Matt Wragg out-scored Jamie Vardy whilst playing with the Premier League winner and England International for Stocksbridge Park Steels reserves.
That’s quite some statement but it is true. Wragg was the main striker with the almost mythical Stocksbridge reserves side which won two trophies in 2007 with Vardy playing a key role.
As Vardy’s career headed for incredible heights, Wragg’s faded out in 2009 because of a cruciate ligament injury.
But plenty of great memories and life-long friends were still made.
The Dinnington Town adventure during the 2007/08 season features prominently in Wragg’s Non League Journey, as does the memorable management of Steve Toyne.
Working with twin brother Jon and their close associate Matt Griffin, Wragg is back enjoying his football again as one of Griffin’s assistants at Ecclesfield Red Rose 1915 in the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League Premier Division.
This is Matt Wragg’s Non League Journey:
“The first club I played for was called Sheffield Lane Top in the County Senior League. I think they’re still running now. I played there for a couple of seasons and I was only about 17 when I started there.
“The manager was called Glynn Bradshaw, a really old school manager. He was a character and if we lost on a Saturday he’d be one of them who wouldn’t be having his Saturday. He hated losing and I don’t think the first season was one of the best. I think we got relegated. As a young player I was starting to do well and get noticed by clubs at that level – although I was playing in midfield back then.
“Graham Furness who is now the Stocksbridge chairman contacted myself and Jon to go up there to play in the reserves and I did quite a big stint there.
“I made some appearances for the first team in the Northern Premier League and obviously played with Jamie Vardy in the reserves. It is also where I met Griff and became good mates with him and played with for a few teams.
“The highlights (with the reserves) were that we won the association cup at Millmoor, the League Cup and finished second in the league behind Athersley Rec (in 2007). For a young team like we were it shows that we did really well. I think most of the lads in that teams went onto play at least Northern Counties football, some played NPL and obviously Jamie Vardy went onto play for England. There was Richard Adams who played in the NPL, Tom Jones who went onto play for Penistone, Adam Shepherd who went to Maltby, Jon (Wragg), Matt Griffin, a lad called James Ellis.
“Because I was forward I scored loads of goals for them and I would say I scored over 100 goals while I was in that reserve team (over six years). That got me a look in in the first team under Wayne Biggins, the ex-Celtic striker around 2001. There’s some good memories in terms of that stint with the first team. We played Hallam in an FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round tie in 2002 and I came off the bench at 2-0 down and we went onto win 3-2. I set one of the goals up and our game was recorded and the highlights were broadcast on Sky Sports News. That was probably the first time I had seen video footage of myself playing football any level.
“When I broke into the Stocksbridge first team there was Gary Middleton who used to play with a gum shield in. I always thought it was a bit bizarre. You always thought ‘are we going out to play football or rugby’? He was a character and a proper defender for that level.
“My appearances for the first team were sparse that season and at the time they didn’t really look at players in the County Senior because there was quite a gap to bridge between the County Senior and the first team who were in the NPL. But I suppose that’s when I got the taste for playing Non League football and playing in front of crowds of over 100. There was one game when we had signed Chris Waddle for a Sheffield Senior Cup against Worksop and there were over 1000 fans there. That was good as I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan so to share a pitch with someone who you idolised growing up.”
Steve Shutt, Stocksbridge reserves manager
“Steve Shutt was one of the nicest men off-the-field but football-wise he was really vocal. I remember him booting the dressing room down once. He’d have no problem getting right up to one of the players if he didn’t think you were working hard enough. Generally it used to be me. He’d say ‘you’re not working hard enough, where’s your heart’? He was on you from the warm-up and he could go absolutely ballistic in a warm-up if standards weren’t right. It was brilliant playing for Steve but you had to be on your toes and certainly a lot different to (Dinnington manager) Steve Toyne who was a bit more relaxed.”
