Martin Regan’s Non League Journey

Martin Regan is a legend on the Leeds Sunday League football scene, but he also played Non League Football for the likes of Harrogate Town, Bradford (Park Avenue) and Farsley Celtic)

We’re going back to the 1990s this week as former Harrogate Town, Whitby Town, Farsley Celtic and Bradford (Park Avenue) striker Martin Regan tells his Non League Journey. 

The much-loved Leeds Sunday League football figure arrived late into Non League circuit, but he still took away plenty of fond memories.

From appearances on BBC’s Grandstand, a mistaken identity red card in the fog, discovering a future star Non League defender on a random field in West Leeds to Clive Freeman’s favourite VHS, Regan recalls the memorable moments.

He also speaks of his huge admiration for legendary Avenue boss Trevor Storton.

Not many photos of Martin’s Non League career are known to exist and he is hoping to track some down. So if you have any photos of Martin playing, please get in touch so we can past them onto him.

This is Martin Regan’s Non League Journey:  

“I played for Leeds City Boys when I was a kid, but then I had a break from football until I started for playing (famous Leeds Sunday League side) Beech Celtic when I was 21. Just before Christmas (1991) one year Denis Metcalf wanted me to go to Farsley Celtic and I signed there before the Boxing Day game against Guiseley. I got there and he wanted me to sit in the stand and watch it to see what Non League was all about. There was a huge attendance for it. I came on a sub in the next game at Radcliffe, but I just wanted to play all the time and I didn’t want to be on the subs bench.”

Harrogate Town (1993-96)

Regan made 74 appearances for Harrogate during his first spell at Wetherby Road. He scored 22 times. 

“I then went to play for the Main Line and (former Harrogate Railway and Yorkshire Amateur manager) Freddie Cliff walked onto the pitch one day and asked me to sign for Garforth Town. I must have been 22. I don’t know why Freddie recommended me to Garforth because I don’t think he was the manager of them. I played about four games for Garforth; upfront with Kevin Crombie – a great player; and then I got a phone call from (player/assistant manager) John Deacey who wanted me to go to Harrogate Town. 

“Lee Dutton picked me up and it was the first time I met him and he was a good player. I had a few training sessions with Harrogate and my first game was against York City (in a friendly) when they were a Football League team. I was a sub and I came on and scored the winner. I’d gone from Sunday League to scoring against York City and playing in front of massive crowds – that took a lot of getting used to. They played me again against Doncaster Rovers and I scored from about 30 yards in the first five minutes and it snowballed from there and I signed for £10 a game at first. Then they put me on contract.”

Grandstand (FA Cup run 1993)

Former Harrogate Town striker Martin Regan pictured scoring one of his three goals in the FA Cup win over Harrogate Railway in 1993

“I scored a hat-trick in one of my first competitive games which was the FA Cup win over Peterlee. I then scored again in the next round against Harrogate Railway and that’s the game when BBC’s Grandstand started following us because the two clubs are only two miles apart. We didn’t actually know the cameras were going to be there until just before the game. We came running onto the pitch and the cameras were on top of the dugouts. But it was unbelievable to be on the TV because of where I had come from. We drew Barrow in the third qualifying round at their ground and the camera crew came with us on the coach and the coach broke down on the way home after we’d beaten 6-1!”

Frank Gray 

The former Leeds United player and brother of Eddie replaced Mick Doig and John Deacey as manager of Harrogate Town in December 1993 and stayed in post until the end of the season 

“I walked into the changing room for this match…I can’t remember who we were playing…and he was stood there. I couldn’t believe it. I’m a big Leeds fan and I remember him playing for Leeds when I was a kid so I was overwhelmed. It was brilliant for him to be manage us, but I think we won one game in 12 with him in charge. When we got on the coach for away games he used to do our heads in. He used to put the 1979 European Cup final on as he played for Nottingham Forest in it and obviously they won it. We’d be like ‘leave it out Frank’ and he’d start laughing. But he was a gentleman. The Beech pub is where I started playing football with Beech Celtic and I kept saying to Frank that they are all big Leeds and Celtic fans down there and I asked him to go down there with me one night. He didn’t really want to, but he said ‘I will, I will’. Anyway he did. The pub was packed and it was a right night. I can’t remember much of it! The pub erupted when he walked in.”

