I got to speak to Matt Rhead this week as part of me helping the club with a programme piece, the first time I’ve chatted to the big man in such a capacity.
He often comes across as dry and witty in interviews, but when you’re one on one he’s all that and more. He’s friendly, open and incredibly down to earth, nothing like the aggressive monster the media have him pinned as at times.
In fact, one of his strengths and indeed that of Danny and Nicky, is he understands you and I, the everyday football fan. He understands us, because up until not so long ago, he was one of us. I put it to him that perhaps the reason he has become something of a cult hero is because we can relate to and identify with him.
“I’d like to hope so. I know what it is to get up at six in the morning and do a twelve-hour shift. I’m a football supporter too. I know what is expected of players. I definitely know what I expect to see from the players I support and I hope that I can deliver that to Lincoln supporters whenever I get out on the pitch. I give everything for the team, as I’m sure all the lads do, but perhaps my background does make it easier to relate to what the fans expect.”
He paused for a second before adding sincerely; “I’m just really happy and thankful for the support I’ve got.”
For those who do not know, Rheady is a huge Stoke City fan, meaning last weekend’s game against Port Vale was even more important. It was amusing hearing him talk about having two dream weekends back to back, comparing Vale Park and Wembley. Such is the magnitude of the rivalry over in Stoke.
“Scoring against Port Vale would have been my dream come true! Two weeks on the bounce I’ve had a chance to live a childhood dream, first at Wembley and then against Port Vale. They’re two games I would have loved to have scored in. Obviously, I missed a good chance at Wembley, but I didn’t get much of a sniff at Port Vale.”
For the very first time in my discussions with the squad, I felt I’d encountered a football fan first and a player second. Our chat about Stoke took over the interview, but any chats with me would always take over if the subject matter swung to Lincoln City. I asked how often he got along to the Bet 365 Stadium for a game.
“I get there whenever I can, especially if it’s Sunday or a midweek game. I go down whenever I can. I was a Stoke season ticket holder up to 16 and there’s a group of us who always used to go. There’s friends and family and we go together, they came to watch me at Wembley and at Port Vale, they’ve always been supportive of my football, but after football I’ll go and watch Stoke full time again, go with them every weekend.”
The bulk of our chat can be read in this weekend’s match day programme, and I’d urge you to do so. Matt Rhead is much more than the irritation to defenders, the grabber of goals and a focal point for our chanting and adoration. He’s a football fan, a real and genuine fan who relates to us in the same way we relate to him. In essence, he’s one of us.
Last weekend I chatted to Nicky and he asked if my Dad was travelling to Port Vale with me. When I replied he was he told me he identified with that, it reminded him of going away with Danny and their Dad to watch West Ham as kids. They were fans first which is why now, as managers, they feel so real, because they understand us. Matt Rhead is exactly the same.
“Football isn’t just about going to the game is it? It’s about getting together with your mates beforehand, having a crack, going through your dream team. It’s all part and parcel of it, it’s about much more than just the game.”
Matt Rhead gets it.
Remember to pick up your copy of the match day magazine #UTI this weekend, the penultimate one of the regular league season.