"All right Matt, how's things?" boomed Duncan Ferguson across the canteen of Everton's Bellefield training ground.

"I'm good thanks, want to buy a Land Rover?" replies the plucky salesman.

"Sure, I'll have one in black. Actually, I'll have another one in silver too," replies the Scotsman.

It's not the kind of conversation that Matt McKay had envisaged having with the Everton legend when he first stepped through the doors of the Toffees' former training base as a 17-year-old in March 1998. Back then, the fresh-faced McKay had the world at his feet having been signed by the late, great Howard Kendall on transfer deadline day from Chester City.

He had played just five times for the Blues under Kevin Ratcliffe but, with Chester facing a perilous financial situation, the Goodison Park club swooped to land the talented Warrington teen for £250,000.

But football can be a cruel and unforgiving game, both on and off the pitch. And injury problems meant McKay went from being ahead of Leon Osman in the pecking order and battling for a place with the first team at Goodison Park to rolling beer kegs and working as a Land Rover salesman (hence his return to Bellefield), all in the space of just four years.

It's 18 years since Ratcliffe whistled over McKay, now 35, to give him some unexpected news, but it remains a moment that is as vivid as the day it happened for the former Blue.

"We were just training on the Deva Stadium pitch and getting ready for a weekend game when Kevin Ratcliffe and Gary Shelton (former Chester assistant manager) called me over," said McKay.

"It was transfer deadline day and I don't know whether some of the lads already knew what the manager was going to say to me. 'Are you a blue or a red?', Ratcliffe asked me.

"'Well, I'm a blue, I suppose', I said.

"'Good, he said, because we're selling you to Everton. Go and get a shower and Dave Fogg (former Chester coach) will take you to Bellefield. You're going to be an Everton player'.

"I didn't know what to say. I was loving my time at Chester as I'd started to get in the side and was playing the best football of my life. I was just enjoying doing well for the club. I knew that some people had been interested as I went up to Sunderland for a trial and spent a bit of time with Peter Reid and the coaching staff there but I got a little bit homesick and just wanted to be back playing for Chester, really.

"When I was coming off the pitch after being told, Benno (ex-Chester striker Gary Bennett) came up to me and pleaded with me to accept the deal because of the financial situation at Chester at the time. 'We just want to get paid,' he said.

"Before I knew it Dave Fogg was driving me through the gates at Bellefield and I saw Michael Branch. I couldn't believe it, I was in awe of these players on the telly and now I was going to be their team-mate. It was unreal.

"I met with Howard Kendall and we had a chat about what the future had in store for me. He wanted me to play in the reserves and then challenge for a first-team place. He had seen me in a trial match and been impressed.

"Before I knew it I had signed a five-year deal and was an Everton player. It was all so surreal. I just got home and sat down and tried to take it all in with me and my family. Dave Watson picked me up to take me to training the next day.

"I was sad to be leaving Chester, though. We had a great team there with the likes of Spencer Whelan, Stuart Rimmer and Julian Alsford. They were guys that I looked up to and wanted to be like. But before I knew it I was training with the likes of Duncan Ferguson and people like that.

"Chester was great for me. We were playing teams like Notts County, who had Sam Allardyce as manager at the time, and I was just loving it. My affection for Chester has remained throughout the years."

And so McKay's Everton journey began. He was handed a first-team squad number and played in the reserves for the remainder of the 1997-98 season, with Kendall hoping that the midfielder would push on to challenge for the first team.

But McKay's hopes of rising to that challenge were dealt a blow following the departure of Kendall in 1998, with his replacement Walter Smith less inclined to blood youngsters, preferring to bring in more experienced heads to turn the Toffees around. McKay, battling with a host of other talented individuals such as Leon Osman, Danny Cadamarteri and Keith Southern for recognition, was left out in the cold and, with his reserve appearances drying up, forced to play much of his football with the under-19s.

"When Howard Kendall left and Walter Smith came in it was a tough time for me as he didn't really want to play the younger players," said McKay.

"He brought in more experienced players like Don Hutchinson, and when he signed John Collins and Olivier Dacourt I knew that the chance of me getting a shot at first-team football under him was slim to none.

