Spanish TV star Michael Robinson followed in dad’s footsteps to play for Brighton

Robinson v WBA

MICHAEL Robinson is 60 in July this year and the Leicester-born former Republic of Ireland international is now a big TV celebrity in Spain.

It seems like half a world away since Robinson bore down on Gary Bailey’s goal in the dying moments of the 1983 FA Cup Final only inexplicably to pass up the opportunity of scoring a Wembley winner to lay the ball off to Gordon Smith.

Robinson’s next two competitive matches also took place at Wembley:

  • He once again led the line for Brighton when the Seagulls were crushed 4-0 by Manchester United in the cup final replay on 26 May. It turned out to be his last game for the Albion.
  • Three months later he was in the Liverpool side who lost 2-0 to United in the FA Charity Shield season-opening fixture between league champions and FA Cup winners, following his £200,000 move from relegated Brighton.

It was hardly surprising Robinson didn’t hang around at the Goldstone: the Seagulls had given him a platform to resurrect a career that had stalled at Manchester City, but the striker had several disputes with the club and the newspapers were always full of stories linking him with moves to other clubs.

Perhaps it was surprising, though, that champions Liverpool were the ones to snap him up, particularly as Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish were in tandem as first choice strikers.

But at the start of the 1983-84 season, Joe Fagan’s Liverpool had several trophies in their sights and Robinson scored 12 times in 42 appearances as the Merseyside club claimed a treble of the First Division title, the League Cup, and the European Cup.

That was as good as it got for Robinson but, asked many years later to describe his proudest moment in football, he maintained: “Scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final that meant that a bunch of mates at Brighton were going to Wembley in 1983.”

One of two sons born to Leicester publican Arthur Robinson, Michael followed in his father’s footsteps in playing for Brighton. Arthur played for the club during the Second World War when in the army, and also played for Leyton Orient.

When he was four, Robinson moved to Blackpool where his parents took over the running of a hotel in the popular seaside resort. The young Robinson first played football on Blackpool beach with his brother.

After leaving Thames Primary School, it was at Palatine High School that he first got involved in organised football, and, before long, he caught the eye of the local selectors and represented Blackpool Schools at under 15 level, even though he was only 13.

Amongst his teammates at that level was George Berry, who ironically was Robinson’s opponent at centre half in his first Albion match, against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The young Robinson also played for Sunday side Waterloo Wanderers in Blackpool and when still only 13 he was invited for trials at Chelsea, by assistant manager Ron Suart, who had played for and managed Blackpool.

Although he was asked to sign schoolboy forms, Robinson’s dad thought it was too far from home. Coventry, Blackpool, Preston and Blackburn were also keen and the North West clubs had the edge because he wouldn’t have to leave home.

Eventually he chose Preston and on his 16th birthday signed as an apprentice. At the time, Mark Lawrenson was also there, training with the youngsters, and Gary Williams was already on the books.

After two years as an apprentice, he signed professional and began to push for a first team place with the Lillywhites. With former World Cup winner Nobby Stiles in charge, in 1978-79, Robinson scored 13 goals in 36 matches, was chosen Preston fans’ Player of the Year and his form attracted several bigger clubs.

In a deal which shocked the football world at the time, the flamboyant Malcolm Allison paid an astonishing £756,000 to take him to Manchester City. It was a remarkable sum for a relatively unproven striker.

The move didn’t work out and after scoring only eight times in 30 appearances for City, Robinson later admitted: “I’d never kicked a ball in the First Division and the fee was terrifying. If I had cost around £200,000 – a price that at that time was realistic for me – I would have been hailed as a young striker with bags of promise.”

It was Brighton manager Alan Mullery, desperate to bolster his squad as Albion approached their second season amongst the elite, who capitalised on the situation.

“I received the go ahead to make some major signings in the summer of 1980,” Mullery said in his autobiography. Mullery, had the support of vice-chairman Harry Bloom – current chairman Tony Bloom’s grandfather – even though chairman Mike Bamber was keener to invest in the ground.

“I could see he’d lost confidence at City and I made a point of praising him every chance I got,” said Mullery. “I asked him to lead the line like an old-fashioned centre forward and he did the job very well.”

Robinson told the matchday programme: “When Brighton came in for me, I needed to think about the move…12 months earlier I had made the biggest decision of my life and I didn’t want to be wrong again.”

In Matthew Horner’s authorised biography of Peter Ward, He shot, he scored, Mullery told him: “When I signed Michael Robinson it was because I thought Ward was struggling in the First Division and that Robinson could help take the pressure off him. Robinson was big, strong, and powerful and he ended up scoring 22 goals for us in his first season.”

The first of those goals came in his fourth game, a 3-1 league cup win over Tranmere Rovers, and after that, as a permanent fixture in the no.9 shirt, the goals flowed.

With five goals already to his name, Robinson earned a call up to the Republic Ireland squad. Although born in Leicester, his mother was third generation Irish and took out Irish citizenship so that her son could qualify for an Irish passport. It was also established that his grandparents hailed from Cork.

He made his international debut on 28 October 1980 against France. It was a 1982 World Cup qualifier and the Irish lost 2-0 in front of 44,800 in the famous Parc des Princes stadium.

Nevertheless, the following month he scored for his country in a 6-0 thrashing of Cyprus at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, when the other scorers were Gerry Daly (2), Albion teammate Tony Grealish, Frank Stapleton – and Chris Hughton!

In April 1982, Robinson, Grealish and Gerry Ryan were all involved in Eire’s 2-0 defeat to Algeria, played in front of 100,000 partisan fans, and for a few moments on the return flight weren’t sure they were going to make it home. The Air Algeria jet developed undercarriage problems and had to abort take-off. Robinson told the Argus: “I thought we were all going to end up as pieces of toast. But the pilot did his stuff and we later changed to another aircraft.”

Although not a prolific goalscorer for Ireland, he went on to collect 24 caps, mostly won when Eoin Hand was manager. He only appeared twice after Jack Charlton took charge.

But back to the closing months of the 1980-81 season…while only a late surge of decent results kept Albion in the division, Robinson’s eye for goal and his never-say-die, wholehearted approach earned him the Player of the Season award.

As goal no.20 went in to secure a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City on 21 March, Sydney Spicer in the Sunday Express began his report: “Big Mike Robinson must be worth his weight in gold to Brighton.”

However, the close season brought the shock departure of Mullery after his falling out with the board over the sale of Mark Lawrenson and the arrival of the defensively-minded Mike Bailey.

Bailey had barely got his feet under the table before Robinson was submitting a written transfer request, only to withdraw it almost immediately.

He said he wanted a move because he was homesick, but after talks with chairman Bamber, he was offered an incredible 10-year contract to stay, and said the club had “fallen over themselves to help me”.

