Matt Heath

Former Player Remembers: Matt Heath

Centre-back Matt Heath played 60 times for Leicester City between 2001 and 2005. This year, he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about that time with the Foxes, which includes promotion and relegation.

He also discussed his spell at Leeds United, as well as his time with Micky Adams at Coventry City and other moves to Stockport County and Colchester United, plus his post-football career. Leicester-born Matt’s football journey began as a youngster.

“I was a pupil at South Charnwood High School and then went to Bosworth College,” he said. “I was invited to go to Leicester City’s School of Excellence when I was about 12. At the time, I was playing for Ratby and Groby. We had one of the best teams in our age group. About 10 or 11 of us were invited to have trials at Leicester City. The other best team in the county was Beaumont Town and they only had one player asked for a trial and that was Pipes (the ex-Leicester City and Sunderland winger Matt Piper). He used to carry Beaumont Town. He was an absolute cracking player.

“When I first joined Leicester, I was able to carry on playing for Ratby and Groby until I was 14. Then I had to train and play with just Leicester. (LCFC Director of Football) Jon Rudkin managed the Under-15s team. Other coaches were Kevin MacDonald, Chris Tucker, Nev Hamilton and Terry Whitehead.

“When I was 16, I signed a youth team contract for three years with David Nish as the gaffer. This was on the youth training scheme. I was actually out of favour in my second year but then Steve Beaglehole joined us from Leeds. Luckily for me when I’d played against Leeds, I’d scored a couple of goals and he remembered me and he gave me a chance. He gave me confidence. Without him, I might not have had the stepping stone to get to the next level. For lads like me it’s important to get a little bit of luck along the way.”

I have a lot to thank Micky for. He gave me opportunities in the first team. He had a good rapport with the more experienced players and the younger players just wanted to work for him.

Matt Heath

Matt was offered a professional contract in January 2001 when he was 19 at a time when Peter Taylor’s Leicester City were in the top six of the Premier League, prior to a damaging run of form which saw them finish in 13th position at the end of the season.

The next season began badly for Taylor’s team. When Matt made his first team debut, away at Charlton Athletic at the end of September, Leicester were bottom of the Premier League.

“That match was Taylor’s last game,” Matt remembered. “He put me in the side instead of Matt Elliott, who was on the bench. I got injured with a split head with about 10 minutes to go and went off. Later in my career, I probably would have stayed on.”

Dave Bassett was the new manager with Micky Adams as his assistant, until he became manager later that season in April 2002. This was just prior to Leicester’s relegation from the Premier League in what was the Club’s last season at Filbert Street.

Matt continued: “I have a lot to thank Micky for. He gave me opportunities in the first team. He had a good rapport with the more experienced players and the younger players just wanted to work for him. To be honest, as a young lad, I was a little bit scared of him, but he got the best out of me.”

In his first full season in charge (2002/03), Adams guided the team back to the Premier League at the first attempt, despite the Club going into administration that season.

“I was in and out of the side that season,” Matt recalled. “There were experienced defenders at the club like Matt Elliott and Gerry Taggart, but it was good to be part of a team which got promotion, playing at the new stadium. As a Leicester-born fan, playing for the Club was a dream come true.

“When the Club went into administration (from October 2002 until February 2003), it was a worrying time,” Matt reflected. “But, as a young professional, you don’t really understand the severity of the situation. Looking back, it was a turbulent time in the Club’s history. I went along with the advice of the senior professionals and other senior people at the Club. I just did what I felt was right at the time. I didn’t go against anyone else or say anything controversial.  I just went with the flow.”

At the end of the season, in May 2003, Matt was called up to the England Under-21s. 

“I got the call-up to go away to the training camp in Sardinia, and then there was a friendly game back in England after that,” he explained. “Then, a couple of weeks later, I think they had the qualifier in England. Unfortunately, I only made the bench and didn't get on. 

“There was a lot of talent in that squad in Sardinia. Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Jermaine Pennant and Phil Jagielka were all there. David Platt was the coach. To spend a week or two away training with talented players was a great experience.

Unfortunately, there were a few casualties and I was one of them. I left my hometown club, which I’d supported since I was young. It was a gutting feeling, but I totally get it now.

Matt Heath

“The reason we went to Sardinia was because David Platt had a holiday home there. He took us to his local golf course and Gianfranco Zola was there playing with the gaffer in front of us. I was thinking: ‘I’ve just met Zola. That’s ridiculous!’”

