Martin James played under an array of characters from football’s past and present during his 15-year playing career including John Beck, Les Chapman, Danny Bergara, Archie Gemmill, Trevor Storton and even former England manager Sam Allardyce.
Midfielder James – who played more in defence in his later years – made over 100 appearances for Preston North End in League One before representing Stockport County and Rotherham United.
After injury finished his League career, Non League beckoned and James eventually the perfect home at Bradford (Park Avenue) under Storton. He enjoyed it that much he once missed a family wedding to play for them.
He fell in love with Avenue and he helped them win the old NPL Division One title in 2001 – two years before full retirement from playing.
Management never happened. Although it almost did in 2009 when he had to turn down a manager’s job which eventually went to a candidate who has taken that particular club to incredible heights.
Towards the end of his playing career, owner/managing director James established Sports360 and the company is now one of the largest sports advertising agencies in the UK and that’s the main reason why he has not entered management.
Sports360 have brokered high profile sports advertisement deals across English and Scottish Football as well as various other sports. Football deals include BetFred’s sponsorship of the Scottish League Cup and for 32Red to become shirt sponsors at Leeds United, Preston and Rangers.
This is Martin James’ Football Journey:
Preston North End (1989-1993)
“My first manager at Preston was John McGrath and he scared me to be honest. I was a 16-year-old lad, but he was good when I look back. He quite imposing and he had a set style of play. I remember playing for the reserves for Preston when I was 17. So this is late eighties. He came in and said ‘Martin, you’re like John Barnes’. Well, at the time John Barnes is the best player for Liverpool and England so I’m thinking ‘I’m playing alright here’. Then he goes ‘and he wouldn’t get in my team too, he’s a waster’. I was thinking ‘I’ve got a problem here’ so I was actually pleased when he left. I have to give him credit as he did give me my professional deal. He just didn’t play me.
“(Future Manchester City kitman) Les Chapman then got the job (in 1990) and within two weeks I was in the squad. I have a lot to thank Chappy for because I could have got released that summer. I hit the ground running and did well and I was probably too loyal to Les as it transpired because I had a few chances to move and looking back I probably should have done. Les had a great way about him. A lot of the Man City players will probably think ‘how was he ever a manager’ because he was just daft. He was the funniest man in the world, but his manner obviously worked for me as I did well.
“Brian Mooney was the best player I played with. He went to Sunderland for £250,000. We had Ronnie Jepson upfront and he’s gone onto be Neil Warnock’s number two. He was lively. Warren Joyce was the captain and he went onto work for Manchester United for ten years. So that’s three of the lads who were around Preston at the time.”
In the early 1990s, Preston played on an astroturf pitch at Deepdale
“It wasn’t 3G, it was astroturf, let’s get that right. It was rock hard and we trained on every day which was too often. That’s what really affected my career. The one problem I had all the time at Preston was that my hamstrings kept going. It was proven later that my hamstrings kept going because of my back and sciatica. In the early nineties they didn’t know that and it was all about ‘have a hot bath and use the heat lamps’. I’ve had three back ops and I finished football with a back op at Rotherham. I finished at Avenue with a back op and I had a back op four years ago so the astroturf has definitely affected my life.”
Best Goal for Preston
“I scored a few goals for Preston and funnily enough I never scored for anyone else in the league. I played in the midfield for Preston and it was only when I was pushed back into defence that I really stopped scoring goals. My best goal for Preston was probably one against Crewe. Alan Kelly, the goalkeeper who went to Sheff U, threw the ball to me at full-back and I just ran down the pitch beat four men and curled one in from 30 yards. I only ever scored good goals because I wasn’t a natural goal-scorer and I set up a lot of goals and I took a lot of pride in getting assists.
“I’m a Bolton fan so I can remember scoring at Burden Park and I also remember scoring at home against Bolton. They meant a bit to me as I had been released as a 15-year-old by Bolton. I turned down Liverpool and Man City at 14 to sign for Bolton because I was Bolton-daft. I turned down a six-year-contract at Liverpool – two-years schoolboy, two-year apprentice, two-year pro to take a two-year schoolboy at Bolton and then got released! The coach from Bolton then took me to Preston at 16.”
