Phil Sharpe’s Non League Journey

Phil Sharpe during his playing days at Bradford (Park Avenue). Picture: Roy Simms

We have a real blockbuster for this week’s Non League Journey in former Non League striker and manager Phil Sharpe. 

One-time record breaker Sharpe had a career some players can only dream of. He played in the Football League for Halifax Town and even on the continent for three years which proved to be a life-changing period. 

His Non League playing days saw him mainly represent Bradford (Park Avenue) and Farsley Celtic. 

After retirement Sharpe became a very successful Non League manager at Frickley Athletic, Avenue, Harrogate Railway and Ossett Town, but not in the trophy sense, in the firefighting sense. Certainly in the 2000s, if a club was in a crisis, Sharpe was the man for the job.

He consistently performed miracles with limited resources and proved to be an effective leader who instilled strong team spirit in his sides.

His only shot with the big bucks was taken away from him by as major takeover at Avenue in 2007 led to a change of management.

Now nine years on from his last proper crack at management, Sharpe has no intention of returning to the Non League scene, but he plans to create a new team in Garforth for his young grandson when the world calms down.

Highlights include: 

  • Sharing a bath with one of the greatest players in English Football League history 
  • Breaking a record 
  • His goalkeeper turning up for a home game when the team was playing away from home in Liverpool
  • Almost being murdered in his own dressing room
  • Ordered by one chairman to make a substitution two minutes before half-time 
  • Halifax Town manager Chris Wilder signing an out of form striker from three leagues lower 
  • His manager resigning on the microphone after winning a cup final 
  • Holding a pre-season training session with just three players 

This is Phil Sharpe’s Non League Journey:

Doncaster Rovers (1984-1985)

“In the last year of school I started to go for trials and I went to a few places where I was offered an apprenticeship. My dad was a massive Leeds fan and he encouraged me to sign for Doncaster who had just been promoted from the Fourth Division. Billy Bremner was the manager. That’s the reason I went there, they looked like a club who were going places. They had a lot of young players – both Snodin brothers were there and a lot of Scottish players like John Buckley who to Leeds. Then you had Colin Douglas, Billy Russell, the club captain. So there were some real characters in that dressing room and Billy made you grow up quickly. All we did for the first six weeks was run round the racecourse. I thought I was a racehorse for the first few weeks until they brought the balls out. That’s when I realised they’d be a lot of competition because lads had been brought from all over the country and they were good players.

“I played in the Northern Immediate League on a Wednesday. That year Newcastle United won it with Paul Gascoigne in their side. We played against those types of players constantly so you can imagine how good it was. You could be 16-year-old playing against a 19-year-old who had been playing in his club’s first team on the Saturday. It was very competitive and really physical and it stood you in good stead. I’d come from a rugby background so the physical side of things didn’t particularly bother me. 

“We also beat Huddersfield Town in the Northern Immediate League Cup final, but Doncaster was basically a learning curve for me. I was living in digs away from home which was difficult as a 16-year-old.”

Billy Bremner 

“I was lucky enough to play ten reserve games with him. He actually played in a game against Leeds at Belle Vue who had Eddie Gray at left-back when he was manager there. I do have a strange story about him. I used to look after the away dressing room and in those days everyone had plunge baths. The Doncaster plunge baths were massive. They were like squash courts. So on a weekday you’d be doing your jobs and then you’d get a call to say the gaffer was coming down for a bath. It was a nightmare because it took an hour to fill it and another two hours to empty it with a bucket. It sounds quite strange that there’d be just me and Billy Bremner sat naked in a massive bath until five or seven o’clock on a night and me asking him questions about the old great Leeds side! I don’t think it would be allowed these days!”

Leaving Doncaster 

“I had done all of the pre-season at Doncaster and it was coming up to my 18th birthday and I didn’t feel that they were going to offer me a professional contract. There were signs like being left out of the team on a Saturday. I had a friend who was training with Halifax Town so I went to Billy Bremner and his assistant Dave Bentley to ask if they were going to offer me a contract and they said they couldn’t make a decision until after Christmas. I was particularly unhappy at that time. I was living in digs with Paul Allen the goalkeeper, but he had left so I was on my own so I decided to knock it on the head and go and play for Halifax.”

