Matt Dempsey’s Non League Journey

Yorkshire Amateur captain Matt Dempsey

Although his days working under former England manager Glenn Hoddle did not lead to the dream of playing in the Football League coming true, but Yorkshire Amateur captain Matt Dempsey can say he’s had a decent Non League career so far.

Dempsey’s represented Garforth Town, Bradford (Park Avenue), Farsley Celtic and others with high acclaim and he’s always left a mark on everyone he meets, as close ex-team-mate Chris Walton will testify. 

He’s also proven to be a specialist penalty-saving high pressure goalkeeper for high pressure games.

Sadly no video footage of his heroics between the sticks seem to exist, but there is plenty of YouTube and Twitter clips to see his top on-the-field and in his own street moments.

This is Matt Dempsey’s Non League Journey:

Dempsey fully clothed during his early Eccleshill days

“I got released from Bradford City (circa 2005/2006) and I literally took a year out of football because I thought that was it and I had fallen out of love with it. I went to College at Leeds Thomas Danby College and when I was 16 or 17 I broke into Non League football and it was Eccleshill United at first. The manager was Steve Watson, Ryan’s Watson’s dad. Steve was nice and I knew him from playing in and around the area. My brother had also played for Eccleshill’s under 19s so I used to go and watch. When I did I used to turn up with my shin-pads and boots and I remember Gary Gordon and Neil the under 19s managers one day asking me if I had them with me. Ii shouldn’t have happened as I was still at Bradford City at the time, but I ended up playing against Ossett Town. I’ll have been 15 at the time and I played under a different name. It was all supposed to be hush hush.

“Going back to Eccleshill came about as when I was at College a few of lads there were in the first team and they suggested going to training. I was regularly playing for the under 19s and I think my first time with the first team was possibly Pickering away on a coach. It was a far distance anyway. I was on the bench which was understandable as I was only 16. I had watched Pickering go 4-0 up after half-an-hour and I thought I may get a chance of playing some of the second half. It got to the 90th minute and we were losing 5-1 and Steve decided to bring me on. It was the first time I had walked past an opposition dugout and all their players were taking the mick about me coming on in the last minute. On the way back I was a bit annoyed, but after a few beers I had a joke with the manager Steve by getting totally naked and I said ‘don’t ever put me on the bench again’. He turned round and he saw all the lads laughing so he must have known I was a big part of the changing room. From there then I ended up playing a lot of games.”

Sheffield United 

Ex-Bradford City player Ces Podd helped Matt Dempsey get signed for Sheffield United

“I met Ces Podd by chance when I was at College and he became my agent. He had an academy team. People like Fernando Moke and Luke Sharry played in it. Because of his connections he used to get games against good sides. I played for them in a game against Sheffield United so that’s how I came to go there. I was signed to Sheffield United for three years, from 17 to 20. I played for the youth team and the reserves which I captained at one stage. In my final year I did my ankle ligaments and it was when Kevin Blackwell had just become manager. He released every player whose contracts were up. The only players he kept were Kyle Walker who obviously plays for Man City and England now, a lad called Matty Lowton who is at Burnley, Adam Chapman and two others. All four ended up playing full-time football. Kyle played centre-half with me and when I first signed for Sheffield I lived there and got close to him. I still keep in touch with Matty to this day as well.”

Glenn Hoddle Academy 

“After not getting a new contract at Sheff United at 19-year-old there was a couple of routes I could have taken. Gateshead in the Conference was one. But I had a child at a young age so a lot of my decisions were based around that I had lived away for so long trying to make it. I could have gone to Australia for six months, but because I had a child they never took that. I decided I was going to leave it for a bit and see where it takes me. Then I was at home one day like you and me are today and I got a phone call and the person said ‘hi there, it is Glenn Hoddle’. I genuinely thought it was one of my mates trying to prank me. I was like ‘no way’, I went upstairs and he said ‘no, it is definitely, Sheffield United have passed on your details and we are an organisation that takes players on and we would really love you to come out and have a look’. I said ‘when are you thinking’? He said ‘what about next week’? I still had an agent at the time so I told him to book some flights and a week later I was on a plane to Spain.  