Players across the three years 

“PA (goalkeeper Paul Allen) was quality. Steve Learoyd was a quality defender. If you went into a 50/50 with him you went all over the place. He’s a Seacroft lad and I’m still good mates with him now. Gary Edmunds was the centre-half and postman and when Grandstand followed us they followed him around one day delivering the post. He was a good player. I’m still mates with Christian Annan, a great player who could play down the left or right. His brother Richard was quality. He played for Gusieley and he went to Crewe Alexandra. He’s from where I live now. Eamonn Elliott is another lad I still talk to on Facebook now. He was a great player, as was Pat McDaid.”

Departure from Harrogate (1996)

“I dislocated my elbow in a match which meant I couldn’t work for six weeks. I ended up leaving as there were a few things related to my contract so things turned a bit sour and I packed him playing on a Saturday for a bit. 

“It is brilliant where Harrogate are now. I still get phone calls from people saying ‘your team is doing well’. I’m like ‘it isn’t my team’! They always had the potential of doing it, they just needed the money. But even in 1993 you wouldn’t have thought they’d make it to the Football League.”

Bradford (Park Avenue) – October 1996 to summer 1998

Martin Regan in the Bradford (Park Avenue) team after Trevor Storton had taken over in 1996

“I was back playing Sunday League and my mate Richard Harrison told me to come up to Avenue when Dave Heeley was running it (in a caretaker capacity after Gordon Rayner had been sacked). I didn’t even train with them, he just threw me straight into a game, a nil-nil draw (with Ashton United in the League Cup on 2nd October 1996). 

“Dave wasn’t there long and Trevor Storton came in as manager. I could go on forever talking about Trevor. He was a lovely bloke. He was the fittest bloke ever and he was 47 then and he used to train with us. He got your toughness going. He got you fit. Under Trevor I was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life because he’d have us running around the athletics track. He also used to take you out on the training field and if you megged him he’d make you sprint around the athletics track. 

“He didn’t drink did he Trevor, he maybe had one now and then. When we’d play big games like the Boxing Day or New Year’s Day, he’d be on the phone to me, Phil Sharpe or Clive Freeman about 8ish. Our lass would answer and say that I was upstairs and he’d say ‘tell him to ring me when he comes down’. I’d come on the phone and say ‘I’m alright, I’m here’ and he’d say ‘have you seen anything of that Sharpey, I can’t get in touch with him’? With me and Sharpey he could look at us and tell if we’d had a drink or come in the toilets and stand next to you as he could tell if you were dehydrated. 

“I used to get sent off a lot which you might know! But Trevor was to blame for some of them as he used to wind me up if a centre-half was having a good game! He’d go ‘go on Regan, get stuck into him, that centre-half is bullying you, he’s taking the p*ss out of you’. I’d get sent off and he’d go ‘what are you doing’? I’d say ‘you’ve just told me to get stuck in’.

“Avenue was my best period in Non League for enjoyment, the lads and goals and Trevor is the best manager I worked under and I wish I had stayed, but I went to Whitby for more money.”

Storton’s appearance at Workington 

Trevor Storton played once for Avenue. The 47-year-old made a 23 minute cameo as a substitute in a 1-0 win at Workington in November 1997

“We had a lot of injuries and I was suspended which meant Sharpie had to play upfront. I’ll tell you a story about what I used to do! I hated going to Workington and Gretna so I used to work out how to get bookings to miss those games through suspensions. Like I said earlier because we’d seen him in training and saw how fit he was it wasn’t really a surprise that he played. He probably should have played more.” 

Talent Spotting Lee Connor 

Martin Regan was the man who discovered Lee Connor

“I spotted Lee Connor and Trevor really toughened him up and made him a player. I saw him play one day and walked on a field to say ‘I want a word with you mate’ in the same way that Freddie Cliff did to me a few years earlier. I’d never met him before in my life. He wasn’t playing for HT Sports, I know it said that in his interview, but I think he was playing for Farnley. I think I was suspended so I went out to watch a game and Trevor always said that out of season that if you see a player you have an incline that they are good to bring them down to let him have a look at them. So I watched this game and thought ‘this kid is good’ and I took him to Avenue and the rest is history. Trevor signed him straightaway and Lee had a fantastic career.”