Bamber told the Argus: “I have had a very satisfactory talk with Robinson and now everybody’s contracts have been sorted out. It has not been easy to persuade him to stay.”

Even though Bailey led the Seagulls to their highest-ever finish of 13th, it was at the expense of entertainment and perhaps it was no surprise that Robinson’s goal return for the season was just 11 from 39 games (plus one as sub).

The 1982-83 season had barely got underway when unrest in the club came to the surface. Steve Foster thought he deserved more money having been to the World Cup with England and Robinson questioned the club’s ambition after chairman Bamber refused to sanction the acquisition of Charlie George, the former Arsenal, Derby and Southampton maverick, who had been on trial pre-season.

Indeed, Robinson went so far as to accuse the club of “settling for mediocrity” and couldn’t believe manager Bailey was working without a contract. Bamber voiced his disgust at Robinson, claiming it was really all about money.

The club tried to do a deal whereby Robinson would be sold to Sunderland, with Stan Cummins coming in the opposite direction, but it fell through.

Foster and Robinson were temporarily left out of the side until they settled their differences, returning after a three-game exile. But within four months it was the manager who paid the price when he was replaced in December 1982 by Jimmy Melia and George Aitken.

Exactly how much influence the managerial pair had on the team is a matter of conjecture because it became a fairly open secret that the real power was being wielded by Foster and Robinson.

On the pitch, the return of the prodigal son in the shape of Peter Ward on loan from Nottingham Forest had boosted crowd morale but didn’t really make a difference to the inexorable slide towards the bottom of the league table.

Ward scored a famous winner as Manchester United were beaten 1-0 at the Goldstone a month before Bailey’s departure, but he only managed two more in a total of 20 games and Brian Clough wouldn’t let him stay on loan until the end of the season.

Albion variously tried Gerry Ryan, Andy Ritchie and, after his replacement from Leeds, Terry Connor, to partner Robinson in attack. But Connor was cup-tied and Ryan bedevilled by injuries, so invariably Smith was moved up from midfield.

Robinson would finish the season with just 10 goals to his name from 45 games (plus one as sub) – not a great ratio considering his past prowess.

The fearless striker also found himself lucky to be available for the famous FA Cup fifth round tie at Liverpool after an FA Commission found him guilty of headbutting Watford goalkeeper Steve Sherwood in a New Year’s Day game at the Goldstone.

The referee hadn’t seen it at the time but video evidence of the incident was used and the blazer brigade punished him with a one-match ban and a £250 fine. Robinson claimed it had been an accident…but it was one that left Sherwood needing five stitches. The ban only came into effect the day after the Liverpool tie, and he missed a home league game against Stoke City instead.

In the run-up to the FA Cup semi-final with Sheffield Wednesday, Robinson was reported to be suffering with a migraine although he told Brian Scovell it was more to do with tension, worrying about the possibility of losing the upcoming tie.

Nevertheless, he told the Daily Mail reporter: “When I was with Preston, I suffered a depressed fracture of the skull and have had headaches ever since. This week it’s been worse with the extra worry about the semi-final.”

Manager Melia, meanwhile was relieved to know Robinson would be OK and almost as a precursor to what happened told John Vinicombe of the Evening Argus: “Robbo is a very important member of our team and he’s the man who can win it for us.

“It is Robbo who helps finish off our style of attacking football and I know he’ll do the business for us on the day.”

Reports of the semi-final were splashed across all of the Sunday papers, but I’ll quote the Sunday Express. Under the headline MELIA’S MARVELS, reporter Alan Hoby described the key moment of the game.

“In a stunning 77th minute breakaway, Case slipped a beauty forward to the long-striding Gordon Smith whose shot was blocked by Bob Bolder.

“Out flashed the ball to Smith again and this time the cultured Scot crossed for Mike Robinson to rap it in off a Wednesday defender.”

Other accounts noted that defender Mel Sterland had made a vain attempt to stop the ball with his hand, but the shot had too much power.

When mayhem exploded at the final whistle, a beaming Robinson appeared on the pitch wearing a crumpled brown hat thrown from the crowd to acknowledge the ecstatic Albion supporters.

In one of many previews of the Final, Robinson was interviewed by Shoot! magazine and sought to psyche out United by saying all the pressure was on them.

“That leaves us to stride out from that tunnel with a smile and a determination to make everyone proud of us,” he said.

“Nobody seems to give us a prayer. They all seem glad that ‘little’ Brighton has reached the Final, but only, I suspect, because they expect to see us taken apart by United.”

Everyone knows what happened next and quite why the normally-confident Robinson didn’t take on his golden opportunity to win the game for Brighton in extra time remains a mystery.

However, as mentioned earlier, within months ‘little’ Brighton was a former club and Robinson had taken to a much bigger stage. This is Anfield reflected on his short time at Anfield as “a golden opportunity for him” and recalls that it turned out to be “the best and most successful season of his career”.

He had yet more Wembley heartache during a two-year spell with Queen’s Park Rangers, being part of their losing line-up in the 3-0 league cup defeat to Oxford United in 1986.

The move which would lay the foundations for what has become a glorious career on TV arose in January 1987 when Robinson moved to Spain to play for Osasuna, scoring 12 times in 59 appearances before retiring through injury aged 31.

Robinson completely embraced the Spanish way of life, learned the language sufficiently to be an analyst for a Spanish TV station’s coverage of the 1990 World Cup, and took Spanish citizenship.

His on-screen work grew and the stardom Robinson achieved on Spanish TV attracted some of the heavyweight English newspapers to head out to Spain to find out how he had managed it.

For instance, Elizabeth Nash interviewed him for The Independent in 1997 and discovered how he had sold his house in Windsor and settled in Madrid.

Meanwhile, in a truly remarkable interview Spanish-based journalist Sid Lowe did with Robinson for The Guardian in 2004, we learned how that FA Cup semi-final goal was his proudest moment in football and that Steve Foster was his best friend in football.

In June 2017, his TV programme marked the 25th anniversary of Barcelona’s first European Cup win at Wembley, with some very studious analysis. On Informe Robinson (‘Robinson Report), he said: “Wembley was a turning point in the history of football. Cruyff gave the ball back to football.”

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Neil McNab declared Brighton fans ‘the worst crowd I’ve played for’ before becoming a Manchester City star

FIERY SCOT Neil McNab left Brighton for a sizeable loss on their initial outlay and went on to be voted Manchester City’s Player of the Year twice.

No stranger to brushes with the football authorities, McNab joined Brighton in the second half of their first-ever season in the top flight.

In his autobiography, manager Alan Mullery said: “Neil McNab was a Scottish whippet, a fierce competitor in midfield who never stopped running or competing.

“I bought him halfway through the season from Bolton Wanderers and he gave us the extra edge we needed.”

