It’s not often I’m completely shocked, but 7pm this evening that’s exactly what happened. My good friend Roy messaged me earlier in the day telling me the Twitter world thought big Rheady was off to Billericay. I scoffed.
Then my phone went again at 7pm; I didn’t even think to check Glenn Tamplin’s feed because I couldn’t imagine a single situation where Rheady would go to Billericay. Shows what I know, doesn’t it?
Firstly, lets talk about the move. There can only be one motivation for all parties bar Billericay; money. That’s not to say greed, not a chance, but the only way a family man like Matt Rhead is going to move to the south of England is if the money is life-changing. He’s 35-year-old and his playing days are numbered; this is the final payday he needs to make a future for him and his family. It’ll mean nights apart no doubt, only seeing the kids at weekends, maybe he’s only travelling down for matches. Whatever the setup, he’s got to be earning a lot more than he is with us.
Then there is the transfer fee. there was a time when we all knew how much players came and went for, but that’s never the case anymore. Here’s my speculative punt; Matt Rhead has been sold for six figures. I don’t know, but it has to be a deal worth taking, one that allows Danny to move for another striker. A word of caution though; that move might be a loan despite this income.
That’s the move. I won’t talk about the nuts and bolts of it anymore, we can all see why it’s happened. Rheady gets to play football and set himself up for life after the game, we get a boost to the budget.
What we don’t get is the benefit of our talisman anymore. Despite playing fewer games last season than the previous three Matt Rhead was still a huge figure at the Bank. I know they talk about him behind the scenes and his influence, I can’t comment on that as I’m not a member of the squad. I do know that whenever Terry rang me saying; ‘Rheady for the interview this week’, I’d do a little smile. I loved chatting to the big man, he was always honest, down to earth and very approachable. I’ll miss those interviews.
I’ll miss Matt Rhead in general. He was the thread that joined the darker days before Danny came to the club up to the present day. That first season, 2015/16, wasn’t a classic, but he gave us some wonderful moments. The overhead kick, the lob, his hattrick in the FA Cup; Matt Rhead epitomised cult hero. Sure, he was a big lad, sure he irritated the shit out of other fans, but we loved him. when he turned down Paul Cox it warmed my heart, especially after the way Liam Hearn let us down.
Even when the club got its overhaul under the Cowley era, he slotted right in. His persona of ‘big lump’ was often one he played on but wasn’t always accurate. He had a wonderful touch, great vision and at times would produce the sublime. He wasn’t the most mobile, he slowed down as the seasons wore on, but he always had something to offer. They were different types of players, but I could liken Rhead to Jamie Forrester. As Jamie’s legs went he began to play deeper, to use his knowledge of the game to be one step ahead. Rheady had to make up for his lack of pace as well and he too adapted as Jamie did. He could read a game, more so in the 2016/17 season than the last campaign, but he made sure his lack of mobility didn’t hinder his contribution to the team.
I remember the first Saturday of the 2016/17 season, the day we lost 3-1 to Sutton (Joe Morrell played for Sutton that day). I sang Rhead’s praises having seen him the season before, but my Dad had him marked out as a hatchet man, a big lump without any final product. As the season wore on, his mind changed. It had too. Each week he’d groan if Rhead was starting, it got to be a running joke that some lads still give Dad stick about today. I tell you what; last season my Dad cheered as much as anyone. If Rhead won him over, he did something right.
As the sands of time slip by, the achievements of 2016/17 turn from recent history into legend. Eventually, those days will be spoken of as fondly as 1988 and 1976; Matt Rhead was an integral part of what will become legend. 15 goals in the league helped bring us success, but that bullish attitude helped drive us forward. Who can forget the televised game against Dagenham; a game we had to win to put their title hopes in the bin? Rhead scored a trademark goal, popping up in the right place at the right time, then strode off to do his muscle-flexing. That was us; the beaten down, underestimated football team finally flexing our muscles once again.
He always played with a passion and commitment that was fuelled by coming to the game late. When he was Joe Morrell’s age he probably never imagined he’d be playing professional football. He’s turned out at stupid o’clock for a shift at the factory, he knows what it is to be a working man. He never let the fans down because of that; he always played for us how he’d expect Stoke’s players to play for him when he paid to watch them.
When did he properly cement his place as a legend? Was it when he owned Joey Barton against Burnley? Was it the penalty against Gateshead that set up the magic Nathan Arnold moment? Or was it later? The brace against Forest Green perhaps? The stunner against Coventry City?
Or was it just building slowly, week in, week out? Every time he came on to his song, every interview he gave where he just sounded like a fan talking to Rob Makepeace? I’ll miss those post-match interviews, counting how many questions he answers starting with the words ‘yeah, definitely’. By the time he scored his 49th or 50th goal (damn the Lincolnshire Cup) only a few would dare say he was anything other than a proper legend.
I remember feeling a bit gutted when Paul Farman left; he was someone I had a lot of time for and who I felt represented the club the way I wanted a player to do so. I felt a tinge when Matt Green left too, I really liked Greeny and found him friendly and underrated during his time here. Neither of those moves have hit me like this one.
Rhead was our beast; our niggly, aggravating arsehole who wound you up. Your fans hated him, your defence was terrified and the media loved it. He was a monster, a beast, an animal. Yet we knew better. We saw his delicate touch at times, we knew the bravado and arrogance was as much a part of the act as anything. I certainly did, I spoke to him and found a family man, not above his stations one bit. All he wanted to do was play football, represent our club as best he could and go home knowing he’d done a good job.
Would he have played much this year? It would be easy, almost comforting, to say no but I wouldn’t be so bold. He was written off when Danny arrived, then again when we won the National League and a third time when John Akinde arrived. Every time he proved people wrong and, had he stayed, he might just have done the same again.
Matt Rhead spent four years with the Imps and worked his way into our hearts, as well as proving to be a superb asset to the club both off the field and on it. We’re moving forward, progress never stops and sadly players come and go but there will always be a little bit of Matt Rhead at this football club, just like there will always be a bit of Percy Freeman, Mick Harford and Gareth Ainsworth.
He’s up there with the best of them. Three trophies, two promotions and 49 (or 50) goals testify to that. I know he has his doubters, even still, but few players represent the wonderful last three years in the way Matt Rhead does.
Your defence was terrified, but Rheady’s fire is now out at Sincil Bank.
Next page – a Rhead special courtesy of Graham Burrell (and a couple of me and the big man chucked in)