• Matthew Rhodes

FEATURE: Adam Yates reflects on his Matlock career after retirement

Matthew Rhodes talks to Adam Yates, the Matlock Town defender who has announced his retirement after more than 500 games for the Gladiators.

“Do you know what my last competitive game was? I can’t actually remember it!”

Admitting that your playing career is over will always be a tough and emotional moment. But when the moment of realisation comes during the COVID era, there is more of a bittersweet element to the landmark decision.

After 12 years and over 500 games for the Derbyshire outfit, Adam Yates has announced his retirement as a football player. Despite the actual decision being made a couple of weeks ago at the time of writing, Yates is still a little emotional as he talks to me about the toughest decision of his career.

Similarly to non-league legend and Blyth Spartans cult hero, Robbie Dale, Yates’s decision to retire comes at a strange time. His last game took place around six months ago and even then, that was a game which wasn’t allowed any spectators due to COVID restrictions at the time. It’s certainly not the final competitive send-off Adam Yates would have dreamt of nor any Gladiators fan.

In my interview with Yates, I inform him that his last competitive game was an FA Trophy tie away at Coleshill Town in early December. There’s no hiding the regret he has that he doesn’t remember much about the actual game.

Yates’s surprise retirement (he’s only 31) is a sad moment for everyone linked with the club, not just for him personally. Since his first appearance for the Gladiators in 2009, Matlock Town have had a whole host of managerial changes and player comings and goings.

Through all the chopping and changing, Yates has remained the one constant presence at the club. His loyalty alone would have earnt him a legendary status at the club anyway, but Yates was a very talented full-back and centre-half for this level of football and could have easily played higher up the league ladder if he hadn’t remained so loyal to the club he has always supported.

Adam Yates early in his Matlock career. Photo: Derbyshire Times

A few years ago, the Northern Premier League announced the top 50 players in the NPL’s history so far. Yates came in the top five. Due to all this, Yates will always be one of the most popular figures that Derbyshire’s capital has ever had.

A recent new addition to the Yates household forced the defender to assess realistically how much longer he could keep playing while also juggling his day job duties along with being a father of two. I asked Adam first of all in our chat, whether it took a long time for him to come to this decision or whether it was a realisation that came out of the blue.

He said: “It’s a difficult one, really. I think it was an accumulation of things all at once. My wife and I had a chat when we knew we were going to have a second child, and we thought that I’d keep on playing football for a bit as it’s been such a huge part in my life and just see how it pans out.

"But within the first few weeks of having my second child, it became apparent that it wouldn’t be right for me to return to football as I wouldn’t be able to give 100 per cent to the club like I’ve done before. The last thing I wanted was to go into pre-season and not be fully committed to the club.

"There was another dynamic, in that I got a career development back in February. I got a new job in telecoms and I’m wanting to put my full efforts into that. So it’s just been an accumulation of things. I’ve reached that time of life where other things have got to take precedent and, like I said, the last thing I wanted was to not be able to give 100 per cent to Matlock Town once pre-season is back under way.

"I think it’s already been made apparent on social media recently, that I do want to still remain a part of the club in some capacity. With the little time that I’ll have, I do want to help out the club in any way that I can. I’ll definitely be going down to Causeway Lane in future, so I won’t be a stranger to the club. But overall, the decision has just come from an accumulation of things that all came to a head.”

Yates also very honest in that he has some regrets about his playing career when he now looks back on it. One sticks out in particular.

“It is sad to think how it ended," he said. "Awful timing. The team would have had a really good opportunity last season.

"Paul Phillips and the backroom staff had put together a really good squad and I think we would have had a really good go at making the top five. So yeah, it is frustrating from that point of view. There have been many little frustrations to be honest over the years. Especially with the league performances. There’s been a lack of consistency.

Yates in action against Whitby in 2015. Photo: Derbyshire Times.

"I know we’ve had a little bit of success in winning the Derbyshire Senior Cup and some decent runs in the FA Trophy but the main frustration is never really having a consistent league season with Matlock. We’ve had spells before, like under Dave Frecklington, where we’ve gone 10/11 games unbeaten, but that lack of consistency over a whole season has meant we’ve never looked like getting out of the NPL Premier Division while I’ve been here. So yeah, personally, that’s my main frustration with my career when I look back on it.”

I asked Yates whether he would be keen to have a testimonial match at some point in the future so that he can have a proper send-off in front of Matlock Town fans who have supported his time at the club for 12 years.

He said: “That would be fantastic. If the club see fit for that to happen, then that would be the cherry on the top for me. It would be fantastic to see some old faces back at Causeway Lane, like from the early days of my time at Matlock when Mark Atkins was in charge. That would be really nice to do something like that.”

Yates takes a throw in at Carlton Town. Photo: Jez Tighe.

Yates has also made it clear that he would love to be involved with the club in some capacity at some point down the line:

He said: "At this early stage now, when I’ve got two children who are both under five, I’ve got limited time to be away from my family and my day job. But at some point, I’d be more than happy down the line to help the club in some way. I’ve already let Paul Phillips and the other staff members know that. I feel like I’ve got quite a bit of experience at this level. I’ve seen a lot of stuff at this level of football, I think I know what’s effective at this level in terms of who the right players are and what the expectations are.

"It is difficult for players at this level, in how the majority of them are juggling their day jobs with this too as well as family commitments. If I was in the professional game, I’d probably be able to extend my playing career; but at semi-professional level, it’s now just come to a head really.”

Yates also admitted that his decision to retire from playing at the age of 31 did surprise people including Matlock’s manager Phillips.

I didn’t really discuss the decision with anyone other than my wife and my dad," he said.

"So I think it did come as a bit of a shock to the boss. I just wanted to be open with him on what my thoughts were and to be honest. Paul was very supportive to me in what I was telling him which I appreciate. I think once I explained my decision, he understood it and I think I told him at the right time so that he can make any necessary adjustments to the squad in defence.

"I obviously didn’t want to leave it to tell him right before pre-season was just about to start. It was important for me to tell him with enough advance so that he could make any necessary changes to the team’s defence in my absence before the new season starts.”

And as for what Yates's favourite matches as a Gladiator?

He said: “I have so many great memories of matches. I have flashbacks all the time to particular games. I’ve played so many games but there are particular ones that you do get flashbacks about.

"I remember one where we went to Stalybridge Celtic and beat them 5-1 at their place while Mark Atkins was in charge. I think Ross Hannah scored from the halfway line in that game. That was a special game to be involved in. It had a big crowd, it was a lovely, sunny day – lots of fond memories of that one.

"We had a really good FA Trophy run where we eventually got knocked out by Luton Town where we lost 1-0. All the games against FC United of Manchester have been special because of the bumper crowds that they get.”

Yates also went into detail as to who the best players he played with were along with the strongest opponents he came up against.

He added: “I think James Lukic was definitely one of the best players I’ve played with. Where do I start with him? Just a fantastic lad on and off the field. He took me under his wing from the first day I walked into this club. He was captain of the side when I first joined Matlock and we ended up playing a number of seasons together. I learnt so much from him.

"Ross Hannah has also been fantastic to play with. I think it’s great that he’s returned to the club. Zak Brunt, who’s now at Sheffield United; he was also great to play with and is clearly a special talent. He’s definitely a player to watch out for. The sky’s the limit for him. You could see when he was at Matlock for a short time that he stood out by a country mile.”

“I had many, many games against Robbie Dale of Blyth Spartans. He’s definitely up there. I played against Jamie Vardy when he was in that fantastic FC Halifax Town side that won the NPL Premier Division title. I must mention Jack Lester as well, when I’ve played against him in pre-season friendlies against Chesterfield. He was something different. His know-how and the way he could bring other players into the game and his strength and composure on the ball: he was fantastic.

"It is sad knowing that I’ll never be putting on the Matlock shirt and being able to play against these kinds of players but I’m sure my place in the team will be taken by a willing, young lad who’ll end up being very successful.”