Big Read: Matt Rhead reflects on his path to glory with Mansfield Town
In the summer of 2012 forward Matt Rhead had a massive decision to make.
Giving up paid empolyment and stability for the uncertainty of non-league football was a huge gamble. But for Rhead, who joined Mansfield from Corby in January 2012, the chance to live every boys’ dream of playing professional football was one he simply couldn’t turn down.
“I played for Mansfield for the remainder of the season (after joining from Corby), but I was only part-time and then the decision came to go full-time in the summer,” Rhead told the Mansfield News and Views youtube channel.
“I had just had a little one and had a young family. Football can be uncertain and it was a tough decision and a gamble to go full-time.
“But I didn't want to live with any regrets and wonder what might have been. If it was for one season or five seasons it was what it was and thankfully I made the right decision for myself and my family.
“It's a decision that I will never regret.”
The boyhood Stoke City fan had previously played for the likes of Norton United, Kidsgrove, Nantwich and Congleton.
But making the step up to full-time football was one that more than paid off for Rhead, who quickly established himself as a fans favourite during Stags’ run to the play-off semi-finals.
Stags were beaten by York City as the 2011/12 season ended on a low.
But that defeat left Rhead, who went on to play 120 times for Mansfield, confident that the good times were not far away.
“It showed the potential that we had that season to get to the play-offs,” he added. “When you get that momentum you can see the potential.
“We fell short, but that wasn't a bad thing, it was too soon to get promoted and it set us up nicely for the next season.
“We had a good group of players and we knew we were good enough to get promoted.
“We kept the group together and had confidence going into the next season.
“We knew we would be there or thereabouts. The fans got on board as well and it was a good place to be in.”
Stags went on to famously win promotion to the Football League the next season with Rhead forming a lethal partnership with hot-shot Matt Green.
And, according to the former Eastwood man, it was a match made in heaven.
“Some players you just click with and me and Greeny just clicked,” he said.
“We knew what each other would do. He was fast and powerful and I knew he would get on the end of stuff.
“I would win the first ball and he would be working in the channels, we pegged teams back like that.
“He was unbelievable that season and was a pleasure to play with. He will always give you 100 per cent and it suited the way we played.
“He was a top player and a top bloke.”
But none of it would of course been possible without the mastermind behind the operation, Paul Cox.
Rhead, who is now plying his trade at Alfreton, said: “I have played for him at a few clubs. He is someone who will tell you straight, he won't tell you any lies,
“He makes sure you work hard and he gets a good team morale, that helped us win the league.
“The fans were great, but we stuck together as players.
“We were 1-0 down at Hereford and there was pressure on us, but we knew we were fitter than the rest of the teams in the league, Coxy always got his teams really fit.
"We knew we would get stronger as the game went on.
“He got a lot of players who had won stuff previously which helped. He gets a great mixture of players and he's a top manager and a top bloke.
“We had a strong bench and plenty of options. We had a good group of different players who could do different jobs and that was all credit to Coxy for getting in the players we needed.”
Rhead’s time at Mansfield came to an end in the summer of 2015 following his release.
It was a release which left the big target man bitterly disappointed.
“I was disappointed when I left mansfield, I felt I had done well for the club,” he said.
“But I also knew I wasn't playing every week and I felt I had done enough the previous season to warrant a place.
“Lincoln’s manager called me and said he wanted to build a team around me and I would play every week.
“I felt it was a good opportunity to show what I can do.”
Rhead quickly established himself at the Imps, tasting National League and League Two promotion, during 161 appearances at Sincil Bank.
He also played a key role in the club’s famous FA Cup run in the 2017/18 season, which ended with defeat to Arsenal at the quarter-final stage.
Six seasons after last wearing the Mansfield Town shirt, Rhead still remembers his time at the club, and the fans, with fond memories.
“When I came to Mansfield I thought the ground, the set up and the fans was crazy,” he said. “I’d never played for a club that had proper stands.
“The fans, especially when we had done well, were superb, they really got behind the team and got us over the line without a doubt in our championship-winning season.
“The fans are what make clubs and make football and the fans at Mansfield were brilliant.
"I really enjoyed my time there.”