The player to give way at the time was Republic of Ireland international Gerry Ryan and it would be fair to say the football writers were impressed by the tenacious Scot’s early impact.

After watching a 5-1 drubbing against Southampton from the subs bench, McNab made his debut at home to West Brom in a game that finished goalless. “McNab showed some touches of class in his home debut but scarcely as much as the home crowd expected from their £230,000 capture,” said Harold Palmer in the Sunday Express.

The News of the World’s Peter Jarman was slightly more effusive and described it as “impressive” and John Vinicombe in the Evening Argus said: “McNab, on his home debut, impressed with his industry and general involvement.”

Of his second game, a 1-1 draw away to Leeds, the Sunday People’s Keith Ray observed: “McNab looked light years from the off-key young man that Bolton sold. His prompting coupled nicely with Lawrenson’s hard work, and Ward had two chances to hit the target before he made the vital strike.”

A demonstration of his appetite came in the next game, another 1-1 draw, at home to Coventry, when he ran 25 yards to stop Peter O’Sullivan from taking a corner that he fancied for himself. He whipped the ball in and Ray Clarke thumped a header past Jim Blyth in the Coventry goal.

Gordon Smith, another Albion player who moved to Manchester City, remembered McNab’s quick wit in his autobiography, And Smith Did Score.

When it looked like Brighton were heading for relegation, Mullery, in fear of losing his job, famously threatened the players that he’d run them down in his car if that happened.

Smith recounted how the players were huddled round trying not to laugh at the astonishing outburst. “I almost fell off my chair when Neil leant over and whispered, ‘If he loses his job, he’ll no’ have a f****** car!’”

It was no laughing matter for player or club, though, when the tenacious McNab was suspended for four matches for pushing a referee. In the following season, he was up before the FA again after a skirmish with World Cup winner Alan Ball at the end of a 5-a-side tournament at the Brighton Centre.

Charged with bringing the game into disrepute, Ball was fined £100 but McNab was given a £250 fine and a two-game ban.

Manager Mike Bailey was clearly relieved and told the Daily Mail’s Brian Scovell: “Neil was expecting more but the last instance was entirely different. It was on the field of play when he touched the referee.

“We got a fair hearing. We’re not complaining. Both were guilty but the crimes were different as Neil’s part was unfortunately physical while Ball’s was verbal.”

McNab had the third highest number of appearances (44 plus two as sub) in the 1981-82 season, which saw Brighton’s highest ever finish of 13th, and all four of the goals he scored were from the penalty spot.

However, the safety-first style of play adopted by Bailey created a disconnect between players and fans. In the final home game of the season (a 1-0 defeat to Ipswich), McNab was substituted in the 62nd minute and the crowd booed him off.

The often-obtuse Vinicombe reported in the Argus: “When McNab was withdrawn, 30 minutes from time, his gestures to the crowd were capable of only one interpretation.” In the Daily Mail, McNab told Brian Scovell: “They are the worst crowd I’ve played for. When you do something good on the ball they don’t clap and if you make a mistake they give you stick.”

Worse was to follow after the row at the beginning of the 1982-83 season when Steve Foster and Michael Robinson slapped in transfer requests in protest at chairman Bamber refusing to sanction the acquisition of Charlie George, the former Arsenal, Derby and Southampton maverick, who had been on trial pre-season.

In what was supposed to have been a clear-the-air meeting, McNab let his feelings be known in no uncertain terms.

McNab still had five of six years left on his contract. They tried to offload him on loan to Newcastle, but the midfielder refused to budge. Instead, he made a bitter personal attack on the chairman, accusing him of picking the team, and slapped in his own transfer request.

McNab blasted: “The club is petty and small-minded, and players are treated disgracefully.” McNab made it clear he didn’t see his future at the club and after a few months eventually went to Leeds for a six-game spell and also to Portsmouth.

That came after Bailey had been sacked and his replacements, Jimmy Melia and George Aitken, gave the team a big shake-up, dropping McNab and adopting a more adventurous approach (which ultimately led to relegation).

Although completely out of the first team picture from early December 1982 onwards, McNab was to play one last game nearly five months later.

With Melia struggling to field a team because of injuries and suspensions, McNab got the nod for an away game at Notts County on 30 April 1983.

But he was unable to join in the FA Cup run to Wembley because he had been cup tied during his spell at Leeds. The 1-0 defeat to County was the Scot’s last ever Seagulls appearance.

Relegation led to the release of some of the high earners, and while Robinson and Gary Stevens were sold for sizeable fees, McNab was sold to Manchester City – who had been relegated with Albion – for just £35,000.

Born on 4 June 1957 in Greenock, McNab joined his local club, Greenock Morton, at an early age and made his first team debut at just 15.

He made 14 appearances for them before being snapped up for £40,000 by Tottenham Hotspur in 1974 and made his first team debut for Spurs while still only 16. A former teammate at that time, Andy Keeley said in a recent interview: “I’ll never forget how he played in a friendly match; first team v reserves. He controlled the game from start to finish. He was outstanding. He had a very good career but I never understood how he didn’t become a superstar.”

In four years at White Hart Lane, McNab played 72 matches and was selected by Scotland at under 15, under-18 and under-21 level, but never made it to the full Scotland team.

In November 1978, Bolton Wanderers paid £250,000 for him but after only 35 appearances for the Trotters, in February 1980, Mullery signed him for Brighton.

When the former Scotland and Celtic captain Billy McNeill captured McNab’s signature in the summer of 1983, he began what would be a long association with Manchester City and he turned out to be a bargain buy considering in 1986-87 and 1988-89 he was voted City’s Player of the Year.

“Combative and always willing to stick a boot in, McNab was a key figure in City’s drive to promotion on more than one occasion,” was how manchestercity-mad.co.uk described him, while mancity.com, looking back at past players of the year, said: “Like a fine wine, got better as time went on.”

Acknowledging his initial signing failed to excite the City faithful, it added: “McNab developed into a skilful, combative midfielder who became a huge crowd favourite. Not unlike Asa Hartford, McNab was a schemer who could pick a pass and kept the team’s tempo ticking over.”

McNab scored 19 goals in 261 league and cup games (plus five as sub) for City  but when Mel Machin’s successors at Maine Road (caretaker Tony Book and Howard Kendall) discarded him, he continued his playing career at Tranmere Rovers who paid £125,000 to take the 33-year-old to Prenton Park.

The combative midfielder added nous, steel and no little skill to the Rovers midfield, ending his first season in Birkenhead with two appearances at Wembley including the Leyland Daf Cup victory over Bristol Rovers,” said the Liverpool Echo.