Allardyce was caretaker manager of Preston in late 1992
“When I was 16 Sam was a pro at Preston and he was good. There was none of what happens now where players refuse to play in the reserves and I remember playing sweeper behind Sam for Preston reserves at Scunthorpe reserves away. He kept saying ‘make sure you do all my running for me and do this and that. So he was a senior pro who had done everything and he was playing in the reserves for Preston. I remember playing away at Stoke reserves with him as well.
“He went off to manage Limerick and then he came back to Preston to be the youth team coach. Chappy was then sacked (late 1992) and he was unlucky because we were ninth by the way when he got sacked. When you look back it was clear there was a plan to rid of Chappy no matter what. So we’d just been beaten at home and they brought Sam in as caretaker manager. Straightaway he was really good. We were having team meetings at 12 o’clock in the hotel before a game which we had never done before. We were doing video analysis and I remember one where he slaughtered me because I was on the post against West Brom and I was up and down and I couldn’t get off the line because the ball didn’t get cleared and they scored. I had flat feet so he sent me to Salford University for orthotics How Sam didn’t get the Preston job I’ll never know.
“I always remember the night he didn’t get the job. We were walking down the tunnel after getting beat bizarrely 5-4 in an FA Cup replay against Bradford City. We drew away and brought them back to Deepdale and we got beat in extra-time. It was a dodgy goal that cost us. Do you remember Graham Taylor when he says ‘you’ve just cost me my job’ in that documentary years ago? Well Sam said the same thing to the linesman or the ref as we went down the tunnel. Two days later we walk into the dressing room and John Beck is there. It was like ‘oh, ok’.”
John Beck (late 1992 to March 1993)
“I was John Beck’s first sale! I was a footballer who wanted to pass and play, the opposite to John Beck. Becky was on a different level. You had to play in certain parameters of the pitch. It was Quality Street down the sides. Paradise Alley were the corners. He’d lay sand into the corners, even though it was astroturf. He’d have apprentices doing that. He’d have towels down the side of the pitch as we had a lad who had the biggest throw ever. He was tough. He’d say ‘put your shin pads on because we’re kicking each other this morning in training’. His method was obviously to try and bully teams. We had the cold shower treatment. We went to Burnley and at 7.20pm he sent us for a cold shower so we were soaking wet 25 minutes before kick off and you’re thinking ‘what’s going on here’.
“I’ve just watched my goal against Bradford City and that’s probably my last goal for Preston. I saw the skateboarding pants under my shorts which was another John Beck initiative. He thought we would then make slide tackles which no one ever did twice on the astroturf as it ripped your skin off! ‘Ruined his system’ was his famous line!
“I was only there three months with him and that season; we started with Les, then had Sam and then Becky. Becky took them down. I left on deadline week to go to Stockport and in truth I didn’t want to go to Stockport, but Becky forced me out. He phoned me up and I said ‘I think someone else might come in for me’. He said ‘you’re not going to go higher, no-one else is coming for you and you’re not going to play for this club again’. That’s maybe where agents can help you. I didn’t have one and you listen to the manager and think ‘oh he’s told me I’ll never play again and I’ll be in the reserves for next 18 months’. Really I should have just swallowed it and said ‘I’m staying’. Stockport were a direct team as well so it wasn’t the perfect move. A year earlier Man City and Sheffield United were talking to Preston about me so it is amazing how football changes over a year. One minute you’re looking like you’re going into the Premier League and the next you’re getting a move to a League One club. My form was probably my best at Preston, that’s where I played my best football and I was a bit unlucky that someone like Becky got the job. The headline of ‘he’s turned Deepdale into Gloomdale’ when I left wasn’t my best moment.”
Stockport County (1993/94)
“It was at tough at Stockport as they had paid a lot of money (£50,000) for me and I got dropped after four games for playing too much football. I knew straightaway I wasn’t going to play much. I was in and out of the team and they were really direct.