Halifax Town (1986-circa 1989)

“I played as a non-contract player until my 18th birthday. They had only started playing in the Northern Immediate League and they only had two apprentices. It was a good time to go there. They were bottom of the league and a lot of school-boys would be signing the following season.

“I made one appearance for the first team in the Freight Rover Cup against Lincoln City in the first season and the season after is the one where we won the Northern Immediate League which is probably worth mentioning because I don’t think the club or the players got the recognition they should have done. For Halifax Town to win the Northern Immediate League was like Leicester City winning the Premier League. It was unbelievable when you think of the teams in it like Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland. There was myself and Wayne Allison upfront and we had some good players. 

“I made my first team debut that season. I think it is one of my happiest memories. My happiest memory is probably towards the end of that season when we had beaten Leeds 4-0 at The Shay to win the Northern Immediate League. Leeds had Dave Batty, Gary Speed and Simon Grayson playing. The following week I made my debut against Rochdale so it was a very happy time for me. I was young player of the year as well. 

“I don’t think my football career was glorious, but I did do things probably a lot of people would have loved to have done. I got to be a professional footballer and I got to play in the Football League. I was a professional for eight years and then a semi-professional for quite some years.”

Departure from Halifax 

“I’ll tell you a story which will tell you the difference between football now and football then and the story is probably one of the reasons I didn’t get a contract the year I left. One thing we did is after every training session we’d go to the pub and three or four pints of beer and have our dinner there. The manager at the time was Mick Jones who was assistant to Neil Warnock at a few clubs for many years. His assistant was Billy Ayre who was a no-nonsense hard ex-centre-half. We played up at Sunderland for one of the Northern Immediate games and my mother and father got to the game five minutes in and I’d just been sent off – it happened to me quite a lot during my career! It was for next to nothing. I’d been in a tussle and I said ‘he was doing the f***ing same’ at the ref who sent me off for foul and abusive language. 

“On the Monday I went into training and the captain Phil Brown, the ex-Hull City manager, told me the gaffer wanted to see me. I went into his office and Mick Jones and Billy Ayre were both sat down. Mick really read the riot act and told me in no uncertain terms that he wanted rid of me, but Billy Ayre had seen something in me. I think it was a test of character, but they really gave it to me. 

“I then got dressed for training and went to the training ground. As part of the warm-up in those days you did a circle where you had two players chasing the ball and the players are kicking the ball around the circle to keep it away from the two in the middle. Billy Ayre was in the middle of the circle and as the ball came to me, he ran straight through putting his forearm straight into my mouth – making me bleed and fall on my backside. There was a lad called Dean Martin who was a young pro and he was stood next to me and he said ‘what the f***ing hell was that for’? All you could hear from the background was Mick Jones going ‘he knows what it was for’. Imagine something like that happening now! I just got up and dusted myself down. But it shows you the difference between yesterday’s football and today’s football.

“Things didn’t particularly go well for the following season. I had been injured and other lads had come in and Billy Ayre had taken over from Mick Jones. He loaned me out to Altrincham whose manager was Tommy Doherty. I couldn’t understand a word he said while I was there. He had one of the strongest Glaswegian accents I’ve ever heard. I was also loaned out to Goole Town for a while. I was on my way at the end of the season. It was a pretty awful time, but all in all I had enjoyed my time at Halifax and it was time to move on and that’s when I got the opportunity to go and play in Belgium.” 

Playing on the Continent 

Between 1989 and 1992, Sharpe played for Eendracht Wervik and Union de Centre in Belgium 

“There wasn’t a lot of players released from clubs in those days. You may get two or three released from one club. It was before the Internet so a big dossier went out to agents and football clubs. A few people got offered the chance to go out and play in Iceland for a few months. I got offered the chance to go to South Africa, but I was advised against that because of the apartheid. I then got a phone call from an agent in Osted who had played with Johan Cruyff. He said there was a game in Osted in two weeks’ time and he’d send me some flight tickets to go and he’d pay for everything while I was there if I went and played in a game. 

“I think I arrived on the Friday night and stayed in a hotel with a lad who had been released from Norwich. I played the following evening and scored a hat-trick. In terms of players I played with; there was Robert Woodrow whose dad Bobby had played in the league and Mickey Bennett (father of cyclist Sam who was born in Belgium and who won two stages of the 2020 Tour de France) who had a good League of Ireland with Waterford.