“It was nine o’clock at night after dinner when I met Glenn for the first time. I had this tracksuit on so I was absolutely sweating as it was red hot. There was Glenn at the top of the table and there was Nigel Spackman, Graham Rix, Dave Beasant as well – players who I had seen on the TV and I had admired. I was really eager and excited. I was meant to be out there for a three-week trial and after a week I signed for them. It was brilliant spending time with Glenn. His knowledge was unbelievable. He was there every day. A lot of people didn’t think he was. He used to stay with us Monday to Friday and on a Friday morning he would go to the Sky Studios and then come back. The lads were in awe of him. 

“The idea was they would you back into the game as soon as possible, but it never turned out to be like that. The experience and the place was unbelievable though. I went on trial at Swansea when Paulo Sousa was the manager and it was when I realised Glenn wanted a fee if you got signed anywhere, 20 or 30 grand. For someone like Matt Dempsey who is not known in football it is a big sum to ask a team who have taken you on trial for just two weeks. The project didn’t come the big thing they hoped it would be. It apparently used to cost something like £50,000 per year to look after one person and we had 30 people out there. Although they got a lot in sponsorship, there was a lot to claw back.

“We had some great times with some of the games we played it kind of fizzled out and I cut it short by six months because of the family. I was only out there for a year-and-half. I think that’s when Garforth comes into play.”

Garforth Town (circa 2011)

Me and you, outside now! The handy-looking Matt Dempsey during his days at Garforth Town

“One of the reasons I went there was because Ollie Hotchkiss was there and I had played with him at Leeds United when I was on trial there after getting released from City. I don’t know how Ollie didn’t make it as he’s the most technically good enough footballer I’ve ever seen or played with. 

“I met a couple of guys from Bradford at Garforth who I had never met before. One was Ben Higginson and the other was Andy Villerman and that made it easy for me to commute. We had a really good side that year and we did well. Steve Nichol was the first manager who went really in-depth at Non League level from my point of view. I had gone from Sheffield United and the Glenn Hoddle Academy where everything was professional and Garforth was very similar. He had the powerpoint board up and he’d have his tactics on as well. I thought ‘this is brilliant’. When you look back the attention to detail was second to none.”

Chester Game (2011)

Dempsey scored the winner for Garforth against Chester in front of 3,000 people on the final day of the season. Chester won the title on goals-difference despite losing as Skelmersdale conceded twice in their victory over Ossett Albion.

Dempsey’s goal against Chester

“The Chester game is a stand-out day and I remember it quite well. All my family came to watch as it was the last game of the (2010/11) season and we got the train there. We got off the train and it was like ‘why are all these coaches here’? We had never seen anything like it before in Non League. There were 20-odd coaches lined up from the train station to the ground. The ground was absolutely rammed with 3000 people and it was mental. We knew we had nothing to lose in the game and we knew we could upset them. We were a good side and with a few more additions I think they could really stamped their authority on that league the year after when they got to the play-offs. When Daz (Darren Kelly) scored I felt confident as I’d had a couple of chances already. Maybe because of my family and friends watching it maybe makes you stand up tall and when my goal went in it was a scary time for Chester. My brother told me afterwards that Chester had fans at the Skelmersdale game who were relaying the goals and when those goals were going in (at Skelmerdale) they were panicking. I think it took eight minutes after the end of our game before they could actually celebrate.”

The Chris Walton ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Accident 

“The Chris Walton one, as you can see on the video is a genuine mistake, accident. I didn’t have a clue he was there. I couldn’t believe I didn’t get sent off, but the referee knew I had my eyes on the ball when I caught him a beauty. The irony of that story is he became a team-mate (at Garforth and Farsley). He came in the changing room and he told us then that I had broke three of his ribs and had to be off work. We’re still close friends to this day and he still sends me that clip to laugh at it. But when he came through that dressing room door I was like ‘oh s**t I remember putting this guy on his a**e about six months ago.”

