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Gladiators squad of 89/90 reunite for visit to Proctor Cars Stadium

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Gladiators squad of 89/90 reunite for visit to Proctor Cars Stadium

Matlock Town take on league leaders Radcliffe at the Proctor Cars Stadium on Saturday (3pm) and the boys in blue and white will be boosted by the support of many of the 1989/90 squad that last made it through to the FA Cup First Round.

The reunion came about in sad circumstances when many of the squad attended the funeral of former Matlock midfielder and hot shot John Sheppard who died earlier this year. Sheppard was a hugely popular figure renowned for scoring spectacular goals and also scoring regularly from midfield , often reaching between 15 and 20 goals in a season.

Striker in that side Kevin Gee has done much of the research and secretarial work in getting former players together, with players not involved or at the club for the memorable cup run which ended with a 4-1 away defeat by Scunthorpe United. At least eighteen old Gladiators are expected to attend the Radcliffe match.

It has been a sad year for the club with not only Sheppard passing away, former manager and assistant boss Ernie Oliver also died and these two tragic events ignited thoughts that the reunion should be arranged without further delay.

“It’s been a tough year for the old Matlock squad of 1989” said Gee who added that social media had played a huge part in arranging the reunion day.

“Firstly there was the loss of Ernie Oliver but the one which really hit home for all of us was the loss of our former team mate John Sheppard. Thankfully with the help of social media we managed to get hold of most of the old squad to attend his funeral which was lovely under difficult circumstances. I know John’s wife Claire and her family really appreciated us being there with John.”

Gee says there was universal agreement among those at the funeral that they should return to Causeway Lane to see Matlock play.

“After thirty years plus away from Causeway Lane we all said that we must meet up again at a Matlock fixture once again. The 4th of November was the best option when most of us could attend which ironically turns out to be FA Cup 1st Round day. Its now thirty four years since we played Scunthorpe United in the 1st Round of the FA Cup so many of the younger Gladiators will never have heard of us (LOL!) but with eighteen members of the squad coming over to the game along with Claire Sheppard and her family and friends, we hope it will bring back a flood of happy memories to all involved, and of course, let’s hope for a Matlock win against the league leaders!”

The FA Cup run began with a 1-0 win at Rushall Olympic in the 1st Qualifying Round, Mark Mullins scoring a last gasp winner to avoid a replay. Then came an infinitely more comfortable passage with the Gladiators thrashing Willenhall Town 5-0 at the Lane. A hat-trick from dynamic midfielder Everton Marsh plus strikes from Mullins and defender Kevin Wragg did the damage.

Matlock were underdogs for the third and fourth qualifying round ties but caused surprises as Conference sides Boston United and Enfield suffered at the hands of Dave Wilton’s Gladiators. There was just the one Conference Division in those days but Matlock came up trumps on both occasions. Boston left Matlock with a 1-1 draw from the third qualifying rounds tie, equalising after Phil Walker had shot Matlock into an early lead. But the Gladiators who over the years had a decent record at Boston’s impressive York Street Stadium, defied the odds thanks to a Greg Mitchell free kick in the last quarter of an hour to win 1-0.

That left Enfield blocking Matlock’s route to a coveted First Round slot for the first time since 1976/77 but the London side who went on to finish bottom of the division had no answer to a powerful Matlock performance in front of around 900 fans on a wet Causeway Lane pitch. A searing shot from Mullins gave Matlock a first half lead and although the London side levelled early in the second period, it was that man Sheppard who put Town back in front when a short free kick was played into his path and the venomous shot almost ripped the net out of the Town End goal. Gee netted from close range to make sure late in the game.

At Scunthorpe Matlock put in a great display but found the full time league outfit a little too hot to handle on the day, having Everton Marsh sent off but they at least had the consolation of scoring the best goal of the game , a superb curling shot from 25 yards by Walker cheering the good Matlock following during the second half.

At the time of writing the following ex Gladiators plus Clare Sheppard’s family and friends have confirmed their attendance, how many of them can you recall?

Kevin Gee, Mark Mullins, Everton Marsh, Stuart Franklin, Stacy Reed, Graham Hoyland, Geoff Worth, Dave Wilton, Phil Greaves, John Parker, Nick Tilly, Dave Burrows, Carl Fuller, Craig Thompson, Gordon Simmonite, John Harker, Greg Mitchell, Andy Kowalski.

Kevin Wragg, Stewart Wilson, Les Hunter and former Committee man Les Waterfasll are thought to be away.

It should be an emotional and memorable occasion and one not to be missed!

Ian Richardson