IT'S not often a player makes a positive contribution to the club over a year before he even pulls on the claret and blue shirt but that was definitely the case with Mark McGregor who signed for Burnley on a Bosman transfer in July 2001.
We have to go back 14 months to be exact and the last game of the season at Scunthorpe. The maths were simple. Preston had been promoted as champions and the second automatic promotion place was between Gillingham and ourselves. We went into that last game in third place, behind Gillingham on goal difference and so we just simply had to get a better result than they did at Wrexham.
Just after ten past three the away end at Glanford Park erupted. It was one of those last day of the season moments as news came through from an important game elsewhere. Somehow you don't need to ask anyone, it's just obvious, and it was here with Wrexham, under the management of Brian Flynn, having taken the lead.
The goalscorer was their regular right-back Mark McGregor and he'd opened the scoring with a screamer. He wasn't a prolific goalscorer, indeed this was his first goal for 15 months but it was one that helped calm the nerves and proved, in the end, to be vital as it gave Wrexham the win as we stole past Peter Taylor's Gillingham to promotion.
Chester born McGregor had started his career with Wrexham, coming through the youth system at the Racecourse Ground to make a first team debut in the 1995/96 season when just 18 years of age. He played a total of 33 games in that inaugural season and remained a regular there until the end of the 2000/01 season.
At that time it was clear that Stan Ternent was looking to bring in a new right back. Following that promotion a year earlier he'd just about discarded Dean West who hadn't made a first team appearance in the 2000/01 season until April, so it was no surprise to see us linked with right backs.
Without that goal in May 2000 I don't think we'd have known about McGregor but it looked an unlikely signing at first as he'd verbally agreed a new deal at Wrexham. That deal was never signed as Ternent and Burnley swooped to bring McGregor to Turf Moor on a three year deal.
The big surprise came at the start of the season when West was named ahead of him for the opening game. McGregor played, and scored, in the League Cup defeat against Rushden & Diamonds, but was nowhere near the league team.
By this time he was in his mid twenties and he'd come to Burnley having played over 250 games for Wrexham, so it was something of a surprise when Ternent, questioned on McGregor's lack of first team opportunities, described him as one for the future.
The cup game apart, he made only one further appearance during the entire season, that coming in the league at Stockport when West was ruled out with a one match suspension. We won the game and Stan said afterwards of McGregor: "He did well and he is a good player who can play anywhere across the back four and is a valuable squad member."
The next two seasons saw him get far more opportunities in the first team. In 2002/03 they were mainly in the centre half position with West almost exclusively filling the right back spot; the following season again so him used more often in the centre of defence as Lee Roche was added to the right back options.
He played around half of the games in those two seasons which were disappointing other than for a couple of cup runs. He managed a couple of league goals too, one in each season against Norwich and Watford.
The last of those seasons saw us just escape the drop and that led to changes at Turf Moor with Steve Cotterill coming in as manager. McGregor was out of contract and, prior to Cotterill's arrival, had been released.
He signed for Blackpool, who were then a division below is, that summer and established himself very much as a first team regular in Colin Hendry's team. For a season and a half he was a fixture in the side but that changed when Simon Grayson replaced Hendry and it was time for McGregor to move on.
Grayson arrived in November 2005; McGregor left in January 2006 and signed for Port Vale where he again established himself as a first team regular. Again a change of manager changed things for him and he was used less when Lee Sinnott became boss and was eventually released at the end of the 2007/08 season.
That proved to be the end of McGregor's league career. He spent the next season with Altrincham, making 44 appearances for them, before taking his first step into management with Gap Connah's Quay in the Welsh Premier League.
Going into the club as player_ manager it was an inauspicious start with relegation to the Cymru Alliance at the end of his first season. It was somewhat unfair; they'd ended the season in 14th place, of 18 clubs, but the league was being reduced in size to 12 clubs and that forced the drop.
The club stuck with him and a year later they lifted the Cymru Alliance title. Even that didn't get them back into the Premier League. They were not granted promotion because the work required on the floodlights was carried out after the 31st March deadline.
They lost an appeal and McGregor said: "The Football Association of Wales have, once again, made a mockery of the Welsh football set-up. Our floodlights passed the test carried out on behalf of the FAW, under their instructions, on the day before the appeal decision, so I am bemused as to why the licence has not been granted, or at least why that test was carried out by the FAW if it was past the deadline."
Still with McGregor as player/manager, they won the league again in 2011/12 to move finally back into the Premier League for the 2012/13 season.
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