He played 105 games for Tranmere, scoring six goals, and was part of the squad that secured promotion to English’s football’s second tier. He also earned the dubious distinction of being the first and thus far only Tranmere player to be sent off in a European game – a 2-1 win over Cosenza in the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Determined to carry on playing, McNab had an 11-game loan spell at Huddersfield Town, returned to his native Scotland to turn out for Ayr United, appeared briefly for Darlington, played 13 games in Northern Ireland for Derry City, went non-league with Witton Albion (12 games) before finally calling it a day with Long Island Rough Riders in the States.

In 1994, he returned to Maine Road as youth team coach, when his old Albion teammate, Brian Horton, was City manager, and kept the position even when the aforementioned Alan Ball replaced Horton. But eventually he lost his job during another managerial upheaval in 1997 and took up a similar position at Portsmouth, once again working with Alan Ball.

In October 2002, he finally landed a managerial position when he took the helm of League Two Exeter City. The reign was shortlived, though, and with only six wins in 26 matches (eight draws, 12 defeats) he was relieved of his duties.

McNab’s twin sons, Neil junior and Joe, who were born in Brighton, followed in their dad’s footsteps and were part of the young age group sides at Man City and Portsmouth. But after struggling to make the breakthrough, they moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, and have played for various sides in America.

Neil senior followed them to the States and in 2008 became director of coaching at Chiefs Futbol Club in Atlanta, Georgia, with Neil junior the club’s executive director.

In August 2017, it was reported Neil senior had suffered a severe stroke which left him fighting for his life.

On 2 March this year, a message was sent via freelance writer Spencer Vignes to say that McNab had finally managed to return home after five months in hospital and in rehabilitation. “He has made tremendous progress, but still has a long way to go,” his son said.

 

Paul McShane wrote his name in Brighton & Hove Albion history in one season

v Hull where played later

FLAME-HAIRED Irish centre back Paul McShane was a complete revelation during a season on loan to Brighton from Manchester United.

The 2005-06 season ended ingloriously for the Seagulls but McShane was imperious, given a platform to launch a career that continues in the second tier to this day and has seen him earn 33 full caps for his country.

Although he was given a squad number by United, and had been selected by Sir Alex Ferguson for pre-season matches, McShane didn’t get the chance to play any proper competitive football for United’s first team.

United reserve team manager, Brian McClair, a former Celtic teammate of Albion manager, Mark McGhee, could see the benefit of giving McShane first team football at a decent level and an initial half-season loan was agreed, then extended to the season’s end in January.

Brighton were missing the long-term injured Adam Hinshelwood and although veteran Jason Dodd had been signed to add experience to the defence, his season was to be plagued by injury, so McShane was a near permanent fixture alongside Guy Butters in the centre of the back four.

His passion and aggression sometimes got the better of him and the only reason he wasn’t ever present was a penchant for bookings – 12 over the course of the season – which earned suspensions, and a couple of injury-induced absences. And he was missed when he wasn’t available.

In their end-of-season player ratings, the Argus summed up his contribution thus: “Talent and determination in abundance. Rash in the tackle at times but that is a product of his insatiable hunger. Will be sorely missed next season.”

Such was the impact of McShane’s outstanding performances over the course of the season that he was selected as the Player of the Season, the first time a loan player had ever been given the honour.

Butters was convinced it was the right choice and told the Argus: “He’s done really well for us. He’s scored some vital goals. Obviously the one away to Palace springs to mind.

“He has been solid all-round. He is very aggressive, ultra-competitive and hates losing, even in training.”

It’s perhaps inevitable that any player who scores a winning goal against arch rivals Crystal Palace earns a place in Albion folklore. McShane’s scruffy effort, which appeared to go in off his shoulder, at Selhurst Park on 18 October 2005 proved to be the only goal of an intense scrap but how it went in became irrelevant as time passed.

 

“Crystal Palace was a special night, because of the rivalry,” said McShane. “It was a great atmosphere and scoring that goal was brilliant.”

He scored three other goals over the season, including a crucial opener in a 2-0 win away to Millwall as the Seagulls put up a valiant, but hopeless, fight to avoid the drop, but it will always be the goal at Selhurst that fans remember most.

McShane confessed in an interview with Andy Naylor in the Argus that relegation had hurt, but the season for him had been “brilliant” and “a great experience”.

He said: “It has given me a chance to get out there and make my name in the Championship and I think I have done that well enough.

“It has given me a great opportunity to get the experience I need to take back to Manchester and hopefully give it a good crack there, because I’ve learnt so much this season.

“Brighton have been brilliant to me. They’ve treated me really well. They’ve made me feel very welcome, the fans and the people around. That has helped a lot. It has been great.”

In conclusion, he told Naylor: “The club is part of me now. You never know what will happen in the future but Brighton will always have a place in my heart.”

Perhaps rather presciently, Naylor commented: “McShane’s fierce commitment is unlikely to be seen in an Albion shirt again. If he does not make it at Manchester United, there are sure to be Championship clubs interested in signing him.”

With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić United’s regular centre back pairing, and Wes Brown as back-up, it was always going to be a difficult ask to dislodge them, and in August 2006 McShane left Old Trafford together with goalkeeper Luke Steele as makeweights in the deal that took goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak to United.

McShane and Steele had both been members of United’s winning FA Youth Cup team of 2003, a side which also included Kieran Richardson and Chris Eagles, who went on to make names for themselves in the game.

McShane, born in Wicklow on 6 January 1986, was proficient at Gaelic football in his early years in Ireland but eventually began to demonstrate his soccer prowess with junior clubs and was playing for St Joseph’s Boys AFC in Dublin when United snapped him up in 2002.

After his success with United’s Youth Cup team, McShane’s first senior football came in 2004 during a brief loan spell with Walsall, where he played four games and scored once.

At Championship West Brom, McShane played 42 games in the 2006-07 season as the Baggies finished fourth and agonisingly lost to Derby County in the play-off final.

Before the new season got underway, McShane was one of 12 new signings manager Roy Keane made for Sunderland, newly-promoted to the Premier League.

He scored an own goal in only his second league game but Sunderland salvaged a 2-2 draw at Birmingham and he went on to make 21 appearances (plus one as sub) as the Black Cats finished just three points clear of the drop zone.

In the following season, McShane went on loan to Premier League new boys, Hull City, and having played 19 games for the Tigers made the move permanent the following season. The KFC Stadium would be his home for the next six years, although he was sent out on loan twice, to Barnsley in 2011 and Crystal Palace in 2012.

In the final game of the 2012-13 season, McShane scored a vital goal for Hull which guaranteed them promotion back to the Premier League, and he earned a new two-year contract from manager Steve Bruce.

However, with Curtis Davies, Alex Bruce and James Chester ahead of him, his appearances were limited, although he did get on as a substitute in Hull’s 3-2 FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal.

McShane featured 23 times as Hull relinquished their Premier League status in 2015, and he was among six players released by the club, including Liam Rosenior, who moved to Brighton, of course, and goalkeeper Steve Harper, who’d had a short loan spell at Brighton from Newcastle.