“We got beat by Burnley in the ’94 play off final and I was the odd man out. I was the 14th man when there was two subs. But the reason was because I’d played 38 games and they would have had to pay Preston £15,000 at 40. They’d paid £50,000 and that was the add-on so I knew I was never going to play. (Manager) Danny Bergara pulled me a couple of days after Wembley and he said ‘we’ll play you next season, we want you’. I said ‘no you won’t because you’ve got to pay Preston some more money’. So then I had a choice. I had could have gone to AZ Alkmaar in Holland or Rotherham! You look back and think ‘what should I have done’? I don’t know, but i chose Rotherham. A bloke called Phil Henson signed me.”
Rotherham United (1994 to 1997)
“I was Rotherham’s only buy for money that summer so I think people thought they were signing Messi! In the first game of the season we got beat 4-0 at home to Shrewsbury and it was absolute World War Three. The crowd; I’ve never heard anything like it. It was ‘wow’. Chris Wilder was playing full-back and Shaun Goater is upfront as well so I’m thinking ‘I can’t believe what I’ve walked into here’. It was hard at Rotherham for the first few months. I was the boot boy for a month because they decided I was the culprit because they’d paid £50,000 for me.
“Phil Henson got sacked and Archie Gemmill came in and I went from midfield to full-back. He wanted to play a bit of football. Chris Wilder was the right-back and I was the left-back and straightaway results turned quite quickly. I played all that (1994/95) season and I really enjoyed it. I was a bit unlucky that I got injured in the season after. Gemmill slaughtered me every week, but played me every week. When he first took over it was still a bit toxic and we played Crewe who had people like Dele Adebola and Neil Lennon playing. We were getting beat at home. Matt Clarke was our goalkeeper and he was very good and he went to Bradford City. He kept throwing the ball to me and he never got to me and the crowd were booing every-time the ball was on its way. But when I got the ball I never gave it away. So we get in the dressing room afterwards and Archie Gemmil goes through everyone and says to me ‘you are the first name on the team-sheet because you don’t hide’. That was good management because I’d just been pelted for an hour. I’m not saying I turned the fans around, but a couple of months later I got player of the month! It was alright overall at Rotherham, I’d never criticise them.
“But when I got injured, I just couldn’t get back fit, but it was because of my back. I had an operation and they said I’d be out for nine months. My contract was up in the June (1996) and they said they’d give me six months to get fit. So I was doing alright in pre-season and then Gemmil got sacked. There is a million managers in the Football League and who gets the job…Danny Bergara (who had been his manager at Stockport). I couldn’t believe it. I was like ‘that can’t happen, he’s just sold me’. You couldn’t make it up.
“His first game was against Gillingham and I came on and I did alright. I was involved in the next game and I thought I was doing alright. Then after three or four weeks he said ‘listen, the club wants insurance money for you, your back has gone’. I replied that I was just getting fit again. He basically banned me from the club and I was a political piece of meat. They’d paid £50,000 for me and insured me for £50,000. I effectively got £12,500 to pack in and they got the insurance money. A different manager might not have done the same. Clearly he didn’t fancy me as he’d already sold me once and he wasn’t going to fight for me in the boardroom. I was finished at 26 and a tad unlucky.”
Into the Real World
“Because Rotherham had claimed the insurance money, I couldn’t play in the Football League again so I was stuck. I wrote loads of letters and I got a trial at Raith Rovers who were in the Scottish Premier at the time. A guy called Iain Munro who used to be at Sunderland was the manager and after a couple of weeks after playing in a couple of reserve game under A N Other he said ‘I’ll have you, go and sort yourself out insurance-wise’. In my head I’m thinking ‘I’ve beaten the system and beaten Rotherham’. There was no mobiles then and I got a call on the landline on a Friday from the manager saying ‘I’ve just been sacked’. I remember crying because I was done. I had to start work and I got a shop on the Albert Dock in Liverpool.”
