Do you remember the story of a Huddersfield Town goalkeeper scoring a penalty – and it’s NOT Alex Smithies at Wembley?
The man in question, now 51 and still very well known in John Smith’s Stadium circles, recalls that this year will be the 25th anniversary of the event.
Former Town midfielder Kieran O’Regan is the answer to the question, and it happened as Town defeated Bury 2-1 at Leeds Road on December 22, 1990.
O’Regan – a match summariser for BBC Radio Leeds and in the crowd when Smithies belted home the decisive spot-kick in the 2012 promotion play-off shoot-out with Sheffield United – still has pictures from the game and fondly remembers how the crowd helped completely sway momentum.
“We were not playing at all well in the game, we were trailing 1-0 in the second half and the supporters were getting very frustrated,” said O’Regan, who played 199 times in blue and white stripes in addition to four times for the Republic of Ireland.
“You could hear the moaning as the fans got more and more disgruntled and then one of the Bury lads ran straight through the middle and Lee Martin, our keeper, made a challenge and brought him down.
“The referee’s decision was to send him off and we were all left looking at each other and thinking ‘what happens now?’, because we had no sub keeper and no plan as to what we would do if Lee got sent off!”
Teams were allowed two substitutes in those days, and Town’s against Bury were Dublin-born defender David Campbell (from Bohemians) and wingman Mark Smith.
The Town starting line-up under manager Eoin Hand was Martin in goal, with Simon Trevitt, Simon Charlton, Ken O’Doherty and Graham Mitchell in defence. O’Regan, who was 5ft 7in tall, was in midfield with Robert Wilson, Chris Marsden and Gary Barnett, while Iwan Roberts and Iffy Onuora were up front.
“As Lee was making his way off the pitch, we immediately started looking around for volunteers to go in goal and, really, the only two candidates were myself and Iffy,” explained O’Regan.
“Iffy was much bigger than me, obviously (he was 6ft 2in), but I had a background in Gaelic Football so we decided between the two of us that I was the best option.
“It was ridiculous, really, because while the shirt was fine, Lee’s gloves were far too big for me – it was like a sketch from the Kenny Everett Television Show!
“What happened was incredible, though, because not only did the sending-off completely galvanise our side, but it got the fans right behind us, roaring us on, and the match totally changed around in the closing stages, even though we were down to 10 men.
“The defence played absolutely magnificently in front of me, to be fair, and basically I didn’t really have a save to make.
“I might have had to catch one corner, which no-one touched and I was able to collect the ball in my chest, and then there were just a couple of other things to clear up.”
What threw a spanner in the works, however, was that Town were awarded a penalty of their own.
“We were attacking the Cowshed End and I was in goal down at the Open End – but I was the penalty taker!” beamed O’Regan, who played Gaelic Football at Christ The King College in Cork, where he was also the hurling goalkeeper for his age group.
“I had to jog all the way down the pitch and place the ball on the spot, and while it wasn’t the best-taken penalty I’ve ever struck, I hit it low to the keeper’s right and it went in the bottom corner to level things up at 1-1.
“Someone asked me afterwards what I would have done if I’d missed. It hadn’t entered my head at the time, so I just said I would have broken the world record for the 100m!”
With Bury now struggling, O’Regan remembers the outcome well.
“The crowd were right behind us, we were now playing well with 10 men and we scored a great winner,” he said.
“It was a nice move, with the ball being played out to Simon Charlton making an overlap on the left. Charlie put in a great cross and big Robbo (Iwan Roberts) powered in a bullet header.
“Everyone knew it had been real backs-to-the-wall stuff from us, with everybody in the team doing that little bit extra to help out their mates, and instead of the moans and groans we’d had earlier, we left the pitch to a standing ovation.”
It was the only time in O’Regan’s career – which spanned well over 500 senior matches with Brighton, Swindon, West Brom, Town and Halifax – that he went in goal.
“I got some pictures at the time from the Examiner and I’ve had them in the house ever since,” he said. “I didn’t realise it was coming up to 25 years ago.”