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Weekly News - 20/12/20

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Weekly News - 20/12/20

Manager Paul Phillips says Matlock Town had “no choice” but to postpone their festive fixtures in spite of his and the squad’s burning desire to play.

They were looking forward to resuming their NPL season at Stalybridge Celtic last Saturday only for the match to be called off on Thursday night.

Then on Saturday the NPL’s announcement that clubs could put off their fixtures over the Christmas and New Year period came through, confirmation of the Boxing Day trip to Buxton and the New Years Day home meeting with Gainsborough Trinity followed on Sunday.

“The lads didn’t want this, I didn’t want it and I think the club didn’t want it but at the end of the day the club had no choice, it’s untenable as far as the club is concerned. The club simply can’t afford to play matches at a huge loss and while we on the playing side are gutted that the games are off, we fully understand the club’s position. There’s also peoples’ health to consider.”

Clubs at Matlock level have not received any financial assistance as clubs further up the non league pyramid have done and Phillips believes that this is an issue that should be addressed.

“I’d like to have seen the authorities put some form of scheme in place that clubs could be covered financially for the drop in income so games we’ve missed could have been played. The wages of one professional footballer could cover games lost across the leagues over the Christmas and New Year period” said Phillips.

Matlock are currently playing training games in an attempt to maintain the players’ fitness. Matlock’s next competitive game could be at Stafford Rangers on January 9 but with the current Covid-19 situation, it is by no means certain that game will go ahead..,

“The lads want games, they’re far better than training all of the time. We’ll continue to train but we need to be ready when the time comes for us to play competitive games once again.”

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Goalkeeper Jon Stewart and midfielder Nathan Valentine have been released by Matlock Town.

Stewart injured his knee in a pre season friendly with Sheffield and apart from a brief five minute appearance in a training game at Wythenshawe three weeks ago when the injury reoccurred, he has not played since. Last February he was electrocuted in an accident at work which saw him miss the remainder of the curtailed 2019/20 season.

Manager Paul Phillips brought in former Shrewsbury Town and Solihull Moors stopper Shaun Rowley who has quickly made the number one shirt his own.

“We’ve mutually agreed with Jon that his contract should be cancelled” Phillips explained.

“He’s got this knee injury and has had a lot of problems fitness wise. Things that have happened in his life has probably made him put things into perspective. Football has probably gone down the pecking order in his life which is understandable. He’s been a great goalkeeper, we thank him for his contribution while he’s been at the club and we all wish Jon the very best for the future.”

Valentine has not appeared in the Gladiators squad since starting the opening day defeat at Bamber Bridge. He has joined the newly formed Bury FC in the North West Counties League.

Phillips heavily revamped the Matlock squad after their poor league form last season which saw them in third bottom spot before the campaign was declared null and void. He released many of the players from 2019/20 but kept Valentine on, later requesting that Valentine worked on his fitness.

“You can see that players who’ve left us have gone down the non league pyramid, in my opinion the weren’t either committed enough or good enough to get us where we want to be with this team, the exception being Chib (Chilaka) who we wanted to keep. I think the lads we have can take us to the next level, We wish Nathan all the best with Bury.”

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There will be no festive football cheer for Matlock Town fans and probably supporters of most NPL clubs this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following a statement from the NPL on Saturday that clubs would be permitted to postpone their Boxing Day and New Years Day fixtures, plus any others over the festive period, Matlock Town announced that after discussions with Buxton and Gainsborough Trinity, the Boxing Day trip to Buxton and the home meeting with Gainsborough would not be played.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced more stringent restrictions to fight the threat to the country’s health posed by the virus,

In his first year as Chairman at Matlock, Bryn Apperley has faced some extraordinary and difficult circumstances with tough decisions having to be made. He has had to attempt to strike an even balance between dealing with club matters against the implications caused by Covid-19..

Matlock’s season didn’t start their campaign until September 19 and in the three intervening months, Matlock have had an outbreak of the disease in their camp. They have played just six league games, the joint lowest in the NPL Premier Division while they have been involved in six cup ties.

For Mr Apperley, it has been almost a full time vocation dealing with the issue.

“It’s not been an easy time for us and all clubs at this level, what’s happened is unprecedented and with the situation changing daily and even hour by hour, we’ve had to react to things the best way we could. We all desperately want to play games, that’s why we’re here and all of our officials and helpers work so hard behind the scenes. But we’re in a situation where peoples’ lives and well being, plus livelihoods are at stake. We also have to assess the impact it would have on playing at this time. We’d be constantly running at a substantial financial loss if we played games, particularly with the holiday games, there’d be no income from our Social Club and tea bar which would remain closed, the Social Club in particular being a huge source of income on matchdays. I think the vast majority of NPL clubs feel the same, we’re not getting any financial assistance from the Government as clubs further up the pyramid are getting. Clubs have been offered loans but it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, at some point we’d have to repay this money. Basically it would cost the club a substantial sum of money to play games as things stand currently.”

At present, the Trident Leagues, made up of the NPL, Southern and Isthmian Leagues, have said that their season would be suspended until January 9 when the Gladiators are due at Stafford, but it’s still very much a case of watch this space.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens over the next fortnight or so” added the Gladiators Chairman.

“It’s such a pity for as our manage Paul Phillips has said, we had momentum before the season stopped a few weeks ago. But we have to look at the bigger picture, fighting this virus and keeping our head above water as a club. I’m sure our fans will understand, we have a magnificent set of supporters here at Matlock, we hope they can have the best Christmas possible, and as soon as we can we’ll welcome them back with open arms.”

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There’s a Christmas message for Matlock Town fans from manager Paul Phillips.

Phillips has been impressed with the support his team has received this season with attendances for the three league games so far at the Proctor Cars Stadium averaging at 476.

“We all really appreciate the support we’ve received from the fans with good numbers coming through the gates, there’s been a massive increase in support. I think people are seeing the benefit of the lads we’ve brought in, the effort they’re putting in and the will to succeed. We’ve had fantastic backing and I’d have loved to have been able to give them wins at Buxton on Boxing Day and at home to Gainsborough but as we all know, that’s not to be. Hopefully we can bring them some joy later in the season in the play offs or by winning the league. On behalf of us all we hope they all have a great Christmas, a very happy new year and above all, they stay safe in these difficult times.”

Ian Richardson