“It was Division Two football and it was professional and very technical. It was the first time I had done proper warm-ups and you had to work hard on your fitness. The beer was a lot stronger so you had to be careful when you drank! It definitely wasn’t a holiday. I played in a few big games and we were involved in a promotion race. I was out there for three years and I moved to another club whilst I was out there. All in all it was a great experience and I earned a good wage. I earned more money out there than I would have done playing for Halifax Town. I managed to put a deposit down on the house I still live in today through playing out there.” 

Farsley Celtic and John Palmer (1992)

Farsley Celtic from 24th August 1993: back row; left to right; Arthur Graham (assistant manager), Darren Edmonds, Phil Sharpe, Lee Lamont, Martin Pattison, Granville Short, Steve Care, and Tommy Graham (manager). Front row, left to right; Mick Adams, Steve Nicholson, Nigel Smith, Kevin Taylor, Mark Wilson, Richard Harrison, and Andy Waterfield.

“When I returned I was supposed to be going to York City and I actually trained with them. I used to travel through with Tony Canham, but they couldn’t get clearance through from my club in Belgium. In the end I signed for Farsley Celtic because they offered me a job and I could play there as an amateur. Denis Metcalf signed me and (chairman) John Palmer gave me my first ever job as a landscaper. John Palmer has had a big influence on my life. He’s such a nice guy and he was from East Leeds originally so he knew a few people I knew. I still do business with him to this day. He is Mr Farsley Celtic to be perfectly honest. I worked for him for two years before I left. I probably wouldn’t have gone into landscape gardening if it hadn’t been for him, but I do look at it a different way that it could have been an easier job! It could have been a delivery driver, but no it had to be one of the hardest jobs! But I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for John and I still landscape to this day. 

“John must have employed 50 footballers over the years, I would guess. A lot of players when they signed for Farsley, worked for John at some point. Steve Ball did, Ryan Watson did. I went to Askham Bryan College to do a greenkeeping course and John encouraged me to do that. When I stopped working for him I became an assistant greenkeeper at Headingley Golf Club.

“One story about John which has come to me is when we played Fleetwood in the FA Cup, just after I’d joined Farsley. We’d arrived late and the lads had come from work. We were starving. John told one of the committee to go and get something for the lads to eat, meaning Mars Bar. He came back with 13-times fish and chips! This is 20 minutes before kick off. I think some of the lads had some of the fish and a few chips!”

Long-time associate Clive Freeman 

“I first met Clive Freeman when I had another loan spell at Altrincham where Gerry Quinn had taken over. In the end I came back to Farsley because the travelling was too much. But I signed for Altrincham on loan two weeks after he (Clive) scored that goal (for Altrincham in the FA Cup which won the BBC Match of the Day goal of the month competition) which I’ve never heard the last of to be honest with you! He’s still one of my closest mates in football!  Myself, Clive and Steve Learoyd were travelling from Leeds and on the way to a game somewhere in the Conference we asked him if he had received anything? When we got to the game a cardboard box had arrived and it was his plate with his name on and what it was for. Clive lived in Harehills at the time and he took it back there. That night me, Steve and Clive went out into Leeds and when I saw him again on the Tuesday he said ‘you’ll never guess what happened to my silver salver’? He used to live with a guy called Garry Preece who played for Garforth Town. When Clive came home he found that Garry had had a curry on it and left a can of beer on it and snubbed a cigarette on! Clive’s a real character as you know and a great mate and player.”


“In between my time with Farsley I played for Gateshead in the Conference. Denis was manager in 1992/93 and Tommy Graham took over for 1993/94 and I signed for Gateshead at Christmas time (1993). Just before Christmas I met up with a Gateshead director and Colin Richardson, a very successful manager in the North East and someone had been to Wembley twice in the FA Vase. They met me at the Selby Fork hotel and they gave me an envelope which had £1000 in it. I signed there and then.”

Record Breaker 

“We got to the FA Trophy quarter-finals and there’s another story from my first game which is quite amusing. I signed on the Wednesday and on the Saturday the coach picked me up from the Selby Fork Hotel to go to Kettering in the league. I knew some of the lads like Paul Dobson – the top goal-scorer who had played for Scarborough. I was on the bench but Colin told me that I would come on. It was 0-0 and Colin was a very old school manager, tash, permed hair, sheepskin coat, smoked fags, wrote the team on the back of a fag. He was one of those types of guys. 

“Anyway there was about 20 minutes to go and he said ‘go on there son and make an impression’. It was pouring it down and there was quite a big crowd for Non League, maybe two or three thousand. I went running on like ten men! I think I had touched the ball once and the ball got played to the goalkeeper. In those days there was two upfront and you had to chase down the full-back. The goalkeeper got the ball and threw it to the right-back who got it out of his feet and looked to smash it straight into the channel. As he was travelling with it I arrived and hit him and put him and me straight over the barriers. The crowd were going mental! Their players ran over and had me by the throat. I couldn’t get off the floor and fights were breaking out all over. The referee comes over shuffling his cards and pulls out a red. I went ‘you’re bloody joking’! He replied ‘I’m bloody not, get off’! I stood up and walked off and Colin came on the pitch and said ‘listen Phil, what an impression’! 

“It was a Conference record (for a red card) at the time – one minute, 37 seconds, that’s how long I was on the pitch. I was suspended over Christmas, but I had my £1000.”

Back to Farsley (1994 to 1996)

Farsley’s 1995 West Riding County Cup triumph as told by the Yorkshire Evening Post

“I went back to Farsley (1994/95) and we were involved in a relegation battle. Eugene Lacy was manager. Eugene was Farsley through and through and had coached the youth team for years. One positive was that we won the West Riding County Cup at Valley Parade. We beat Thackley and Eugene resigned on the microphone after the game. I don’t think it sunk in because we were too busy jumping up and down to celebrate winning the cup. I don’t remember too much about it but it was a shock I must admit.

“Denis came back to manage the team for the 1995/96 season. Me and Denis could fall out at the drop of a hat and then drink together later on. I was always had something to say and Denis was a big character. Martin Haresign was his assistant and I always got on well with Martin. I played upfront with Robbie Whellans and he’s up there with Wayne Allison was the best striker I played with. We worked really well together. But I started off in the team and then I was left out.

“My second son (Jack) was born the year and that’s another story as I was at FA Cup tie at Leigh RMI. I had been at St James’ Hospital from two o’clock in the morning up until 9am when I got told to leave by my mother-in-law (Monica) and my wife (Michaela). John Palmer picked me up outside in his Jaguar and with a cigar in his mouth. I played in the game and I found out at 5pm later that I was father of a baby boy. I was on a pitch both times for when my sons were born. When Ben was born I was playing in a Belgium cup game!”

Bradford (Park Avenue) (1996 to 1999)

Playing for Bradford (Park Avenue) was the best period of Sharpe’s career

“I was on the bench more times than I was playing at Farsley and I got a phone call from Denis saying that Gordon Rayner was interested in taking me to Bradford (Park Avenue). Denis wanted Peter Craven in place of me. It was a no-brainer. Avenue were playing at Batley at the time and I knew Gordon had a good record and I knew they had a big support base. I scored six times in six games after I signed and I don’t think I scored again for a while!”

Trevor Storton 

Former Bradford (Park Avenue) boss Trevor Storton was the best manager Phil Sharpe played under

“We moved to Horsfall Stadium for the 1996/97 and Gordon got sacked after three games. Trevor Storton came in with Bobby Barr who I knew from Halifax Town. Gordon had made me captain and Trevor, who had the biggest influence on me as manager, pulled me to one side and I thought ‘here we go, I’m on my way’. He said ‘I want you to stay as captain, have you thought about playing centre-half’? I said I’d play anywhere as long as I can play. I was 26 or 27 at the time and he taught me how to play centre-half and he was the first manager who got me interested in the game tactically. He taught me positionally how to set up. I was always strong in the air and I could head and kick it. He did it by good man-management which I don’t think I’d particularly had previously. People had been shouting at bawling at me for years. He knew how to get the best out of me. He took me to the pub with Clive Freeman and bought me a bitter and a cigar and started moving beer glasses and that started getting me interested in that side of the game. I was his captain for three years and I was player of the year for two of them. He was definitely the best manager I played under. There’s only one man who comes close to Trevor in regards to being drunk on football and that’s Neil Redfearn. Football went right through them.”

Avenue Matches 

Phil Sharpe in battle mode for Bradford (Park Avenue)

“I look back and we had a good run in the FA Trophy one season (1996/97). We had a really good win away at Gainsborough Trinity and then we had a big home game against Barrow. Barrow equalised in the 94th minute which meant we had to go to Barrow on the Tuesday night! You can imagine us all working and having to leave at 2.30pm to get up there. It was a gale force wind that night and they absolutely battered us. They had a big budget and were playing two leagues up and we scored on the breakaway through Riccardo Gabbiadini. We managed to hold on to win 1-0.

