Former JCB digger maker-turned-FA Cup hero Matt Rhead was given a rousing reception today when he retraced his footsteps on the production line where he worked for almost a decade.
Matt, 32, of Stoke-on-Trent, was a popular figure at the JCB Earthmovers factory in Cheadle, Staffs where he worked before leaving to become a professional footballer in 2012.
Five years later he is hitting the national headlines after being named man of the match in a game which saw his team Lincoln City become the first non-league side to reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 103 years by beating Premier League team Burnley 1-0.
Just days before Lincoln take on Arsenal in the eagerly awaited sixth round tie – Matt returned to JCB Earthmovers to a hero’s reception from former colleagues.
“It’s great to be back at JCB to meet my mates I spent almost 10 years working with. I had some very good times there and when I was offered a professional footballing contract it was a dream come true but leaving JCB was also a very difficult decision because I really enjoyed the job,” says Rhead. “I was taught to work hard and to continue learning and that has stood me in good stead for my footballing career.”
“The success we are enjoying in the FA Cup at the moment is just amazing and I’m really looking forward to playing against Arsenal next week. Hopefully we can secure another giant killing result.”
When Matt joined JCB he trained as a welder before promotion to the role of team leader in the welding area of the factory making JCB wheeled loaders. At weekends though, he was turning out for local non-league sides including Kidsgrove Athletic, Nantwich town and Congleton town. In January 2012 Mansfield Town offered Matt recruited him on a part-time deal before offering him a full-time contract at the end of the season. He signed a two year deal with Lincoln City in 2015.
“Matt was a great guy to have working for us,” says Manufacturing Operations Manager Mick Cheadle. “He always had a smile on his face, got the job done and motivated the people around him which is why he went on to become a team leader.
“We were very sad to see him leave but naturally he had to follow his dream. It’s great that it’s paying off for him and since he left we have always followed his progress closely. It’s been great to see the success he’s having with Lincoln in the FA Cup and hopefully they can now reach Wembley!”
Manufacturing Engineer Darren Brown, 38, of Blythe Bridge, Stoke-on-Trent, has been employed by JCB for 17 years and worked alongside Matt.
“I remember when he first started at JCB Earthmovers I went up to him and asked him if he fancied joining a game of football on Thursday nights and he never let on how good he was!” Brown says. “We then played regular 5-a-side for around three years before Matt started to play at a higher level. We’ve followed his progress keenly since he left JCB and I always look out for his results and see if he has scored.
“Seeing Matt going on to bigger and better things in football is really great. I struggle to believe that we all used to play 5-a-side together and now his next match is at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal.”
Dave Roberts, 44, of Clayton, Newcastle, Staffs, joined JCB on the same day as Matt – January 20th, 2003.
“Matt was only a teenager when we both started work here and he was a good lad from the start and enjoyed life in the weld shop and all the banter that goes with it,” Roberts says. “He always had a smile on his face and was just a good down to earth lad, who was respected by the lads he worked with.
“We always knew he was a good football player and it’s brilliant what he has achieved. I’m absolutely chuffed to bits for him. If Lincoln get past Arsenal I’m sure there be a few of us from JCB wanting to go and support him in the semi-finals at Wembley.”