McShane wasn’t without a club for long, and joined Reading in July 2015, with manager Steve Clarke telling the club website: “I knew that Paul’s contract with Hull City was due to expire and was always monitoring the situation. When we met up earlier in the summer for a chat I knew that Paul would be a good signing for Reading FC and I’m pleased that we managed to get the deal completed.
“As well as his obvious talents as an experienced defender who is aggressive both in the air and on the ground, I felt that he was a good character to bring into our squad.
“Paul has gained good experience at many clubs and, like Stephen Quinn, was an important part of a promotion-winning team. He has a winning mentality and it will be good for our two young central defenders, Michael Hector and Jake Cooper, to train and play alongside Paul.”

McShane has since played 90 times for Reading.

 

Most pictures by Simon Dack in the Argus; and a screengrab of bbc.co.uk’s announcement of his departure from Hull.

Irish international pals brought wing wonder Steve Penney to Brighton

BRIGHTON & Hove Albion can thank a former Middlesbrough goalkeeper for landing one of the most exciting players ever to play for the Seagulls.

Jim Platt was the Teesside club’s man between the sticks for 12 years and, during his call-ups on international duty with Northern Ireland, he struck up a friendship with Arsenal defender Sammy Nelson, who joined Brighton towards the end of his career.

When Platt took over as manager of Ballymena United, he quickly recognised that a talented teenage winger at his disposal –  Steve Penney – could make a career for himself in England.

Platt tipped the wink to his old pal Nelson, newly-appointed as Albon’s assistant manager to Chris Cattlin at the time, and the youngster was invited for a trial.

Penney was put up in a house near the Goldstone recently vacated by the sacked Jimmy Melia. His housemate was another young triallist: Ian Wright! Penney was taken on while Wright was released. Whatever happened to him?!

Penney’s Albion story is told in fine detail by journalist Spencer Vignes who devotes 12 pages of his excellent book A Few Good Men (Breedon Books) to a player who, for the record, played 148 games (plus 14 as sub) in eight years with Brighton.

Unfortunately, that rather low figure tells its own story, a succession of injuries robbing him of probably twice as many games as you might have expected him to have played over that length of time.

“He was, in short, a breath of fresh air, a flying winger whose close control and devastating pace left opponents and spectators alike lost for words,” said Vignes.

Among former teammates who voiced their appreciation of Penney, full back Graham Pearce told Vignes: “I always thought of Steve as a bright young winger, very naturally talented, who had all the attributes you need in that position, especially pace.”

Born in Ballymena on 6 January 1964, the son of a teacher and a nurse, although he played football at primary school, he went to what he described himself as “a fairly posh grammar school” where rugby was the preferred sport for boys, and he was a scrum half.

He got the chance to play football in the Boys Brigade, where Nigel Worthington, who later managed Northern Ireland, also played.

“I had to choose between rugby and football and when I decided to join Ballymena United, the school were so furious they suspended me,” he told interviewer Dave Beckett in a matchday programme feature.

“Playing for my home town was excellent, although I had the chance to join Linfield who were one of the best teams in the country.

“I guested for them in Holland a couple of times so I knew they were interested and that’s where I expect I’d have ended up if I hadn’t moved abroad.”

Instead, Platt alerted Nelson and, bearing in mind Albion’s high profile having only recently played against Manchester United in the Cup Final, Penney didn’t take much persuading.

Beckett recounted: “Penney, at 19 years old, made his debut in a 3-1 defeat by Barnsley but was soon a hot favourite on the terraces. Even in his opening match he set up the goal goal for Alan Young, and John Vinicombe wrote in the Evening Argus: ‘The eye for an opening that Penney unquestionably has will serve Albion well. The Goldstone are going to like him’.”

It wasn’t long before he was playing to a much bigger gallery when he was part of the Albion side who toppled Liverpool in the FA Cup (for the second season running), winning 2-0 in front of a live television audience.

Penney tormented the experienced Liverpool left-back Alan Kennedy and his perfectly-flighted pass over the top of the Liverpool defence played in Terry Connor to score the decisive second goal.

His first goal came in a 3-0 win at Derby County in March 1984 and such was his impact in that first season that he was voted runner-up to Jimmy Case as player of the season.

Away from football, Penney was a decent golfer, his regular companions on the golf course being Dean Saunders, Chris Hutchings, Steve Gatting and former Albion favourite Peter O’Sullivan.

During the winter, he loved nothing more than playing snooker at a club in Hove, especially taking on Saunders and competing for a trophy awarded each week to the winner.

So, life was sweet for the young Irishman and it got even better when his form with Brighton led to full international honours.

SP w Irish shirt

At the time of writing, he remains the highest-capped Albion player, all of his 17 caps for Northern Ireland being won while with the Seagulls.

After making his debut on 16 October 1984 in a 3-0 friendly win over Israel in Belfast, he was a regular for four years, playing his last game on 21 December 1988 in a 4-0 defeat to Spain in a World Cup qualifying match. He scored twice for his country, in a 1-1 draw with Israel on 18 February 1987 and in a 3-0 win over Malta on 21 May 1988.

The highlight of his international career was playing for Northern Ireland at the 1986 Mexico World Cup.

“The whole experience of going to the World Cup was something I’ll never forget,” he said three months later, in a matchday programme interview.

“Six weeks away from home is a long time, but the spirit in the squad was very good and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Steve had been in the side that qualified for that World Cup by drawing 0-0 against England at Wembley. “We only needed a draw to get to Mexico and we got it,” he said.

“(Manager) Billy Bingham had been a right winger and obviously appreciated what I could do, which was a source of great strength to me. He’d been part of the team that had played in the World Cup in Sweden in 1958, a lovely man who was very good at getting the best out of his players and encouraged me no end, something I’ll always be grateful to him for.”

Unfortunately, Steve’s World Cup came to a juddering halt after Spain’s hard man Emilio Butragueno went over the top in a tackle and did his ankle in only the second group game.

On his return to Brighton, Penney found himself sufficiently impressed by Cattlin’s successor, Alan Mullery, that he was persuaded to sign a new, three-year contract.

However, it wasn’t long afterwards that Penney started having problems with his left knee and, although he played through the pain barrier, in a game against Derby County in March 1987 a bad tackle damaged his ankle ligaments, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

Barry Lloyd had succeeded Mullery and Penney was in the team at the start of the next season but, after only two games, found himself back on the treatment table after a chip of bone was found floating in a knee.

That kept him out for an agonising seven months before he was able to return to the side in March 1988 to play a crucial part in the final 11 games, scoring three times as the Seagulls earned promotion in second place behind Sunderland.

Penney told Vignes: “At that time, playing for Barry was great. The two of us were getting on even though I always thought there was something not quite right between us. To be honest, he had to play me because I strengthened the team and made a difference.”

