Players from the past – Frank King 1933.

Players from the Past profiles and tells the stories of former Spartans from the clubs birth right up to WWII.

Second in the series is…

Frank King 1933

IMG_5391Francis Oliver King was born on 13th April 1917 in Radcliffe, Northumberland.

The eldest of three brothers, George & Ray, his father was a miner at Radcliffe colliery.
Aged only nine they were evicted from their colliery house after his father was suspected of instigating a miners strike.
His parents then briefly attempted to run a chip shop but had to give up the business when ten year old Frank accidentally burnt down the house!
They moved to Amble when his father secured a new job as a check weigh man at Hauxley Colliery.

Frank started playing football aged 14 for Radcliffe. He was given his first team debut in 1931 when Radcliffe drew local rivals Hauxley in a North Northumberland Cup tie.
Despite losing 0-1 Frank was the star player for Radcliffe, undeterred at being younger than his opponents the red haired keeper soon gained a reputation of having no fear.

It was Blyth’s first official manager, Ernie Hoffman, that brought 16 year old Frank to Croft Park. Signing him from Amble with the intention of playing him in the Reserves to develop.
However the FA Cup changed all that.

The Spartans had drawn 1-1 away at Wardley Welfare in a 3rd Qualifying Round tie on Saturday 28th October, four days later the replay at Croft Park ended 2-2 after extra time.
Blyth then played Darlington Reserves away on Saturday 4th November in a North Eastern League game.
Albert Dunmore scored the goal in a great 1-0 win but Blyth suffered a blow when regular keeper Jim Barron picked up an injury.

The injury ruled him out of the FA Cup 2nd Replay two days later, Ernie Hoffman had every confidence in his “strongly built” stand in keeper.
On Monday 6th November Blyth finally overcame Wardley Welfare 1-0 thanks to another Dumore winner to set up a 4th Qual. tie with local NEL rivals North Shields.
However was it Frank’s ‘miraculous’ performance that took all the plaudits, the Blyth News dubbed him the “brilliant boy keeper”.

He kept his place for the North Shields tie at Croft Park and produced another superb display as the tie ended 0-0.
The 1-1 league draw away at Sunderland Reserves on Saturday 18th November saw him concede his first goal in three appearances, however word about the “brilliant boy keeper’ had got out.
On Monday 20th November Frank played in the FA Cup 4th Qual. Replay, a game that changed his life.
Blyth lost 1-3 but once again Frank was the star man despite the the scoreline, the display of the 16 year old impressed the watching scouts.
Straight after the game at Appleby Park, First Division Everton made their move and approached the club about signing Frank.


Frank with Everton legend & England manager Joe Mercer.

On Wednesday 22nd November Frank officially signed for the Toffees.
Due to his age he was classed as an ‘amateur signing’ and a nominal fee of £200 was agreed between the clubs.

He spent a year in the youth and reserves teams before featuring in the clubs annual Intra-Squad Blues v Whites pre season friendlies.
On 13th August 1934 he played for the ‘Whites’ in the 4-4 draw where he came up against club legend Dixie Dean. Five days later his Whites team won the return 7-4.

Remarkably he was handed his first team debut on his 17th birthday!
He debuted in the 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough at Goodison, going on to make four more appearances that season keeping three clean sheets in those five games.

From 1933/34 season onwards he was established as the stand in for regular keeper Ted Sagar. On 4th January 1936, aged only 19 he was thrown into the white hot atmosphere of a Merseyside derby.
With Sagar injured Frank stepped in and produced a man of the match performance in front of 52,282 in a 0-0 draw.
An avid Sunderland supporter it had been Frank’s dream to one day play for the Black Cats. On 6th February 1937 he finally got to play against the team he supported. He kept a clean sheet as a Dixie Dean brace helped to the Toffees to an easy 3-0 victory.

Frank only managed to play 13 times keeping an impressive 8 clean sheets. He couldn’t oust regular keeper Ted Sagar who would go on to make 500 appearances.
Frank felt he needed to be playing regularly he meet with the management to express his concerns and as a result on 8th May 1937 he was allowed to join Derby County for £200.
IMG_5316It was seen as a shrewd signing by the Rams.
But with three other keepers already on their books his task of getting regular games was no easier.
He featured in the final three games of 1937/38 season, the last first team league game he played for the Rams happened to be back at Goodison Park on 7th May 1938 in a 1-1 draw.
A bad injury picked up in a Reserve team game against Stoke City in January 1939 led to him having to retire aged only 22.

Unable to play professionally anymore Frank embarked on a career in the police force, he did however manage to return to playing three years later.
When war broke out in September 1939 as a serving police officer he was excluded from the war effort and made a return to football. He signed for Southport as a ‘guest player’ and played in the Wartime League.
Screenshot 2020-08-01 at 12.21.59Between 1941/42 and 43/44 Frank made 23 appearances while still serving as a policeman. Having been out the game for over two years, his return wasn’t as successful.
His debut on 13th December 1941 didn’t quiet go to plan as Southport lost 1-6 away at Bury.
He failed to kept a clean sheet and conceded 62 goals in those 23 appearances, playing 13 times in Wartime League and 10 times in the Football League War Cup.
His last ever appearance at Goodison Park as a player wasn’t quite as he would have wanted, Southport lost 2-10 on 22nd February 1943 in a Football League War Cup Qualifying tie.

Frank’s final game as a player came on 18th September 1943 in Southport’s 4-4 home draw with Rochdale. However that wasn’t his last involvement in the game.
While still a serving policeman he took a course in physiotherapy and upon qualifying he quit the force and took up the roll of physio at Leicester City.

Screenshot 2020-07-18 at 11.22.55In 1958 he accepted on offer to move to Luton Town to be their trainer. He was part of their infamous ‘selection team’ when the club reached Wembley for the first time in 1959.

In October 58 Dally Duncan left Kenilworth Road to join Blackburn after ten years in charge. Town’s board formed a ‘selection team’ to run footballing side of the club.
Three directors, trainer Frank along with help from long serving captain Syd Owen choose the team, it worked as The Hatters reached their first major Final.
112685583They used the same 11 players in the nine games to reach Wembley.
The 78th FA Cup Final was a case of what could have been for the Hatters.
The directors  within the selection team over ruled Frank & Owen and bizarrely decided to change a winning team. They left out top goalscorer Gordon Tuner and winger Jim Adam. The Hatters found themselves 0-2 down after 14 minutes, in the second half even when Forest went to down to 10 men through injury they couldn’t capitalise. They did pull a goal back but Forest held on to lift the cup.
That Final was as good as it got for the Hatters and the following season they were relegated from the First Division and by the start of 64/65 were playing in the fourth tier.

By then Frank had taken up a position as a physio for the FA and served them for several years in various posts before retiring and living out his days in Bedforshire.

Sadly the ‘brilliant boy keeper’ passed away in 2003 aged 86.

  • His two younger brothers also went on to having extensive professional careers.
    George was a forward he scored 59 goals in 164 league games in a seven-year career playing for Newcastle, Hull City Port Vale, Barrow, Bradford City & Gillingham.
    George passed away in 2009 aged 86.Ray was also a keeper and like his brother George became his career at Newcastle before joining Leyton Orient and then Ashington. However it was at Port Vale he made his name making 252 appearances in eight years with them and earning a call up for the England B team. He would go on to play and manage Boston United then manage Poole Town & Sittingbourne.
    Ray passed away in 2014 aged 89.
  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

The late Ken Sproat‘s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was as ever an important source of information.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

– Southport FC’s superb online archive of their history provided great info on Frank’s wartime football.

– Provided great info on the 1959 FA Cup Final.

The following pages provided info on Frank’s playing career –

– Provided a great old image of Frank in his Luton days.

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Players from the past – Edward Ward 1914 > 1920.

  • This new series will feature profiles and stories of former Blyth Spartans players that many may not have heard of and that time has forgotten.

    Former Spartans from the clubs birth right up to WWII.
    First in the series is…

Edward Ward 1914 > 1920

6C96927D-6706-4D32-B168-32CE9658E4ED 2Edward was born on 14th June 1895 in Whitehaven Cumberland to parents John and Catherine.
Ted was the youngest of five sons, his father was a coal miner and the family moved to Cowpen in Blyth when he took up work at Cowpen Colliery.
All five sons worked at the colliery including Ted aged only 15.

That was when he also started playing for Blyth Shamrocks, after 3 seasons he joined Northern Alliance side New Hartley Rovers in 1913.
He first came to Blyth’s attention on 17th September 1913 when a 4,000 crowd inside Croft Park saw Blyth beat Rovers 3-2 thanks to a last minute winner in an FA Cup Preliminary Round tie.
However it was the lighting pace of the 18 year old that had caught the attention, Ted scored the goal that had made it 2-2.

Such was his pace he was a regular winner of local professional sprint races and often took home more in race prize money than he earned for playing football.

IMG_5252He joined Blyth in 1914 when New Hartley Rovers disbanded fearing the impact WWI might have on the club, he scored 13 goals in his first season at Croft Park. In January 1915 Ted scored 6 goals in 3 games, on Saturday 23rd January he scored all the goals in a 4-0 Senior Cup home win over Mickley.
On Wednesday 3rd March he scored the winner in a 2-1 North Eastern League win over Gateshead it was his last goal that season before the war brought an end to football.

After WWI he rejoined the club and it only took him 8 days of the new 1919/20 season to get his first goal. He scored in the 2-0 North Eastern League home win over Newcastle United Reserves at Croft Park.
He would go on to score 10 goals that season, his form soon attracted the attentions of Liverpool & Everton but he rejected both offers to stay in his home town.
It was his performance in the final game of the season that landed him his dream move.
He starred in the 2-0 win against Newcastle United Reserves in the Aged Miners Cup Final at St James Park. So impressed with the speedy inside forward straight after the game United paid £300 for his services.

6C96927D-6706-4D32-B168-32CE9658E4EDTed made his debut on 28th August at SJP in front of 61,080 in the 0-0 draw with WBA.
His first goal came on 2nd October in the 3-0 win at Sheff Utd, he played 25 times in his debut season.
Surprisingly he failed to feature at all in the following season and was allowed to join Crystal Palace in June 1922 for £250.

He only made 4 appearances before a knee injury ended his season, he then moved to newly promoted Second Division side Nelson FC in June 1923.
Struggling to shake off the knee injury that still troubled him he only managed to play 2 games as they were relegated after only one season in the Second Division.

In November 1924 he joined Darlington playing in the side that secured promotion to the Second Division.
He wasn’t retained at the end of 1924/25 and signed for Third Division North Ashington.
It proved a great move for Ted, he scored twice on his debut in the 3-3 home draw with Wigan Borough.IMG_5338
He scored 10 goals in 25 games for the Colliers in their most successful season as a Football League side.
They finished 9th in the league beating the likes of Coventry, Crewe, Doncaster, Grimsby & Rotherham at Portland Park. The following season Ted featured regularly as they finished 16th, one place ahead of local league rivals Hartlepools United. He scored in the FA Cup 2nd Round 2-1 home win over his former club Nelson, before lost 0-2 at home to Nottingham Forest in the 3rd Round.

In 1928 he moved back across to Cumbria and joined North Eastern League Workington were he was appointed captain.

Ted ended his playing career with North Eastern League West Stanley while living back in Blyth with his brother John and sister Catherine and working as a general labourer.

Ted sadly passed away in 1971 aged 75.


  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

The late Ken Sproat‘s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was as ever an important source of information.

Blyth Library’s excellent archive facility of the old ‘Blyth News’ papers once again proved a valuable source of information.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

For anything & everything Newcastle United related, is the place to go.

For details and profiles on every Newcastle United player, this superb website has it all.

Ashington FC ‘s Facebook page provided a great image of Ted and info on his time at the club.



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The Alan Shoulder story.

Alan made a name for himself in the legendary 1977/78 FA Cup run which ultimately earned him his move to Newcastle United.AS 77:78
Goal scoring exploits aside, given he
was a coal miner IMG_4754playing for a town so steeped in mining tradition Alan’s hero status was guaranteed.
To the hard working Blyth fans he was quite literally one of them.
The miner who went from working in darkness down the pit to the bright lights of St James’ Park, a true footballing rags to riches story.
But the story of his time as a Spartan is not quite as rosy as many think.

What seems to have been forgot, or maybe some didn’t even realise, is that he was with the club for less than a year. Having moved to Croft Park in early December 77 he was signed by United in late November 78, making his professional debut a day shy of a year on from his Spartans debut.

The story of his arrival and well publicised departure can been summed up as;
‘the one that very nearly didn’t happen’ and ‘the one that very nearly got away’
it all makes for quite an interesting read.


Born in Bishop Auckland in February 1953, Alan had never thought of playing professionally when he took up full time work as a miner aged 18.
His allRFN_0003 action style and goalscoring exploits for Leeholme Juniors soon drew the attentions of Northern League teams.


Newly appointed Bishops manager Arnold Bell signed 19 year old Alan ahead of the 72/73 season to play alongside his new other new signing, Brian Slane from Blyth Spartans.
Alan established himself as an integral part of the Bishops side as they reached the FA Cup 2nd Round in 74/75. That season also saw him score a cup final winner when they lifted their first silverware in 8 seasons beating Ashington 2-1 in the League Cup Final at Croft Park of all places. He was top scorer for 3 seasons running and appointed club captain for the 76/77 campaign, he had also become regular in the Northern League’s Representative Select side.

bishops 76-77.jpgAfter 5 years at Kingsway the 77/78 season started with him in dispute with the club which resulted in him refusing to play.
However Bishop Auckland were not prepared to let him leave and invoked the Northern League’s ‘February First rule’.
It stated that any player who appeared for his club after February 1st was automatically re-registered to that club for the following season. Bishops wouldn’t enter into discussions, they intended to keep Alan as the rule stated they were entitled too.
He wanted to leave so in protest refused to play for them that season, playing only Sunday League football to keep himself fit.