Sharpe’s eldest son Ben was Avenue mascot when Gerry Quinn’s Ossett Albion beat this Bradford (Park Avenue) team in the 1999 West Riding County Cup final at Woodlesford. Back row: Phil Sharpe, Jason Maxwell, Derek O’Connor, Stephen Ball , Nicky Hey, Damian Lee, Lee Connor, Clive Freeman. Front row: Neil Bagshaw, mascot Ben Sharpe, Wayne Benn, Ian Briggs, Neil Grayston, David Blair, Chris Brandon

“I do remember playing Worksop once and somebody was giving Clive (Freeman) a load of stick and he jumped into the crowd. The guy had a Manchester United top on and Clive’s a massive Leeds United fan. He jumped over the barrier to go for him and he looked behind as if to say ‘where are you’? He must have remembered when he got there that he couldn’t fight! 

“I always enjoyed the derby games. They were always great games, playing for Farsley against Guiseley or Guiseley against Park Avenue. If you played for Avenue against Farsley it was a real grudge game. The games at Christmas were always big games as a lot of the lads had played for both clubs and knew other. They were very physical games and they were no place for the faint-hearted. You were playing against some really tough guys – Calvin Allen, Paul Stephenson, Steve Learoyd, Wayne Noteman. You couldn’t hide in those games, you had to bring your ‘A’ game.”

Avenue Exit (1999)

“I had a bit of a fall-out with Trevor over nothing and I went on loan for Harrogate Town for 15 games when Paul Marshall was manager (in 1998/99). I went back to Avenue and in that last season (1999/00) I got a bad knee injury. I didn’t play from the September and Trevor brought me back for one game against Farsley Celtic at Farsley on Boxing Day. We got beat 4-0. I had played okay but we got hammered and I was really struggling with the knee. I ended up playing for Garforth for the rest of the season before having a knee operation.” 

Guiseley assistant manager (2000 to 2002)

“In the pre-season I went to Farsley Celtic and did all the pre-season and then ruptured my achilles tendon in a friendly. It was then when I met (Guiseley manager) Neil Parsley through a mutual friend at a party in the September or October. Bobby Davison had been manager with Neil as his assistant. Bobby had left so Neil had taken the job and he wanted someone who didn’t have idea of what had been going on at the club. There were a lot of players who were on big contracts and he wanted someone with a different outlook. I started to take my coaching badges and myself and Neil became good mates. Neil was a very organised manager and we complemented each other. He was on the phone and he found the players and I would be doing the coaching. It worked really well for those two seasons.”

Frickley Athletic manager (2002 to 2004)

“I got a phone call out of the blue from Trevor Storton in the pre-season and he said ‘Frickley Athletic are looking for a manager and I’ve put you forward for it’. The only thing I didn’t like about Guiseley was having to travel there because it is a hard place to get to from East Leeds! Frickley was far easier! I went down to the speak to the then-chairman Paul Fenn who was very black and white Yorkshireman. He said ‘listen son, we’ve heard about you and I’ve spoken to a couple of people who say you’re not ready. You’re not first choice, but the budget is £1000 a week and you’re in if you want the job’? In those days Frickley were playing in the Northern Premier League when it was effectively the old Conference North so I decided to take the job. Neil at Guiseley wished me all the best.

“I got to my first training session all excited and there were only three players who turned up! Five players had followed Gary Marrow to Belper and another five wanted to leave and didn’t want to train. So at this first training session, there was no assistant manager, no chairman as Paul Fenn had resigned and I was stood there with Chris Gowen and a couple of other lads. 

“The first thing I did was go back to Trevor to get Mark Hancock in as my assistant. This is when I found out how hard football can be because Trevor, who put me forward for the job, charged me £500 to get him released. He then said I couldn’t play Hanks against Bradford so I told him to where to go because I’d bought him! So he fell out with me for a bit.