The following season (2003/04), ended in relegation back to the Championship. Prior to its start, there was an influx of experienced players, and although Matt was a first team regular later on in the season, playing alongside Nikos Dabizas, he went out on loan in October 2003 to Stockport County.

Thinking back, Matt said: “For any young lad, to go out on loan, it’s a great opportunity. You play important competitive football against men. The difference between youth team or even reserve football is like the difference between night and day. It was a big learning curve. When you get a big centre-forward headbutting you off the ball, it just prepares you for what might happen in the future. I really enjoyed my time there. We had a good squad and we got on well with each other.”

Leicester City were already relegated when they played their last match of the season at Highbury against Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, who were undefeated all season.

“We were 1-0 up at half-time,” Matt remembered. “If we’d held out, they would never have been the ‘Invincibles,’ but they went on to score twice to win 2-1.”

The following season (2004/05) was Matt’s last one at City. Adams resigned in October 2004 and was replaced by Craig Levein. Matt was the regular first choice centre-back for the first part of the season, making 25 appearances.

“I started the season well,” he recalled. “When Micky left, the new manager wanted his own players. Unfortunately, there were a few casualties and I was one of them. I left my hometown club, which I’d supported since I was young. It was a gutting feeling, but I totally get it now.  

“It was another chapter in my career and I got the chance to go to Coventry City. Micky Adams was the manager there and Alan Cork was still his assistant. I played in the first-ever game at the Ricoh Arena. I spent a season and a half there and made some good friends. It was nice to get out of my comfort zone into a different environment.”

One day after training Micky told me I was one of the players who would have to move on, but that Leeds had called and wanted me to go there straight away.

Matt Heath

In November 2006, Matt was signed by Leeds United’s new manager Dennis Wise, his ex-Leicester City and Coventry City team-mate who had left the Foxes five years earlier in controversial circumstances.

“Coventry were in financial difficulty and looking to restructure their wage bill, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to a big club like Leeds,” Matt said. “One day after training Micky told me I was one of the players who would have to move on, but that Leeds had called and wanted me to go there straight away.

“Within half an hour I was travelling up the A1 to see Dennis at Leeds. He was a massive name in football. He knew how I trained, my attitude and my character. It’s nice that I’d made a good impression on him and it was brilliant even though Leeds were in turmoil at the time.

“I signed on loan initially and signed permanently in January (2007). Leeds were bottom of the Championship at the time and we ended going into administration and getting relegated to League 1. Leeds were given a 10-point deduction.

“We went into pre-season training, but the club couldn’t sign anybody and then they got hit with another 15-point deduction, so we started the League 1 season on minus 15 points.

“We were really up against it. We won the first five games, so we were on zero points after five games. We went on an absolutely nuts winning spree and, by December, I think we were top of the league. The fans were backing the players all the way and you can imagine the togetherness we had as a squad. That first part of the season until Christmas time was wonderful. It was a great experience.

“Gus Poyet was Dennis’ number two. They brought the best out of each other. When Gus moved to Tottenham (in October 2007) the wheels fell off a little bit and we started to get a few bad results. Then Dennis left (in January 2008) and went to Newcastle and Gary McAllister came in as manager.

“I played in McAllister’s first game and he singled me out for praise at half-time. But he wanted different players in and to move players out. Then Colchester wanted to take me on loan (in March 2008). They were in the Championship. The previous season, they had nearly got into the play-offs for the Premier League and Teddy Sheringham was playing for them. He was a brilliant player.

“I stayed for six seasons at Colchester. In my first season we moved to the club’s new stadium. It was a lovely club. I really enjoyed my time there.”

While at Colchester, where he played over 100 games, Matt had a couple of month-long loan spells at Brighton & Hove Albion and at Southend. In 2013, when his contract expired, he had half a season at Northampton Town, before moving to Harrogate Town in the Conference North, and then spending a couple of years coaching at Tadcaster Albion in Yorkshire. 

Meanwhile, Matt was developing a career as a teacher at college level. 

“I got a job at Ashkam Bryan College in York, coaching the football team,” Matt explained. “I had a couple of seasons playing part time football while doing my qualifications and learning about how to be a teacher at college level, ending up teaching  sports coaching, development and fitness BTech at Asham Bryan College. I did eight years there before moving back to Leicester.

“I now work at Kettering Town Football Club. We have an educational programme where we teach about 50 lads their qualifications, doing half a day in the classroom and half a day in the gym or on the training pitch. We run three different teams. Our under-18s team has got through the qualifying rounds of the FA Youth Cup and, this week, we got through to the first round proper of the FA Youth Cup.” 

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