His former Bishops teammate Brian Slane had been appointed Blyth’s player manager in February 77. Alan played for Brian’s successful Rams Head FC Sunday League side which had won the 76/77 FA Sunday Cup. They had spoken over the summer about Alan joining him at Croft Park.
Having promised Brian in the summer he would join Blyth and despite numerous attempts by Bishops to resolve the situation he held out until the move happened.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 08.08.58It took until 6th December before Brian finally managed to strike a deal to sign Alan after agreeing to pay Bishops £200.
He made an immediate impact scoring the winner in the 70th minute of his debut the 1-0 home win over Durham City on Saturday 10th December 1977.
However the League’s Management Committee then denied him the opportunity of playing in the 1-0 FA Cup 2nd Round win over Chesterfield by not sanctioning the move in time. They delayed it because of something that had happened three years earlier!.

Manager Brian Slane explained:
“We had the deal done with Bishops and we tried to register him on December 2nd. However, because an illegal approach had been made to Alan back in 1974 which Bishops reported to the LMC they had to sanction this transfer. 
They didn’t meet to approve his transfer until December 8th and players needed to be registered at least 14 days before an FA Cup tie to qualify. We were the innocent party but were made to suffer for it due to bureaucracy”.

AS 1-0

Alan heads home the winner against Enfield.

Alan scored again, on New Years Eve when Blyth beat Horden CW 1-0 away in the League Cup, before the goal that is mistakenly claimed as his debut goal.
On Saturday 7th January, Spartans beat Enfield 1-0 at Croft Park in the FA Cup 3rd Round.
5,095 packed into Croft Park and saw the diminutive striker head home the winning goal that ended the Isthmian League sides 32 game unbeaten run.
Many papers wrongly claimed it as his debut goal and as the years passed the Enfield game has wrongly been stated as his debut.

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 09.59.34.pngNow established as Terry Johnson’s strike partner, the Spartans famously beat Stoke City away in the 4th Round.
It was another header from Alan that set up the equaliser.
Having lead 0-1 at half time Stoke had rallied and taken a 2-1 lead.
Blyth won a free kick, Ron Guthrie’s thunderous effort crashed into the wall. The ball spun up over the Stoke keeper and onto his left hand post. Alan reacted the quickest but his header then agonisingly hit the opposite post before falling into the path of Steve Carney who hammered it home the equaliser, the Stoke defenders appealed in vain for offside.
Terry Johnson then famously won the game in the dying minutes when he fired home a dramatic winner.

Alan played in both the 5th Round games against Wrexham, the replay was the first time he played at St James’ Park.
He was to play at St James’ once more that season before it became his home ground.
It also provided him with his first medal as a Spartan when they beat North Shields 2-1 win the Senior Cup Final at St James’ Park.
Alan then added another two medals in the space of a week. He took his tally to 20 goals in 35 games, scoring twice as Blyth beat Willington 5-1 in the Northern League Cup Final.

The historic 77/78 season ended with a hat trick of medals when Spartans gained some revenge on Wrexham beating them 3-2 on aggregate to claim The Debenhams Cup.

ASThe new 78/79 campaign started with the club on a high, however despite starting well things didn’t quite work out as hoped.
The final pre season friendly saw Dutch side FC Den Bosch beaten 4-1 at Croft Park. Alan scored his only Blyth hat trick under the watchful eye of Newcastle boss Bill McGarry.

In early October the club rewarded Alan with his first ever contract, but by the time the FA Cup came around again on 25th November he was at loggerheads with the club.
They had become embroiled in a bitter row than stemmed from the signing of his contract.
On Tuesday 31st October Alan submitted a shock transfer request.
article-1357857-02EAC3C9000005DC-854_306x423He informed the club that he wanted to move closer to his Durham home, stating the travelling had become too much since recently moving pits to Horden Colliery:
“It’s 90 miles a trip and it’s getting harder and harder. I have changed pits where I work and this means a longer journey for me everyday, then going off to Blyth is no joke.
will be sorry to leave but I’m not being fair to myself or the club if i can’t train.
I have got my job to think of more than anything else and that’s why I want a transfer”.

However the result of a Croft Park board meeting on Tuesday 7th November was a clear – ‘You stay at Blyth’.Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 16.23.46

The bombshell request for a move had come as the bitter row escalated.
Alan accused the club of discriminating against him for playing Sunday League football for Coundon Club after he signed his contract. He felt they did not take the same action against other players whom he claimed to know were also playing Sunday League.
Following his transfer request the club then suspended him for 10 days for breach of contract for playing Sunday League.
Alan was livid and a war of words ensure over the coming weeks:
“I played one game after signing the contract. I did this because I know, and everyone in the club knows, other Blyth contracted players have played Sunday football since the start of the season. They did not suspend them.
I only played one game and was suspended – I think I’ve have been hard done by. I’m upset about it and feel very bitter”.

Alan believed his request to leave had sparked the club’s actions, manager Brian Slane accused Alan of trying to ‘cast blame’ to try and draw it away from himself.
A claim he wasn’t having:
“Other players in the team have been playing on Sunday, they admit this. I asked Brian Slane what was going to happen to them and he said it was a different matter!.
If Blyth say  I can’t go, it will probably have to go to the FA. I will have to name names of other Blyth players playing on Sundays if it comes to that.
To suspend me and not them is just discrimination against me”.

The Blyth manager was at a loss on how the in the whole situation had come about and even offered a solution:
“I’m bitterly disappointed and very surprised he does not want to play for Blyth any more. He was out of non league football when I brought him to the club and provided him with the best season he has ever had. Alan was not forced to sign a contract and then he choose to play Sunday football.
Everyone is allowed a indiscretion. As far As I’m concerned the hatchet is buried. I hope he will accept his punishment and come back and play for Blyth.
If he finds the travelling too much he can train at home – many other clubs have players do this. Alan is the best striker in non league football – you can’t just pick up a replacement for him like that. The board have said he stays and I agree. There is no way we are going to let him go“.

A rival Northern League were reported to be interested in signing him and Alan admitted to having been approached.
Spennymoor United then approached the Spartans officially about signing Alan and the two clubs were reported to be in negotiations, Alan spoke about his impending move:
“I know Blyth and Spennymoor are talking now but I could not say when my transfer will go through. I’m sorry to leave Blyth but the travelling has just become too much. If i lived up there I would not want to leave especially when the cup is coming up again. But my job and home are more important”

He was adamant he was leaving but stated he was prepared to play on until his transfer went through but felt his form was suffering from missing training:
“Blyth might insist on keeping me but there would not be much point in doing that because there is no chance of me changing my mind. I’m very sorry to leave because Spartans are the best team I have played for, but I live nearer to Spennymoor”.

Spennymoor boss Kenny Banks would only admit his club were keeping a close watch on the situation:
“Obviously Alan is a good player and any club not interested in signing him would be insane. We like to have the best players in the league in out team and he certainly is one of them. We are watching the situation very closely now to see what happens”.

Banks would not be drawn on claims that they has spoken to the player before speaking to his club.
Alan missed three games due to the suspension, returning to the side as sub for the home league game against Whitby Town on Saturday 18th November.
He came off the bench to score in the 3-2 win at home win but by then the situation had taken a turn for the worse.

Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 16.16.24.pngHe submitted a second transfer request in an attempt to force the clubs hand, it was discussed at another board meeting.
As the club prepared for an FA Cup tie at York City officials reluctantly accepted they had lost the battle to keep their star striker.
Having been to watch York in action Brian Slane wasn’t giving up on his star striker:
“I consider him a very important part of my team and be would be a vital cog in the game against York City.”.

Unsurprisingly after the events of the last few weeks that York City game changed everything.


Alan is sent tumbling for the penalty at York City.

Alan started the tie at York and ran them ragged as Blyth deservedly earned a home replay. It was one of his trademark mazy runs that led to Blyth goal, winning the penalty  which Terry Johnson scored from.
Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn was a friend of Blyth chairman Jim Turney and had spoken to him and Brian Slane to get a picture of Alan’s character.
Scouting him again at both York City cup ties, Newcastle officials to make their move.
They spoke to Alan straight after York City replay, stating their interest and inviting him to a meeting at St James’ Park the following Monday.
The epic replay played on a snow covered Croft Park proved to be a fitting swansong in green & white for Alan.
He scored twice from the spot as the game went to extra time before the league team eventually ran out 3-5 winners.
However there was nearly yet another twist in the saga. After the final whistle York manager Charlie Wright approached Brian Slane in the Croft Park boardroom and asked him to name his price for Alan.
Brian response was to point to a gentleman stood with his back to them and say:
“See that gentleman over there, that’s Newcastle boss Bill McGarry he’s just agreed to sign for them”.
Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 08.27.03After only 48 games for the Spartans in which he scored 29 goals he was suddenly a professional footballer.
All parties agreed on the deal at the Monday meeting, the the deal was signed on the Tuesday. The fee was £20,000 with another £5,000 if he played a certain number of first team games. He met and trained with his new team mates on the Wednesday and made his debut on the Saturday.

Alan’s wages jumped from the £14 per week Blyth paid him to £180 per week awith another £300 bonuses on offer.
Having started a colliery under management course at Horden Colliery, United even offered Alan the chance to continue his studies provided it could be arranged it with the National Coal Board.

His debut was on Saturday 9th December at St James’ Park in the 2-0 win over Stoke City. He scored his first goal a week later firing home after only 7 minutes in the 3-1 win at Fulham.
JS81777469He scored a very creditable 11 goals in 28 appearances that first season as United’s finished 7th in the Second Division.
In his three & half years at St James’ Park.
His all action non stop running performances saw him become a real crowd favourite. He made 117 appearances scoring 38 goals before being allowed to leave in the summer of 1982.
He was immediately snapped-up by Carlisle United manager Bob Stokoe.
AS CUFCHis first season at Brunton Park was a great success, in 46 appearances he scored 21 goals.
It would take another 11 season before a Carlisle player scored 20 goals in a season, David Reeves in the 94/95.

POY 83

Alan is presented with his Player of the Year Award.


Alan was voted their player of the season for 82/83, being presented the award on the ground at which he’s scored his first Newcastle goal five years earlier, Craven Cottage.
Carlisle’s New Years Day fixture of 1983 took Alan back to St James’ Park where he received a hero’s welcome from both the home and travelling support. He scored the game’s opening goal in a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Alan made 112 appearances in total for Carlisle scoring 32 goals but injury hit plagued 84/85 campaign, he moved to Hartlepool United.Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 08.59.43
The moved once again reignited his form, he played 76 times for Pools scoring 26 goals, he was top scorer in 85/86.
He made his final football league appearance aged 34 on Wednesday, 16th September 1987 in Hartlepool’s 2-1 home win over Cambridge United.
After 286 football league appearance and 91 goals an eye injury forced him to retire as a professional in December 1988, but he continued playing with Ferryhill Athletic.

Moving into management and coaching became assistant at Gretna, and then a coach at Newcastle Blue Star. He managed several clubs, including Coundon, Crook Town, Bishop Auckland, Willington, West Auckland Town and still played for Stanley. He was sent off at the ripe old age of 47 for arguing with a referee in a Durham Challenge Cup tie.
Alan still carried on playing ‘occasionally’, he was 53 years old when he played his final game, for Brandon United against Dunston.

After a brief spell as caretaker manager of Gateshead he return to Blyth in May 1988 being appointed manager.
ASHe was one of five players from that 77/78 side to manage the club, but sadly his reign only lasted 14 games.
It is the shortest reign ever by a Blyth manager with only 4 wins from 14 games.
In a cruel twist of fate having made his name at Blyth in the FA Cup 11 years on it was to end his managerial career at Croft Park.
He resigned in early October 98′ following a 2nd Qualifying Round home replay defeat to Runcorn.

31 years after that famous 77/78 cup run Alan’s fame still shone brightly, he was guest on a BBC Football Focus feature about the cup run prior shown to the Spartans 3rd Round tie against Blackburn Rovers in 2009 –


Alan is a highly respected and hugely popular figure with North East football fans.
Always approachable, he loves recalling the stories of his career and of course getting together with his teammates from that famous
cup run which propelled him into professional football.

A true North East footballing legend.


  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank You’s:

Thanks to –

Kevin Tilmouth, his recollections of the events during October/November 1978 inspired this article.

Mark Carruthers, supplied an image used.

Credits –

The late Ken Sproat‘s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was as ever an important source of information.

Blyth Library’s excellent archive facility of the old ‘Blyth News’ papers once again proved a valuable source of information.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

A superb database of all UK Transfers from 1946/47 and the end of the 2013/14.

For anything & everything Newcastle United related, is the place to go..

For details and profiles on every Newcastle United player, this superb website has it all.

For everything Hartlepool United related. History, old players, stats & facts this website has it all.

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Spartans super fan is still counting.

Being a lifelong supporter of a football club can often mean its becomes part of your family. Events are arranged, even rescheduled to fit in with matches.
For some fans certain games can be missed however others wouldn’t ever think of missing a game.
How about not missing a single game your club has played for 32 years !.

That is what Blyth Spartans fan Jeff Young has achieved.

The first game of the 2019/20 season was the 1,753rd consecutive Spartans game he has watched since he last missed a game.

Jeff can’t exactly recall his very first Spartans game but can vividly remember when his run started; Saturday 31st January 1987.

The date and game, North Shields at home in a Northumberland Senior Cup Quarter Final tie, is easy for him to recall.
It came 4 days after the club had made an epic 640 mile round trip to play at Bath City in a midweek FA Trophy 2nd Round replay.
The reason he can pin point it so easily is down to the fact he wasn’t at Twerton Park, Bath that night but he could and should have been.

All these years later its still annoys him he wasn’t at that game.
Back in January 1987 there was no mobile phones or internet so contacting your friends wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.
He had been unable to find a lift to the game so resorted to following the match the only way possible back then, the black and green twilight world of Ceefax:
“I remember sitting in front of the television, waiting for the page to update, watching and waiting for the score to appear.”

