At home with ex-Derbyshire cricketer Matt Cassar
- Credit: Archant
A native of Sydney, ex-Derbyshire County Cricket Club player Matt Cassar praises the advantages of living in Ockbrook, whatever the weather. Simon Burch reports
He considers the county to be his home, but former Derbyshire cricketer Matt Cassar admits that occasionally his thoughts do turn to what life would be like living in his native Australia at this time of year.
‘I love living in Derbyshire, but we have briefly talked about moving to Australia, especially when it gets colder in the winter,’ he says.
‘People over there live a very outdoor life and I sometimes think it would be great for our girls to experience that, but it would be a massive step for us to uproot them and take them to live there.
‘That said, it’s only a plane trip away, we went there last Christmas and we’re planning more trips so we can enjoy the best of both worlds.’
It is also fair to say that Sydney-born Matt, 44, has put down deep roots in Derbyshire, having lived here since 1994. His wife, Lucy, is from Mickleover and his daughters, Jessica, seven, and Olivia, 10, attend school close to the family’s home in Ockbrook.
Matt now plays cricket in his spare time for Ockbrook & Borrowash CC and runs his own business, Finance Advice Centre on Raynesway in Spondon, which has 50 people working there giving mortgage, loan and insurance advice to people living in Derbyshire and across the UK.
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For her part, Lucy is also tied to the area as the owner of The Apple Tree Gift Shop and Tearoom, in Flood Street, Ockbrook. The business is proving to be extremely successful, having won a host of awards recently and has just extended the premises to cater for its increased demand and popularity.
Years of work have gone into both Matt and Lucy’s businesses – they are not about to up sticks and head Down Under to start all over again.
It is now 16 years since Matt last picked up a bat for Derbyshire, having spent eight years of his career at the County Ground.
He made his first XI debut in 1994 and his time in the Derbyshire dressing room coincided with one of the most successful times in the club’s history, when its first XI featured such stars as Kim Barnett, Dominic Cork, Phil de Freitas, Devon Malcolm, Michael Slater and Dean Jones.
Matt has a painting signed by members of both teams to remind him of the bittersweet experience of appearing in a cup final at Lord’s – they lost a rain-affected final of the Nat-West Trophy in 1998 – but it proved to be the highest point of his time at the County Ground.
Two years later, Derbyshire were relegated from Division One and Matt left to join Northamptonshire.
‘I still had ambitions to play for England and Northamptonshire had better facilities at the time, so when the offer came it made sense to move there,’ he says. ‘However, even though I was playing county cricket down there, I was playing cricket for Ilkeston and still had strong links in Derby, so I never really left the area.’
Sadly for Matt, he didn’t get much chance to put down roots in Northants – two years after moving, and ahead of his time, injury forced him to retire from the game.
‘Playing cricket was the only thing I had ever wanted to do so things were a bit rough emotionally when it ended,’ Matt recalls.
‘In the short term, I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to do. I was doing a bit of property development on the side but then I just happened to have a chat with my former teammate, Luke Sutton. He’d just done his mortgage exams and said I should look at getting my qualifications too.
‘I’ve always been interested in numbers and maths, so I decided I would go for it.’
Matt stayed in Derby to embark on the next stage of his career. Within a few years, with his qualifications under his belt, he set up a business, Derby Financial Services, based on Vernon Street, which was doing very well until the recession struck in 2008, pulling the rug from beneath the mortgage market.
He scaled down his business, opting to work from home, until he felt able to rebuild once the worst was over. In 2014 with the goal to move beyond the borders of Derby and expand nationally, Finance Advice Centre was born.
The company, which is expanding rapidly, is now in its own premises again and Matt enjoys the balance of running a firm with bringing up a family in Ockbrook.
Matt and Lucy had wanted to live in the village for a while before they managed to do so, and they had been looking for the right house for several years before moving into their four-bedroom home.
‘Homes come onto the market rarely in Ockbrook so the search was getting frustrating,’ he says. ‘There were a couple of times when we thought we’d found the right house but others beat us to it. However, one day when I was at work Lucy rang me saying a house had come on the market and she wanted to view it.
‘It was across the road from the cricket ground, which was great, and once she saw it she said she loved it, so we put an offer in straight away, matching the asking price.
‘I hadn’t even seen it, but I trusted Lucy’s taste and so was happy to go ahead.
‘Looking back, the experience of finding the house was a fairly emotional one, which is very common for anyone going through the house-buying process.
‘Sometimes at work we have people ringing up in tears because they’ve been told by their bank or building society that they can’t get a mortgage for a property they have their hearts set on and because I know what it’s like to miss out on your dream home, it’s very rewarding when we’re able to help them.’
Now they are a part of the village, the Cassar family has not looked back.
‘Ockbrook is a really nice village where everyone says hello when they pass on the street and people look out for each other,’ says Matt.
‘Lucy’s business is doing really well, the schools are good, I play my cricket in the village and our girls also play Kwik cricket here, alongside doing cheerleading and trampolining.
‘I definitely want the girls to be active and be into sport. I believe that sport builds character and if you are involved in it you are less likely to get into trouble.
‘It has lots of other uses too. It gave me a very enjoyable playing career whilst it lasted, and nowadays I have experienced how it can open doors in the business community because of the networking opportunities it brings.’
Sixteen years on from the last time he represented the county, Matt still gets recognised when he goes to watch Derbyshire and he still keeps a keen eye out for their results.
‘I have a lot of great memories from playing for Derbyshire and it would be great to get involved in some way again in the future,’ he says.
‘I still go along to watch at the County Ground occasionally with the girls and although I have told them I used to play for the club, they’re a bit too young at the moment to understand what that means.
‘To them, the idea of their dad playing for Derbyshire is no different to me playing across the road for Ockbrook.’