Bradford (Park Avenue) (2011/12)

“Although I didn’t get on (the 2012 NPL Premier Division) play-off final is up there in my memories. Me and Greavsie were on the bench and you just knew what Tom Greaves would do. When he scored the goal there’s a picture of me running right down the line to celebrate. It was a great moment when the goal went in. 

“Looking back though leaving Garforth and going to Park Avenue is one of my regrets. At the time Avenue were a league higher, but I should have stayed. I don’t really look back on my time with Avenue with fond memories. I was gutted that I left and they (Garforth) missed out on promotion. The friendships and camaraderie we had built were brilliant. They money was one reason why I left and the other was because of what they had said to me and that’s when I learnt a lot about Non League football. There is no loyalty in football. I wasn’t loyal to Garforth and Avenue weren’t loyal to me. 

“After the play-off final I think stayed for 15 games and I started six of them. It wasn’t enough. Me and Rilo had a bust up at training with the management team at Thornbury (in September 2012) and we both decided to leave that night. Luckily Pars (Farsley manager Neil Parsley) rang us both.”

Farsley (September 2012 to Summer 2015)

Matt Dempsey played for Farsley for over three years

“It was one of my best moves. At Park Avenue it was the first time I realised there was a lot of money about and there were players earning a few hundred quid. It wasn’t a changing room where everyone was bestie mates. It was a changing room where people tried to do a job, got their money and went home. Going to Farsley it was totally different and there were people in the changing room who I was very similar to and the changing room was like Garforth’s with a ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude. 

Sent off in second game for Farsley (September 2012) 

Dempsey pictured during his second Farsley game which later saw him get sent off

“I got sent off in my second game for Farsley which was actually against Garforth. Vernol Blair had taken over Garforth who were in a bit of turmoil. He’d asked me to go back but there was no money so I didn’t and there was a little bit of animosity. We beat them 3-1 and I scored. Garforth scored with ten minutes to go and the lad who scored went to grab the ball but I went to stop him. It kicked off and we both tried to throw punches and we both got sent off. So we were both fiery and we were walking off at the same time. As I walked past the dugouts Vernol was giving it loads and people began throwing punches again. Jacko (Mark Jackson) ran in to break it up and someone ripped his shirt right down the middle and hit him in the face. He looked like a wrestler and his head was covered in blood. All he had was try and break it up.”

The Lewis McMahon Accident

“The funniest thing about that clip is I’m sure Sim (Bambrook) teed it up. He set it up short so I couldn’t avoid the collision. I said to the referee that the ball hadn’t bounced and it had got stuck in the mud. I don’t think the referee said that much to me as the Matlock players were going absolutely mental. I remember all the fans shouting at me when he gave me a yellow card. You can see on the clip all the Matlock players putting their hands on their head when the yellow came out. The fans were going mental and I’ve seen the tweets since where they were basically calling for me to get arrested.”

Spectacular Own Goal 

“We played Padiham away and I think we lost 3-2. I’m renowned for heading the ball back to the goalkeeper without looking. I remember Tommy Taylor being in the net and the Padiham winger put a delicious ball into the box and I tried to chest it to Tommy from six yards out. It must have hit me right in the sternum and it literally went into the far post because Tommy wasn’t expecting it. At half-time Pars was going berserk along the lines of ‘what are you doing’? I can’t even say some of the stuff. I tried to make out that it just hit me, but everyone knew I’d tried to chest it. He never let me live it down in training for a few weeks.”

