Saturday 16th February 2013 marked the 35th Anniversary of Blyth Spartans playing in the FA Cup 5th Round, however the memory of that famous day was overshadowed by the news that one of the members of that great 1977/78 side had pancreatic cancer and as a result it was reported he was ‘seriously ill”.
Steve Carney was known as a no-nonsense footballer who worked hard for everything he achieved in the game and in doing so duly got the rewards.
Born on 22nd September 1957 in Wallsend, Steve was an Electrician by trade and part-time footballer who had been at West Bromwich Albion as a youngster but when nothing came of it he returned home and learned a trade while playing for local Non League giants North Shields.
Steve made his Robins debut in 1975/76 at the tender 18-year-old alongside his elder brother Rob, he went on to make 13 appearances scoring once as Shields finished 8th in the Northern League (Blyth won the title that season).
The following season Steve established himself as a first team regular clocking up 31 appearances but still only managed the 1 goal as Shields finished 6th, being piped to 5th place by a single point by Blyth Spartans.
Steve’s performances had caught the eye of the new Blyth coach Jackie Marks, Steve & his brother Rob were brought to Croft Park at the beginning of 1977/78 season as Brian Slane & Jackie Marks rebuilt the side, little did anyone know what that season was to bring.
Playing in midfield or defence Steve blossomed as the team gelded instantly, and on 12th November 1977 he and his brother Rob became the 1st brother in many years to score in the same game when Blyth hammered local rivals Ashington 5-0 at Portland Park. Steve went on to score 16 goals in a season that involved 63 competitive games including him scoring Blyth’s equaliser at Stoke City in the famous 3-2 victory.
His hard man reputation began early but in the 3rd Round 1-0 victory over Enfield he was certainly the victim, coming on as a second half sub with the game a stalemate at 0-0, Steve was given the task of driving the team forward:
“When I came on I knew I had to put some drive and fight into the attack”, however in the 77th minute Steve was punched by Enfield’s Mick O’Sullivan.
“The ball was nowhere near me and somebody hit me on the back of the head. I did not know who it was and I could see no reason for it. I think they were getting a bit rattled – they missed their chances and we took ours”.
Defender O’Sullivan had already been booked for a dangerous tackle on Terry Johnson so when the official spotted the punch the red card ended his afternoon early.
However his hard man reputation was enhanced when, on a rock hard frozen pitch, he was sent off in the 67th minute of the FA Cup 5th Round tie at the Racecourse Ground following 2 quick yellow cards for fouls on Thomas and Lyons, (Lyons was himself sent off for retaliating to Steve challenge).
His final goal of that epic season came on 18th May 1978 in a 2-1 Northumberland Senior Cup Final victory against over his former club North Shields at St James Park, little did Steve know it was to become his home ground just over a year later !.
The following season 1987/79 Steve made 35 appearances scoring 3 goals as Blyth finished 5th in the Northern League and weren’t as fortunate in the FA Cup losing 3-5 in a 1st Round Replay to York City on a snow-covered pitch at Croft Park, his performances hadn’t gone unnoticed Newcastle United manager Bill McGarry had been keeping an eye on the utility player.
In 1979/80 season Steve only managed 7 appearances but still scored twice as he went on trial at Newcastle United before United finally made their move and signed Steve for £1,000 in October 1979. Steve’s last appearance on 26th September 1979 saw him score in a 5-0 victory at Whitley Bay.
Speaking on Steve’s dream move teammates Eddie Alder believed the United boss had seen something of himself in Steve: “I suppose Steve had a pro mentality and that’s what led to Newcastle United manager, Bill McGarry, spotting something in his personality; McGarry as a player had something of a reputation as a hard man I believe!.”
While his manager at Blyth, Brian Slane give an insight to Steve’s athleticism and how his efforts in training would get to coach Jackie Marks: “It always frustrated Jack, in training, that he only ever got 75% worth of effort from Steve. He would shout instructions and Steve would glower-he did not like training. When it came to the game, Steve never gave less than 100% and because he was so fit, I guess he did not feel the need to bust a gut in the mid-week training sessions”.
Steve made his Newcastle debut on 1st December 1979 in a 2-0 victory against Fulham at St James Park in the same side as his former Spartans teammate Alan Shoulder who had signed for Newcastle in December 1978, it was a dream come true for the Wallsend lad who supported his local heroes but had seen his hopes of becoming a professional footballer dashed after being rejected by West Bromwich Albion.
Steve’s whirlwind career saw him go on to make 149 appearances for his boyhood club, he played under 4 managers while at Newcastle, McGarry, Joe Harvey, Arthur Cox & Jack Charlton, ironically Arthur Cox had been the manager of the Chesterfield side beaten by Blyth in the 1977/78 FA Cup 2nd Round victory.
He played an integral part in the 1983/84 promotion season playing alongside Kevin Keegan as Newcastle won promotion back to the First Division making 34 appearances that historic season, however Steve’s no nonsense approach wasn’t confined to games with a well-known rumour of a ‘discussion’ with King Kev ending with Steve landing a punch on the hero of Tyneside.