“The best goal I scored was for Stocksbridge against Barnsley academy. I scored it at Barnsley’s training ground and it was an overhead kick. I don’t think I’ve ever scored an overhead kick like that. I’d also say scoring for Stocksbridge in the NPL on my first start for them under Wayne Biggins is a goal I’ll always remember. Scoring in the FA Cup for Dinnington against Penrith is another. When we played Athersley Rec for Stocksbridge reserves, I remember scoring at Bracken Moor. It was a big game and although we won the game, Athersley won the league (in 2007).”
“I loved playing with Griff. He was one of the best players I played with. He was a really good defender, loved a challenge and always in the referee’s book. I played against him as well and you know when you have because he certainly likes to leave a foot in.
“I’ve known him nearly 20 years since we played together in the Stocksbridge reserves in the early 2000s. I had actually come across when I was playing for Sheffield Lane Top and he played for High Green Villa. He was probably the best player for High Green and I was probably the best player for Lane Top. Griff was a no-nonsense midfielder at that stage and he was clattering me every-time I got the ball. I used to like to taking people on and he was a tough tackler. I hated it and I had a few words so I’d come across him twice that season and didn’t like him. He’s always said since that he knew I was good so he had to get stuck into me. He rocked up to Stocksbridge reserves in pre-season and I saw him in training and thought ‘this is a nightmare, he’s the last player I want to play with, I don’t like the bloke’. I remember how it all turned. We played in the first game of the season and a few of us went on a night out and we bumped into Griff. That was it, the ice was broken and I went onto be best mates with him.”
Jamie Vardy playing for Stocksbridge reserves
“A lot of the time people seem to forget that he played a lot of his games out-wide. He played left-wing a lot. He played central-midfield. Because he was that good he could play anywhere. He had pace to be a winger and he could get up and support quickly and had an eye for goal. He could keep hold on the ball so he played all over for us. It wasn’t until his second or third season with us that he moved upfront with me.
“I’d say the Athersley penalty is definitely up there with his best moments for the reserves. I remember he played in a friendly down at Jubilee and he scored a 30-yard goal, a real beauty and that’s when I first remember people coming up to me and asking about him. People were saying ‘this lad is some player’ and he was starting to get recognised quite a lot at that level. He was obviously really talented and just before he was picked up by the Stocksbridge first team he was starting to really dominate games in the County Senior.”
Claim to fame is being Vardy’s strike partner?
“I would say so. I always have a joke with the lads that I used to out-score Vardy for the reserves. I sometimes forget to tell them that he was playing left-wing or centre midfield for a lot of games. He probably didn’t have a run of games upfront like I did.”
Vardy in Ibiza
“Myself, Jon and lad called Jonny Manning took Vards under our wings at Stocksbridge. He was a bit younger than us and we took him on nights out and it got to the stage where we were that matey with us that he came to Ibiza with us. He had this old man mask and we’re in Ibiza which is known for the nightlife and being cool and Vardy didn’t care about that. He kept the mask in his back pocket and he’d go to the toilet, put it on and walk across the dance floor and perch himself behind a group of people, lads or lasses, and scare them to death. They’d turn round and see this face of an old man. It was absolutely brilliant and we’d be sat in the background in hysterics knowing what he was doing. He’d do it randomly during the holiday. Some couple would be having a picture taken and he’d get in the background and scare them when they turned round.”
Dinnington boss Steve Toyne wants to sign Matt, not Jon (2007)
“Steve Toyne rang me and wanted me to sign. He said ‘the only thing is I know you come as a double act with your brother and I don’t really need a defender’. I said ‘yeah, we always sign for the same clubs, would you take a chance on him’? I knew if he signed him that he would get in the team so Steve told me to bring him down. I didn’t tell Jon that, I just said ‘Steve Toyne from Dinnington had rung and wants us both to sign’.
“Jon went on and had a good career in Northern Counties. He probably made over 300 appearances I would imagine as he played long past when I got my injury. He continued to play with Maltby and Parkgate. He did really well and was a really good defender for Northern Counties level. He was always a good signing for whoever he played for. I was only 28 when I got that injury so I missed out on six or seven seasons of football in the NCEL.