In the late 80’s Ceefax was the main way football scores appeared to the mass public after the final whistle, but it was a slow process:
“I don’t think the score came through until half an hour after full-time. There was no instant communication in those days. Eventually I saw it – we won 1-0 after extra time”.

The following Saturday at the home game with North Shields he found out that some friends had driven down to the match. They were very surprised he had not made it down to Bath.
He recalled how they had wrongly assumed he was making his own way there:
“When I saw my mates at the North Shields game one asked, why didn’t you come to Bath?.”
Informing them he had no way of getting there, the reply wasn’t what he wanted to hear:
You could have got a lift with us – there was space in the car!’
“Now you tell me, I thought. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry – or hit him!”.

That is why the game against North Shields on Saturday 31st January 1987 is one he’ll never forget, it was the start of his extraordinary 32 year unbroken run.
I must be pointed out that despite wrongly assuming and causing him to miss that game at Bath we are all still good friends. We have enjoyed many great moments together since, such as beating Shrewsbury Town 3-1 at home in the FA Cup in November 2008.

As the years and season’s ticked by his unbeaten run somewhat crept up on him, it wasn’t until April 2005 that he even started to keep a record.
He recalled that it took another supporter reaching 1,000 consecutive games for him to realise just how many he had seen:
“I didn’t have a clue how many games I’d done – I didn’t keep count.
Then our former secretary, Anne Donnelly, did her 1,000th game in a row and received a lot of publicity. I spoke to her, said I hadn’t missed a match since Bath, and asked how many I was on. Anne was very much the statistician. She came back a week or two later and said:
‘My 1000th game was your 700th game in a row’.

“After that, I lost track again. Then at the end of one season, I came in from work one day, and there was a card on the doorstep.
It said: ‘That game at Bamber Bridge was your 1,004th consecutive game. I’m glad there’s someone as crazy as me. The card was from Anne, and since then I’ve kept a record.”

Jeff, who grew up in from Stakeford but now lives in Blyth, was in opposing camps to his other school friends who supported Newcastle United, he supported his local team.
The draw of Newcastle United just never really appealed to him:
“When I was younger and Blyth didn’t have a home game, like other youngsters I was drawn to St. James’ Park.
But it was so impersonal ­ I just don’t feel connected like I did when watching Blyth.
It just didn’t grab me the way watching Blyth Spartans had”

Having started watching the Spartans in the 70’s he became hooked by the famous 1977/78 FA Cup run:
“I was a young lad, growing up, and to see those games was amazing,”
“It just kicked on from there. It’s difficult to sum up getting the bug. I simply got on the bandwagon and didn’t get off”.

Jeff has not just been a supporter all these years, he is one of the army of volunteers that keep the club going.
He has served in an several official capacities:
“It’s just great to be involved with the club.
It takes up all my spare time but I enjoy it – I wouldn’t do the jobs I do if I didn’t.
I’m first and foremost a supporter and if I can help in any way on top of that I will”.

After serving on the Supporters Club committee for 10 years the club asked him to become their match secretary.
In August 2012 when the clubs legendary kit man Tony Kennedy retired they approached him about taking over the role. For several years he combined the role of kit man and fixture secretary. A perk of holding those positions is that they have afforded him the benefit of travelling to matches on the team bus.
A little side hobby over the years from being the kit man has seen him accumulated the biggest known collection of Spartans shirts, including many rare match worn shirts.

The opening league game of the 2019/20 season also brought the 9th manager he has worked with during his years as a volunteer.
When Jeff first volunteered at the club in 2002 Paul Baker was the manager.
Since then he has seen Graham Fenton (caretaker), Harry Dunn, Mick Tait, Steve Cuggy, Tommy Cassidy, Paddy Atkinson, Tom Wade, Alun Armstrong and now Lee Clark all in the Croft Park hot seat.
Many past managers have acknowledged Jeff’s dedication and work for the club. They have also benefited from his encyclopedic knowledge of past games and opponents Spartans faced over the years.

He has seen the clubs fortunes change considerably in his 32 year run.
From being the dominating force in the Northern League in the late 70’s and early 80’s to stagnating and almost folding in 1991.
In 1994 under new a regime the club finally took the long overdue step up onto the then named ‘Non League Pyramid’ and joined the Northern Premier League.
The move brought him whole new challenge. Away games in once seemingly far flung places such as Lancashire & Nottinghamshire were no longer just possible cup tie destinations, the likes of Fleetwood and Eastwood were now league opponents.

He has witnessed some great successes but life in the now ‘National League System’ hasn’t been without it’s problems.
In 2011 an unpaid tax bill saw the club come with hours of going under.
Since being saved by local businessmen the club has flourish.
Jeff has seen the ground that has become his second home transformed into the best Non League ground in the region.
Success on the pitch has also followed another NPL title and two historic FA Cup runs that took the famed cup fighters to the 3rd Round.

Unsurprisingly there is an FA Cup theme running through Jeff’s record.
His 1200th consecutive game was the live 3rd Round cup tie against Blackburn Rovers in 2009.
In September 2014 the BBC’s Radio London’s Non League Show named him as their ‘Fan of the Week’ when they heard he was approaching 1,500 games.

In November 14′ Blyth had battled their way to a 31st appearance in the FA Cup 1st Round.
The national football media picked up on the tie against Altrincham being his 1,500 consecutive game.
A comprehensive 4-1 win set up a 2nd Round tie away at struggling 2nd Division Hartlepool United.
The game was picked by the BBC for live coverage, as kit man he took his place on the bench as the Spartans pulled off a dramatic last gasp win on live TV.

Football isn’t his only hobby Jeff is a serious music fan.
Before taking up the roles that afforded him travel on the team bus, countless away days on the supporters buses were always accompanied by his copy of the iconic magazine the Record Collector.
His other great passion is motor racing, he is massive Formula One fan and recently achieved an ambition when he attended the iconic Monaco Grand Prix.

Despite having witnessed and even been part of some truly famous games in his remarkable run, Jeff’s all time favourite Blyth games isn’t one you would ever imagine.
None of the dramatic tie in the two recent runs to the FA Cup 3rd Round or any from the two recent NPL seasons that saw Blyth amass a remarkable 200 points.

The game is one that sums up what following your club through thick and thin is all about. Your enjoyment of the cup run highs and success is amplified because you unwaveringly stood by your team during the difficult times.
His favourite game ever was nothing at stake Northern League game on a bitterly cold winters day in 1993.
Murton at home on Saturday 13th February.
It also happened to be departing manager Ronnie Walton’s last game in charge before he moved away due to work.
His side were without 3 keys players injured in a 8-3 mauling of Easington four days earlier.

Jeff recalled that bitterly cold February day:
We had two men sent off and played for over an hour with nine men. It was 1-1 at the time. There was a group of us congregated behind the goal and none of us thought we’d win, but we did. It was incredible really.”

It was a remarkable performance from a Blyth side who showed that never say die attitude the club are known for. They had taken a 4th minute lead only for the visitors to level two minutes later and it soon got worse. In the 15th minute midfielder Steve Plaskett was sent off and then 20 minutes later left back Gary Hays was also shown a red card.
Despite intense pressure Blyth held out until half time and then remarkably took a 65th minute lead when Shaun Dunn fired home. With 10 minutes left the legendary Steve Pyle crash home a penalty after being sent tumbling in the box. Against the odds the 9 men Spartans were worthy of their 3-1 lead, Murton striker Paul Robson pulled a goal back in the 89th minute but Ronnie Walton’s side held on for the most unlikeliest of, but fully deserved victories.

Of the hundreds of players he has seen play for the club over the years picking his favourite XI was not an easy task:
“There have been so many great players. For me the 77/78 cup run side are the greatest Blyth team ever. So for me so to choose my all time XI, I would have to intentionally leave them out and pick other players”.

After much thought Jeff came up with his best XI and went for a 4-3-3 formation –

GK – Adam Bartlett.
Honourable mentions to Craig Turns and Mark Bell.

DEF – Michael Farrey, Alan Walker, Richard Pell, Dave Mitchinson RIP.
Honourable mentions to Gary Hays, Gareth Williams and Anth Lowther RIP.

MID – Paul Walker, Gareth McCabe, Stephen Turnbull.
Honourable mentions to Alex and Liam Gildea

FOR – Les Mutrie, Steve Pyle, Robert Dale .
Honourable mentions to Richie Bond, Scott Bell RIP, Paul Brayson and Dan Maguire.


How has he managed to achieve such a long run of attending games you may wonder.
While work commitments stop many others from regularly attending games his working hours have actually helped.
Jeff’s shift work job at an electronics factory has been a big factor in him getting the time off needed. Colleagues willing to swap shifts when games such a cup replays crop up at short notice has also been crucial:
“You have to have flexible shifts if you’re getting in from a midweek away game at 3am”.

Having watched his team play in Scotland and Wales he has clocked up some serious mileage over the years. His furthest travel came in December 2008 when the FA Cup 2nd Round draw put together the two teams geographically furthest apart.
A 727 mile round trip to see Blyth draw 0-0 with AFC Bournemouth.
Jeff is used to putting in the hard miles, his total includes a 500 mile round trip to Worcester for a midweek cup replay.
Then there was a midweek 428 mile round trip to Corby in February 2010, for a game which ended up being abandoned before half time due to fog with the Spartans losing 2-0!. He then did the exact trip again when the rearranged game was also played midweek.

Now in the 33rd season of his epic run he will surpass the 1,800 mark with his sights firmly set on reaching 2,000 games not out.

Pure dedication from a true Spartan.


Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank You’s:

Jeff himself – over the years of writing this blog he has helped enormously.
His memory and knowledge has proved vital, anything I can’t recall then a quick message to him and the reply is instant.

Several of our friends have helped provide some of the images used.

The following websites provided information from articles they’ve ran on Jeff’s achievements over the years –

Also the clubs website & Twitter page has provided info and images used –


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The Debenhams Cup finally comes home.

Back in May 2012 when I started this blog about Blyth Spartans history the first article I wrote was about their 1978 Debenhams Cup win.

That win holds a very important place in the clubs long and proud history as it is the only national competition they have ever won!.

The Debenhams Cup was one several 70’s football competitions that has long since been forgotten. 
Why it was never played again was unknown as was the whereabouts of the actual trophy itself.

Over the years several fruitless attempts had been made to find the trophy.
Prior to the club’s centenary exhibition in 1999 Blyth officials contacted the FA and Debenhams in an attempt to find it.
The FA replied stating they had no knowledge of it and Debenhams didn’t even reply.

Chester City were the inaugural winners in 1977 and returned the trophy ahead of the following years competition.
In February 2001 Chester City and Blyth meet in an FA Trophy tie. City’s match programme carried the story of their Debenhams Cup win and a piece on how they had previously tried to find the trophy.

It seemed the solid silver trophy had simply vanished without a trace.
That was until a snippet of information came to light in February 2019 that amazingly led to it resurfacing after all these years.

While researching information about the Spartans manager at the time of the competition, Brian Slane, I came across the briefest of mentions of the cup in the Blyth library archives.
A small article in an 1980 edition of the Blyth News led to the crucial breakthrough.
It reported that 2 years after winning the trophy Debenhams Head Office had contacted the club out of the blue requesting their trophy back.
With the competition not being staged again and with no request for its return forthcoming the club had simply kept hold of it.
The letter from Debenhams stated they wanted the trophy back to use for a golf tournament they were holding. So in the spring of 1980 club officials returned the trophy and that was the last it was heard of for 39 years.

That was until the remarkable events of Thursday 28th February 2019 unfolded and the power of social media took hold.

Having found the snippet of information I posted the updated news about the Debenhams Cup on my Blyth Spartans history Facebook page and also on a page dedicated to ‘English Football in the 70’s’.

That post was read by West Ham fan Michael Gibbins and triggered a distant memory.
Michael worked for Debenhams and replied stating that he possibly knew of the trophy’s whereabouts!.

Michael had started working for Debenhams in 1999 so was unaware of the previous attempts to find the trophy.
However, in 2013 they had moved Head Office and as part of his job in the Debenhams Facilities team he was tasked with getting all their archive material from its temporary home in Guildford to the new office in Regents Place, London.

Upon reading the post something struck a chord with him from that move six years earlier. He recalled there had been several trophies in a store-room in Guilford that were moved to the new office.

He went straight to the ‘store-room’ and sure enough his memory had served him well.
The Debenhams Cup was indeed one of those trophies.
In disbelief that it had been finally been found and seemingly in Debenhams possession all these years I asked if Michael could send photographic proof.

Enquiring if there was any way in which my club could have the trophy back, Michael showed my post to his boss Alison Flynn and told her the background story.
They were completely unaware of the relevance of the seemingly random trophy sat in their store room.
Alison also happened to be the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Debenhams PLC, Sergio Bucher.
She approached him and explained what had happened that morning.
He was fascinated to read all about their trophy, which was now proudly on display in the main office.
To his credit he didn’t hesitate for one moment in stating it should be back where it belonged, with Blyth Spartans.
Alison informed me of the good news and that she was arranging for its immediate return.

Cup Hand over

Debenhams Regional Manager Jo Golightly returns the trophy.

Within a matter of days it had been sent by courier up to the MetroCentre store in Gateshead for me to personally collect.
After all these years Debenhams PLC could not have been more helpful.
For a such big company who have more than enough to deal with in the current economic climate, their involvement in its return from an employee up to the CEO has to be commended.

The remarkable story was soon seized upon by the press.

Esteemed NorScreen Shot 2019-03-29 at 12.32.49th East Footballer writer, John Gibson picked up on the trophy’s reappearance.
The voice of Newcastle United for the North East’s Chronicle newspaper since 1966, John has been involved with Non League football for many years and is a personal friend of many of Blyth’s 77/78 FA Cup heroes so he was very keen to run the story:

The story was also picked up by the papers multimedia team who were keen to run their own feature from a local history aspect:

The Chester press also ran the story, ChesterLive contacted me about the find and ran the story of how it had been found 42 years after they won it:


The club was informed of the remarkable find and arranged for me to present trophy to the manager who won the cup back in 1978.

It was the last trophy that club legend Brian Slane won as Blyth manager and he was delighted to be reunited with it. He was completely unaware of the trophies amazing story since that day back in May 1978.

The Debenhams Cup now takes pride of place in the clubs sponsors suite to proudly show off the club’s only national trophy.


The history of the trophy, which stands 22 inches tall and weighs nearly 100 ounces, dates back to 1930 and was made by Sheffield silversmiths; Atkin Brothers.

The Atkin Brothers business traces it’s origin to Thomas Law, a silversmith active in Sheffield from c. 1750 to 1775.
The firm opened offices in London, managed by Harry Atkin, in 1925 and became a limited company as Atkin Brothers (Silversmiths) Ltd.
Manufacturing a range of electroplated, Britannia Metal, silver and plated cutlery they supplied many firms in the United Kingdom and the Colonies.

atkinscatalogo22BISHaving a London office led to them supplying cutlery and silverware to Debenhams from 1928 onwards. In 1930 they were tasked with producing the trophy, however there is no record of why it was originally commissioned or its use in the intervening years.
In 1977 the trophy was re appropriated for their newly sponsored football competition.
The engraving, which was a factor part in it resurfacing, was a late addition.
Publicity photos issued before the trophy was first presented in May 1977 show it without ‘The Debenhams Cup’ engraving.
It was engraved at some point prior to Chester winning it, images of their captain Alan Oakes with the cup clearly show the wording.
The Chester v. Port Vale match programme featured an entirely different image to that used on the Blyth v. Wrexham programme a year later and neither images have the engraving. Yet the Wrexham programme from the 1978 final 1st Leg shows a trophy with the engraving, all three images are different.

*No programme from the Port Vale v. Wrexham 1977 Final 1st Leg has ever come to light so what if any image appeared on it is unknown.

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 15.00.28Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 15.02.12Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 15.08.40


While the Debenhams Cup is an important part of Blyth Spartans history it is an equally important part of the FA Cup’s history.

Uniquely it was the first time a sponsor had been associated with the competition.
It would be another 18 years before the FA allowed another company to be associated with its world famous competition.

An iconic and important piece of English football’s history has returned from the dead and is now proudly back where it belongs.


Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank You’s:

Michael Gibbins – without his involvement absolutely none of this would have been possible.

The superb Facebook page – English Football in the 70’s
Without that Facebook page existing the trophy would probably never have been found.

Alison Flynn – Executive Assistant to CEO & Interim Chairman of Debenhams PLC for taking an interest and initiating the cups return.

Sergio Bucher – CEO of Debenhams for also taking such an interest in our club’s quest and agreeing to return the trophy.

Jo Golightly – Store Manager of Metro Centre Debenhams for arranging the hand over.

Journalists John Gibson & David Sedgwick – for picking up the story and giving it some much coverage locally.

The following newspapers for taking such an interest and running the story –
The Chronicle

The News Post Leader

Blyth Spartans club photographers:
Kris Hodgetts –
Bill Broadley
who both supplied images used.

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Green & White Cult Heroes – Brian Slane

Some footballers are synonymous with certain clubs and some are even legends of their clubs.
However, a select few transcend even that.

Brian Slane is one of those elite people, he was irrevocably involved in a decade that defined Blyth Spartans Football Club and changed it’s course forever.

Brian was 28 when he joined the Spartans in the summer of 1969. He had already gained a reputation as one of the most prolific goal scorers in the region.
Manager Jackie Marks needed a goalscorer and knew who he wanted. Little did he know just what impact his new striker would have upon the club.

Born in Consett in September 1941, it was as an 11-year-old that Brian met his first footballing hero. Upon joining the Grove Boys Brigade he played for their football team which was run by Arnold Bell.
Bell played for Newcastle United’s youth team so was a real hero to the youngsters becoming their inspiration.

After leaving school Brian began work as an engineering draughtsman at the Consett Iron Company.
In 1958, aged only 17, he joined Tow Law Town and a lifelong friendship began.
Arnold Bell was now playing for the Lawyers and took Brian under his wing.

He never forgot his debut, away at two times Amateur Cup winners Crook Town.
It was a Northern League baptism of fire, lining up against a County Durham sporting hero.
Their left back Bert Steward, not only captained Crook to their Wembley victories he also played Championship cricket for the County.
Playing as a right-winger his pre-match instructions were to ‘just run his legs off Steward’.
It didn’t go to plan as Brian recalled:
“He kicked the hell out of me. The only kicks I got were up the backside as he had too much experience for me”.

A few games later he realised a bit more know-how was required to play at that level so went back to playing local Sunday football with his friends.
He soon caught the eye of his home town club Consett, they had been playing in the Wearside League following the collapse of the North Eastern League in 1964.
The Ironworkers were one of the top sides in a highly competitive league comprising mainly of colliery welfare sides and works teams.
Finding the league more suitable he played up front in a free scoring side that recorded over 100 goals in 4 consecutive seasons.
His form earned him a call up to the Durham County team becoming the first ever player selected from a club outside the Northern League.

Upon qualifying as a draughtsman his thoughts turned to a possible teaching career so
in 1967 he took a teacher training course in Huddersfield.
He spent a year in West Yorkshire without playing any football while on the course.
After completing his training he returned home taking up a post at Ryton Comprehensive, eventually becoming Head of Year teaching maths and tech drawing.

He started playing Sunday football again with his mates for the ‘The Back O Shaft’ pub in Leadgate. 
Arnold Bell was now the manager of Consett and having watched Brian several times asked him to rejoin them in early September 1968.

Reaching the FA Cup 4th Qual. Round for a fourth time as a Wearside League club, Consett were drawn against South Shields for the third time in five seasons.
Brian scored the goal that claimed an excellent 1-1 draw at Simonside Hall.
The replay had to be played at Roker Park because Consett’s Belle Vue Park had no floodlights.
The Northern Premier League side ran out comfortable 6-0 winners, but Brian’s performances had caught the eye of Shields manager Alf McMichael.
A few days later having managed to get hold of Brian’s phone number he rang him to make an offer as Brian recalled:
“As they were in the Northern Premier League and Consett in the Wearside League, two leagues below, I could see myself spending more time on the bench.
Therefore I politely thanked him and said I was enjoying playing with mates at Consett and refused his kind offer”.

McMichael didn’t give up, and a couple of days later he was on the phone again with an improved offer.
Brian was still unsure:

“The thought of playing in the NPL wasn’t holding me back it was more how could I see myself playing regularly in their team”.
He sought the his advice of his manager and friend Arnold Bell:
“Arnold told me to take the move as they had offered more per game than I got per season at Consett. Even if I was to play out the season at South Shields it was financially worth the move. Arnold said he would always welcome me back if it didn’t work out”.

It proved a successful move. South Shields had joined the NPL for its inaugural season achieving an excellent 4th place finish.
Brian partnered Len Smith up front and the free scoring duo helped them record some impressive victories including a superb 3-1 win at Wigan Athletic.

It was Saturday 15th February’s home win over Runcorn that caught the headlines.
They won 8-2 with Brian and Len each scoring four in either half!. Brian made such an impact that he was voted runner-up to the legendary Gerry Donoghue in the clubs Player of the Year awards.

When the travelling involved proved more of an issue than the level of football, Blyth made their move.
Spartans first encountered Brian on 28th September 1968, just before he joined South Shields. They had played Consett at home in an Amateur Cup 1st Qual. Round tie.
A Des Jardine goal won a close fought tie 1-0 but the highlight of the game, as noted by the Blyth News reporter, was the ‘battle’ between Ronnie Scott and the –
‘tall, hard running striker for Consett, Brian Slane’.

One of Brian’s teammates at South Shields worked for Blyth chairman Jim Turney in his construction firm. Jim asked him to sound out Brian to see if he was interested in joining the Spartans. Having received a favourable resigningply, Turney acted quickly to beat off other interest and arranged to drive down to meet Brian at his home to sort out a deal.
Delighted with his new signing, he claimed:
“with Brian’s goals we would have won the title last season!”.
Highly respected local journalist Bob Moreland was suitably impressed with the capture, acclaiming it:
“The most impressive Northern League signing for some time.”
The Blyth News announced Spartans had signed:

“the tall, red-headed striker, who is extremely fast and noted for his heading ability”.

Brian didn’t actually meet his new manager Jackie Marks until his first game of the new season, but they hit it off instantly.
Unsurprisingly, it was a scoring debut.
On Wednesday 27th August 1969 he opened his Blyth account in the 5-1 midweek win over Ferryhill Athletic.
A week later he scored the first of what would be 12 hat tricks for the club in a 6-2 win at Crook Town, it also included his first penalty.
The accolades were soon flowing, the Blyth News likened him to a certain Newcastle United striker following his performance in the 2-1 victory over Bishop Auckland:
‘Although it is obviously a different class of football one tends to think of Slane as being in the same mould as Wyn Davies.
There are obvious physical similarities and Slane like Davis usually takes two defenders with him where ever he goes. He is good in the air and can out-jump most defenders. Again like Davies he takes a lot of ‘stick’. On Saturday almost every time he went for the ball in the air an elbow was pushed in his back, or his shirt was held however it failed to stop him’.

Only a month into his Blyth career he set a club goalscoring record which still stands to this day!.
On 25th September he scored six in the 8-2 FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round replay win over Stockton, the most scored by one player in an FA Cup tie.
Jim Turney was already predicting his new signing would break the the club’s goal scoring records held by legends; John Langland and Tommy Orrick.

However the next round saw what Brian recalled as his worst ever miss.
The 2nd Qual. Round tie with Evenwood went to a replay after a 1-1 draw at Croft Park. Blyth lost 1-2 but despite Brian scoring it was his missed penalty that lead to the defeat which haunted him: “It was a pathetic effort. I wish I could forget it, I made sure I never took penalties like that again”.

Saturday 6th December saw Brian join a unique group of Spartans as they recorded a sensational 13-0 win over Stanley United. With three minutes remaining Brian fired home his 7th goal of the game, becoming only the 4th player ever to do so.
To this day he is still the last Blyth player to score 7 goals in a game.

It proved to be Blyth’s best season since joining the Northern League in 64/65.
A 3rd place finish was achieved just missing out on the runners-up spot to Whitley Bay.
Brian’s 44 goals was the highest total by a player since Johnny Langland famously scored 57 in 1956/57.
The 92 scored was the most league goals Blyth had scored in a single season for 17 years.
Unsurprisingly, Brian was an huge hit with the fans. Goalscoring ability aside they loved this cropped hair appearance and his almost languid style of play.
The ‘Blyth Skinhead’ had become a real cult hero.

It wasn’t all good however, manager Jackie Marks had a falling out with the chairman and decided to move on.
It was a big disappointment to Brian because they had become good friends and in years to come their friendship would be rekindled to historic effect.

Former Bristol City coach Allan Jones was appointed and Brian continued to be a virtual ever-present, it was rare for him to ever miss a game.
His form saw him selected for the Northumberland County team, in doing so he became the first player ever to represent both the Durham and Northumberland County teams.
His 50th goal for the club came on 5th September 1970, hitting two in the 6-0 win at home over Stanley United.
Spartans finished 5th and Brian was again top scorer with 28 goals. However, the board felt the season fell short of their expectations when they appointed Allan Jones.

71/72 couldn’t have been more different, Spartans improved to finish runners up. Brian scored 40 goals as Jones’ side played a staggering 31 cup ties (only 7 games fewer than their league campaign).
For the first time in their history they reached the FA Cup 3rd Round thanks to superb victories over league sides Crewe Alexandra and Stockport County.
Having scored the winner in the 4th Qualifying Round replay win over Whitley Bay, Brian then scored a historic winner at Gresty Road.

The 1-0 win over Crewe Alexandra was the first time Blyth had beat a league side on their own ground in 49 years.
The winner was a slick move, Des Jardine and Gordon Atkinson combined to play in Brian. He drew in the defence before hammering home past the keeper. Of all the goals he scored that winner goes down as his greatest memory from his playing career.
While the ‘The Skinhead of Blyth’ as he was dubbed by the press, took the plaudits he was quick to acknowledge his teammates:
“The real heroes was our defence. They were magnificent that day”.

Blyth then held Reading to a 2-2 draw at Croft Park in the 3rd Round but were soundly beaten 6-1 in the replay. 
Jones’ side picked themselves up to go on a run of only one defeat in 11 games.
Brian reached the 100 goal mark on 29th January 1972 when he scored twice in the 4-0 Amateur Cup 2nd Round win at Tow Law.
Superb victories at Woking and Leatherhead took him within 90 minutes of playing at Wembley in the FA Amateur Cup Final.
Brian missed the 1-1 Quarter Final draw with Leatherhead at Croft Park due to a back injury but was fit enough for the replay victory a week later.
He recalls how the Athenian League Premier League side clearly knew about his injury and tried to exploit it:
“In the first few minutes their centre-half punched me in my back when the referee’s attention was elsewhere, obviously to try to disable me. 
It didn’t cause me a problem but to deal with him I picked up a handful of mud and when the referee was looking elsewhere I let the centre half have it full in his face. He didn’t bother me after that”.

SJP 69

Brian’s goal bound header is tipped away by Enfield keeper Andy Williams.

The Semi Final with Enfield was staged at St James’ Park, an 18,850 crowd saw Enfield prove too strong for the Spartans on the day winning 0-2.
It was a bitter blow to the club and Brian:
“The semi final defeat was a huge disappointment as we strongly fancied our chances of going all the way and winning it.
It took a while for me to get over that”.

