The curious case of Jamille Matt

Cod Almighty | Article

by Ron Counte

30 November 2021

His winning goal against Notts County was a rare bright spot in Jamille Matt's Town career, but he has flourished at Newport and Forest Green. Ron wonders why

No one who was there will ever forget. It was the dying minutes of the final home game of the 2017-18 season. Results elsewhere were going against us and we had just conceded a late equaliser against promotion-chasing Notts County. With our last fixture a difficult trip to Forest Green, we desperately needed the win which would guarantee our hard-won League status.

And then it happened. The much maligned Jamille Matt ghosted in to glance a header into the net and the stadium erupted. It was every bit as important as Nathan Arnold’s last minute goal in the play-off final two years earlier. Both confirmed that we would be playing League football the following season.

Matt was an unlikely match winner. In his previous 32 outings for Town he had scored just 3 goals, his performances ranging from lacklustre to embarrassing. He displayed the natural balance of Bambi on ice, was as effective in the air as the cast of Bugsy, and showed a turn of pace more commonly associated with pensioners taking the dog out for walk on a Sunday morning. As the saying goes, his second touch was normally a tackle.

And yet. Between 2010 and 2016 Matt had scored 42 goals in 137 appearances, mainly for Kidderminster and Fleetwood, although he had suffered a lean period during an injury-hit spell with Blackpool. Since leaving Town, he has scored 46 goals in 129 appearances for Newport (where he partnered Pádraig Amond) and Forest Green. That's better than one goal every three games. In March 2018, I'd watched Town at Coventry with Bill Brewster; Bill had seen Matt play for Plymouth where he had scored five goals in eleven games and he had looked a class act, unrecognisable from the guy we were watching during a 4-0 defeat.

There were other underperformers in the squad of 2017-18, including several ne'er-do-well slackers but after years in therapy, I have forgotten their names

It proves the obvious point that a striker can only be as good as the service he gets. Our midfield providers in 2018 were James Berrett, who probably made fewer assists that James McKeown, and the admittedly whole-hearted Luke Summerfield. These were the guys who had taken York City down from the Football League a couple of seasons earlier and the only possible explanation for their signing was to keep costs down.

Then there was the supporting cast of characters who would not have been out of place in a Mike Bassett series. We are still receiving Christmas cards from grateful Port Vale fans for taking Sam Kelly off their hands; he treated the ball as if it were an unexploded bomb, keeping as far away from it as possible. JJ Hooper's finishing made Lenell John-Lewis look like Mo Salah, although playing down the left against Notts County he terrorised their defence and next week hit a hat-trick at Forest Green. Those three goals brought his total for the club to seven. Like Matt, he did rather better once he had left us with 14 in 22 appearances for Bromley. There were other underperformers in the squad, including several ne'er-do-well slackers but thankfully, after years in therapy, I have forgotten their names.

Brought in to manage this dysfunctional bunch was the enigmatic Michael Jolley. He apparently got the job on the back of a YouTube video showing him moving draughts pieces around a board to explain a rare victory for the Swedish team he managed to relegation. He pulled off a minor miracle to keep Town up in 2018 but then he imploded amid a barrage of expletives after his first full season in charge. In a later cameo appearance in the Grimsby Town saga he almost saved us from relegation a second time when in 2020-21 he took Barrow to the edge until he was fired.

The entire mess was headed up by John Fenty, a man who looked like he might be taking fashion tips from John Shuttleworth. Under his stewardship we eventually "deconstructed" our League status again, though to be fair, the floodlight bulbs were never in better shape. We have new owners now, but after a promising start the recent slump in form brings us face to face with the harsh realities of trying to bring success on the pitch. It will be a harder task than upgrading the catering facilities.

Back in the Conference, we can no longer enjoy those Matt and Arnold goals with quite the same unbridled joy. One can't help speculate though that if we had retained Matt and given him proper service, we might not have dropped out of the league for a second time. With Matt banging in 20 goals a season we would have been spared the constant yearning for the return of Amond and Bogle.

Was Matt's failure at Blundell Park down to poor service, poor management, or something else? Tell us what you think.