“In most games it would take about 80 minutes before someone would turn round and say ‘bloody hell, I thought you were a good player because you’ve been up and down all game, but I’ve realised it is your twin brother’. I don’t know how I didn’t get scouted for someone because the amount of ground we used to cover between us and the amount of people who thought it was the same player was unbelievable.”
Winning the NCEL Division One title (2007/08) and FA Cup run
“It was a brilliant year. I remember Steve ringing me and selling to me by saying it was going to be £40 a win, £20 a draw. He told about this millionaire that was pumping some money in to get Dinnington through the leagues. It was all sounding really positive and I think we got one wage after the first game and it just disappeared. That’s when I realised that at Non League level what people promise and what people deliver were certainly two different things. I don’t know what Steve promised the other lads but he got a really good team together and it was obviously no-one was there for the money as no-one left, everyone stayed and we went onto absolutely blast the league with a record points total.
“We had a really good FA Cup run. We beat Maltby in the Preliminary Round on the Friday night when over 600 people were there. We beat them 2-1 and that was covered on Sky Sports…I think I’ve still got the YouTube clip. That was really good night.
“We played Penrith in the next game and I scored two goals and we drew 2-2. Matt Griffin cost me a hat-trick and I still rib him to this day. We got a penalty at 2-2 and I don’t know why he stepped up as a centre-half and missed it – costing us a four-hour trip to Penrith and annual leave off work for the replay on a Wednesday night. Pre-match meal in McDonalds and it went to extra-time and we beat them in the last minute of extra-time (thanks to Ben Rosser) and we got home at about 2am the next day.
“We got to the third round qualifying in the end when we lost 7-1 to Bradford (Park Avenue) and we had Ben Rosser and Michael Blythen sent off. It was a great achievement for an NCEL Division One club as we only two wins off the first round proper. We were probably the lowest ranked team in it at the time and it was a good experience and memory.”
“Playing for Steve was brilliant and he was a great manager. He’d be always on the phone during the week telling you how good you were and how well you had played and what players he was signing. He made you feel really part of the club and that you were the best player at the club. He did everything for the club because he was the groundsman, the manager. He’d be on the turnstiles, in the tearoom.
“I always remember when we had the really good FA Cup run we were getting quite a lot of people coming to watch us. We turned up for this game and Toyney was in a JCB at the front of the ground clearing a big mount. Basically what was happening was kids were watching games for free stood at the top of the mount. Steve wasn’t having that because every penny matters at that level so he cleared so they’d have to pay to watch the games. That’s what he was like, every angle to make money for the club.
“Mid-season I got pneumonia and I was in a bad way in hospital, I was in the high dependancy unit. Toyney came to see me when I was recovering. It was really good of him and I appreciated it but as he left; typical Toyney left some business cards on the side. He was a bit of a handy man and he said ‘if any of your family or friends come to see you, could you hand these business cards out’? I couldn’t believe it. I was thinking ‘I’m on my deathbed with pneumonia in the high dependancy unit of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and Steve Toyne has come to leave me a few business cards to try and drum up some business’! I think he also wanted me to hand them to the nurses and other patients as well. When I told the rest of the lads when I finally recovered they were in stitches. It was great that he came to see me but it was another example of what a character Toyney was.
“He was always out trying to make money and he used to say to me ‘my aim is to make £10 a day’. He’d go out and cut people’s grass and I think he was involved with conservatories. I couldn’t pin down what his actual job was. He could probably turn his hand to anything and he probably did.
“He was a proper Non League manager and some of my best Non League memories are with Toyney. There was one away game at Leeds Carnegie and we were running a bit late. He must have had seven or eight of the lads in the back of this transit van. He was driving us to the game and as we were running late the secretary called him to say he needed the team for the referee or the club would get fined. Toyney read the team off over the phone’s loudspeaker and half of the lads sat in the transit realised they weren’t playing! What a way to find out you weren’t in the starting line-up. Toyney was oblivious to it.