James Riley and Ross Daly

Dempsey with close associate James Riley

“I think I remember Rilo’s last game when we played away at Kendal. He was a good partner and a proper centre-half. It was a shame that he couldn’t carry on much longer. There’s a good story with Dales (Ross Daly) from when we played at Ramsbottom. I can’t remember the full story, but they were trying to get the game off because of water on the pitch. Pars was like ‘the pitch is fine’ because we were at full strength. You could sense they wanted it off. Dales had said something to infuriate those two joint bosses (Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley) and they both walked towards him and I remember him running away and hiding behind the lads. It always got tasty there.”

Other Memories of Farsley 

Dempsey was once ‘a victim of attempted murder’ during his time with Farsley
Matt Dempsey playing for Farsley

“We had a good run in the Doodson Cup and got to the final in 2015. I hated how that final panned. I remember struggling in the final with my calves. We lost that on penalties to Warrington. The (2013/14) season when we missed out on the play-offs when we drew 0-0 against Harrogate Railway on Bank Holiday Monday also stands out. We had a good season, but for some reason everyone used to turn up and give their all against us. We had a good group of lads that year. We had some good battles with Ramsbottom when the two joint managers were in charge. Pars got into a scrap with one of them at half-time in the tunnel and it all kicked off (in March 2013). We won that day as Gareth Grant scored a great goal and we loved rubbing it in their faces.

Dempsey leaping for a header

“Farsley was one of my best periods, but we under-achieved and we should have done far better with the players we had. I felt at home with Farsley though. It is a family club and everything was nice. It was also close to home for me as it is only 15 minutes away. After games you’d stay in the clubhouse to have a drink and you’d be in there for two hours. That’s a dying art now.” 

Shaw Lane (Early 2016)

“Richard Tracey had been on to me for a while, but I only played a few games for Ossett Albion and I wasn’t there for long. I don’t actually know why (Shaw Lane manager) Craig Elliott got in touch? It could have been through Morgs (Tom Morgan). The money was decent and they were ambitious. I looked into the players they had like Gavin Allott so I thought I’d give it a go.”

High Pressure Goalkeeper

Matt Dempsey (left, with Oscar Radford) saved a penalty during his stand-in slot as Shaw Lane Aquaforce’s goalkeeper in April 2016

After Tom Morgan was sent off in a crucial game in the 2015/16 NPL Division One South title race, Dempsey acted as a superb replacement for the rest of that match and the game when Morgan was suspended.

“You know what Morgs is like sometimes! He got caught in no man’s land and literally clipped the forward and got sent off. It was 25 minutes into the game and we needed to basically win every game to have a chance of overtaking Stafford at the top of the league. It was 0-0 at the time and I saw Craig’s face. I always mess about in training in goal so I went in goal. The first thing I did was save the free kick and we ended up winning as Wally (James Walshaw) scored. 

“We had a week until the next game and I thought ‘Craig Elliott, Non League and you’ve got a bit of money, finding a goalkeeper will be easy’. I got a phone call in midweek from Craig and he said ‘because you did so well and the lads felt okay with you, would you be interested in going in goal when Morgs is suspended’? I said ‘really, you’re taking the p*ss’? But he was serious and he offered me a clean sheet bonus so I said ‘yes if it is for one game’. That Carlton game was played at Frickley and Morgs actually warmed me up. I didn’t realise how tough it was been a goalkeeper until that game. So I was knackered when a penalty was given away in the first half. I thought ‘here we go’. I thought the only way I could the guy who was taking it to miss was if I behaved like a d**k. I picked the ball up and kept in my hands for ages and I gave him loads as well. It was quite a poor penalty, but I guessed the right way and saved it. That’s another game where Wally popped up with the winner and we won 1-0.

“Social media went bananas and it was surreal. Everyone had been taking the mick beforehand as couldn’t believe I was going in goal. Everyone was like ‘how can’t Shaw Lane get a goalkeeper’? But maybe people didn’t want to come for one game. When I saved the penalty it turned people’s opinions. It is certainly one of the funniest days in football. I remember driving back and laughing because I had been in the net, saved a penalty and we had won 1-0. The pressure on these games because it was so close with Stafford was unbelievable so to put me in goal was mental. In the end we missed out on the title by a point and we lost in the play-off final.”