Sunday Football 

“We used to train on Monday nights at Avenue and Trevor used to say ‘don’t play on Sunday’. I loved my Sundays so I used to say to my Sunday manager ‘if I score don’t put my name in the paper because Trevor will find out on Wednesday’. But if we had a cup final or semi-final Trevor didn’t mind me playing. 

Memorable Games with Avenue 

“The Morecambe FA Trophy tie was a memorable match. There was 900 people there and we lost 1-0. I remember running down the wing in the last minute and crossing perfectly for Richard Harrison to slot it away. He went to header it and missed it. We were all over them that day.

“There was a massive backlog of fixtures (during the 1996/97 season) so we ended up playing Droylsden on the Saturday at home…they battered us 5-0…and we had to travel up to Workington that night to play them the following day on the Sunday! So we had a coach waiting outside our home ground to take us to an away game! We drew at Workington, 0-0. But the night before the Workington game Trevor got us in the hotel and he said ‘you can two drinks and then bed, that means you Sharpie and Regan’! Sharpie was either banned or injured and me and him shot off into the Town Centre! At least we drew the game!”

Mistaken Identity Red Card 

“It was a foggy day, you couldn’t see a thing. I think Sharpie had come up for a corner and I used to run out. Anyway the ball had come out and there was a kid on the floor. The referee came straight over to me and showed me the red card. It was Sharpie who had elbowed him and I got sent off. I still took the ban for him! He wouldn’t put his hand up! Fair play to Trevor, I said I’d take the ban, but I want to get paid and Trev agreed. At the time we were short of centre-halves so they needed Sharpie so they sacrificed me for him! I still speak to Sharpie all the time and (out of lockdown) he comes over and has a drink at our house. I first got to know Sharpie at Avenue. He used to play for Farsley and he was all elbows and I said to him ‘I’m glad I’m playing with you because I always wanted to chin you’. We ended up best mates!”

Paddy Kenny 

The former Sheffield United goalkeeper played every game of the 1997/98 season for Avenue

“Bobby Barr found him on a Sunday League pitch in Halifax. I think he was a 17-year-old apprentice drill-maker and he was brilliant for us. He was one of the lads too. When he was playing for Sheffield United and QPR and if he was on Sky I’d always say to the lads in the pub that I played with him! I actually saw him once in Meadowhall and he was sound. Still the same lad. He wasn’t the only player who went into the Football League from Avenue. Chrissie Brandon went to Torquay and Martin Pemberton went to Mansfield. So it shows you we had some great players in that team under Trevor.”

Tony Brown

“We didn’t call Tony Brown Tony Brown. We called him the Ledge. Even though I’m a big Leeds fan I didn’t recognise him when I first signed. It was Richard Harrison who told me that it was him. In the first couple of games I played with him you could see that he was outstanding.”

Clive Freeman 

“The best do I went was Clive Freeman’s stag do in Magaluf. The whole Avenue team went – Paddy Kenny, Chris Brandon, the lot. We had seven days there and I ended up with sunstroke! But I came back with more money than I went with.

“Clive was a quality player and had a superb left foot. Me and Lee Connor used to go and pick him up from his house in Rothwell when we played for Avenue. He once won the Match of the Day goal of the month competition and we’d go in the house and he’d say ‘I won’t be a minute lads’ and he’d put the video in and press play on the VHS…that’s how long ago it was…and go upstairs’. You could hear him laughing upstairs. We told we weren’t picking him up again!”

Whitby Town (1998)

“I didn’t get signed on for the following season (1998/99) at Avenue and I know Ronnie Glavin wanted me at Emley. John Deacey then got in touch with me and said ‘Harry Dunn at Whitby wants to sign you’. I spoke to Trevor and I could have probably re-signed for Avenue, but Whitby offered me a ridiculous amount of money so I went. I spoke to Clive and Sharpie and they both said ‘it is the league above, go and give it a go’. It was the worst mistake I made.

