The Reds Starlets Who Switched Their Nation

Twelve months on from Ben Brereton Diaz scoring his first goal for his country, Matty Cash and Brennan Johnson have now done the same for theirs – but the comparisons, they don’t stop there either.

All three are products of the fames, Forest Academy, and all three have declared allegiance to that other than the country of their birth.

It’s happened before, more often than you may think, when an athlete appears for a country to which they were born, but, with these three footballers, the City Ground has, at some point, been there home.

Brereton Diaz, although born in Stoke in the late nineties, spent the formative years of his playing career in Nottingham, coming through the Academy to appear for the Forest first team, between that of 2015 and 2019.

Although he would make some nineteen appearances, between 2017 and 2018, for England’s U19 and U20 sides, he came to realise the fact of his Chilean connection, and soon after impressing in attack at Blackburn Rovers, he’d be called up by the South Americans.

That connection, courtesy of his mother, Andrea, who was born herself in Concepcion, central Chile, which in turn saw him qualify to play for their national team – an opportunity he wasn’t going to pass up, and has since made a huge success of.

Although initially called up for World Cup qualifiers, Diaz’s international debut would see him appear, in the 2021 Copa America, in the 1-1 draw with Argentina, going on to score his first goal for his country, on his first start, in June 2021, against Bolivia.

Now playing for Championship side, Blackburn Rovers, Brereton Diaz has scored four times, in fourteen internationals, this alongside netting twenty-two goals for Rovers last season as well – Gareth Southgate and England’s loss is, most certainly, Eduardo Berizzo and Chile’s gain.

Back across the globe meanwhile, and in Eastern Europe, Poland to be precise, the land of Robert Lewandowski, is another graduate of the Forest Academy, Matty Cash.

Slough born, Matty’s father, Stuart, was also registered as a player at the City Ground, between 1989-92, but could not get into Brian Clough’s first team, spending his time at the club in the reserves.

Matty though, as with Brereton Diaz, played for the club’s academy, and seniors, between 2014 and 2020, prior to joining Aston Vila – he’ll oppose his former club when the Premier League’s new season begins.

Cash’s qualification to play for Poland comes via his grandparents, they having been born in Gdansk, on the Baltic coastline, has seen him apply for, and gain, naturalisation for his country, going on to make his debut, against Andorra, in November 2021.

June 2022 and Cash, on his sixth international appearance, a Nations League qualifier away to the Netherlands, registered his first international goal, in what was a 2-2 draw in Rotterdam, the Polish international telling afterwards that: “It’s a really good result.

“A lot of teams have come here and struggle. We showed fantastic character to stay in the game and keep it at 2-2.

“I had a sigh of relief at the end (when Depay missed the penalty), but the feeling when I scored was unbelievable – one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

And then, perhaps more importantly in the grand scheme, is the hometown hero, a certain, Brennan Johnson, he adding himself to the list of recent, Forest players, who’ve switched allegiances, successfully, to another country.

Nottingham born-and-bred, in 2001, Brennan is the son of a former Forest favourite in David Johnson, who played successfully for the Reds between 2001 and 2006, both players having opportunities to tie their allegiances elsewhere.

David, he was born in Jamaica, was capped by England B before being called up by Mark Hughes’ Wales in 1999 (but never played), committed himself to Scotland, before playing for the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica, all this in the late nineties.

When Johnson Jnr, who himself is a product of the Forest Academy having been with the club since 2009, came to play international football, it would be Wales who’d get that pleasure having quickly snapped up his services.

Having played for England at U16 and U17 level, the younger Johnson would be seen to switch his allegiance in 2018, making appearances for the Welsh at U19 and U21 level prior to making his international debut, in a goalless draw, against the USA in November 2020.

Rhayader, the market town of Powys, Radnorshire, is the home of Johnson’s grandparents, and, although he could have played for England, or Jamaica (like his father), he went Welsh.

By some quirk of bizarre coincidence, Johnson’s first goal for the Welsh U21s, came on his debut for them, in September 2019, against Belgium – fast forward some two-and-a-half years, and a Nations League game at home to, yes, Belgium, a game that would also see him score his first international goal (following it up in the next game when against the Netherlands (losing 3-2, dramatically, in the Stadion Feijenoord).

Belgium though, would be Johnson Jnr’s twelfth, international appearance, and, after Youri Tielemans had opened the scoring six minutes into the second period, the Forest star was on hand to rescue a point, with minutes remaining; this after coming on a second half substitute for Rob Page’s side, for superstar Gareth Bale, in the 73 minute (Bale would also net against the Dutch).

Speaking to BBC Wales after the Belgium game, and having been made to wait, what seemed an age, due to a VAR check – a lot has changed since his fathers’ day – Brennan Johnson said; “That was horrible, waiting for that confirmation, it was so tough.

“But when I saw him point that it was a goal, it was unbelievable.

“I think we are known as a hard-working team but at the same time we have such good quality in the attacking areas. As soon as we have possession, we are a threat to any team.

“We had to battle hard bit I think we played well and probably got what we deserves in the end.”

Those results, for Johnson’s Wales, come on the back of their qualification for the World Cup finals, in Qatar, their first appearance at the finals since 1958, where he will be joined by Cash’s Poland.

We, at the Nottingham Sport, would be interested in talking about your (Nottinghamshire) sporting, ancestral connections, like our recent piece on Jayne Torvill (here) , if you have one, or more, in your family line(s), please, contact our Senior Correspondent, Peter Mann, via email

*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Brennan Johnson has recently scored his first two goals for Wales.

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