved.

"He just asked me to come down, play some games and get the love back for it. I loved it.

"I followed him to Hungerford and he looked after me really well. He gets players feeling confident, feeling good and wanting to play for him."

Partridge, who was born in Thatcham and attended the Kennet School, came through the ranks at Reading, signing his first professional deal in 2012, when the Royals were still in the Premier League.

A number of loan moves followed before successful stints at Dagenham and Redbridge and Newport, making more than 50 Football League appearances.

And while the defender ended up living the dream as a professional footballer, he admits he wasn't always so enthusiastic about the beautiful game.

"I used to be really reluctant to go as a kid, but I went to Reading Soccer Schools in Thatcham and got picked up when I was seven," he said.

"I went on to do a scholarship with them, captained the under-18s and then got offered a professional contract.

"I went on to play for Dagenham and Redbridge and Newport in League Two. I feel very fortunate to have had those experiences. I got to walk out to a full Fratton Park on the opening day of the season once. So the Soccer Schools were worth it in the end."

While still a fresh-faced teenager, Partridge got his first taste of men's football with a succession of loan spells after signing his deal with Reading. After impressing at Isthmian League side Bognor Regis, he became a regular in the Royals' under-21s before heading out to Basingstoke, where he scored on his debut at Bromley.

He said: "Jason Bristow was the manager, and he was assisted by Michael Gilkes, who was working at Reading at the time. They really looked after me and I loved playing for Basingstoke.

I was in midfield a lot of the time so I managed to get a few goals."

Matt Partridge wins an aerial duel against Bromley
Matt Partridge wins an aerial duel against Bromley

Partridge made his professional debut for Dagenham and Redbridge in a League Cup clash with Brentford back in 2016. He started at left-back in an incredible contest that ended 6-6 – a record for the most goals in a League Cup game – with future Premier League players Stuart Dallas and Andre Gray on target for the Bees. Partridge scored a penalty in the shootout but the Daggers were eventually dumped out, with the defender going on to feature 28 times that season.

"I was a defender – or at least I was meant to be – so it probably wasn't good that there were so many goals," he said.

"It was my debut in professional football. It was carnage but it was very exciting at the same time. It was definitely one to remember."

Partridge, who credits the unwavering support of his parents for helping him make it as a pro as well as the unfailing backing of his fiancee as he has progressed through his career, is set to focus on his fitness business and spend more time with his family – however, he insists he'll be back at Bulpit Lane as often as possible.

He said: "Playing for Thatcham and Hungerford, two local sides, has been an honour.

"Growing up, you're always aware of your local teams, so I feel very proud to have played for two of them.

"My five-year-old son has got really into Hungerford, he's a big fan now, so we'll be back to cheer the lads on whenever we can."

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