“You had to do your own training to save on travelling to Whitby and I wasn’t very good for them. I played about 13 times for them. The team was brilliant, I just wasn’t fit enough. Telling me to train on my own was the biggest mistake ever as I’d been the fittest I’d ever been under Trevor Storton at Avenue. 

“There was me, John Francis and Paul Bottomley travelling over from West Yorkshire and Whitby got massive attendances and loads of their fans came up to us after a game and said ‘why are you leaving’? So these fans told us that we were leaving before Harry did! They sold us to Harrogate Town.

“I didn’t want to go back to Harrogate but Glenn Liddle who was now their manager phoned me and persuaded me. He said ‘what a team we have’ and he was right’. So I signed and I got a signing-on fee. I had played with Glenn during my first spell.”

Return to Harrogate Town (1998/99)

“We were doing really well and we were near the top, but then we had a blip. They sacked Glenn in the January and I think it was the wrong thing to do. Then the chairman Maurice Hammond came in the changing room and said ‘you only get your full wage if you win, you get half your wage lose or draw’. I was like ‘I don’t think so’. That took the morale right down in the changing room. 

“It came to pre-season and I just said ‘I’m not going back there’. I had a year left on my contract and the new manager Dave Fell phoned me and said ‘do you want to go to Farsley’? I wasn’t keen at first, but Martin Haresign and Steve Learoyd were running Farsley so I did and the clubs did a swap deal where Nigel Smith went to Harrogate.” 

Farsley Celtic (1999 to 2002)

Regan pictured on the back row of this Farsley Celtic team from around 2001

“I did about three seasons with Farsley. The lads were good, but we were too inconsistent in the league. I played upfront with Robbie Whellans and Ian Blackstone. We had lads such as Andy Shields in midfield. He was a fantastic player who you need to talk to. He could have gone further. I got to play with Lee Connor again. Wes Freeman was a character and I had some nights out with him! Phil Turner was another character. Paul Stephenson was one of the centre-halves and he was probably one of the best I played with.”

FA Cup tie with Brigg Town

“An FA Cup third qualifying round tie with Brigg Town (in October 2001) stands out. We drew 2-2 at home and I scored to help us get a replay at their place. I was sub in the replay and we were 3-1 up. I came on and missed a sitter. Brigg made it 3-3 and I got sent off for telling the ref where to do go and we got beat 4-3. Brigg drew Boston United in the next round and beat them and drew Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park in the first round proper. You can imagine how I felt! I cost us.” 

Brandy and Cigars 

“I remember one trip away with Farsley where we were staying at the Nova Hotel. We went out in the Town Centre and we came back to find the hotel bar shut. There’d been a brawl earlier. One of the lads crawled underneath the bar and got some Brandy and loads of cigars and we went back to the rooms to smoke them. Obviously it was all on camera! We went back pre-season and (chairman) John Palmer got us all together and said ‘there’s a £1250 bill and the hotel says you have to pay it or you’re going getting arrested’. They took it out of our wages for that season and the Nova Hotel told us to never book at that hotel again!”

Retirement 

“I finished playing Non League after Farsley, but I carried on playing for teams like HT Sports and Beech until I was 44 on a Sunday morning when Crohn’s stopped me. Yorkshire Amateur tried to get me to sign for them after I left Farsley, but to tell you the truth I was sick of the travelling. 

“I’ve got a few regrets. I make a lot of mistakes and I probably would have played more games if I had started playing Non League earlier. The biggest mistake I made was after I played for Harrogate against York and Donny. I got offered to go for trials with York and I didn’t go. I must admit I enjoyed my Sunday football more than my Saturday football.

“I don’t follow Non League football much these days, but my youngest son Kian Regan plays for one of Bradford City’s academy sides. I followed Phil Sharpe’s sides when he was a manager and I actually played for him at Frickley Athletic (between 2002 and 2004) after I’d retired when he phoned me and (Wayne) Noteman up to play in a game at Blyth Spartans. Notes played 50 minutes, I played ten and we got beat four or five-nil. That was my last game.”

Martin Regan was interviewed by James Grayson

jamesagrayson@yahoo.com

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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