Matt Rhead is in the spotlight at the moment after helping Lincoln City become the first non-league team to reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 103 years.
However, only five years ago Rhead worked as a welder in the JCB Earthmovers factory in Cheadle, Staffordshire. Today, the 32 year old striker who was a popular figure in the factory returned to the production line that he worked on for almost a decade.
He was given a hero’s welcome after not just making a name for himself as a professional footballer, but making history.
His return just days before the Imps take on Arsenal in the eagerly awaited quarter final match sparked a lot of memories for Rhead.
When he joined, he trained as a welder before promotion to the role of team leader in the welding area of the factory. Here, they made JCB wheeled loaders. However, he balanced this with playing for local non-league sides such as Kidsgrove Athletic and Nantwich Town.
It wasn’t until 2012 that he was recruited by Mansfield Town initially on a part-time deal. His contract was change to a full-time deal at the end of the season.
Finally, in 2015 Rhead was signed by the Imps on a two year deal. Despite being at the centre of attention at the moment, it’s clear that the Stoke-on-Trent born striker has never forgotten his roots.
He said: “It’s great to be back at JCB to meet my mates I spent almost ten 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.
“I was taught to work hard and continue learning and that has stood me in good stead for my footballing career.”
The striker seemed in a confident mindset going into the Arsenal match.
He said: “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.”
Manufacturing Operations Manager Mick Cheadle said: “Matt was a great guy to have working for us. 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 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.
He said: “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!
“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 he’s playing at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal.”Tweet