In April 72’ with a handful of games left, Allan Jones announced he would be leaving to take up a full-time time role as manager of Fourth Division Darlington.
Brian enjoyed working under the fellow teacher and wasn’t surprised his man management had brought success:
“He was so enthusiastic and a very good talker, as a player he was great to work under”.

Brian’s first silverware as a Spartan came on 16th May 1972.
They beat North Shields 1-0 in a Northumberland Senior Cup Final replay at Whitley Bay.
As recognition for his efforts since joining, the club nominated him for a ‘Blyth Sportsmen Award’ in the Blyth Advisory Council for Sports and Recreation Awards.
However, they were unaware that the Senior Cup Final replay win would be his last competitive game for the club for some 15 months!.

Billy Bell was appointed as Jones replacement, he had won the title in each of the last three seasons with two different clubs.
BS-AW-leave.jpgWhile Bell’s methods had been successful, they didn’t suit Brian.
He had been singled out for rough treatment by Bell’s Evenwood & Spennymoor sides in previous seasons.
Pre-season training sessions proved problematic, sometimes they were not finishing until 10pm. Brian was then faced with the drive back to his Consett home.
With the commitments of his teaching job to fit in and the 110 mile round trip just for training it proved too much.
Having scored 113 goals in his 2½ years, he reluctantly decided to leave Croft Park.
He recalled that difficult decision and his reason’s for asking to leave:
“I have loved playing at Blyth, it had been the climax of my career and it was a hard decision to make. But to be fair to everybody I just couldn’t do it.”

His final game came on Saturday 29th July when he scored the in the 1-2 friendly defeat to NPL Barrow at Croft Park.
His lifelong friend Arnold Bell had just been appointed at Bishop Auckland and snapped up his services along with team-mate Alan Watson who travelled with Brian up to Croft Park.

Having finished 4th bottom in 1970/71 Arnold Bell transformed Bishop Auckland’s fortunes. Brian played a vital role, scoring freely as the Bishops pushed the Spartans all the way in the race for the title.
His return to Croft Park in early September didn’t prove a good one, Spartans won 3-1.
His former team-mate Ronnie Scott set out to man mark him as Brian recalled:
“I never got a sniff all game. Scotty showed why he was one of the best defenders around”.
Having already proved he could spot a good striker when signing Brian for Consett, Arnold Bell did it again.
He signed a 19-year-old from Leeholme Juniors and partnered him up front with Brian.
That teenager was; Alan Shoulder.

Billy Bell made it 4 consecutive titles when his Blyth side pipped Bishops by 2 points.
Their runners-up spot was largely thanks to an unbeaten 11 game run, it included 2 vital wins over local rivals Willington in which Brian scored the winners.
It was their best finish in 6 seasons and also their first silverware in 5 years taking the Capt. G Wright Trophy for finishing runners up.
It was great first season managing at Northern League level for Arnold Bell, but someone thought different.
Bishops Chairman T.E. Hodgson had put a lot of money into building a new side and had expected them to win the title that season. Following a board meeting they made it known they were going to part company with Arnold Bell at the end of the season.
The news unsettled Brian, he couldn’t understand the chairman:
“To come second in the first season together as a team was a great achievement”.

News of Arnold Bell’s impending departure and it unsettling Brian got back to Jim Turney.
Having made it known he was open to a return Turney acted. The news was a contributing factor in him dispensing with the services of manager Billy Bell.
Turney wasn’t going to let interest from Spennymoor stop him resigning Brian, neither could have imagined how it would work out.

Brian stoops to head home his first goal back at Croft Park.

A board meeting unanimously agreed with midfielder Eddie Alder & coach Billy Fenwick being appointed joint managers for the 73/74 season.
Brian marked his first game back at Croft Park with a hat trick in the 5-1 pre-season friendly win over Alnwick Town on 11th August.
He scored 28 goals playing in all but five games that season.
He repeated his feat of two years earlier by scoring on a league ground in the FA Cup.
Blyth drew 1-1 at Grimsby Town in a 2nd round tie but Town won the replay at Croft Park 0-2.

Brian scores the equaliser at Grimsby Town.

He scored in 3 consecutive rounds of the Amateur Cup as Blyth reached the 4th Round only to lose 1-3 at eventual winners Bishop Stortford. That game proved to be the club’s last ever Amateur Cup tie. 

Blyth were pushed all the way to the final game of the season to retain their title. 
Brian’s goal in the final league game, a 1-1 home draw with Penrith on 1st May set a club record.
It was his 137th for the club, therefore beating the previous record haul set by the great George Pyke back in April 1927.
The two points dropped against Penrith and Spennymoor’s final day win meant the clubs tied on 64 points so the title had to be decided by a Play Off game.
Blyth lost their title losing 1-2 to Spennymoor in a Play Off Title decider staged at Ashington.
The team recovered to retain the Senior Cup 4 days later. Brian scored the opener in the 3-0 Final replay win over Ashington.

For the 1974/75 campaign former South Shields boss Allan O’Neill was appointed manager, Eddie Alder returned to the playing squad and Billy Fenwick to coach.

Brian fires home the winner at Willington that sealed the title.

It proved a great appointment, O’Neill’s free flowing football suited Brian. For the first time since 1903/04 Blyth scored in every game they played in a season.
Brain scored 30 goals as they swept to the Northern League title without losing a single league game, a feat that has still not been repeated.

He scored the opener in a superb 3-1 home win over NPL Scarborough in the FA Cup 4th Qual. Round to set up a home tie with Preston North End.
It wasn’t any ordinary Third Division side coming to Croft Park in the cup though.
It was a side that contained two 1966 World Cup winners; Bobby Charlton & Nobby Stiles.
Unsurprisingly the tie attracted an all ticket sell out 8,500 crowd.
Blyth stunned their illustrious visitors taking a 3rd minute lead through a spectacular Mick Dagless free kick.
That free kick came about following a customary ‘robust’ challenge by Nobby Stiles, however it was a challenge on Stiles that Brian remembers:
“I was only ever booked 3 times in my entire career and all 3 were memorable.
One was a foul on Nobby Stiles in the Preston game.

I had caught Stiles on his calf as he won the ball off me. Knowing how competitive he was I was expecting him to blow a fuse but he didn’t react at all.
After the game a bespectacled mild-mannered Stiles came up to me and kindly offered to write directly to the FA appealing the booking if I wanted him to!.
One was for kicking the ball away, it was silly of me and I never did that again.
The other was for tripping my former Bishops teammate Tony Butterfield. Tony was furious, he had won the ball fairly and was about to get away from me when I ‘caught him’ we both ended on the ground.
He jumped up grabbed me by the shirt and drew back his fist seemingly to punch me screaming “Slaney you bastard” he then thought better of it and it all ended in smiles”.

Days after the Preston defeat Brian became the first ever Spartan to score in a new competition for the club.
In 1974 the FA abandoned its policy of classifying all clubs as either fully professional or fully amateur and accordingly the Amateur Cup was abolished.
The club entered the FA Trophy and were drawn away to local rivals Ashington in a 3rd Qualifying Round tie.
Being the club’s top Amateur Cup goalscorer, 19 in 21 games, it was only fitting he scored the club’s first ever FA Trophy goal in the 1-0 win.
Brian won his 3rd Senior Cup medal when they beat Wearside League Blue Star 2-1 at St James’ Park on 16th April 75.
That wasn’t the end of the competitiveness for him though.
On Sunday 4th May he took part in one of British TV’s most iconic series.

As a local school teacher he was selected to represent ‘Consett, Derwentside’ in the hugely popular programme; It’s a Knockout.
Filmed at Beamish Park in Stanley, Heat 4 was aired at 8pm on Friday 13th June.
It featured teams from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Darlington and
Consett, Derwentside.
Along with his fellow teacher teammates they finished 3rd with 18 points. Darlington won to qualify for the next stage in Switzerland that July.

Mick Pink watches on as Brian challenges for a cross against Consett at Croft Park.

The start of the 75/76 season saw the Spartans continue their unbeaten league run. Brian scored the opening goal of the campaign, bagging a brace in the 4-0 home win over West Auckland.
He scored three times more as they extended their unbeaten run in the league to 42 games before they faced Jackie Marks North Shields side on 8th September.
Jackie Marks team finally ended the superb run with a tightly fought 3-2 victory. Brian would go onto score another 27 goals that season as Blyth retained the title with a narrow two point advantage over 2nd placed Willington.
The FA Cup saw a surprise defeat at home to Cheshire League Rossendale United at Croft Park, but a brand new cup competition brought some success.
The Rothmans Challenge Cup was a national competition played between the leagues they sponsored, Brian scored 5 times on their way to the Final.
On the 3rd April 76 Brian scored his first hat trick in over a year. Spartans recorded their biggest away victory in two years hammering Penrith 6-1, it was the second time in three days they scored six. He had bagged a brace in an epic 6-5 midweek victory over title rivals Willington 72 hours earlier.
There was a third successive appearance at St James’ Park as Blyth reached the Senior Cup Final once again. 
After a 1-1 draw with North Shields they denied Brian his third winners medal, winning the replay 1-0. It was the first time in 20 games that Blyth had failed to score.

He did end the season with a winner’s medal though. Having represented both Durham and Northumberland in the Northern Counties Amateur Championship he played in the competitions last ever game.
Following the amateur status being abolished, the popular Counties competition had suffered as various county FA’s scraped their teams.
Brian already had a winners medal with Northumberland from the 1974 2-0 win over Lancashire at Turf Moor, Burnley.
On the 8th May, Northumberland FA played Sheffield and Hallamshire C.F.A at Bramall Lane in the 1975/76 Final.
Brian played alongside fellow Spartans; John Waterson, Tommy Dixon, Mickey Pink, Ronnie Scott and the County captain Mick Dagless as they won the last ever Northern Counties Amateur Championship.

76/77 started with him juggling additional football commitments with family life and his demanding teaching job.
As the season progressed those football commitments became even more demanding in a way he had never imagined.
Having played in the Durham and District Sunday League for sides from Lanchester and Leadgate he was unexpectedly approached by committee members from The Rams Head Pub in Langley Park with an surprising offer.
Knowing he had the contacts within the region, they offered him a staggering £10 per week to become their new Player/Manager.
They planned to enter the national FA Sunday Cup, aiming to emulating Brandon United’s success of 75/76 and keep the trophy in Durham.
Brian agreed and was given the funds to build a side that was capable of winning the prestigious trophy.
His side included Blyth teammates; John Waterson, Tommy Dixon, Mick Morgan, Mick Dagless, Allan Gauden, John Tones and his former Bishops teammate Alan Shoulder.

After missing Blyth’s opening three games he made a scoring return on 2nd September hitting a brace in the 3-0 win at West Auckland. Four more were scored in the next six games, before the season’s only cup final came along.
On the 25th September Blyth faced Whitby Town at Spennymoor in the Rothmans Challenge Cup Final.
The game had been held over from the previous season due to neither club being able to agree on a suitable date.
Brian scored twice in the Final but Blyth were beaten 3-2 by their fellow Northern League opponents.

The season never reached the heights of O’Neill’s first two in charge as they struggled to put a run of form together. They crashed out of the FA Cup 0-3 at home to a Gateshead side that featured future Spartans Dave Clarke and Les Mutrie.
Following a shock 1-5 home defeat to Wearside League Blue Star in the Senior Cup Semi Final O’Neill came under serious pressure, not just from the board but from the home crowd who had turned on him.
Two wins in the next seven games led to O’Neill resigning straight after the 1-1 home draw with Durham City on Saturday 5th February.
After two successful seasons the club needed a new manager, however the board already had a plan in place.

Despite great interest in the vacant position, Jim Turney and his board believed they knew who their new manager would be. The merits of a mystery manPlayer/Manager had been discussed at several of their weekly board meetings.
They had all agreed on the idea but still had to speak to the person they had effectively given the job to.
Blyth News Post reporter Roger Brown got wind of an impending appointment and that it could to be former Blyth player.
He mistakenly believed it was going to be Peter Feenan who was Player/Manager of Blue Star. Turney wasn’t giving the game away cryptically telling the reporter:
“I cannot reveal who the likely new man is, but I’m optimistic he will become the new manager. I expect the choice to be hugely popular but can’t say if he has previous connections with Croft Park”.

Brian was officially appointed on Monday 14th February and recalls how it came about:
Appointed“George Watson (secretary) phoned one night about a footballing matter and asked if I had ever thought of managing Blyth.
I said, I hadn’t and that we already had a manager.
George persisted with ‘well you know maybe in the future’,
I said I’d think about it.
He phone me on the Saturday evening after the Durham game and I told him that I probably would some time in the future.
He phoned me back again the following Monday to congratulate me on being appointed manager!.”

The club were never in any doubt they had made the right appointment, as long serving secretary George Watson explained:
“Once Brian was proposed at a board meeting no other name was ever mentioned never mind discussed. Brian has a lot of experience, he is intelligent and he knows the club, he knows the people at the club at all levels.”

Brian shows off the trophies he won as Player Manager of the Rams Head.

From not having even thought about management a few months earlier he was now Player/Manager of two teams at the same time!.
His Rams Head side stormed through the rounds of the FA Sunday Cup.
To other teams they were an unknown quantity but to those in the region it was no surprise that such a side reached the Final which was staged at Spennymoor. Their opponents were the favourites and two times winners, Newton Unity FC from Birmingham.
The Rams Head upset the favourites winning the trophy with a 2-0 victory.
It proved a fitting way to bring to an end his Sunday football career, as they had agreed he stepped down following the win to allow him to fully concentrate on the Blyth job.

Goal 1The club’s fifth ever Player/Manager got off to an absolutely flying start when he headed home in very first minute of his first game in charge.
He scored the opening two goals in a 6-2 hammering of Horden CW at Croft Park on Saturday 19th February.