Hyde, Scarborough, FC United (2016-2018)

“Darren Kelly had taken the reins at Halifax the previous year (late 2015) and I had played with him as a centre-half partner at Garforth. I had joked when he got the Oldham job by saying ‘see you at training gaffer’. He laughed and said ‘anytime mate’. When he was the Halifax manager he rang me at work and said ‘I want you to come down and sign on for us’. They were full-time or trained during the day and obviously I worked. He said ‘not to worry big man, we’ll get it sorted next week’. I was organising it so I had time off work and then I looked at Twitter and it said ‘Darren Kelly has agreed to leave his post’. I thought ‘oh my god, that’s another opportunity gone’. He rang me and said ‘don’t worry there’s something else in the pipeline’. 

“Lo and behold he rang me again and he had taken over at Hyde and I loved my time there. He had taken over a club in turmoil and had suffered three relegations. The pitch was getting relaid with 3G so it was exciting times. The year was about stabilising and we did. 

“I stayed with Hyde for a good year before we had a disagreement on a few things and I ended up leaving to go to Scarborough. I wasn’t there long. But I didn’t realise how the big the club is and the fans were brilliant.

“Greavsie then took me to FC United and it was a good time. But there were too many things going on in the background when you just want to go there and play football. But I travelled to Germany with them to play a game and 500 fans went over as well which is crazy. That is a good memory”

Yorkshire Amateur (2019-onwards)

Yorkshire Amateur captain Matt Dempsey in action

“Whilst I was with FC Neil Sibson gave me a call about Yorkshire Amateur and because I knew a few lads there I just thought I’d liked to go back to basics and go to a good club and have honest people around me like it was at Garforth and Farsley.

“The club has seen a massive change in things and the club is trying to do things better and well. The club are doing the clubhouse up and making it accessible for kids to come and watch us and we have the players to do well. They also have people running the club who have been around Non League and they are trying to become a good established club at this level and above. There’s a lot of people who have their agendas who quote figures about wages, but the be-all and end-all we have a great group of lads who will do anything for each other in that dressing room. The players who come to Yorkshire Amateur want to play for the club and we’re trying to recreate the changing room environment I enjoyed at Farsley and Garforth.”


“Yorkshire Amateur has made me enjoy playing football again. I enjoyed it at Hyde, but then going to Scarborough and getting contracts and maybe following the money I didn’t enjoy it. I tried to quit a couple of times, but the Ammers has given me a new lease of life. I’m 30 now so I’d like to try and get into coaching and managing. But I still believe I have a good couple of years left in me.”

Lockdown Videos 

During the first lockdown Dempsey was the master of lockdown football challenges on social media

“The videos got a lot of hits, but I only started putting them on because of Sanchez Payne who was tagging me in tweets. I enjoyed the one down the street the best, but the one that took the most time was the one over the house. You wouldn’t believe how many times I ballooned it to the left or the right. I was always praying I wouldn’t hit a car. That’s the one that got shared on @MOTDMAG. They didn’t believe it, but I’d set a camera up in the front and back garden just to prove that it wasn’t a cheat attempt. It must have taken four hours to do. You want to see some of the takes. I hit the rim of the bin and I’d given up all hope, but my kids were like ‘we can’t give up’. It was lockdown and the sun was shining so we couldn’t anything else. It was the next day when I got it in. I struggle in the house doing nothing during lockdown and a lot of people do. I got all the family involved and it got some camaraderie going between Tom Greaves and myself. It was like households coming together and sharing videos and raising spirits. I was out in the garden yesterday because what else can you do on weekends these days?”

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.

You can learn more about the organisation HERE and on our Facebook page.

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.

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