“He signed what I think was a Haiti International. I don’t know how he rocked up in Sheffield, perhaps he was waiting for a crack at professional football? Steve brought him into the changing room and the kid didn’t speak a word of English. Steve said ‘right lads, which one of you has got a qualification in French’? Nobody puts their hand up. He went ‘what, none of you, did no-one do GCSE French’? We were like ‘yeah, but no-one remembers anything’. Steve said ‘well he doesn’t speak any English, I need someone to translate for me’. Toyney started pointing and in a slow way said ‘you play on the right wing, you out-wide’. The lads were absolutely in stitches at Toyney trying to communicate with him. He was actually a decent player, you wouldn’t say he was good enough to be a professional as he was 26 at the time.
“When we first signed we played a friendly against Alfreton. We went in the changing room, sat down and Steve came over and said ‘hi Matt, hi Jon, I’m Steve’. He turned round and whispered ‘do you know that guy’? We went ‘no’. He (Steve) waited a few minutes and Sykesy (Andy Sykes) who was the captain and said ‘do you know who he is’? Sykesy shakes his head. He asks someone else and nobody knew. He took his name and put him on the bench and gave him 20 minutes even though he had no idea who he was and why he had come. To this day I’ve no idea who it was? I don’t think he was seen again but that was my introduction to Steve Toyne.
“One of the funny conversations I had with Steve was about Vardy. When he rang to ask me to sign, he said ‘I’ve heard Jamie Vardy plays with you, a couple of lads have told me to try and get him to sign’. Before I could say ‘Steve, you’ve no chance, he’s lined up for the Stocksbridge first team’, he said ‘yeah, I don’t think he’ll be good enough for us, he’s a bit slight’. It always stuck in my mind and I think he got that one spectacularly wrong. But over the years Steve still got some gems to play for him.
“None of the players were getting paid so the story goes that he turned up at Griff’s father-in-law’s house and stuck a brown envelope through the letterbox. I’m sure he must have done it out of his pocket to keep players. God knows what he was doing to keep players. I think now and then he’d turn up at someone’s house and drop a brown envelope with £20 in. I think he felt guilty we weren’t getting paid. He didn’t need to because we loved playing for Steve.”
“Liam Cartledge kept a record of all his goals which is some dedication. When we signed for Dinnington he was there and we found out about the spreadsheet. He knew every goal he had scored, whether it was Saturday’s or Sunday’s’. I think the Sheffield Star did a piece on it because I’m guessing he’d scored thousands. He was pretty obsessed about his goals and if anyone questioned anything he’d say ‘I’ll check the spreadsheet at home and give you the definite answer’. If you ever telling a story at Dinnington and didn’t quite get it right you had to wary as you knew Cartledge could pounce on you and tell you that you had got your facts wrong.
“The best player I played with at Dinnington who was a real character was Ant Lynam. He was absolutely brilliant and must have scored 40 goals to get us promoted. He was way too good for Northern Counties level. He was literally a law to himself. He’d never do a warm-up so lads would trudge out in all-weather whereas Ant would not budge and would be sat in the changing room reading the paper and having a sip of Lucozade. Until 3pm he was not interested but then he’d bounce out and score a hat-trick. It was always bizarre that he never warmed-up. I don’t know whether it was superstition?
“Ben Rosser was a police officer and he was the quickest bloke ever. We used to laugh and say ‘there’s absolutely no way any criminal would get away from him’. He was a character and certainly larger than life.”
Maltby Main (2008/09)
“I played under Steve Adams and he takes a lot of credit for scouting Jamie Vardy. So because of that there was a connection that myself and Jon knew him from Stocksbridge. We persuaded Griff to come and sign midway through that season so we were reunited playing together.
“Steve was an old school manager who was all about if you didn’t come in at half-time with your nose broken he wanted to know why? That was justification for asking why you weren’t playing well because he’d be like ‘when I was playing I’d have my nose splattered across my face by now’.
“We punched above our weight with the budget as we were probably top ten. There was always a mass turnover of players at Maltby under Steve because the budget was next to nothing. I remember this game at Winterton when they were doing well and we signed three players the night before and they put in the team straightaway. We met at junction 32 where Sir Jack’s pub is waiting for the three signings. They never turned up. We got to Winterton with the bare eleven and when we headed out with an empty dugout apart from Steve Adams in front of us apart from, the announcer announced the teams and he named the three substitutes who weren’t even there. The lads were in stitches. We went onto beat them as well even though they were going well and we’d turned up like rag arse rovers.”
