The following article was due to appear in this month’s Stacey West fanzine but for one reason or another did not. Thank you to Southparkerimp for his contribution telling the story of Matt Rhead’s 50 goals for the club.
When Matt Rhead scored in the opening minute against Carlisle United on December 1st, he became just the 28th player to score 50 competitive goals in peace time football for the Imps. In fact if he had been a bit more accurate from the penalty spot he would have reached the land mark some time ago as during his time here he has missed five times from twelve yards, four in the National League and once in the FA Cup, although it is a sign of his character that he stepped up when needed at Gateshead in the 90th minute to level from the spot paving the way for Nathan Arnold to score an injury time winner and virtually secure the National League title in 2017.
Born in Stoke on Trent, and a Potters fan, he was a youth player at Alsager Town whilst his adult footballing career began in the hard knocks non-league scene at North West Counties Norton United before joining Northern Premier League Kidsgrove Athletic in 2004 going on to play for Eastwood Town (in both NPL and Conference North in two spells), NPL Nantwich Town and another North West Counties League side Congleton Town
He joined Conference North Corby Town, after his second spell at Eastwood, in July 2011 with the then Steelmen’s manager Graham Drury describing him as “one of the most awkward customers we’ve come across. He is a real handful at this level” He scored 13 goals in all competitions for the Steelmen prompting a move to Mansfield Town the following January and in the summer of 2012 he became a full time player leaving his job at JCB. At the time he said “it was a gamble but I didn’t want to regret it, even though I don’t know how long it will last. So many people dream of playing football for a job and I just didn’t want to turn down the chance.”
The move was justified as he helped the Stag’s to win the Conference Premier title in 2012/13 scoring four times but it was the one FA Cup goal he scored at Sincil Bank that Imps’ fans will remember the most as he smashed his way through a crowd of players to head an injury time equaliser just six minutes after coming on as sub to make the score 3-3 (it’s not often mentioned that Matt Green had earlier opened the scoring for Mansfield) and after winning the replay they lost at home to Liverpool.
After scoring 16 goals in 59 + 74 sub appearances he rejected a new deal at Field Mill in May 2015 instead moving back to the Conference to sign for Lincoln on an initial two-year contract. His first competitive game came in a goalless Lincolnshire Cup tie at Boston United where he was a scorer in the penalty shoot-out victory, a feat he repeated at Scunthorpe in the next round albeit City lost that shoot out. He had though opened his City account by scoring during the game.
That first season at Sincil Bank would prove to his most prolific as he top scored with 20 goals, one an overhead kick against Barrow that showed there was much more to his game than just being a big target man, and it is intriguing to think what might have happened had not the Liam Hearn saga occurred as the two seemed to be forging a decent partnership (Hearn actually scored ten National League goals in just 13 +7 apps) but given what happened next perhaps it was for the best! At Whitehawk in the FA Cup he became the first Imp to score an away hat trick in the competition since Matthew Gillespie in 1895 but also created a bit of unwanted club history as he became the first City player to score an FA Cup hat trick and finish on the losing side!
2016/17 needs no introduction. The big man scored four times in the opening two National League fixtures and finished top scorer again albeit with 14 but his all-round performances were a big contributary factor to the success the club had and his performance at Chester, capped by a delicate chip over the goalkeeper, was one of the best by a City player in recent years.
Rhead linked up again with his old Mansfield partner Matt Green for the return to the Football League and contributed 8 FL goals, with his 1st minute effort at Coventry being an absolute stunner, and earned a midseason contract extension until June 2019 with Danny Cowley saying at the time “he’s tactically so intelligent, he’s a much better footballer than people think” and whilst promotion hopes were ended in the Play Off semi-final there was the consolation of a first Wembley appearance for City and victory in the Checkatrade Trophy Final. This season has been spent mainly on the bench but his introduction still generates great applause and excitement and shows the popularity and respect the big man has earned over his time at Sincil Bank.
If in 2012 he thought it was a gamble to turn pro two League titles, FA Cup appearances against Liverpool and Arsenal, a Wembley appearance and winners medal probably mean in 2018 it was a gamble worth taking.
Where the goals have been scored
EFL Division 2 Apps 39 Sub 17 Goals 9 (1 pen)
National League Apps 81 Sub 5 Goals 34 (9 pens)
FA Cup Apps 13 Sub 2 Goals 4 (1 pen)
Checkatrade Trophy Apps 7 Sub 1 Goals 2
Lincs Cup Apps 3 Sub 0 Goals 1
League Cup Apps 2 Sub 1 Goals 0
Play Offs Apps 2 Sub 0 Goals 0
FA Trophy Apps 2 Sub 3 Goals 0
Total Apps 149 Sub 29 Goals 50
Note: 3 penalties scored in shoot outs are not included in the goal totals