Halfway through the 1988-89 season, Crystal Palace tried to sign Penney but weren’t prepared to meet Albion’s £175,000 asking price. And then his left knee went again.

Vignes tells the whole gory story in detail, which I won’t repeat here, but, suffice to say, the wrong treatment by one doctor had to be put right by a Harley Street expert.

Manager Lloyd and Penney also fell out, principally over Penney putting country before club. “He’d play for them, then come back injured. That didn’t please me,” said Lloyd. “It was a crying shame. He just wanted to play but was so plagued with injuries it was beyond belief.”

The split came in 1991 when Lloyd clearly thought the player’s level of fitness didn’t merit a new contract. Interest was shown in him by Heart of Midlothian, managed by Joe Jordan, and Charlton Athletic, where the joint manager was his ex-Albion teammate Alan Curbishley.

Having played a couple of trial games for Hearts, he plumped for them but suffered a groin strain early on and only played 14 games all season.

A 15th game would have triggered the award of another one-year deal – and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to happen. Freed at the end of the season, he signed for Burnley, newly-promoted from the old Fourth Division, in August 1992.

“I went down for a week’s trial, did well, signed a two-year contract and scored the winner in my opening game against Swansea,” Penney told Vignes.

Sadly, the mini revival in his career was not to last. He started having Achilles problems and managed only 10 games (plus one as sub) in two years, and decided enough was enough.

His last-but-one game came as a substitute for Burnley against the Albion at the Goldstone. “He took to the field for the final 20 minutes to a rousing and heartfelt reception from the home fans,” Vignes wrote.

“I’ll always remember that as long as I live,” said Penney. “It was fantastic.”

It’s perhaps not surprising to learn that Penney has twice topped a poll of Argus readers asked to name Albion’s best ever right winger and reporter Brian Owen caught up with him to reminisce in 2015.

Being forced to quit the game at the age of 29, Penney returned to Ballymena and, with his wife Valerie, took on the running of a Specsavers franchise in his home town.

Dack's Penney v Chels  

Earlier this season, photographer Simon Dack spotted Penney amongst the Albion crowd  at the Amex for the Chelsea home game.

Main picture selection from Albion matchday programmes.

Irish World Cup legend Gerry Armstrong was a Seagulls benchwarmer

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IN THE SPACE of 10 weeks, Gerry Armstrong went from 71st minute substitute for Northern Ireland against Brazil at the 1986 World Cup in front of 51,000 in the Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico, to centre forward for Brighton & Hove Albion in front of 13,723 at the Goldstone Ground in a season-opening 0-0 draw against Portsmouth.

That 3-0 defeat to the mighty Brazilians signalled the end of an international career in which Armstrong had written his name in Northern Irish football history at the 1982 World Cup in Spain four years earlier. He had scored 12 goals in 63 appearances for his country but none as important as the one which beat hosts Spain to send the Irish through to the quarter-finals, which I shall come on to.

Four years later, while away with Ireland in Mexico, former Spurs striker Armstrong took a call at the team’s hotel from someone else who had made his name with the North London club – Alan Mullery – who had recently been restored to the managerial chair at Brighton.

“Alan knew I was a free agent and I promised to talk things over with him when I got back from Mexico,” Armstrong said in a matchday programme article. “I was impressed by the manager’s ideas for the future and Brighton appealed to me because I have always liked the club,” he said.

“I always got the impression that there is a good, family atmosphere here and I liked that.

“In many ways, Brighton reminds me of Watford. I had three very happy years there and I’m looking forward to enjoying myself just as much here at Brighton.”

Born in Belfast on 23 May 1954, Armstrong grew up in the Falls Road area and initially played Gaelic football and could have made that his chosen sport. But while he was banned from playing, he took up soccer with junior Irish clubs St Paul’s Swifts and Cromac Albion before beginning a three-year spell playing semi-professionally with Bangor between 1972 and 1975.

Spurs manager Terry Neill had family in Bangor and Tottenham paid a £25,000 fee for Armstrong’s services in November 1975. He made his Spurs debut in a 3-1 defeat at Ipswich Town on 21 August 1976. The season ended in relegation for the North Londoners but the young Armstrong was trying to make his way.

He said: “I was basically big, strong and courageous but that wasn’t enough alone so Spurs made me skilful as well.

“I set myself the task of gradually playing more first team games each season and managed to achieve it.”

After scoring 10 goals in 84 league games for Spurs, Armstrong was sold to Watford for £250,000 in November 1980.

When the Hornets made it to the top division for the first time in their history, Armstrong scored their first goal at that level, against Everton, and they finished the season as runners up.

“Graham Taylor influenced me more than anybody,” he said. “My time at Spurs was going stale because they were using me in all sorts of different positions but, at Vicarage Road, Graham taught me about forward play and then gave me the chance to repay him.”

Nevertheless, it was breaking through at Spurs that helped Armstrong onto the international stage. He made his debut for Northern Ireland playing up front with George Best in a 5-0 defeat to West Germany in Cologne in April 1977. And in November the same year he scored his first goals for his country, netting twice in a 3-0 win against Iceland in Belfast.

His stand-out moment in football which fans still talk about came when Northern Ireland were minnows at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. In front of a crowd of 49,562 – mostly Spanish – packed into Valencia’s Estadio Luis Casanova, on 25 June 1982, Ireland beat the hosts 1-0 and Armstrong fired home the only goal of the game in the 47th minute.

“I cracked it in between a couple of defenders, but couldn’t really believe it because there was this deathly hush. Fifty-five thousand people (a bit of Irish overstatement) all there to see Spain, and we ruined the party!”

He added: “It was a very satisfying one to get for the team, because it was a great win for us. “The odds were against us because there was a huge crowd in the stadium and virtually all of them were backing Spain. Nobody really gave us a chance, but it was a great team performance.

“All the players worked hard for each other and that game summed up the excellent team spirit I have enjoyed with the national side over the years.”

Armstrong also scored Ireland’s only goal in their 4-1 quarter-final defeat to France.

The Spanish climate obviously agreed with Armstrong because in the summer of 1983, having scored 12 goals in 76 league games for Watford, Real Mallorca signed him for £200,000. Although he got stick from certain sections of Spanish supporters who remembered the goal he scored against them, he spent two years with Real Mallorca scoring 13 times in 55 league games.

On his return to the UK in August 1985, he initially signed for West Brom on a free transfer but struggled with travelling to and from London to train and play, and picked up some injuries. He spent the second half of the season at Chesterfield so he could get some game time to put him in contention to be selected by Northern Ireland for the 1986 World Cup.

irish news gerry arm

A free agent on his return, he joined Mullery’s Brighton. However, it was 17 games before he managed to get on the scoresheet – in a 3-1 defeat at Leeds – although he did score again in the very next game, as Shrewsbury were beaten 3-0 at the Goldstone.