Steve managed only 1 goal for Newcastle, it came on the opening day of 1984/85 season when he scored the clubs 1st goal of the season in a 3-2 victory against Leicester City at Filbert Street.
His final appearance came on 7th November 1984 in a Milk Cup 3rd Round Replay when he was replaced by Paul Ferris in a 1-2 defeat, he was then loaned out to Carlisle United where he made 6 appearances before returning to St James.
In August 1985 he left St James, being given a free transfer by Jackie Charlton, he joined 3rd Division Darlington.
Fondly remembered for his nonsense style one Newcastle United fans site claims:
”Steve was one of the stars of the Blyth Spartans side that did so well in the FA Cup in 1978, and was consequently snapped up by Newcastle for a mere £1,000.
Going on to give 6 seasons of solid and workmanlike service he has to go down as one of our best bargains.”
Steve made 12 appearances for Darlington before being loaned out to Rochdale where he played 4 times. He later joined Hartlepool making 7 appearances.
After leaving the full-time game he turned out for Tow Law Town to help his brother Rob who was assistant manager, he enjoyed his time there but they had an agreement in place:
“If somebody I fancied came in for me, I would move on. Well I have always thought of Blyth Spartans as a big club”.
In April 1987 Jim Pearson’s Blyth side were closing in on the Dryboroughs Northern League title and club director Jackie Marks had been busy sourcing new players to bolster the squad and having just brought in Steve Pyle he had his eye on his former player.
The Evening Chronicle picked up on the potential deal and sought Steve’s view:
“It looks as if I’ll be going back to the Spartans-and I’m looking forward to it.”
“I have a lot of very fond memories of Croft Park, especially that run to the fifth round of the FA Cup shortly before Newcastle gave me chance in the Football League.
I’m not really worried about getting another chance to go full-time and I think the Blyth deal will go through this week”.
The deal did indeed happen and he made his 2nd club debut on a ground he was familiar with Victoria Park Hartlepool, in Blyth’s 1-1 with Hartlepool Reserves in 21st March 1987. Steve went on to make 9 appearances at centre half as Blyth won the title by 14 points.
Manager Jim Pearson, a former teammate of Steve’s at St James Park, knew his importance praising the side and board after 13 wins in the last 15 games sealed the title:
“The whole management side at Croft Park have been a great back up bringing in players like Carney & Pyle at a critical stage”.
Steve won another title medal the following season, 1987/88, a campaign in which Steve played in all but 4 of the 51 games of a season which Jim Pearson’s side lost only 2 games on the way to the title. Pearson was relived of the manager’s job in the summer of 1998 and Steve’s brother Rob was in the frame to replace him until Steve’s former teammate Dave Clarke took over the reins.
Dave Clarke’s reign as manager didn’t last long after things didn’t go well and he resigned in November 1988, this time both Carney brothers were approached.
Again Rob was top of the board’s wanted list but after several meetings with the board and despite a deal looking imminent, Rob announced terms couldn’t be agreed and decided to stay on at Tow Law as Assistant manager. Steve himself was approached by the board to become player/manager.
Steve held talks with the board and at one stage it looked likely to happen with Steve stating in an interview in the Evening Chronicle on 11th November 1998:
“There are one or two things to be sorted out, but there is a chance that I will be in charge tomorrow in time for our trip to Spennymoor”.
Steve tried to make sure the deal to become manager didn’t effect his work in building & developing the very successful family business specialising in the Baby Clothing, which had grown to have 5 shops across the North East.
Chairman John Hetherington stated:
“I talked to Steve last night and there is still no decision. I have told him to make his mind up by Monday”.
The ‘things’ didn’t get sorted and Steve declined the offer of becoming player/manager and another of Steve’s Cup run team mates Tommy Dixon was appointed days later and Steve continued to play on in central defence.
Despite several approaches from Blue Star, manager Colin Richardson who was desperate to add Steve to his team of experienced players as they challenged for Northern League supremacy with Blyth, Steve only wanted to play for Blyth and even held discussions over a 3 year contract to see out his playing days at Croft Park.
Steve was now the mainstay of the Spartans defence and continued to play until retiring in May 1991 after amassing 167 appearances in his 2nd spell at the club.
While playing part-time Steve had become very successful business person, especially in the property market and after calling time on his playing career Steve went on become Managing Director of English Homes for nearly 13 years developing a large portfolio of properties across the North East.
In January 2011 Steve set up and new venture in Gosforth using his years of knowledge in sport with the creation of ‘Steve Carney Fitness’, offering his services as a personal trainer.
From the first rejection by West Bromwich Albion as a teenager to playing for the club he supported at Old Trafford and playing alongside Kevin Keegan, Steve’s career was a total whirlwind after that famous 1977/1978 season, and if anything just goes to proves that if you keep trying things do work out.
Being so young the news of Steve’s illness came as a shock to all that knew him and watched him as a player, sadly the news broke on May 6th that Steve had tragically passed away.
RIP Steve Carney, gone but certainly never to be forgotten..
- Credits & Thank you’s:
Alan Matthews, Chariman of North Shields AFC, who supplied vital information.
The following website provided info on Steve’s playing career: