Matt Warburton's move to the EFL with Northampton Town two years ago came as he was riding the crest of a wave. Two seasons at Stockport County saw him notch just shy of a half-century of goals for the club, culminating in the Hatters' National League North title success.
Following a jump of two divisions, he would have another promotion to enjoy just over a year later, as Northampton trounced Exeter City 4-0, in the peculiarity of an empty Wembley and a Monday night play-off final. A brief taste of life in League One, saw the former Maine Road and Curzon Ashton man score on his first appearance at that level, though it was with Yeovil Town in the National League that he spent most of last season.
Announced this summer as an impressive capture for FC Halifax Town, what he has found so far at the club has certainly struck a chord with the attacking talent. Ahead of a reunion with many a familiar face this weekend, as his new team host Stockport, Matty took a varied look back over his time in the game that, in many respects, was never really intended to turn out how it has...
First question, and the most important one, when you joined Halifax, did you have an initiation song to do in front of the team?
Of course, yeah! I tried to get the crowd involved, I thought that was probably easiest. I went with ‘Hey Baby’ (Bruce Channel, covered by DJ Ötzi and others...). It didn’t go down too well...
Back with football...having now played in the League, what is your current outlook? Is it ‘I know I’m good enough to play at that level, I’m absolutely set on getting back there’, or are you looking at it more as ‘it’s important to just enjoy my football, help my team do well, and anything else is a bonus’?
Pretty much a mixture of everything you’ve just said. The last two years have been a huge learning experience, but for me this year, it’s about getting back playing regularly, and enjoying it. The last two years have been great, turning professional and getting promoted, but was I really enjoying my football? Probably not, because I probably wasn’t playing as much as I would have liked. I’m extremely grateful to (FC Halifax Town manager) Pete (Wild) and Milly (assistant Chris Millington) for giving me the opportunity to come to Halifax and play, and play in a really good environment and play the right way. So, it’s just about getting back and playing with a smile on my face, because that’s when I enjoy it the most.
When you finally got to play in the League, whether it’s in the day-to-day things in that environment, little details in the games, the opponents and what they do, what struck you about League Two/League One that was different from other levels you’d played at?
In terms of standard, everything’s that little bit better, but the main thing that I noticed was the physical aspect of it all. Every player’s an athlete; everyone’s a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger, a better understanding of how to use their body. They look after themselves as well, so everyone at that kind of level was an athlete, whereas when you play semi-pro and the Conference North, where I came from, there was always possibly a weakness in a side that you could try and expose. There wasn’t really that too much when you go into the League. The physical side of the game is what I noticed more than anything, in terms of less time on the ball, and constantly being up against your man, rather than having that little bit of extra time.
⚽️ A first senior goal tonight for @MWarby24 - thank you to all who travelled pic.twitter.com/h8mf81DRDO
— Northampton Town (@ntfc) August 13, 2019
Tell me about Pete Wild and your impressions of him, because the vibe I’ve always got, perhaps down to the way he’s come up in the game as a coach and his background in general, is that he’s a lot more down to earth and straight up than a lot of people you find in football. How did the conversation go about signing for Halifax and what’s it been like working with him?
It’s been brilliant. I went and met Pete and Milly in the summer, and both of them just came across so well, I was so impressed with them both. The way that they presented themselves, the way that they spoke, there was no arrogance about them at all. I came away from it thinking they’re just really good people, and people that I wanted to work for. I’ve worked with Chris Millington before at Curzon Ashton, so I knew what he was about. Pete I’ve not worked with before, but what every player would do, and the same with managers, is ring around to get references really. That’s what I did, I spoke to a few people that worked under Pete, and not one bad thing came back. Not one, and I wouldn’t ring just anybody, I’d ring people that I trust. Working with him has been really good. It’s a bit of a cliché, but he’s a normal bloke, he’s got no arrogance to him at all. He wants to do well and I want to do well for him. He makes me want to go out there and win. It’s been a great start and I really enjoy the training sessions that they put on, and how they structure the working week.
It makes the world of difference in getting a proper feel for a place when fans are allowed back in. From what you’ve seen so far, how would you describe the club in general?
Really welcoming, to be honest. Every single person when I’ve come to the ground, whether it be the backroom staff, the stewards, media team, players, they’ve just been really welcoming. It’s been a really nice environment to come into. I’ve not got to know too many of the fans just yet, but they’ve come across brilliantly, support the team home and away, and hopefully we can grow those attendances by putting good runs together. It’s a working-class town, and if they see the football club doing well, then the attendances can only go on the increase, and that’s something we’re aiming to do. In terms of my start there, I’ve really enjoyed it. The group of lads we’ve got there, it’s a tremendous group, there’s no bad eggs in there, and I don’t think Pete and Chris would allow that. There’s a really nice feel to it at the moment.
It’d be obvious to pick out the title season with Stockport, but you’ve had great seasons before that as well. When you think about when you’ve felt your happiest overall in football, which time has been the most complete?
If we’re ruling out Halifax at the minute, then it’s hard to look past the league-winning team at Stockport. It was an unbelievable group that we had, as a group of people and players as well. It’s very hard to look past that. Winning the Conference North and getting their first title in so many years was incredibly special, and I think that brought a lot of people back to the club, with people having been a bit disillusioned with how they felt the club was going previously. It was great to be there and progress the club back up to the Conference, and potentially now, with the investment, back into the League. I’m quite friendly with quite a few of the boys there now, who I’ll come up against on Saturday! It’d be very hard not to say that time, but with the Halifax group at the moment, it’s got all the right signs of potentially being something similar. I don’t see why not.
Getting promoted with County, what felt like the difference in taking you from a play-off team, to actually going up, and as champions? Did it feel like you had something extra?