“We managed to get a team together. Mark Hine, an experienced player, came. I got Paul Marquis, Mark Samways the goalkeeper. We were the first club to bring Lee Morris into NPL football. Curtis Bernard came from Leeds and there were some great local lads like Steve Robinson, Craig Elkin, Antony Jackson. That group of players are the best group of players I ever worked with. They were unbelievable because we lost the first six games and I actually offered to resign on the way back from Blyth Spartans to the new chairman Peter Bywater. He said ‘whatever happens son, you’re going to be manager next season whether we get relegated or not’. It gave me a great boost and the club were fantastic because they gave us great backing. We beat Gateshead at home 1-0 on the Tuesday night and that was our first win.

“The players were getting £50 a week and £5 of that was taken off for raffle tickets so it was £45 a week! These players were playing all over the North of England and some had no experience of that level of football. We picked up wins here and there. We had some bad defeats but we went to Marine in the second to last game of the season and we won there. Steve Robinson scored and we stayed up. It was remarkable but it wasn’t down to me. It was down to the players. The chairman at the end of the season bought me and Hanks a silver drinking tankard. It was a great achievement.” 

Departure from Frickley (September 2004)

“We beat Worksop at Hillsborough to win the Senior Cup in the second season (2003/04) but things had soured a little bit between me and chairman over a few things. We actually got to eighth at one stage that season and that’s one of my best achievements because I got to see Frickley Athletic on Sky Sports News. They only used to show the first eight or nine teams in the NPL Premier Division so my mates in the pub were really impressed! 

“The budget got slashed at one stage and we started to lose players. We lost Morris to Harrogate Town and others left. I think I did ten games of the following (2004/05) season and I then resigned.”

Return to Avenue as manager (March 2006)

Phil Sharpe and Clive Freeman, pictured in their first game in charge at Brigg Town, replaced Gary Brook, but the task of saving Avenue from relegation was far too great for even them. Picture: Simon Orrell

“After Frickley I had nearly two years as assistant to PD (Paul David) at Wakefield & Emley. We worked really well together. I then got the opportunity to go back to the club where I had played my best football. I would have liked to have gone back there in different circumstances. Morale was extremely low and it wasn’t the same club I had left years earlier. I definitely enjoyed playing for the club than managing it to be perfectly honest.

“(Former Avenue secretary and director of football) Alan Hirst approached me one day (in March 2006) and said they’d be interested in talking to me and Clive (Freeman) who went in there as my assistant. There were about 13 games to go and the club was in a relegation battle. They hadn’t won since the previous October in the league and we had to rebuild the whole side. We had players heavily contracted up. I’m not blaming them but they weren’t motivated to be there. I didn’t really have any problems with them though. I saw Dean Calcutt’s comments recently in his interview. I didn’t see eye to eye with him, but I actually made him captain to get the most out of him. Unfortunately he couldn’t get going along with others. That meant we had to bring a lot of players in and we did. In the end we ran out of time.”

Near-Death experience 

“I can laugh about it now! I took Dean Calcutt off at half-time at Marine in one of the early games, but it was actually Clive who wanted him off! Dean was taking the tape off his socks with some scissors and he started swearing and shouting at me not realising he still had a pair of scissors in his hand! I thought he was going to stab me! Someone pulled him back and he apologised after the game and bought me a pint. He was just frustrated. He was trying, but things weren’t happening and we were in a position where we had to change things.”


Phil Sharpe guided Bradford (Park Avenue) to a NPL President’s Cup triumph in 2006

“We won the President’s Cup at Ilkeston which was a bonus, but we had to go to Radcliffe (a few days later) on the Saturday for the final match of the (league) season without Dean Calcutt and Neil Ross who had got injured in the final. People said ‘why did you play them in the final’? The reason was because we didn’t anyone else who could play. So we went to Radcliffe and it was either them or us to go down and they scored in the 89th minute to win 1-0 and send us down. If Dean and Neil hadn’t got injured or the final hadn’t been played we’d have had a better chance of staying up, there’s no two ways about it. I’d started to get something out of Rossy. He had started to score goals and unfortunately he was injured along with Dean who could turn a match on its head. However, without being disrespectful to the previous manager, the damage had already been done.”


Phil Sharpe was manager of Avenue for a year

“The chairman Dr John Dean gave us great backing and we built a new side and after two or three months into the new season the club gave me and Clive a long-term contract. We got to play-offs semi-final, but as you know there was a change in ownership of the club towards the end of the season. The guy (Bob Blackburn) who bought the club, I got on with him alright. He had a hands-on approach and he wanted his say as he was putting his own money in. It wasn’t going to work out and I shook his hand when I left (at the end of the 2006/07 season).”

Neil Redfearn

The Avenue team of 2006/07 which included Neil Redfearn

“Out of the blue I got a phone call from John Helm, one of the club’s vice president, to say Neil Redfearn wanted to come to the club. I knew of him, but I didn’t know. I went and met him at a hotel and he said he wanted to come and play and coach. His dad Brian had played for the club and he wanted to emulate his father. He’s a great fella and I got on with straightaway and he’s absolutely drunk with football. We became mates and I did some coaching with him for a couple of companies on a Saturday morning. He must have seen something in me as he took me to Northwich Victoria! But he played for Avenue and I was interviewed on Sky Sports News as Avenue’s manager on the day he made his 1000th career appearance. He was a great player for us.”

Mark ‘Willy’ Wilson 

“I’ve known Mark since I was 24 or 25 from my Farsley days and he was a lunatic when I first met him! I once remember him jumping in a big pool of water at Farsley. At the ground there’d always be an area near the training pitch which would hold water after heavy rain. Willy jumped in it after training not knowing there was some concrete blocks underneath. He was covered head to toe in mud and blood and he couldn’t play in the next game because of injury. We brought him back to Avenue. He was great for the dressing room. The players loved him, the fans loved him and he could still do a good job on the pitch and he did. He worked with me later on at Ossett.”

Simon Parke 

“Simon Parke was a big player for us that season, especially in the big games. The records show that. However, around early February he hadn’t scored for weeks and was really out of form. Hours before we were playing away at Goole in midweek I got a phone call from Chris Wilder the Halifax Town manager. Halifax were in the Conference and we were three leagues lower in the NPL Division One. He said ‘we’re signing Simon Parke from you’. 

“My first thought was ‘is he talking about the right player’? I was surprised myself. Parksy was about 36 as well as being out of form. It was certainly a strange one, but the club got £500 for him.”

Piotr Skiba 

“Our goalkeeper for most of the season was Piotr Skiba, the Polish goalkeeper who is best known for throwing the ball in own net for Farsley a few years later. I was his first manager in England and one of his ‘memorable moments’ was when he turned up for a ‘home game’ when we had just arrived at Cammell Laird at 1.30pm for an away game! I got a phone call from him and he said ‘where is everyone Sharpey’? It meant the 42-year-old goalkeeping coach Paul Allen had to play as Piotr got to the game at half-time and I didn’t think it was right bringing him on. I don’t think Paul could move for a few days!”

Appointment of Benny Phillips (March 2007)

New owner Bob Blackburn appointed Benny Phillips as Avenue’s full-time manager with Sharpe and Freeman staying on for the rest of the season

“Bob was pulling me into meetings right, left and centre. Now as a semi-professional manager you’re on the phone constantly. It is a full-time job anyway. I live in East Leeds, not Bradford. It got to the stage where a lot of pressure was being put on and I just said to Bob ‘I think what you need at this football club is a full-time manager’. I was thinking the season after and I said I’d be willing to work with who he appointed. I was thinking someone like Peter Jackson or Neil Parsley. Bob said ‘that’s really good of you to think that way’. To be fair to Bob he wanted to go places. I had to understand that, but we were third in the league and I didn’t need the pressure he was putting me under. I was running my own business as well and Clive was struggling with work. Basically one day Bob said ‘I’ve appointed this guy as the full-time manager’. It wasn’t a shock as I prompted it, but it was a shock who he brought in. It was Benny Phillips and no-one had ever heard of him in this area because he came from Lancashire. I knew of Benny as he was the assistant at Ashton when I went on loan there years earlier. For the rest of that season I still picked the team and still decided the way we played. Unfortunately we got beat by Eastwood in the play-offs. They were the eventual winners. We went our separate ways at the end of the season as Benny wanted his own people in which is fine and understandable.”

Northwich Victoria 

Sharpe briefly assisted Neil Redfearn at Northwich Victoria during the 2007/08 season

“When I left Avenue I didn’t do anything for a while on the management front. I actually played for Garforth Rangers for a bit. In the September I got a phone call from Neil who said ‘what are you doing tomorrow, we’re playing Farsley’? They’d had a bad start to the season so I had half an idea what it was about. They lost at Farsley and I went for a drink at a golf course in Bradford with his dad afterwards and he asked me to go in and help him.