When Mullery’s second spell as manager ended rather abruptly, in January 1987, Armstrong was loaned to Millwall. New manager Barry Lloyd did restore him to the Albion line-up for the final eight games of the season, but the side finished in bottom place.

Back in Division 3, Armstrong was transfer listed along with Steve Gatting and Chris Hutchings as Lloyd was forced to shuffle the pack. He stayed with the club, but only got one full game, in a league cup tie, all season: he came off the bench 11 times and was a non-playing sub on 14 other occasions.

He was suitably philosophical about his involvement from the bench, however, and said in another matchday programme interview: “Over the years I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for grabbing goals when it matters most, and I figure that if I only get on for the last 20 minutes then there’s even more reason to take the game by the throat and get stuck in.”

In the 1988-89 season, Armstrong managed four starts but was once more on the bench more often than not and eventually was appointed reserve team player-coach.

But his time with the club ended ignominiously. In a Sussex Senior Cup tie at Southwick in January 1989, following the first ever red card of his career, as he walked off, he took exception to a comment from a supporter, jumped into the crowd and headbutted the person concerned.

The incident is referred to amongst the annals of assaults by players on fans. Armstrong left the club a fortnight after the altercation but the matter ended up in court and the footballer received a conditional discharge.

His final games as a player were at Glenavon back in Ireland after he had spent some time as a player-coach at then non-league Crawley Town.

In November 1991, he became manager of Worthing and led them to a promotion before being appointed assistant manager of Northern Ireland by his former teammate Bryan Hamilton. Although leaving that role in 1996, he reprised it under Lawrie Sanchez between 2004 and 2006. In 2011, the Irish FA recruited him as an elite player mentor – in essence to try to persuade young Catholic Northern Irishmen considering playing for the Republic of Ireland (a choice made by Shane Duffy, for example) to stick with the country of their birth.

Throughout all of this time, Armstrong has also forged a successful media career and is probably best known for his work with Sky Sports coverage of La Liga.

In 2015, the Belfast Telegraph did an interview with Armstrong and his wife Debbie in which they spoke about running a restaurant in Majorca, and his involvement as part-owner of a football club in Portugal.

Pictures from the Albion matchday programme and in the international shirt from the Irish News.

Boyhood Brighton fan Simon Rodger spent 11 seasons with Crystal Palace

S Rodger v Ivor IngimarssonSHOREHAM-born Simon Rodger was a boyhood Brighton fan but spent the bulk of his professional playing career with arch rivals Crystal Palace.

It was only at the end of his career he finally got the chance to play for the Seagulls having been rescued from football’s scrapheap by the man who had given him his chance with Palace.

Rodger in fact was on Albion’s books as a youngster and a report appeared in a matchday programme when, as a 14-year-old, he won a Soccer Skills competition run by Bobby Charlton Schools in association with The Trustee Savings Bank.

“Simon has been training with our own youngsters for two years but he is a guest today at Manchester United, where he will be seeing the match between United and Ipswich at Old Trafford,” the programme reported.

He didn’t progress through the levels at Brighton, though, and instead joined non-league Bognor Regis Town as an apprentice in 1989. Palace manager Alan Smith snapped him up from there for £1,000 in 1990.

It was Smith’s successor in the managerial chair, Steve Coppell, who gave Rodger his first team debut in 1993 away to Sheffield Wednesday. Although that game ended in a 4-1 defeat, Rodger was part of the side who went on to secure the Division One title in 1994.

Gordon Law on holmesdale.net summed up his Palace contribution thus: “His workrate, professionalism and unsung, gritty, performances in the midfield engine room contributed to Palace’s success in the 1990s. He was never one of the club’s high earners and missed out on lucrative signing-on fees to stay in SE25.”

He did leave Selhurst Park temporarily in the mid 90s, though, having fallen out with Coppell’s successor, Dave Bassett. He went on loan to Manchester City for three months in 1996 and to Stoke for a month in 1997.

When Coppell returned to Palace, so did Rodger and was part of the 1997 promotion-winning squad.

His Palace career came to an end after 11 seasons and 328 games  – all in the top two divisions – when manager Trevor Francis released him aged 31 in 2002.

It was a worrying time for a lot of players because the collapse of ITV Digital meant football finance was in a state of flux and clubs didn’t have the money to retain large squads.

Rodger had earned decent money from football and also had the financial cushion of being married to QVC TV presenter Alison Young, but she talked about her husband’s concerns in an interview with football reporter Matt Hughes.

After Brighton’s disastrous run of 11 defeats under Martin Hinshelwood during the early part of the 2002-03 season, ex-Palace boss Coppell was brought in by Dick Knight and Rodger, along with Dean Blackwell from Wimbledon, were among his first recruits to try to salvage the season.

He came off the bench in Coppell’s second game in charge, when Albion were thumped 5-0 at Selhurst Park, but the following week he scored on his home debut against Bradford City on 2 November 2002, a volley which wearebrighton.com described as the best goal of the season.

Later the same month he scored again, along with on-loan Steve Sidwell, away at Preston North End, as the Seagulls clawed back to draw 2-2 having gone 2-0 down.

Rodger talked about the shock of his Palace departure in an interview with The Guardian in January 2003, but said: “I’m just grateful to be back in professional football with Brighton, doing something that I love.”

Rodger had become a regular in the side but, despite a sterling effort in the latter part of the season, relegation was confirmed following a 2-2 draw away to Grimsby Town.

The defensive midfielder began the following season in the third tier but the league cup tie away to Middlesbrough at the Riverside in September 2003 was the last of his 38 games for Brighton.

He was stretchered off early in the second half following a tackle by current England manager Gareth Southgate and never recovered sufficiently to resume his professional career.

He now works as a private hire chauffeur.

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Main picture (top) shows Rodger putting in a slide tackle on Ivar Ingimarsson, who later joined Albion on loan from Wolves. Also (above), from the Argus, after scoring away at Preston.

 

 

How Kieran O’Regan came mighty close to a dramatic FA Cup semi-final debut

WHEN just 19, unbeknown to thousands of expectant Brighton fans, Kieran O’Regan was on the brink of making a sensational debut for the Seagulls in the FA Cup semi-final.

The versatile Irishman, who went on to play nearly 100 games for the Albion, and more than 200 for Huddersfield Town, was nearly drafted into Brighton’s back line for that momentous occasion against Sheffield Wednesday in front of a packed house at Highbury on 16 April 1983.

Only captain Steve Foster’s bravery and sterling work by the club’s medics prevented the youngster having to step in at the last minute.

The potential drama only came to light in the post-match analysis by Evening Argus reporter, John Vinicombe, who recounted: “On the morning of the tie, Melia had problems that were wisely confined only to those with a need to know.