While he had stated there would be no ‘panic changes’ he did bring in midfielder Gordon Catterall straight away:
“There will be no sweeping changes, I will assess the situation but the club will always be on the look out for new good players. Every effort will be made to supply the goods on the field and we just hope the excellent support we have experienced in the past will continue. Every endeavour will be made to improve the team and the way in which it plays”.

However, Brian did feel he needed to ‘change’ the dressing room. He thought his predecessor had ended up relying to too heavily on old pro’s:
“For a period some of his signings were poor, they seemed to see it as a jaunt. I had to change the atmosphere in the dressing room when I took over”.

One signing Brian did make came about due to a postponed league game in March.
Rather than having a free Saturday they arranged a friendly against a Sunday morning team from a pub owned by the chairman. 
Playing for the Golden Eagle was 20-year-old Steve ‘Jos’ Jones. 
Despite his slight frame and being up against Tommy Dixon and Ronnie Scott, Brian was so impressed he invited Jos to training.
After impressing with his speed and finishing ability Brian handed Jones his debut in the final game of the season at home to Willington on 30th April.
What a debut it was, he scored a perfect hat trick, left foot shot, right foot shot and header!.

Long serving midfielder Eddie Alder had combined playing with being assistant since Brian had taken over but declined the offer of the role permanently.
Having proved his fitness he wanted to concentrate on playing so a new assistant was needed.
Brian knew who he wanted, the man who had brought him to Croft Park 8 years earlier:
“When I was appointed Jack Marks had phoned to offer any help he could. I initially asked Eddie Alder if he would be coach but he turned it down because as he wanted to concentrate on playing. My next choice was Jack but he and Jimmy Turney had fallen out in the past”.

Having managed Ashington and North Shields since leaving Croft Park, Brian wasn’t sure if Jackie would accept the offer:
“I spoke to Jim Turney about it and he agreed, he paid Jackie a visit at work to finally smooth the waters following their fall out”.
Brian got his new assistant and they set about rebuilding the side:
“Jack had tremendous knowledge of local football which was invaluable”.

Jackie’s connections helped to set up deals for talented the Carney brothers and promising young players, Dave Varty and Ian Mutrie:
“Jack knew the Carney’s wanted to leave North Shields and spoke to them about our interest. He arranged for me to go to their home and sign them, Dave Varty and Ian Mutrie was a similar signings”.

However, the signing of Steve Carney proved to be problematic.
Despite having been at the club since the start of the season he wasn’t allowed to officially sign due to the Sportsmanship Penalty points ruling.
Steve had been sent off in a game which meant North Shields lost their Sportsmanship Penalty points. At the start of a season clubs were given a points total which diminished with each booking and red card they received. The more points the clubs kept meant more sponsorship money they received. The rule stated that a player involved in a club losing all their points must stay with that club for the following season.
However North Shields had told Steve they didn’t want him for the 77/78 campaign, meaning he couldn’t sign for another Northern League team.
Brian was raging: “I’m angry because he could have done a good job for us. Now he will be forced out of the league and may never come back. I can’t understand the justice of it all. These two rules want changing now. This system means the league is depriving a lad of football and another club of his services. It’s strange that Northern League players are being tied down more and more.”

The rebuilding meant players had to leave, it wasn’t a task Brian enjoyed.
He recalled one departure in particular was very difficult to handle:
“Telling Mick Morgan was awful because he was a personal friend. He was not the keeper he had been, his attitude was not in question but his better days were gone.
I still think about that one”.

Brian had a replacement in mind, Dave Clarke who was playing for Gateshead.
Their manager Ray Wilkie lived only a mile away from Brian’s home and it led to the most bizarre deal he ever made:
“I found out that Ray had signed a youth international goalkeeper who was coming north to study at Newcastle University.
Apparently he was to be first choice keeper and Dave his understudy. Clarkey was getting on and just wanted to play and I had been told he would be interested in joining us.
I contacted Ray to show my interest but he was reluctant to let him go for free. I tried all ways to get him, pleading: ‘he’s been a good servant, he just wants to play, I think you owe him!’.
Ray eventually softened and agreed but then said he wanted a £50 transfer fee.

At the next training night I told our secretary George Watson and he just handed me the £50 cash instantly.
On my way home I called at Ray’s home and knocked on the door, it was answered by his wife.
As she was asking who I was, I heard Ray shout ‘bring him in’.
His wife then led me upstairs to where Ray was in bed for the night and he signed the necessary papers lying in bed, and I handed him the £50”!.

The season got off to a great start, Brian scored in the opening day 3-0 win at Willington.
Three days later he scored again in the 3-1 home win over Crook Town.
Blyth won their first five games before losing 1-2 at Spennymoor on 10th September.
Despite the good start they had also been working on deals to bring in two players with vast football league experience.
Ron Guthrie had played for Sunderland in their famous 73 FA Cup Final win and had just returned from a brief spell in Petoria, South Africa.
Brian and Jackie were told that Ron was about to sign for Whitley Bay. After speaking to Jim Turney they made Ron an offer and beat Whitley Bay to his signature.
Likewise they had been made aware that Terry Johnson had returned to the North East after becoming homesick while playing for Brentford. Terry was still contracted and registered with them so was unable to play for another Football League club.
Jim Turney came to an arrangement with Brentford allowing Terry to play for Blyth.

Johnson scored on his debut in the 4-1 home win over Shildon, Brian scored twice that day. Fours days later they both repeated the feat in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round 3-0 win at Shildon.
 Brian scored the opening goal of that cup win, it was first of what would become 20 cup goals in a historic season.

Brian’s 11th and final goal of the 77/78 campaign came in the 3rd Qualifying Round. They won 4-1 at his former club Consett on 22nd October. He would make only two more appearances after that win. The form of Ian Mutrie allowed him to concentrate on managing.
Mutrie had missed the start of the season but had scored four times since getting into the side a fortnight earlier.
Mutrie would go on to score famous winners in FA Cup ties against Bishop Auckland and Burscough.

On Thursday 12th November the club finally got the approval to sign Steve Carney, but they had to ask the FA to intervene.
The FA overturned the ‘Sportsmanship penalty points rule’ and directed the Northern League’s Management Committee to allow him sign for another club.
Steve made an immediate impact scoring on his debut two days later as Blyth swept aside Ashington 5-0 at Portland Park.
Brian was over the moon with his new signing:
“Steve had a tremendous debut for us. He scored one and made two others. He is very confident, aggressive and has lots of ability. He is just 20 years old so has is a very good future ahead of him”.

Two League rules continually frustrated Brian in his time as a manager.
He believed they needed to change their old rules to move with the times, accusing the league of: 
“cutting it’s own throat”.
The controversial ‘Sportsmanship Penalty points’ and the ‘February First’ rules were two that particularly annoyed him:
“You can’t improve the league like this by restricting players freedom of movement between clubs”.
Two players were signed during the cup run but Brian had problems finalising both.
Having lost Mick Dagless to injury he tried to sign midfielder Keith Houghton from Gateshead. Keith’s work commitments as a Wallsend policeman had limited him to only 6 appearances. However he had played for the British Police team, strangely that give them selection preference over his club fixtures!.
Having agreed the deal he then had to negotiate with the British Police team officials to allow Keith to play in the Burscough FA Cup tie.
Brian also wanted to sign his former teammate Alan Shoulder but the striker was in dispute with Bishop Auckland over the ‘February First rule’.
The rule stated that any player who appeared for his club after February 1st was automatically re-registered to that club for the following season.
Bishops wouldn’t enter into discussions because they wanted to keep Alan as the rule stated. Alan wanted to leave so had not played that season in protest, playing only Sunday League to keep himself fit.
Having promised Brian in the summer he would join Blyth he held out until the move happened.
It took until Saturday 6th December before Brian announced:
“There will be no more signings now. The pool is just about complete. When I took over at the end of last season I realised changes had to take place.
We have been very fortunate to get a lot of good quality players and I’m well satisfied with the pool of players now”.

He had finally managed to strike a deal for Shoulder after agreeing to pay Bishops £200. Alan made an immediate impact scoring the winner on his debut against Durham City on Saturday 10th December 1977.

While Brian has no hesitation in naming Alan as the best signing he ever made, he feels naming his best XI would be impossible:
“I was fortunate to play alongside and manage some great players in my time in the game but to attempt to name a best XI is impossible. To have to leave out anyone would be unfair on the players, many of whom became great friends as well as team-mates”.  

Unsurprisingly the disputes with the League Management Committee continued.
They denied Alan the opportunity of playing in the 1-0 FA Cup 2nd Round win over Chesterfield by not sanctioning the move in time.
They had delayed it because of an incident that had happened three years earlier, despite him having made his league debut they ruled him out of the cup tie.
Brian explained:
“We had the deal done with Bishops and we tried to register him on December 2nd. However, because an illegal approach had been made to Alan back in 1974 which Bishops reported to the LMC they had to sanction his transfer. 
They didn’t meet to approve his transfer until December 8th and players needed to be registered at least 14 days before an FA Cup tie to qualify to play. We were the innocent party but were made to suffer for it due to bureaucracy”.

Jos Jones stabs home the winner against Chesterfield.

Alan heads home the winner against Enfield.

It was the first striker Brian signed who delivered the goods in the win over Chesterfield.
Jos Jones winner sent the club into the 3rd Round for the first time in 5 years.
Brian became the only ever Spartan to play for and manage the team in the FA Cup 3rd Round.
Alan Shoulder marked his delayed cup debut with a goal, his header in the 3rd Round win over Enfield put Blyth into the 4th Round for the first time ever.

Going into the 4th Round game at Stoke City Brian was optimistic as ever:
“Stoke are definitely beatable, we can do it. They have not been scoring a lot of goals and our defence aren’t conceding many. Dave Clarke has kept a clean sheet in our last 3 cup games and our attack will always get a goal or two.
We just have to get out there and enjoy every minute, we must make the most of it.
We won’t be going there with defeat on our mind.
 We are ready, we are not worried, just excited we have nothing to lose. In a sense we have got to Wembley as far as a Non League club is concerned”.

Brian and his players salute the travelling fans after beating Stoke City.

Despite having his team ready they were twice frustrated by the weather as heavy downpours waterlogged the Victoria Ground pitch.
The delay didn’t hamper the part-timers even thought they had to return to work in-between the postponements.
Blyth twice came from behind to pull off the club’s greatest ever giant killing.

The famous 3-2 win at Stoke saw the Spartans become the first Non League side to reach 5th Round for 29 years.
The media frenzy went into overdrive, any photo opportunity possible was seized upon.
Brian had organised the Ryton Comprehensive Pupil Golf Day for Tuesday 6th February, which due to the postponements ended up being the day after the Stoke game.
The weather was terrible on the day but it went ahead as planned:
“I couldn’t let the kids down but it was a horrible day, wet and windy. I thought when we got there they won’t want to play but the pupils loved it.”

Unknown to Brian the press had been trying to track him down for an interview, they had managed to speak to his wife who told them he was ‘playing golf’.
He recalls how they found him:
“I remember we were in the middle of the course, the only ones out on the course, when through the rain and mist I saw these two shadowy figures approaching us.
It was reporter and photographer, they introduced themselves and stated they had come for an interview!.
SC BS TJ 78They weren’t dressed for the weather, their clothes and dress shoes were in a right state having traipsed around the course looking for us. We chatted for about 20 minutes by which time the rained eased so they took a few photo’s and off they happily went. It was all rather bizarre”.

That night the team were given a victory celebration in the clubhouse with Brian and his two goal scorers from the Victoria Ground in high demand.

Brian’s management skill’s drew plenty of plaudits. Praised for his ability to make big decisions throughout the run and complimented for his dignified approach. He had refused to be drawn into a war of words when questioned about perceived belittling comments made by the Chesterfield boss Arthur Cox before the 2nd Round win.
With assistant Jackie Marks portrayed as the motivator, Brian’s ability to keep his players levelled headed in the media frenzy paid dividends.

He was his normal calm reassuring self in the build up to the tie at Wrexham:
“We have a side who believe in themselves, we are not in awe of the competition. 
Wrexham are standing in the way of us making history. That’s incentive enough for the players. All the attention and publicity is doing the team the power of good.”

A controversial 1-1 draw at Wrexham put the club into the Quarter Final draw.
However his side came within 60 seconds of winning albeit for the now infamous corner kick incident denying them glory.

As dignified as ever he was full of pride after the game:
“This has been the greatest moment of my football life in spite of the disputed end to the game. 
I am proud that we as a side have maintained a dignity and calmness that has typified Blyth Spartans throughout this run.”

When questioned by the national media about the incident he showed no bitterness, giving a philosophical view:
“It was never a corner. John Waterson clearly played the ball off Shinton and out of play. Clarkie dealt with the first corner, caught the second but then the ref made Wrexham take a third.
It’s unfortunate but that’s football, we have just got to live with it. The lads were disappointed. They held them for 89 minutes and then they come back with a goal like that.
However, we are still in there and no one is going to dampen our spirits”.

The press couldn’t get enough of the Spartans and club officials lapped up the attention.
The draw for the Quarter Finals was on the Monday lunchtime. Officials and players gathered at the ground for draw and the press wanted photographs of them reactions.
However, Brian had teaching commitments so couldn’t attend.
The press were desperate for him to be there. So much so they paid for a taxi to drive to Ryton Comprehensive and collect him.
It brought him to the ground just in time for the draw and subsequent photographs then drove him straight back to the Ryton school afterwards!.

The replay at St James’ went down in North East football folklore, but Brian had wanted it staged at Croft Park.
He felt they had benefited in earlier rounds from Croft Park’s compactness and partisan crowd so wanted to utilise that again.
However, a possible Stoke City replay had already been assigned to St James’ Park. Unsurprisingly council officials and Police again decided Croft Park’s limitations made it impossible to staged a Wrexham replay.
Brian wanted to make sure his players knew what to expect so approached Newcastle United officials.
He asked if they could have a look around the ground ahead of their big game.
United officials went one better, inviting them to the home game against Ipswich Town as guests of honour. The players and officials were given a tour of the ground and received a standing ovation when presented to the crowd.

