HE fought for his country on the battlefield then led his country towards a new era on the football field.

Martin Reagan, from Kirk Hammerton, was awarded the French Legion of Honour for his actions as a tank commander during the Normandy landings.

Returning from World War II as a hero, he then enjoyed a ten year career as a professional footballer with clubs including Hull City, Middlesbrough, York City, Portsmouth, Norwich City, and Shrewsbury Town.

He spent the next 25 years as a Football Association coach before taking charge of the England women’s team in 1979.

During his 11-year tenure as national coach, he helped move the women’s game towards the professional era.

Last night, former England manager Hope Powell – who made her international debut under Reagan before following in his footsteps – led the tributes after his death, aged 92, on Boxing Day.

“Martin was a real gentleman and a lovely human being,” she said. “He tried to move the women’s game forward at a time when resources were minimal. He did his job for the love of the game and made the best of what we had at the time.

“It was a difficult job because the team had nothing compared to what it has these days,” she added. “I remember the players having to sleep on a gym floor before one international game - which simply wouldn’t happen these days.

“He was well regarded and well respected by the players. As a coach, he was far more knowledgeable than most of us in the squad had experienced before. He managed things very well and made it more professional. We were considered one of the best teams in Europe.”

Powell, who subsequently became the first ‘full-time’ manager of the England team in 1998, was just 16 when called up by Reagan in 1983 against the Republic of Ireland. Looking back, she acknowledges it was a major turning point in her own life.

“If it wasn’t for that opportunity, I wouldn’t have seen the world, or had the career that I have had,” she said. “It was a real privilege to have someone like that believing in you at the age of 16-years-old. He was a big influence on my career because he gave me that opportunity to play international football. That opened up a whole new world to me and made me decide that I wanted a career in professional football.”

Born in Newcastle, Mr Reagan was just two-years-old when his family moved to York.

He went to school at St Wilfrid’s and St George’s and served in the Army for five years. He captained the Home Guard football team as a teenager.

On October 20, 1944, as Sergeant Tank Commander in 204 Armoured Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers, he helped rescue survivors from an explosion at a Normandy farmhouse that took the lives of over 40 British and Canadian soldiers.

He played briefly for York Railway Institute and played in seven war-time games for York and two FA Cup ties in 1945-46.

When the war ended, he resumed his footballing career but played only one league game for York before joining Hull.

He made 18 appearances for Hull in 1947-48 where his speed and shooting power attracted the attention of First Division Middlesbrough who paid £5,000 for his services.

He spent three years on Teesside and is credited with scoring Middlesbrough’s 1000th league goal. He was the club’s oldest surviving player prior to his death. After a spell at Shrewsbury Town, Reagan joined Portsmouth in 1952 for a fee of £12,000. He played in just five games before leaving to join Norwich City in August 1954.

During two seasons at Norwich, he qualified as a coach and subsequently moved into management with non-league March Town United and Goole Town.

In the 1960s, he became sales manager for a York-based veterinary supplies firm but always remained heavily involved with coaching and football at grass roots level. He served as chairman of the York Minor League and was a member of the York Association of Coaches.

In 1979, he was successful in an application to coach the England women’s team which, at that stage, had only been in existence 10 years. During his 96 match reign, England lost only 15 games and twice won the ‘Mundialito’ which was the most prestigious tournament in women’s football. They lost to Sweden in the final of the 1984 European Competition for Women’s Football.

Reagan was controversially sacked in 1991 after defeat to Germany in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Championship cost England a place at the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup. From 1989-2003, he was a director of coaching at the Two Rivers Soccer Camp in California.

Mr Reagan leaves a wife Jean, daughters Susan, Barbara, and Helen and sons Andy, Tim, and Martin. His funeral service will take place at 10am on Thursday January 19th at The Church of Our Lady, Gale Lane, Acomb followed by a service for family only at York Crematorium.