“A crisis arose when Steve Foster’s right elbow started to swell and hurt. A streptococcal infection was diagnosed, extremely painful, and dangerous.

“To not only get him fit to play, but counter the possibility of blood poisoning, he was pumped full of antibiotics, the elbow encased in plaster and, just before kick-off, a painkilling jab administered.

“Had it been a run-of-the-mill game, Foster would not have played, but to go into a semi-final without the lynchpin was unthinkable.

“If there had been no alternative, then Kieran O’Regan, who has yet to make his debut, would have been drafted in from the sub’s bench.”

As it was, O’Regan remained on the bench throughout the game; Mike Robinson’s winner in the 2-1 victory meaning manager Jimmy Melia didn’t need to introduce the youngster on such a momentous occasion.

When he eventually made his first team debut a few weeks later, it was in a less pressurised situation, although only then with special dispensation from the Football League.

Melia was down to the bare bones because of injuries and suspensions so the youngster was needed, but he had not been signed as a pro before the deadline. The way the authorities saw it was, because Albion were already relegated and Norwich were safe, it was “a game of no consequence” and O’Regan got the green light to play.

cup cutting

Veteran football reporter Harry Harris interviewed the youngster and built a story (above) around the possibility that if he did well he might be in with a shout of a place in the Cup Final against Manchester United.

Ever the one for an eye to publicity, manager Melia kept those thoughts alive by saying: “Kieran is going to be a hell of a player. He only looks about 14 but he’s mature enough as a player to figure in my Wembley plans.”

In the event, forward Gerry Ryan got the nod for the one substitute’s place on the day, and rather ironically had to come on and play right-back in place of the crocked Chris Ramsey.

Melia was certainly a big fan of O’Regan. In the summer of 1982, as Albion’s chief scout, he had recommended the youngster to manager Mike Bailey after seeing him play for the Republic of Ireland youth team against Wales.

Cork-born O’Regan had been playing for Tramore Athletic in County Cork’s Munster League, and he recalled in an interview some years later: “I’d gone to Brighton on a one week trial; that became two, then I was asked to stay for three months. That came and went, and I never went back.”

He had come close to packing it all in, though, because he was homesick, but the silver-tongued Melia managed to talk him round.

“I didn’t feel as though I was playing very well,” he told the Mirror’s Harris. “I wasn’t fit or doing myself justice so I wanted to go home. Luckily enough, Jimmy talked me out of it.”

When Melia took over as caretaker manager, he swiftly dispensed with the services of Bailey’s pick at right-back, Don Shanks, promoted Ramsey to the first-team and then converted O’Regan from a midfield player to a right-back to become Ramsey’s understudy.

On the eve of that Norwich game, Melia told the Argus: “I must bring on the youngsters because they are the long-term future of the club.

“They are a smashing bunch of lads and I would like to play some more of them at Norwich. But with the Cup Final coming up, I can’t for obvious reasons.”

In fact, he picked young striker Chris Rodon on the bench and he got on in place of Gordon Smith, but it was the one and only time he saw first team action.

In respect of O’Regan, though, Melia stuck to his word, and the youngster filled the right-back berth from the off at the start of the new season back in the second tier, keeping his place even after his mentor’s sacking.

Melia’s successor, Chris Cattlin, also gave him some games in midfield, and, by the season’s end, he’d played 33 games plus once as sub. He also notched his first goal, in a 2-1 defeat away to Sheffield Wednesday.

However, his biggest disappointment that season was when he and Gary Howlett were both dropped for the televised FA Cup game against Liverpool at the Goldstone. He told Spencer Vignes in an interview published in a matchday programme of February 2005: “We’d thrashed Oldham at home 4-0 and played Carlisle away on an icy pitch and won 2-1, and me and Gary had played in both.

“The Liverpool game was on a Sunday so we all came in for training on the Saturday to find out what the team was. And Gary and I weren’t in it. We’d been dropped.

“Instead we were off to Highbury that afternoon to play for the reserves. That’s still probably the low point of my career. I really wanted to play. Cattlin said he was going for experience, and you can’t really fault him because the lads went out and beat Liverpool 2-0. But I was still gutted.”

Making the grade with Brighton caught the eye of the Republic of Ireland selectors and O’Regan was called up to play for his country on four occasions.

He made his debut in November 1983 in an 8-0 thrashing of Malta in Dublin, when Mark Lawrenson and future Albion manager Liam Brady each scored twice.

Against Poland, the following May, also at Dalymount Park, Dublin, O’Regan featured in a 0-0 draw, and three months later, same venue, same scoreline, against Mexico. His fourth and final cap came as a sub against Spain, in May 1985, which also ended goalless.

Meanwhile, his Albion game time in the 1984-85 season was a lot more restricted and, apart from a mid-season 10-game spell in midfield, he was on the sidelines, especially when a promising young defender called Martin Keown arrived on loan from Arsenal.

Vignes observed in that 2005 interview: “His ability to play at either right-back or midfield meant that when the likes of Chris Hutchings, Danny Wilson or Jimmy Case were unavailable, Albion always had a reliable deputy to call on.”

There was yet more benchwarming to be endured during the 1985-86 season but on Alan Mullery’s return to the manager’s chair, he found himself back in the first team on a more regular basis.

Indeed, he played under five managers in five years with Brighton, and told Vignes that Mullery was the best to work with. “He was great with everyone, but especially the young lads.”

By contrast he didn’t get on with Barry Lloyd who kept O’Regan in the dark when interest was shown in him by Swindon Town, where his former rival for the right-back spot, Ramsey, was assistant manager to Lou Macari.

In the end, in 1987, he did make the move to the County Ground having made 80 starts for the Albion, plus 19 substitute appearances.

After just a year at Swindon, he was on his way again, this time to join Huddersfield Town where the manager was Eoin Hand, who had been the Ireland manager when he won his four international caps.

O’Regan spent six seasons with Town, playing over 200 games in midfield, and it was an association which would reap its benefits after his playing days were over.

He spent two seasons at West Brom under former Spurs boss Keith Burkinshaw (and latterly Alan Buckley) but returned to West Yorkshire in 1995 as captain of Halifax Town, going on to become joint manager with George Mulhall for 18 months and then taking on the role alone in August 1998.

His tenure lasted less than a season and when the axe fell in April 1999, he turned his back on football and became warehouse manager at Brighouse Textiles, run by Halifax’s former chairman, and subsequently became a carpet salesman at a shop in Huddersfield.

However, in 2001, he was offered the chance to be the expert summariser on Huddersfield games for BBC Radio Leeds, and he lined up alongside commentator Paul Ogden for the next 15 years, before hanging up the microphone in May 2016.

 

Pictures from the Albion matchday programme and my scrapbook.