“I was there for a couple of months as assistant head coach with Kev Sharp, but Neil couldn’t turn it around and he resigned after we’d taken a couple of hidings. It was a shame as it was a good set-up but the chairman was hard to deal with and he interfered a lot. Neil said to me ‘take the team on Tuesday because I’m not going’. 

“So I took the team for one game, against Halifax Town believe it or not, with Kev playing left-back. It was great because it was the first time I had gone back to Halifax as a manager. Andy Campbell had scored for Halifax to make it 1-0 just before half-time. Kev had played a ball across the goal and Campbell intercepted it and scored. I then heard a bloke behind the dugout shouting ‘get Sharp off’. I thought he was talking to me! It was the chairman (Mike) Connett who then said ‘I pay the wages, take Sharp off’. I was in charge, but the next manager was playing. It was Paul Warhurst who was centre-half. There was no way I was taking off a friend and one of the management team one minute before half-time. I called Warhurst over and told him what had happened and he said ‘do it’. Kevin came off before half-time and I took the rest of the game and never went back again.”

Harrogate Railway (2008 to 2010)

“I took over from Dave Morgan and they were bottom of the league. Richard Chattoe came as my assistant and he’s somebody who is very well-organised and a good coach. The Railway lads were good lads and we stayed up quite easily and I had another season where Richard had to leave because of work and Nigel Danby assisted me. We finished in a similar position. I really enjoyed managing the club because although it is a small club it is a very friendly club.”

Ossett Town (2010 to 2012)

“I left Railway because I got the chance to manage in the (NPL) Premier Division again at Ossett. Paul Sykes and Willy were my player coaches because the budget meant the assistants had to play. We got up to eighth in the league at one point, but the budget got slashed. I hate the FA Cup because every-time I lost in the FA Cup my budget got cut! 

“I got on very well with Simon Turfrey, he backed us up, but apart from the last club (Goole AFC) I was at, it is the least enjoyable time I’ve had. It was a really bad time. I told them when they cut the budget that we’d lose players and we’d go down the league and you’ll start blaming me. They said they wouldn’t, but that’s exactly what happened. They wanted me to do the job the following season (2011/12) and we brought in Eric Gilchrist to get some players from Ossett Albion and we did alright. But it is the first time I stayed on for the sake of it. I should have never have stayed, I should have left after the first season.

“I’d also started to get tired of management. It was season after season where it was battle after battle. The only time I had any money was at Park Avenue and it wasn’t the top budget. It was probably the fourth or fifth biggest budget in the league, but that opportunity got taken away from me. I’d had enough when I left Ossett. Apart from Avenue I had never any money. I think the most I ever paid a player was probably £150 a week. I think the budget (pre-Bob Blackburn) I had at Avenue when we got into the play-offs was £1500.”

Activities from 2012 to 2018

“I had three great years managing Aberford in the West Yorkshire League and working with a friend of mine Kevin Hayton. We had a promotion and we won a cup. I helped to bring in the next manager Simon Portrey who I played with at Garforth. I’m on the Aberford committee still to this day and I help out as an emergency manager or coach if someone is missing. 

“I met Brian (Close) and Craig (Bannister), the owners of Garforth Town in 2015 when their manager (Graham Nicholas) had left and taken all the players. I offered to help them out in the short-term, but they went down to a different route.

“I obviously had that brief spell at Goole (late 2018). It was the most ridiculous I’ve done and I’ve done some ridiculous things in my life. I got tempted after being out of it a while. I’d seen things change in Non League at Ossett Town. Some players had agents which I couldn’t believe it. Every club I went to we’d stay and have a few drinks and players wouldn’t stay anymore so I came out at the right time. But I got asked to go and help Steven Jeff, a great player and lad, who had been left holding the baby at Goole and we got the players organised and things were improving. Steve then got the chance to go to Hemsworth so he left and it was clear it was going to work so I left too.”


“My grandson is desperate to play football and there are very opportunities to play football in Garforth because all the Villa and Rangers teams are full. Garforth’s getting bigger and bigger so there’s scope for more teams. I’m hoping to get a junior team up and running, maybe Garforth United, and give something back. I’m 53 now so I don’t want to go back into (Non League) management, but I’d like to coach my grandson’s team and create opportunities for younger lads.”

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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