“Wilf Race was manager of Hallam and he came in for me and Jon. He was another one who realised we came as a double act. At the time as they are now Hallam were a really well run club with a prestigious history. When they came in it was a no-brainer. I loved it there and I loved playing for Wilf. He was a really heart on your sleeve manager and I’m still in contact with him now.
“Wilf gave one of the most maddest and passionate rants ever. I think it was an FA Vase game and he went absolutely mental at half-time. I don’t know whether we were losing or drawing but he absolutely lost it more than any other manager I had seen before. I don’t think he lasted much longer at Hallam but I don’t know if he was getting a bit fed up with it at that point?
“Two or three months into that season I did my ACL and I never ever came back. When I came off with my ACL I was in horrendous pain and the physio came over and said ‘right Matty, don’t know what you’ve done but we’ve used all our subs, can you go back on and make a nuisance of yourself’? I limped back on and played the last five minutes on one leg’. I found out the day after that I’d snapped my ACL.”
Ecclesfield Red Rose (2018-present)
(Matt Griffin is manager, with the Wragg brothers acting as his assistants)
“It was 2009 when I did my ACL, around October. I made various comebacks, Steve Adams kept taking me back to Maltby but every-time I came back I did my cartilage and then the other cartilage. Over a three-year period I was constantly trying to come back. I even went back to Stocksbridge reserves and my knee went there. I realised then I couldn’t play Saturday football anymore.
“There was probably a nine-year gap between Hallam and (Red Rose manager) Griff asking me if I wanted to get involved in coaching Red Rose. At the time I was a season ticket at Sheffield Wednesday and I said I’d do it around that when Wednesday were away. As soon as I got involved and started taking coaching badges I really enjoyed it.
“We’ve done alright with Red Rose and it has certainly given me my love back for the game which I think I’d lost when I had stopped playing. I got the buzz back with Red Rose about being in the dressing room and it brought back to me all what I missed from my time playing.
“The first season was brilliant. We gave Burngreave (Sheffield Town FC) a really good run for their money. We came second in Division One to them in the end and got promoted. It was just a good season. We won something like 12 games on the trot which was a record that went back years with Red Rose. That was a really proud moment. The second season we turned over Burngreave in the second game. Because we hadn’t beaten them in the first season, to beat them in the second game in the Premier Division showed we had stepped up. Every year with Red Rose we have always stepped up a level, whether that’s new players coming in or existing players stepping up and playing better. Beating Burngreave showed we had bridged a gap over pre-season.
“There’s been some good games this season. We gave a good game to Dodworth and North Gawber, we drew with them both at home and could have easily won them. Last season we beat North Gawber 1-0 away from and that’s been one of our best performances since we’ve been in charge and it showed we can mix it with some of the better teams at the top end of the league.
“At this moment in time Red Rose suits the three of us down to the ground. Myself, Jon, Griff and Ryan McDonald, we have all got young families so the demands of getting involved in a Northern Counties club would be too much. We’re all on the same page so it is not something we’re looking to do but who knows in the future? It is something we’ll never rule out. But we love what we’re doing at Red Rose at the moment.”
If you have enjoyed reading Non League Yorkshire over the past few months, please consider making a donation to the not-for-profit organisation NLY Community Sport which provides sport for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. CLICK HERE to visit the JustGiving page. There is a video at the bottom of the page showing our work.
NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams. When we properly return to ‘action’, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.
We have six teams, a mixture of Junior and Adult teams – Nostell MW DFC, Pontefract Pirates, Selby Disability Football Club and the South Yorkshire Superheroes (Barnsley) – across Yorkshire.
We have enjoyed great success over the past three years. Several of our players have represented Mencap GB in Geneva, including Billy Hobson from Selby and Greg Smith, whose story is quite inspiring.
Watch the video below to see highlights from our three years as an organisation. The video was produced for our players at the end of March to remind them of good memories from the last three years.