Prior to kick off Brian made what he later described as the hardest decision in his footballing life, Dave Varty came into midfield for Eddie Alder:
“I told Eddie I was using the younger legs of David Varty and he accepted the decision although I knew he was disappointed. We were only allowed one sub then and I used Ian Mutrie as I felt he would be the best all round replacement on this day.
The decision tore me to bits, and even though Eddie was still essential to the side for his opinions and encouragement, to this day I don’t know if it was the right move.”

The now legendary cup run that had started with Brian scoring the opening goal on a sunny September afternoon in County Durham ended on a dark damp February night on Tyneside.
The 1-2 defeat was harsh on the part timers but to the 42,157 packed into St James’ the Spartans were the winners.

Brian couldn’t hide his feelings about the part the referee had played in the two games:
“After what happened in the first match the referee was determined to show he was not pro-Blyth but he went completely the other way. It was never a penalty. That sort of challenge happens dozens of times in a game. We should have had a penalty when John Roberts tipped the ball away in the first half.
But there is nothing we can do now, we have just got to accept it. 
I’m sick at the result for the lads but I’m proud for every player because of the way they played.
But that’s football and you have got to accept it. We have done a wonderful public relations job for football and we have shown many professional sides how to accept defeat with dignity”.

That night was one of the proudest moments of his managerial career, looking back he recalled:
“The sheer commitment from the players and wonderful team spirit was what made them so special. The players enjoyed all the publicity but we just treated every game the same, it was the club officials who rightly made the most over every opportunity”.

Following that defeat Brian rallied his troops and they embarked on a fourteen game unbeaten run that took them to League Cup and Senior Cup Finals.
Twenty four games were played until the end of the season and his side only lost once.
They went back to St James’ on Tuesday 2nd May for the Senior Cup Final, beating North Shields 2-1.
Two days later they hammered title rivals Spennymoor United 6-1 at Croft Park, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap and Spennymoor they claimed the Northern League title.
On 9th May they won a second trophy by hammering Willington 5-1 in the League Cup Final at North Shields.

11 weeks after the defeat to Wrexham, Brian was given the chance of revenge when they faced each other in the Debenhams Cup.
Goals from Terry Johnson & Dave Varty secured an excellent 2-1 win at the Racecourse Ground on the 13th May.
Two days later 5,333 packed into Croft Park to watch the 2nd Leg. Dave Varty scored again in the 1-1 draw that sealed a 3-2 aggregate win.
Of the many honours won by Brian and his team there was one that had never been given before or has since.
He became the only Blyth manager who’s team were given an open top bus parade through the town. It was staged to honour their efforts that season and thank the town for its support.

After a well-earned rest over the summer, the 78/79 campaign started without two keys players both of whom Brian had played with since first joining the club.
Eddie Alder & Ronnie Scott decided the epic 77/78 season was a fitting finale to their decade long Blyth careers, the club rightly awarded them a testimonial.
His team started the season with a six game unbeaten run, during which they only conceded three goals while scoring twenty four.
Brian’s first outing as a player came on 12th September, coming on as a sub in the 2-2 home draw with Evenwood. His first start came in the 1-1 home draw with Whitley Bay on 26th September.

A 1-0 FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round win at Billingham Synthonia set up a First Round tie at league side York City.
Spartans deservedly earned a replay drawing 1-1 thanks to a Terry Johnson penalty. The replay proved to be another Croft Park classic.
Alan Shoulder’s last minute penalty sent the tie to extra time.
They eventually lost 3-5 in what proved to be Brian’s last cup game in charge and also Alan Shoulder’s final game for the club.
Newcastle United had been monitoring Alan all season and made their move at the replay.

Blyth chairman Jim Turney was a personal friend of Jackie Milburn and he had helped set up the deal as Brian recalled:
“One night the phone rang and I answered to here a voice say, hello Brian ’it’s Jackie’.
I naturally assumed it was Jackie Marks, only to be amazed to find out it was actually Jackie Milburn.
He was ringing me to ask about Alan Shoulder, he wanted to know about him as a player and more importantly as a person”.

Brian was also approached straight after the York game by their manager Charlie Wright asking him to ‘name his price for Shoulder’, to which he replied:
“See that person with our chairman it’s Bill McGarry the Newcastle boss, Alan has just signed for them!”.
Alan moved to St James’ for £20,000 and made his United debut precisely one year to the day after making Spartans debut.

Having committed so much time and energy since being appointed, with a young family and demanding job he started to consider the impact it was having:
“Because of our success I was becoming an almost full time manager in a part time capacity. We were on the top of a wave but my role as husband/dad/teacher was having to come second. I realised that I was missing out and so was my family even though were always 100% behind me”.

In early December 78 he came to the conclusion that after 20 years in the game it was time to concentrate on his family:
“It seemed to hit me very quickly that it was time to move on.
The team, player wise, was in a very strong position and I knew Jack Marks could take my place without any upset”.

While some managers may have worried about breaking the news to their chairman he knew Jim Turney would understand:
“First of all, Jimmy was a great chairman and a very good friend.
He never ever put any pressure on me or the team. He enjoyed every game win or lose.
I was always grateful for and could rely on his commitment and total support.
I phoned Jimmy to tell him of my decision and reasons for it and he was great, we met and shook hands and that was it.”

His final game at Croft Park came on Saturday 16th December, naming himself in the starting XI for the first time in eleven weeks.
He marked his Croft Park farewell by scoring his record 242nd goal for the club in a 3-0 win.
It came against Ferryhill Athletic, who were the team he had scored his very first Blyth goal against some nine years earlier also at Croft Park!.
His final appearance fittingly came at the club where he had made his Northern League debut two decades earlier, Crook Town.

Reflecting on his decision, he recalled just how quickly he realised it was the correct one:
“I was amazed now just how much time was my own to spend with the family again.
Offers did come along after I left Blyth but I just wasn’t interested, it was Blyth or nothing for me. I never looked back or regretted that my football career was over”.

Brian’s Spartans career stats –
Appearances: 361
Goals: 242 – 171 league goals & 71 cup goals
Goals as player: 223
Goals as Player/Manager: 19

Honours as Player:
Northern League winner x3
Northumberland Senior Cup winner x3
Northern Counties Amateur Championship winner x2
Northumberland Senior Cup runner up x1
Rothmans Challenge Cup runner up x1


Record as Player/Manager –Manager
104 games in charge: W67 L16 D21 F241 A88

Honours as Player/Manager:
Debenhams Cup winner
Northumberland Senior Cup winner
Northern League Cup winner


team shot

While the 77/78 cup run brought fame to the club and town it was the culmination of a decade of unrivalled success, one in which Brian played an integral part in.
In the pantheon of Non League all-time greats Brian is up there with the best.

From playing in the great Blyth teams of the 70’s to managing one of the most famous Non League sides ever.
dd in being the club’s all time greatest goalscorer and you have a truly remarkable Spartan.

Brian Slane is rightly regarded as the greatest of all time.


  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank You’s:

First and foremost to Brian himself.
I cannot thank him enough for all the time and help he has given.
I had always wanted to write a ‘Green & While Cult Hero’ article about Brian so after 7 years of writing this blog a real ‘goal’ has been achieved.
It was an absolute honour and privilege to spend time with the great man during the course of researching and writing this.
His enthusiasm to document and record his career made it a pleasure to write and has helped make it such an in-depth piece.

Also a big thank you to Brian’s son Mark who initiated the original contact.

Thanks must also go out to –

Philip Reay, South Shields FC Secretary who provided superb info and images of Brian’s time at South Shields.

Terry Jackson, Bishop Auckland FC Director who provided info on Brian’s season at Bishops.

Neil Harvey who supplied great info on the Northern Counties Amateur Championship.

Alan Golightly aka OldTownFan @old_town who kindly provided a rare image used.

Credits –

The late Ken Sproat‘s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was as ever an important source of information.

Blyth Library’s excellent archive facility of the old ‘Blyth News’ papers once again proved a valuable source of information.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

An absolutely great forum with some superbly knowledgable and helpful Non League football followers.

Blog Ping
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RIP Ken Sproat, Blyth Spartans historian.

In September 2017 club historian Ken Sproat suddenly passed away.

Ken was the oracle on the club’s history, he’d taken up the mantle of club historian having spent 8 years researching the club’s history for his superb book;
‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans’.

A keen local historian, Ken spent hours & hours pouring over every single kenold local newspaper charting the club’s history from its origins in September 1899 to the present day.

From interviewing old players to collecting a superb array of memorabilia during his years of research, it had led to him building a vast knowledge of the club and the history of football in the town in general.

Having launched this blog in May 2012 to give the club’s history a digital presence, it was an honour that Ken asked me to help him bring his work together.
Working in the print & design industry all my life it was with great pride that I was involved in bringing the final book to life.

Ken was always a great help in developing this history blog into what it has become.
Quite often people get in touch with me asking about a relative who had played for the Spartans, Ken was the go to man for help.
From long forgotten players to stories passed down through the years, he knew it all.
Many Saturday afternoon’s at Croft Park were spent chatting away about the club’s proud history while the current side battled away in front of us.

IMG_1577Tributes were paid at the club’s home game following his passing. A minute silence was observed and floral tributes placed where he stood to watch games.




You’ll be sadly missed, Croft Park won’t be the same without you.

RIP Ken.


Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, History | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The 1977/78 FA Cup run – the complete record.

For the first time this is a compiled record of the 1977/78 FA Cup run.
Match reports and details from every game. In depth player profiles and all the stats & facts from that famous cup run.

The stats & facts:

The run lasted 164 days, starting on the 17th September 1977 and ending on 27th    February 1978.

Blyth played 11 games; winning 8, drawing 2 and losing 1.

There were 6 away games and 5 homes games (including the SJP replay).

Of the 10 clubs faced in the run only 2 were ‘first time’ opposition, Blyth had previously not played Burscough and Chesterfield.

2 replays were needed both at home; Crook Town in the 2nd Qual. Round and Wrexham in the 5th Round.

8 games were played on a Saturday:
(Shildon, Crook Town, Consett, Bishop Auckland, Burscough, Chesterfield, Enfield & Wrexham).
2 were played on a Monday (Stoke City and the Wrexham replay)
1 was played on a Tuesday (Crook Town replay).

3 games were postponed; Stoke away twice 27th January & 1st Feb and Wrexham replay on 21st February.

The 11 games had 3 different kick off times; 2pm, 3pm & 7.30pm:
2pm kick off: Chesterfield at home & Enfield at home.
3pm kick offs: Shildon away, Crook away, Consett away, Bishop Auckland away, Burscough home, Wrexham away.
7.30pm kick offs: Crook replay home, Stoke City away, Wrexham home (@ SJP).

Blyth were drawn away in all 4 Qualifying Round: Shildon, Crook, Consett & Bishop Auckland.

Blyth played on 8 different ground during the run:
Dean Street, Shildon.
Millfield Ground, Crook.
Belle Vue Ground Consett.
Kingsway Ground, Bishop Auckland.
Croft Park, Blyth.
Victoria Ground, Stoke.
Racecourse Ground, Wrexham.
St James’ Park, Newcastle.

20 goals were scored and 7 conceded.

9 goals were scored in the first half and 11 in the second half.

5 goals were conceded in the fist half and 2 in the second half.

Player Manager Brian Slane scored the first goal of cup run at Shildon in 1st Qual. and Terry Johnson scored the last in the 5th Round Replay at St James’ Park.

Terry Johnson was top scorer with 7 goals.

7 different players scored the 20 goals:
Brian Slane, Terry Johnson, Rob Carney, Steve Jones, Ron Guthrie, Ian Mutrie, Alan Shoulder & Steve Carney.

2 sets of brother featured in the run:
Rob & Steve Carney for Blyth and Brian & David Newton played for Crook Town in the 2nd Qual. Round.

2 penalties were conceded:
1 was saved by Dave Clarke in the 3-0 2nd Qual. Round replay win over Crook Town at Croft Park the other scored by Wrexham’s Graham Whittle at SJP.

Blyth were only ever behind 3 times were in the 11 games played:
Crook in 2nd Qual., Stoke in 4th Round and 5th Round replay at SJP.

Blyth won 6 ties without conceding.

4 consecutive ties were won 1-0:
Bishop Auckland, Burscough, Chesterfield & Enfield.

The goals in the 1-0 1st, 2nd and 3rd Round home victories over Burscough, Chesterfield and Enfield were all scored at the same end of Croft Park.

3 players were sent off in the 11 games:
Mick Sullivan of Enfield in the 3rd Round, Steve Carney & John Lyons of Wrexham in 5th Round game at the Racecourse Ground.

Only 4 players started every game:
Dave Clarke, Ron Guthrie, Tommy Dixon & Ronnie Scott.

Dave Varty was most used substitute, coming off the bench 5 times.

17 different players were used in the 11 games:
Dave Clarke – 11
Ron Guthrie – 11
Ronnie Scott – 11
Tommy Dixon – 11
John Waterson – 10
Rob Carney – 10*
Terry Johnson – 10 + 1 sub
Eddie Alder – 7
Mick Dagless – 6
Keith Houghton – 6
Dave Varty – 5 + 5 subs
Brian Slane – 5
Steve Jones – 4 + 2 subs
Steve Carney – 4 + 1 sub
Alan Shoulder – 4
Ian Mutrie – 3 + 1 sub
Gordon Catterall – 1 + 1 sub
*Rob Carney missed out on playing in every single game due to being unavailable for the 2nd Qualifying Round 1-1 draw Crook Town because he was best man at a wedding.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 15.42.54

Back Row L to R –
Jackie Marks (Assistant Manager/Coach), Rob Carney, John Waterson, Ian Mutrie, Tommy Dixon, Keith Houghton, Ronnie Scott, Mick Dagless, Terry Day, Brian Slane (Player/Manager) Pat Smith (Physio)
Front Row L to R –
Alan Shoulder, Eddie Alder, Terry Johnson, Dave Addison, Dave Clarke, Ron Guthrie, Steve Jones, Dave Varty, Steve Carney.

