Farewell piece: Joe Mattock was a quiz dud but signing him was clever business by Rotherham United
“It was the last two weeks in June, Gaffer.”
Conversations like this were commonplace when Joe Mattock was around.
Manager Paul Warne famously said he would never pick the defender everyone knows as ‘Baz’ for his quiz team.
He did, however, pick him regularly for his Rotherham United side; or at least he did until the injury absences began to mount.
Last week the Millers announced the release of their second-longest-serving player — only skipper Richard Wood can boast a lengthier stay in recent times — to bring to an end his seven-year spell at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
In that time, Mattock played under six bosses, won three League One promotions, suffered a trio of Championship relegations, played his part in the 2016 Neil Warnock second-tier survival miracle and racked up 225 matches.
Warne is a huge admirer of a left-back who was a major influence on the pitch as well as behind the scenes but knew he had to make a tough call. Too few of those appearances had come in the last three seasons.
When he was fit, Mattock was a consistent 7/10 performer: a decent reader of the game, solid in his own half and a threat in the opposition’s with his overlapping runs and ability to deliver the ball.
Warne wasn’t the only manager who appreciated him. Steve Evans, the boss who signed him following his 2015 exit from Sheffield Wednesday, Neil Redfearn, Warnock, Alan Stubbs and Kenny Jackett all made him a first-choice selection.
He rarely hit spectacular heights but hardly ever let anyone down.
He’s enough of a football man to have suspected the end was coming, although what he makes of his departure is unknown because he hasn’t gone public with his thoughts.
A text I sent wishing him all the best and asking for an interview elicited a lovely response to the first part and no answer to the second.
The last time we spoke, in January when he accepted he needed to be playing more to earn a new deal, he said: “Rotherham mean everything to me.
“They’ve become my whole life. Being here has moulded me into a player that I never thought I would become four or five years ago.”
Why the nickname? Mattock is terrible with names and whenever he can’t remember what someone is called — which is regularly — he refers to them as ‘Baz’ as a different way of saying ‘Mate’. “How’s it going, Baz?” “Good to see you again, Baz.”
Eventually he’d said it so often that his teammates decided he might as well be called that himself.
My follow-up request for an audience also fell on deaf ears but that could genuinely be down to forgetfulness on the part of someone with an endearing trait of giving the impression his head is somewhere else.
Now and then all of him was somewhere else. I once turned up to interview him at Roundwood, as arranged, while he was driving to New York having convinced himself we had agreed to meet there.
Hugely popular in the Millers camp, he could laugh at his own expense and was a big part of the banter at the training ground where he misplaced items of kit more often than the rest of the squad put together.
His interview technique was good fun and unpredictable — “Halfway through an answer I sometimes forget what the question is but I just keep waffling on anyway” — and he was always one of the players big enough to take on media duties after a defeat.
Strange then that such an engaging character was prone to rushes of blood that led to several red cards and fans joking that he always seemed to get himself suspended for the Christmas holiday programme.
He took his responsibilities as a senior pro seriously and Ben Wiles, particularly, is one of several younger players to have benefited from his experience and guidance.
Injuries had already started to trouble him when he was stretchered off against Coventry in early December 2020 with an ankle issue that required surgery and would confine him to only one more start that season.
Achilles trouble hindered him in the summer and there were three more injuries when the league action got under way until the New Year finally brought a clean bill of health.
By then, Rotherham were deep into their promotion push and much of his game-time came from the bench as a centre-half as he countered his slide into the autumn of his career with a change of position.
Mattock turned 32 two days before the retained list was published and it seemed the right time for club and stalwart to part company.
There will always be a warm welcome for him at New York.
It was fitting that he was on the pitch when the club’s latest rise to the Championship was sealed at Gillingham on April 30 on the last day of what would turn out to be his last Millers season.
Warne, by the way, never got the right reply to his query about the shared holiday destination. He had to text his wife for confirmation.
Another strike against Baz in his quest to make the quiz line-up
“There’s intelligence and then there’s football intelligence,” the player once told me. “The gaffer’s said to me before: ‘You’re not the best at quizzes but you get the game.’ I’ll take that.”
On a football field, Mattock had answers to most questions.
COACH MATT HAMSHAW'S VIEW
“It’s really sad that he’s leaving us. He’s just come to his natural end with us. He’s been an unbelievable servant to this football club. I cannot speak highly enough of him.
“He’s been fantastic around the training ground and has really brought on the younger players. He’s got a really good relationship with Ben Wiles.
“He’s a really good, genuine lad and we wish him all the best. It’s sad that he’s not just a little bit younger.”
35 league appearances, one FA Cup. One goal.
36 league apps, one FA Cup.
2017/18 (League One):
35 league apps, three play-offs, one League Cup, one Checkatrade Trophy. One goal.
44 league apps, one FA Cup. One goal.
2019/20 (League One):
24 league apps, one Papa John’s Trophy. One goal.
14 league apps, one League Cup.
2021/22 (League One):
20 league apps, one FA Cup, one League Cup, five Papa John’s Trophy. One goal.