Rhead all about it! Striker loved Lincoln’s giant-killing FA Cup run and is dreaming of a repeat when Boreham Wood take on Championship club Millwall on Saturday
- Matt Rhead is dreaming of more FA Cup glory after starring for Lincoln in 2017
- The striker will lead the line for non-league club Boreham Wood against Millwall
- Hertfordshire club are making their debut in the third round of the competition
They have heard some tall stories in Borehamwood, the small town in Hertfordshire located in a triangle formed by the M1, the A1 and the M25 and perhaps best known as the home of Elstree Studios.
It was the birthplace of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones films and countless TV shows, but on Saturday the Oscars and the Baftas make way for the FA Cup and Millwall arrive at Meadow Park from a galaxy far, far away.
Boreham Wood, ambitious and upwardly mobile in the National League, are making their debut in the third round against visitors from the Championship, 65 places above them in English football’s pyramid.
Boreham Wood will be led by striker Matt Rhead when they make their debut in the FA Cup third-round against Millwall on Saturday
Unashamedly billing it as the biggest game in the club’s 73-year history, they are live on BT Sport, and in their ranks is a towering centre forward who knows how these opportunities can be transformational.
‘Life-changing, really,’ says Matt Rhead as he recalls an FA Cup run with Lincoln City that culminated in a quarter-final at Arsenal in 2017. ‘They built a new training ground off the back of it, and players came in with the money they received.
‘Confidence spilled into other competitions. We won the National League, went up, the year after we won the Checkatrade Trophy at Wembley and the year after that we won promotion to League One.
Rhead played for Lincoln City during their FA Cup run in 2017 which saw them beat Premier League side Burnley
The forward was part of the team that was transformed by manager Danny Cowley
‘When I first went there, we were lucky if there were 3,000 fans and by the time I left we could have sold 20,000 tickets every week.
‘No one sat watching quietly, the place was absolutely bouncing. The rise was incredible and I’d say 90 per cent of that was down to the FA Cup run.’
Lincoln are yet to look back. They are top of League One and there is no better modern example of what the FA Cup can do to energise a non-League club.
For boss Danny Cowley and his players, the run brought fresh opportunities and memories to last a lifetime as they swept past Ipswich and Brighton and beat Premier League Burnley at Turf Moor in the fifth round with a goal in the 89th minute from Sean Raggett.
‘Pandemonium,’ says Rhead, who has swapped shirts from all the ties framed on his wall. ‘There were 6,000 Lincoln fans at Burnley and it felt like 200,000.’
The club went on to win promotion from the National League and League Two in two years
Lincoln, having struggled past Guiseley in the fourth qualifying round, were the first non-League side in more than a century to reach the last eight.
And Rhead received a surprise phone call from England and Stoke City hero Gordon Banks to say: ‘I watched you on the telly, well played.’
‘A proper nice bloke,’ says Rhead, born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent, a loyal Potters fan and long-standing friend with the Banks family.
‘The idea that someone who won the World Cup for England would give up his time to call me and say that was crazy. It gives me goosebumps now to even think about it.’
Lincoln’s reward was a tie at Arsenal, where Arsene Wenger noted the aerial power of 6ft 4in Rhead ahead of the game and selected a very strong team including Petr Cech, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (right) noted the aerial power of 6ft 4in Rhead ahead of the game and selected a strong team
Mesut Ozil came on when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was injured and Theo Walcott scored the first just before half-time in a 5-0 home victory.
‘The standard was scary,’ says Rhead. ‘Like nothing I’ve ever seen. They brought on Ozil, who was embarrassingly good, really, but we hung in for 45 minutes and had a good chance with Nathan Arnold.
‘We stayed at the Landmark Hotel and had a stroll around London before the match, a little taste of what life must be like for the Premier League footballers.
‘No one likes to lose 5-0, but the Arsenal fans stayed behind and gave us a round of applause, and Per Mertesacker invited us into their dressing room to get shirts signed.
‘They had a swimming pool in there, unbelievable.’
Rhead played amateur football until 28, when he quit his job with JCB and signed as a professional with Mansfield soon after an FA Cup tie against Liverpool in 2013, when he drove straight from the game to a night shift.
Rhead joined Boreham Wood via a short spell at Billericay and is keen for more FA Cup success
He spent four happy years at Lincoln before leaving in 2019 and joined Boreham Wood via a short spell at Billericay. At 36, he has started to coach at an academy in Stoke and is tilting at another promotion and another taste of FA Cup success.
‘It’s an ambitious club with a good set-up and a fantastic academy,’ says Rhead. ‘We’ve got a good squad, talented youngsters, it’s a nice mixture. We’ve started the season quite well. Millwall are a good side but we’ll give them a game.’
Luke Garrard’s side have won five in a row, a sharp contrast to Millwall, who are on a rotten run of one win in 13 in the Championship. Perhaps there is another FA Cup upset written in the stars if the force is with Luke and his team of outsiders.
Millwall are on a rotten run of one win in 13 Championship games while Boreham Wood have won their last five fixtures
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