Byrne departs Gladiators for undisclosed fee
A desire to play closer to home combined with increased family commitments were the key factors in Matlock Town agreeing to sell their current fans player of the year and last season’s top scorer Al Byrne to Ashton United for an undisclosed fee.
30 years old Byrne joined the Gladiators shortly before the Covid outbreak in 2020 and has clocked up over 100 appearances, playing more games than anyone last season when he was on the field in 45 games. He netted nine times during 2022/23 but also claimed a shedload of assists, his crosses and dead ball deliveries leading to a lot of Matlock goals.
Jay Beaumont, Matlock’s Chairman says that the club did not want to lose a player of Byrne’s calibre but they had to take into account his life outside of football.
“Al first spoke to me about his desire to move closer to home around a month before the end of last season , I fully understand his reasons and whilst it’s disappointing to lose someone like Al, we have to respect that home, work and developing his career outside of football have to take priority. I agreed to work with Al to find a solution that worked for everyone, He was an asset to the club, we couldn’t let him walk away for nothing so it was agreed that we would trigger his option and then work together to get a deal in place which worked for him but also importantly , worked for the club. I’d like to wish Al all the best for the future, he’s been someone I’ve spoken to lots since becoming Chairman and he’s helped me no end.”
Matlock boss Martin Carruthers was also full of praise for Byrne’s commitment since he took over in December 2022.
“He’s been absolutely magnificent both on and off the pitch, a top lad whose quality’s there for all to see. When we moved him into central midfield he was brilliant for us. I’m really sad to see him go but I understand his circumstances and at the end of the day we have to respect his decision.”
Al Byrne says the best time he has ever had in football has come to an end as he leaves Matlock Town for Ashton United.
Matlock fans will be as “gutted” as Byrne is over the latest news as the Gladiators have lost their top scorer from last season and chief goal maker. The fans also voted for him as their player of the season.
It certainly was a decision that Byrne didn’t make lightly. Three journeys per week from his Manchester home became increasingly trying tied in with increased commitments at work and at home eventually forced his hand.
“I’m doing an Open University degree course to become a teacher and obviously I’m spending a lot of time studying. Now we have a little girl as well and trying to fit football in was difficult” said Byrne.
“The travelling was the issue, I was spending nine hours per week travelling between Manchester and Matlock. We thought about training on just one of the nights but then that’s not fair on the rest of the lads. Also I didn’t want to miss the training. I sat down with my Dad and girlfriend, I loved being at the club but in the end it was the travelling and things outside football . I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the club. Friends have been down to watch me at Matlock and they’ve all gone home hugely impressed by the way things are done at the club. I must admit when I made my debut against Morpeth in front of not too many fans I wondered what I’d let myself in for but the transformation since then has been incredible and I’m immensely proud to have been part of that journey.”
When Matlock played Morpeth on that cold wet evening in 2020, Matlock were battling against relegation until Covid 19 saw the season made null and void. In the two full seasons since then, Matlock have been transformed from relegation candidates to serious promotion contenders, having made the play-offs in both campaigns.
“I’ve loads of good memories, the best I’ve had in football, the most enjoyable time I’ve had in football. The whole club, the way it treats the players is fantastic and the fans have been brilliant with me from day one. We’d obviously liked to have been promoted but we’ve reached the play-offs twice. I’m really gutted as I know I’m leaving a brilliant club.”
Byrne therefore has plenty of great memories in his three years in Derbyshire.
One is the volley he scored in a 2-1 FA Trophy victory over AFC Rushden and Diamonds in October 2021. He struck the dropping ball first time with a lobbed volley from forty yards that sailed over the goalkeeper and into the net,
“I remember that one because I’d had a bit of a ding dong with Phillo (Paul Phillips) at half time and that was my answer” he recalled.
Byrne also mentions two strikes from last season, a last minute free kick which earned a 1-1 draw at home to Gainsborough Trinity and a lob for Town’s fourth goal in a 4-2 home win over Warrington Rylands but the best feeling he encountered was in the last game of the regular season in 2021/22 when Matlock hosted Warrington Town, needing to equal or better Bamber Bridge’s result to make the play-offs. Matlock won 2-0 and Byrne scored their second goal.
“That goal was my best feeling, the interchange with Jez (Jesurun Uchegbulam) and then meeting Jez’s cross with the header, probably my best goal in football. The place went bonkers, I’ll never forget that.”
Byrne’s boots will be big to fill, whether it is wide on the right or in the central midfield role which manager Martin Carruthers gave him in the latter part of last season.