Into Non League and Meeting Eric Whalley (1997 to 1999)
“I initially played for Accrington Stanley for four weeks and there was a wonderful chairman there called Eric Whalley. He had more character than anyone and I had a short-term fall out with him so I went to Leigh RMI. The reason we fell out is because he gave me half-money on the week I left. I said ‘what are you doing giving me half-money’? He replied ‘you were rubbish in midweek’! It was crazy! I said ‘there’s no rule to say you only get full money if you play well’.
“He was funny was Eric and I got to know him through work and I admired what he did at Accrington. He got into a few troubles but it was all because he had this desire to get Accrington back into the Football League. I lived next door to Brett Ormerod until a couple of years ago and he was the lad who made them the money to get them back into the League. They got £250,000 out of his transfer and Eric reinvested all of that in the club.
“Later on in my working life I was at Wrexham football club. It was Wrexham against Crawley and Manchester United were playing against Crawley in the FA Cup a few days or weeks later. I walk into this boardroom and there were about ten people in there and Eric was one of them. He had a squeaky voice and pardon the language, he goes ‘f***ing hell, they’ll let anyone in boardrooms now’! He then turns round and tells these people who probably don’t know who I am or who he is, ‘he’s the worst player I ever signed’. He absolutely killed me! He went on and on and Mike Phelan (the Manchester United assistant manager) was in the room. I couldn’t believe it, but what a character.”
“Leigh was good and they were an ambitious team in the Northern Premier League and I played for them for a while. They paid me a few quid, but the manager didn’t like what I was being paid when he found out. He wanted me to pay the money back so it got a bit bizarre. It got to the point where he just wouldn’t play me. Because I’m working in the real world I was thinking it didn’t feel right and I went back to Accrington when Wayne Harrison was the manager. That lasted four months and I left by the summer (of 1999) and that’s when I joined Avenue.”
Bradford (Park Avenue) – 1999 to 2003
“The link between me and Trevor Storton was through a lad called John Thomas who used to play for Bolton, West Brom and Preston. JT and Trevor arranged to meet me that summer to ask if I’d sign for Avenue. I wasn’t keen initially as Avenue were in Division One of the NPL. But I liked Trevor and it was the best move I ever made. Leigh, Stockport, Rotherham were alright, but Bradford I loved and the best bits of my career were at the start with Preston and the end with Bradford. I had four years with Bradford and I loved it and I loved playing under Trevor. It was one of my happiest times.
“What was good at Avenue was that it was like a family network. Everyone knew each other. You’d go in the bar after the game for a beer and that didn’t really happen at many other clubs. For that a little bit of time Bradford got that right.”
Trevor Storton (Avenue manager 1996 to 2004)
“Clive Freeman was Trevor’s assistant at the start and a bloke called Bernard Ellison used to help with the scouting as well. Trevor had a nice manner that I really warmed to. I was really sad when he died (in 2011). He was really good to me when my dad died in 2000 and for the four years I was with Avenue he phoned me every day. We went through games every day and when mobiles came out that made it worse! He’d be texting and phoning me at work. I still remember his number 0153… – that’s how much I rang him and he rang me. I can’t say enough good things about him. He loved football and when he’d ring me I’d say ‘Trevor I’m in a meeting’. That’s when I realised work was taking over. He couldn’t get his head round it as he will have finished his window cleaning round at 2pm and all he will have been thinking about is the game or training. He loved it though. His passion for football was unbelievable.”
The Avenue Team
“At the start I played sweeper, then centre-midfield and it evolved to the point where I started making wingers. I wasn’t really a full-back, but I was a decent passer so I was stood behind Pembo (Martin Pemberton) and he got a move to Mansfield. I stood behind Deano (Dean Calcutt) and he got a move to Accrington and then my last one was Rory Prendergast for half-a-season and we got another fee from Accrington for him. Full-backs make wingers really because if full-backs keep going long and missing wingers out then the winger can’t get the ball and get noticed.