"I asked him time and time again to let me go out on loan but he told me to sit tight and wait for my chance and keep playing my football. Loans weren't as big as they are today but I kept on asking as I just wanted to play football."

McKay heeded Smith's advice and stayed to fight for his Everton future and began to establish himself in the Everton reserve side, putting in a string of impressive displays in the centre of midfield. The tide seemed to be turning back in his favour at last.

"I knew something was wrong as soon as I went over on it, it just wasn't right," recalled McKay on picking up the injury in a reserve game at Middlesbrough that would, eventually, bring about the end of his career at the age of 21.

"I came in to training the following day and just wasn't right. The pain was unbearable and I just couldn't do anything on it. I knew something was seriously wrong."

But McKay didn't ever imagine just how serious his injury would prove to be.

Tony Hibbert, Matt McKay, Leon Osman, Keith Southern and Nick Chadwick at a players reunion
Tony Hibbert, Matt McKay, Leon Osman, Keith Southern and Nick Chadwick at a players reunion

"I went to see the same doctor that treated Roy Keane after his Alf-Inge Haaland injury and he told me that in 40-45 years he had never seen a case like mine. It didn't look bad but the bones in my foot and tibia were knocking together, cutting through my cartlidge and causing cists. It was the same type of injury that Dean Ashton had. He carried on playing but had to have his ankle fused eventually.

"David Moyes was manager at the time and I was told that there was nothing that could be done and that I wouldn't be able to play football again. I was absolutely crushed. I had a home, a child and a girlfriend to support. In a matter of weeks I had gone from thinking I was getting somewhere at Everton to being told I had to retire.

"My joints were hypermobile so it was something that was always likely to happen, but the injury against Middlesbrough made the whole thing happen years before it probably would have done.

"I decided there was no point in me hanging around for the remainder of the season and decided to leave. The players had a whip round for me when I did leave. It wasn't like it was £20 or £30 quid, it was a fair bit. Mark Pembridge did a nice speech in front of the lads saying how sorry he was to see this happen to me. I had a chat with some of the lads, had a game of pool and then left. That was it, that was the end of my dream.

"I had some lovely messages of support from Chester fans, though. They still looked out for me and they have held a special place in my heart ever since. It did help me.

"I had a holiday and some time with the family straightaway after I left. Luckily Everton had an insurance policy out on me and I had the benefit of four years of good pay, so I was OK for a bit. The club were great to me but I still needed to find a job."

Having to rebuild his life from scratch at the age of 21, McKay stepped through the door his local job centre in search of gainful employment. Not too proud to start from the very bottom, he took a job rolling beer kegs for Carlsberg Tetley, initially on an unpaid trial basis, admitting that his change of circumstance took its toll on him.

"I'd gone from being an Everton player and living the dream to rolling beer kegs in a few weeks," he said. "I suffered from depression for a few months and was cursing my luck, but I had my family help me through it all.

"I just wanted a job, any job. I had to think about the future and what I was going to do. All I had ever known was football but I had to support my family."

Having knuckled down and earned himself a job rolling kegs, McKay spotted an opportunity to move himself on to better things when he spotted a job opening selling Land Rovers.

"I told them my back story and said I could sell 10 Land Rovers tomorrow, no problem," said McKay.

"The boss took me up on that offer and I took him to Bellefield. All the players were happy to see me and I ended up selling about 10 or 15 Range Rovers that day. I got the job.

"It ended up not being the job for me and I moved on to Royal Mail before a friend gave me a job with his gas company, where I am today."

You could forgive him for being bitter about the nature of his exit from the game and having his chance to carve out a career in professional football denied. However, that couldn't be further from the truth for McKay, who looks back on his time in the game with great fondness.

"I've got a great life and have three great kids," said McKay, whose 11-year-old daughter plays football for West Lancashire girls.

"I got a taste of what it would have been like and that's more than most people will ever get. I have to be thankful for that. There is no point me looking back on it as some awful experience and thinking about hard done to I was. I was fortunate to have had a taste of it and met some amazing people.

"Leon Osman and I are best mates and I still keep in touch with the likes of Keith Southern and Tony Hibbert. It was an amazing time for me and nobody can ever take it away from me. But you always have to stay positive and look to the future, and my future is a bright one."