Honestly, I think it was the team spirit that we had. We had a really good group of people there and we did things to get fans on board. We’d go to the kids’ Christmas parties, we’d always spend time in the bar after the game, and these little things that we did in the community really got the fans on board. Once you get the fans on board at a club like that, then you’ve got every chance of getting promoted. We had a really good squad the second year, we got it right in training, and we got it right on the majority of game days, and full credit to Jim Gannon and Dave Conlon for that.
First signing of 2017/18. Welcome to County, Matty Warburton: https://t.co/Suq6SmN1T6 pic.twitter.com/1NHYBRoEam
— Stockport County (@StockportCounty) May 17, 2017
Whereabouts have you grown up and which team did you support?
I’m from Sale. I’m a Man City fan and have been since I was four or five, so I’m not one of these that have jumped on the glory train! I actually used to go and watch Altrincham as a kid; there used to be a little £2 ticket in The Messenger, so I used to use that. I used to go and watch the likes of Colin Little and Rod Thornley on a Saturday afternoon with quite a few of my mates back in the day.
From a manager over the years, what kind of approach have you found gets the best out of you personally?
I think if the manager will talk to me regularly about what he wants and what he expects, that would be probably the main factor in getting the best out of me. I’m not one of these that needs to be screamed or shouted at; just a quiet word and just instil some confidence in me. The older I get, I’ve found that that’s the best way.
Before you began moving up the leagues, at Maine Road, first going to Curzon, were you just enjoying your football and life outside of it, or was it very much on your mind that you wanted to push up the levels? Was it something you really carried with you or did it just happen naturally?
It just kind of happened naturally, and I think because I was enjoying my football so much when I was younger. I was at Maine Road and I was just playing with my mates really. I wasn’t concentrating at all on thinking about being a pro, it never even crossed my mind. Went to Curzon, obviously you hear some things every now and again about a League club that might be watching, but I was focusing on my degree at the time, and then I became a teacher. You’ve got such a busy lifestyle as a teacher that I didn’t really think of much else, and football was my release at that time. I’d work Monday to Friday, sometimes Saturday mornings doing some fixtures, and when I went to train and play, that was my kind of release from work and from the stresses and strains. So I wasn’t concentrating at all in terms of ‘right, this is my time to turn pro’. The only time when it became apparent was later on at Stockport, where I was doing particularly well and there were rumours flying about. My heart had never really been set on it, I was at an age where I thought my time to turn pro had probably gone. It sounds a bit cringey and clichéd, but I’m fortunate to be doing what I always dreamt of doing, which is being a full-time footballer.
Matty Warburton’s move to Northampton Town has been confirmed. Two year deal, his first move into the Football League.
48 goals in 98 games for The Hatters, and signs off as a National League North champion. #stockportcounty pic.twitter.com/T0i37x7iTQ
— Sam Byrne (@_SByrne) May 7, 2019
Are there any teammates you've had in particular where you feel that extra sense of connection on the pitch, you understand the movements they’re making, and vice versa, and you can just naturally work off one another?
The most obvious one that comes to mind is Sam Walker. I played with Sam for years, at Curzon Ashton, then we went to Salford together, and obviously Stockport as well. If you’re in the trenches and you want someone next to you, it would be Sam. I know what he’s going to do before he gets it, and he probably has an idea about what I want to do. Away from football, he’s also a very good friend of mine, which also helps.
What about some of the standout characters?
Ryan Brooke, who I used to be at Curzon with, I can’t escape him, he’s just all over me whenever I see him! He’s a great lad. When I was at Yeovil, Rhys Murphy was a great character to be around, I had a lot of time for Rhys. I remember the first session, I came in, he was so loud and I was thinking ‘wow, who’s this guy?!’ He turned out to be one of my closest mates at Yeovil. He never failed to make me laugh.
What kind of character in a typical football dressing room would you say you are?
I think it’s changed over the years. When I first came in, I was probably a bit shy and a bit in awe of these lads playing at such a high level. I think as the years have gone by, I’ve started to become a bit louder! It depends on the dressing room as well. I’m at the stage of my career now, I’m 29, I’m starting to become one of the older heads, so it sort of changes again. Going round and speaking to the young lads and making sure they’re okay and they feel comfortable, and they’re doing what’s expected of them. I’m a bit loud, I suppose, in training! But I think it’s a big part of football, enjoying what you do and coming out of your shell.
We've mentioned teammates, but have there been any opponents you've been directly up against who tested you in a new way?
Yeah, one that comes straight to mind is Shane Byrne, who’s gone to Boston now. I get on well with him off the pitch but I hate playing against him! He’s a wonderful footballer and he seems to always have the upper hand against me. I don’t know what it is, but every time I face him, I think ‘oh God, not again!’ The other one is Jordan Keane, who’s at Stockport. When he signed for Stockport, I was actually delighted, because I thought ‘I don’t have to play against him again!’ With Keano, he’s not got a weakness. He’s not particularly fast but he’s not slow either, he’s strong, he’s technically good, he’s tall and he reads the game so well. I used to hate playing against him, so when I found out we signed him, I was absolutely buzzing.
Finally, when you're not being a footballer, what else is currently bringing it all back in balance for you, what do you enjoy?
I’m well into my golf at the minute. I’m trying to get my handicap down, it’s something I try and do a couple of times a week. It’s tough work because I’m not the best at the minute and it drives me up the wall if I’m not good at something! Golf’s definitely up there, and then just being around other people; I’m not particularly great on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I like my downtime and stuff like that, but I like being around my mates, being around other people and socialising. Just making sure that the mind isn’t constantly thinking about football is really important.
Interview by @chris_brookes