“It was a clever system that we used to play because we sort of played 4-3-1-2. We never played two wingers. So I was always behind the winger and I’d be flipping between the left-back and right-back slots.
“My favourite character from Avenue was Jason Maxwell by a mile. I loved him. After six months at Avenue I was sat with my mates back home and I said ‘we’ve got a centre-forward who doesn’t stop working, he’s just daft, he tackles ‘keepers’ and gets five goals a season tackling goalie’s’. He did and he was one of the hardest working and bravest footballers around. If I saw him now I’d probably hug him for a day because he makes you smile.
“When (assistant manager) Ian Thompson brought in his pal Andy Hayward to play alongside Maxy we were away then (and we got promoted). Andy was the footballer, Jason was the hard-working lad and we had a really balance in the team and there were some good lads in that dressing room. In the promotion year, Gavin Kelly was in nets and really good, probably too good. But the one thing about that team is no-one thought they were too good. I played right-back with Dean Calcutt in front of me. Baggy (Neil Bagshaw) was a young and good centre-half who played with Mickey Thompson and Paul Marquis. Left-back Kieran O’Brien played in that team too. Benno (Wayne Benn) and Hanks (Mark Hancock) played in centre-mid and kept swapping the captaincy and were both really good centre-mids. They had good energy and were good leaders. Hanks was really busy and really aggressive. Benno was a good footballer who was neat and tidy. Then people like Andy Quinn and Phil Lindley played as well, adding more energy. No opposition could cope with the system as they didn’t know how to mark the winger. It was a great role for Deano. It was a good team.”
Winning the NPL Division One title (2000/01)
“We nearly blew it. We were flying, but if you look at the records; in January and February we had a big blip. I lived in Whalley, Clitheroe way and Trevor lived in Silsden I think. So I drove home on the back way the A59 and we’d been beaten at home so we arranged to meet in a pub. We had the beer mats out arranging formations. We had started to overplay through Andy Hayward and becoming too fiddly. The tricky bit for me was that Thommo was the assistant. When the next match came along Trevor and tinkered the system and Thommo was thinking ‘what’s going on here’? We won the game and afterwards Thommo collared me and said ‘have you had a word with Trevor’? I denied it, but what we did is we went direct for a few weeks because the lads had got nervous. We won the league by a mile in the end and I always remember the night when we won promotion. That was against Witton Albion at home and the pitch was full of water. I had a bucket in my hand at 7pm and we were meant to be playing at 7.45pm.”
The final game of the 2000/01 season
“The last game of the season was at Radcliffe and my brother-in-law got married that day at 12 o’clock. I had my top hat and tails on and it didn’t go down well that I missed the afternoon meal. I got to the game and I got Trevor to bring me off in the second half. I stayed to say bye to the lads, but I had to do a flyer so I put my gear on quickly. I start saying ‘all the best’ to everyone and my boxer shorts were burning. The lads had put deep heat all over my gear. I went from wanting to be the first man out of the dressing room to being the last because I was trying to scrub all it off. My body was on fire. Then everyone was like ‘I thought you were going to get off quickly’. It didn’t quite happen.”
Avenue finished tenth in the NPL Premier Division and lost on penalties in the second leg of the NPL Challenge Cup final against Accrington Stanley
“We struggled for ages in the first year in the Premier. We didn’t win in the first 12 games until playing Frickley at home. We got two penalties and I had to take two penalties when ‘we hadn’t won in a decade’! I luckily scored two penalties and we beat Frickley 3-1 which got us up and running. But I remember in those 12 games when we didn’t win, one of the board ringing me asking what we should do? Trevor’s daughter had been in a serious car crash and Thommo had to take charge of the team for a few of those 12 games. I remember saying ‘don’t worry, we’ll be ok, don’t sack him, he (Trevor) is good’. We finished tenth in the end and we got to the Challenge Cup final.
“My main memories of the Cup Final are of Thommo taking a penalty in the shootout (after the second leg) after coming on as a substitute. I took the first penalty and scored and Thommo went second. It is ridiculous how I remember it so vividly. He stroked it and it was Paul Wharton who missed.”
