By Ian Richardson
All good things must come to an end and that was the sentiment of Matlock Town physio Mick Cunningham who squeezed his magic sponge for the final time at Marine last weekend.
Time passes remarkably fast and it is incredibly 19 years since Cunningham came to Matlock with his Sheffield Wednesday heroes Imre Varadi and Charlie Williamson, who had taken over at Causeway Lane following the dismissal of David Vaughan in October 1995.
“I came with them to watch a game and saw a bloke with a car sponge and a plastic bag running on to the pitch,” Cunningham reflected.
“I thought ‘I can help out here’ and things developed from there.”
Cunningham recalls his first game at Matlock being a 1-0 defeat at Boston United, one of Varadi’s former teams.
“The pace of the game startled me, it was far quicker than what I’d been used to in the Yorkshire League.”
Unfortunately his first season with Town ended with relegation to the First Division and towards the end of that campaign was a game he says was his worst experience in his time with the Gladiators.
He said: “We lost at home to Buxton in a crucial game and they did a quick double over us having won the first game. It was a crushing disappointment and then losing to Barrow on the final day sealed our fate.”
Since Varadi, Matlock have been managed by Tommy Spencer in two spells, Gary Marrow, Ernie Moss, Phil Brown and Gareth Williams and now Mark Atkins.
So who does Cunningham rate as the best?
“Without any shadow of a doubt Mark Atkins, he’s so tactically astute with great powers of motivation and determination, he said.
“He sets his teams up so well and when he puts his point across it’s not rocket science. For instance look at the way he masterminded our win against Worksop at home on New Year’s Day. The tactics were spot on, everyone knew what they were doing, it was fantastic and that’s down to his preparation and thoroughness.”
Cunningham recalls a number of players who he rated in a Matlock shirt.
“James Lukic is obviously right up there, superb from his first to his last game with us and Adam Yates looks like he will follow in his footsteps,” he added.
“A lot didn’t rate goalkeeper Matt Duke while he was with us but he’s not done too badly for himself in the league. Jimmy Flynn. Nick Tilly, Mark Culley, Jamie Evans and Paul Burton were all great players in my early years at Matlock, but the club’s had some fantastic lads and I’ve enjoyed working with them all.”
So what has triggered Cunningham’s decision to hang up that magic sponge?
“Travelling to midweek away games hasn’t been easy recently and I’m not quite as quick getting on to the field as I used to be,” he joked. He also has three grandchildren now to concentrate on as well as seeing his beloved Owls more.
“I’ll still come down to Matlock though and the club know if they need any help anytime, all they need to do is give me a call.”
Clearly Cunningham has great affection for Matlock Town, adding: “The club’s made unbelievable progress, particularly with its facilities which are now second to none.
“I must admit I was glad to see the back of the leaky roof in the old changing rooms. What has really cheered me over the years is the relationship I’ve had with the fans who’ve been brilliant towards me and I’ll never forget that. l won’t be disappearing for good that’s for sure because I’ve been coming here too long.”