Dean Calcutt’s transfer to Accrington (summer 2002)
“The Dean Calcutt transfer to Accrington is quite funny. I was travelling twice a week over the pennies to Bradford and at this point there was Trevor, Thommo and me doing a little bit of coaching alongside playing. So they’d agreed this deal and because I lived that way and knew Eric (Whalley) I was sent to collect the money – which was all in cash by the way. I got to Accrington’s ground at 3 or 4pm and he was counting all this cash and giving me these wedges of cash and saying ‘there’s one grand, there’s.. etc’. I’m thinking ‘I can’t believe I’ve got x amount in my boot bag’. I got to Horsfall for the game at 6.30pm and I’m in the changing room telling Trevor ‘I’ve got all this cash in my bag’!”
“By November of my final season we were flying and it was us and Accrington at the top of the table and we played Altrincham away and we drew 0-0. We battered them and Rory must have put in ten crosses in. Rory came in the dressing room and he says to Maxy ‘and you, any danger of you scoring from any my crosses’? All of sudden Maxy squares up to him and says ‘who are you talking to’? Now there’s a massive fight in the changing room. Jason’s a handy lad and it was World War Three.
“Trevor phoned me up the next day to ask what he should do? I said ‘you’re knackered, but you’re going to have to back Maxy because he’s a clubman’. Rory was gone within a month. We sold him for ten grand to Accrington and in effect we were giving the league away. But it was the right thing to do.
“My back caught up with me again around that time and I went for scan and they basically said ‘you’re in trouble, you need to rein it in’. That’s why I only played 20 games in the fourth season as by Christmas time I was more-or-less having to stop.”
James was interviewed for the Avenue manager’s job in May 2005 after Carl Shutt left. He missed out to Gary Brook who was appointed after first choice Neil Parsley opted to stay in charge of Guiseley
“I went for the (Avenue) manager’s job (in the summer of 2005) and I was interviewed. It has worked out well that I didn’t get it because of how busy work got, but I fancied it. They gave it to Gary Brook instead. I remember getting a phone call about the job when I was in Tesco’s and I did go for it. I probably would have brought in a few of the old regime back in. I can’t remember how old Maxy was at the time, but I’d have certainly played him. What you need in Non League dressing rooms is three or four good characters. Because you’re seeing each other only once or twice a week you need to make sure the dressing room is right. Results will follow. In a professional dressing room where you’re training every day and it is very tactical and fitness-based you’re looking at different things.
“I was offered one job in 2009. Bill Fotherby was chairman of Harrogate Town and Trevor had been assistant to Neil Aspin who had taken the FC Halifax Town job (in May 2009). That summer I went to Bill Fotherby’s house and I was there for about five hours. But I was doing well with work at this point so that was where my problem was. Trevor had recommended me to Bill and Bill offered me £250 a week to manage Harrogate Town. Now my business was the official agency for the Conference and we had done the deal for Blue Square to sponsor the Conference along with the deal for Setanta to show the games on the Telly. So we were heavily involved in the competition and Harrogate were in the Conference North. I phoned a couple of the Conference board members and they said ‘oh no, it is a conflict of interest’. So I basically got talked out of it and Bill appointed Simon Weaver. Bill was clever when you look back.
“It is another path where I could have gone left instead of turning right. I’ve had a couple of chances where I could have gone into management. People have said ‘Martin, I thought you would have become a manager’? Effectively work became too good and busy. More recently, we’ve done the kit deal for 32Red at Leeds United, 32Red at Glasgow Rangers, the deal for BetFred to sponsor Super League. Football management takes over your life and because I’ve got a family as well I’ve had to act sensible instead of daft because you can end up making wrong decisions.”
Martin James was interviewed by James Grayson
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 placed 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 been picked to represent Mencap GB in Geneva, including Billy Hobson from Selby (who visited the House of Commons after an invite) and Greg Smith, whose story is quite inspiring.
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.