*2 players in the above picture never featured in the cup run.
Dave Addison was reserve keeper and Gerry Day was a striker.
Addison had played in 76/77 several times as cover for then keeper Mick Morgan while Day joined in summer of 77 and made several appearances as a sub that season.

8 players were in their first season with the club:
Dave Clarke, Ron Guthrie, Dave Varty, Rob Carney, Steve Carney, Keith Houghton, Alan Shoulder, Terry Johnson.

2 players were signed during the run: Keith Houghton from Gateshead in November and Alan Shoulder from Bishop Auckland in December.

1 player left during the run: Gordon Catterall joined Whitby Town in November.

4 Different style of tops were worn in the 11 games:
– Green & white stripes with green V and collar against Shildon, Crook, Consett, Bishops, Chesterfield & Enfield.
– White shirts with green collar & cuffs against Burscough
– Green body & white sleeves Bukta kit at Stoke
– Green & White stripes with Bukta trim on arms at Wrexham and in replay at SJP.

Match reports and details of every game:

1st Qualifying Round – Saturday 17th September 1977
Shildon 0 Blyth Spartans 3
Goals: Brian Slane, Terry Johnson, Rob Carney
Team: Dave Clarke, Dave Varty, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Gordon Catterall, Terry Johnson, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Rob Carney.
Sub: Steve Jones
Shildon team:
Bryan Dale, Dave Vickers, Neil Stewart, Mel Heckley, Billy Willis, Kenny Morton, Geoff Reed, John Ord, Bobby Nixon, Paul Main, Allan Forster.
Sub: Bobby Walker
Ref: D.W. Bodley
Attendance: U/K

Shildon awayShildon away 2.png

Blyth set off on their now legendary cup run with a comfortable victory.
It was the first time in 6 seasons the club had entered the competition so early having lost their ‘exemption’ due successive 4th Qualifying Round defeats in the two previous seasons. Spartans had beat the Railwaymen 4-1 at Croft Park in the Northern League only 4 days earlier. Brian Slane & Terry Johnson had both scored in the midweek victory and tormented Shildon once again.
Blyth took a first half lead when Brian Slane fired home from a Ron Guthrie free kick. 
Terry Johnson made it 0-2 in the second half rounding the keeper to score after a great build up. The third came from midfielder Rob Carney who netted his 6th goal of the season having been played in by Johnson he calmly beat the home keeper to complete a comfortable victory at Dean Street.


2nd Qualifying Round – Saturday 8th October 1977
Crook Town 1 Blyth Spartans 1
Goal: Steve Jones
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Steve Jones, Terry Johnson, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Dave Varty.
Sub: Gordon Cattrell.
Crook Town team:
Dave Pollard, Lol Riley, Mal Owens, Brian Newton, Charles Gott, Charles Morrison, Willie White, Malcolm Newton, Stewart Ogden, Jimmy Suggett, David Newton.
Sub: Paul Bailes.
Ref: U/K
Attendance: U/K

2nd Qualifying Round Replay – Tuesday 11th October 1977
Blyth Spartans 3 Crook Town 0
Goals; Terry Johnson, Ron Guthrie, Rob Carney
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Steve Jones, Terry Johnson, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Rob Carney.
Sub: Dave Varty.
Crook Town team:
Dave Pollard, Lol Riley, Mal Owens, Brian Newton, Charles Gott, Charles Morrison, Willie White, Malcolm Newton, Stewart Ogden, Jimmy Suggett, David Newton.
Sub: Paul Bailes.
Ref: U/K
Attendance: 1,100

Crook awayCrook home

Blyth earned a replay after coming from behind to draw 1-1 at the Millfield Ground thanks to a 2nd half Steve Jones headed equaliser. A 3rd Qual. Round tie at Consett awaited the replay winners.
3 days later Blyth ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in the replay thanks to goals from Rob Carney, Terry Johnson and Ron Guthrie.
Spartans stormed into a 3-0 lead after only 25 minutes, Terry Johnson headed Blyth in front. In the 15th minute it was 2-0 when Ron Guthrie scored this first goal for the club. From a free kick 20 yards out Mick Dagless rolled it into the path of Guthrie who curled a superb shot in into the top corner. Crook Town were then given a way back into the game with the award of a penalty. However their Player/Manager Brian Newton saw his spot kick saved by Dave Clarke, diving down to his left to palm the shot away. Spartans then made Crook pay when Johnson and Dagless combined to set up Rob Carney, the midfielder fired home off the under side of the bar from 18 yards out his 7th goal of the season.


3rd Qualifying Round – Saturday 22nd October 1977
Consett 1 Blyth Spartans 4
Goals: Terry Johnson, Mick Dagless, Brian Slane, Steve Jones.
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Steve Jones, Terry Johnson, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Rob Carney.
Sub: Dave Varty for Alder.
Consett team: Trevor Dixon-Cave, Stephen Teasdale, John Simpson, Gordon Hindson, Peter Bragan, Brian Richardson, Terry Breen, Watts Stelling, David Rutherford, Malcolm Wood, Kevin Cross.
Sub: Lawrence Graham.
Ref: K.Redfern
Attendance: 525

Consett away 1Consett away 2Blyth beat Consett 4-1 away with goals from Terry Johnson, Mick Dagless, Brian Slane, & Steve Jones.Spartans cup run was now gathering pace as they convincingly beat the Steelmen for the 3rd time so far that season. The two league meetings had seen a 4-1 away in the league in August and 2-1 at Croft Park at the beginning of the October.
Blyth led 2-1 at half time, Johnson had made it 1-0 then Dagless added a second before Malcolm Wood pulled one back for the home side. Second half efforts from Brian Slane & Jos Jones saw Blyth comfortably through to the next round.
*His goal at Belle Vue Park that afternoon turned out to be Brian Slane’s 20th and last ever FA Cup goal of the club.


4th Qualifying Round – Saturday 5th November 1977
Bishop Auckland 0 Blyth Spartans 1
Goal: Ian Mutrie.
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Dave Varty, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Rob Carney, Terry Johnson Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Ian Mutrie.
Sub: Steve Jones.
Bishop Auckland team: Tim Saward, Jimmy McDonald, Dave Rutherford, Alan Watson, Kenny Hills, Phil Shute, Ray Young, Steve Hunter, Malcolm Leask, Kenny Parker, Allan Young.
Sub: Howard Trotter.
Ref: D W Bodley
Attendance 920

bafc 1BAFC 2Ian Mutrie’s winner was enough to see Blyth into the 1st Round for the first time in 3 years.
The sides had last met in the cup 11 years earlier, that epic 1st Round tie took 4 games to separate the sides.
It was the toughest game of the run so far, played in torrential rain both sides fought the conditions in front of a surprisingly low 920 crowd. The breakthrough came in the 76th minute when Ian Mutrie lost his marker to get on the end of a Varty cross and head home. The game ended in controversy with Bishop adamant they had equaliser.
After a fourth successive corner an almighty goalmouth scramble ensued. Defender Rutherford fired a shot goal wards, Tommy Dixon blocked it and Ron Guthrie cleared it off the line. The Bishop players claimed it was in and the linesman initially indicated it was by raising his flag before lowering it!.
The ref didn’t give the goal and the Bishops players chased after him as play went on. Bishop’s manager Bob Elwell even claimed he could see it was in from the dugout on the half way line!.
* Bishop’s manager Bob Elwell had played for the Spartans before going into management and in 1981 he would be appointed Blyth manager when Jackie Marks stepped down.
* Brian Slane had played the 1972/73 season at Bishops before returning to Croft Park.
* 3 former Spartans played for Bishops in this game: Alan Watson, Ray Young, Allan Young.


1st Round – Saturday 26th November 1977
Blyth Spartans 1 Burscough 0
Goal: Ian Mutrie
Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Keith Houghton, Tommy Dixon, Ronnie Scott, Eddie Alder, Mick Dagless, Ian Mutrie, Steve Carney, Rob Carney.
Sub: Terry Johnson
Burscough team: Mike Lawson, John Moran, Vinny McGrady, Andy Clarke, Alan Bowen, Graham Glover, Tony Shallcross, John Durnin, Billy Jaycock, Ronny Madine, Larry Garrity.
Sub: Ian Appleyard.
Ref: U/K
Attendance 2,500

BurscoughBlyth won 1-0 thanks to this goal from Ian Mutrie which sent then into the 2nd Round for the 9th time in the club’s history.
It was the first ever meeting of the two clubs and only the 2nd time in their history that the Cheshire League side had reached the 1st Round.
They had done so with an impressive 1-0 away win at Morecambe in their 4th Qual. replay which coach Jackie Marks had driven over to Lancashire to watch.
Archie’s 8th goal of the season came in the 68th minute when he collected a defence splitting pass from Mick Dagless before slotting past the advancing keeper.
A 2,500 crowd also saw Keith Houghton’s debut for the Spartans, he had signed night before from Gateshead. Manager Brian Slane put him straight into the midfield alongside Alder and Dagless having received permission from the British Police team to allow him to play.
*It was Burscough who wore their first choice kit that day, they arrived with their first choice kit of solid green shirts. Blyth wore their old white shirts with green trimmings to avoid their green stripes clashing with Burscough’s green tops.
*Keith Houghton had been named in the British Police side for a Northern Combination Cup Quarter Final to be played on the same day but was given special permission to play for Blyth instead.


2nd Round – Saturday 17th December 1977
Blyth Spartans 1 Chesterfield 0
Goal: Steve Jones
Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Steve Jones, Terry Johnson, Ian Mutrie, Keith Houghton, Rob.Carney.
Sub: Dave Varty.
Chesterfield team: Glan Letheran, Colin Tartt, Ken Burton, Andy Kowalski, John Cottam, Sean O’Neill, Steve Cammack, Rod Fern, Gary Simpson, Bil Dearden, Ricky Heppolette.
Sub: Les Hunter.
Ref: C.Seel.
Attendance 3,700

This goal from Steve Jones give Blyth a 1-0 win over 3rd Division Chesterfield.
The 31st minute goal put the Spartans into 3rd Round for only the 2nd time in the club’s history.
Blyth had gone into the tie with injury worries, Mick Dagless was ruled out with an injury that was to keep him sidelined until mid January. Mutrie & Johnson played but both were carry ‘knocks’. Alder & Guthrie both played despite suffering from the flu. Despite having made a goal scoring debut the week before Alan Shoulder wasn’t allowed to play due to ‘red tape’ issue with the Northern League.
CFC 3rd RdStruggling Chesterfield had only won once away from home all season, their first game of the season. They started well and had the better chances early on, the best of all fell to Fern but Clarke produced a superb one hand finger tip save to deny his goal bound effort. In 31st minute Rob Carney’s long ball down the channel put the full back under pressure. Burton raced back towards his own goal looking to play it back to his keeper but Steve Jones nipped in and prodded the ball past the advancing Letheran and into the empty goal. It was Jos’s 16th goal for the Spartans in only his 21st appearance!.
Chesterfield started the second half strongly but were unable to break down the resolute Blyth defence, just when it looked like they were running out of ideas a rare Clarke mistake handed them a chance. With 11 minute left Clarke uncharacteristically dropped a corner at the feet of forward Ferns but as he swung to step the ball over the line Tommy Dixon somehow managed to deflect it away. It was their last meaningful effort and when the ref blew for full-time the 3,700 crowd surged into the pitch to celebrate.
Chesterfield manager Arthur Cox went into the Blyth dressing room afterwards to congratulate the players on their hard-earned but deserved victory.
*Having played in the first ever Blyth side to reach the FA Cup 3rd Round, Brian Slane had taken them back to the 3rd Round as manager only 5 years later.
* When left back Ron Guthie played in Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup Final win Chesterfield boss Arthur Cox was Sunderland’s assistant manager.


3rd Round – Saturday 7th January 1978
Blyth Spartans 1 Enfield 0
Goal: Alan Shoulder
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Dave Varty, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Alan Shoulder, Keith Houghton, Terry Johnson, Ian Mutrie, Rob Carney.
Sub: Steve Carney for Mutrie.
Enfield team: Terry Moore, Mark Wright, John Tone, Ronnie Howell, Tony Jennings, Keith Elley, Tony Bass, Keith Searle, John Bishop, Micky O’Sullivan, Derek Baker.
Sub: Knapman.
Ref: Ken Walsley.
Attendance 5,095.

EnfieldSpartans reached the FA Cup 4th Round thanks to this header by Alan Shoulder.
The hard-fought 1-0 win over Isthmian League Enfield put the Spartans in the 4th Round for the first time and laid the ghosts of 1972.
6 years earlier Blyth had been 90 minutes from Wembley only to lose to the Londoners in an FA Amateur Cup Semi Final at St James’ Park. 5 Non League clubs had made it into the 3rd Round, Blyth were the only side drawn at home and the only side who made it through.
Blyth had gone into the tie with mounting injuries, Dagless had been out injured since December and a further blow saw Eddie Alder fail a fitness test with Dave Varty being given his place in midfield. Enfield were on a 32 game unbeaten run and had only conceded 1 goal in their 6 cup games so far so were seen as favourites for the tie. The visitors started stronger, in the 6th minute a goal bound Tony Bass shot was deflected away for a corner. Derek Barker then missed 2 clear-cut chances before Bass beat 2 defenders and crash a shot off the post.
Blyth were rather fortunate to go in level at half time with the defence just about holding firm against the wave of Enfield attacks. Bass then lifted another glorious chance over the bar before Brian Slane decided to change things, Steve Carney came on for the tiring Mutrie, to add some ‘fresh legs’ to the forward line.
AS 1-0In the 72nd minute Blyth made the vital break through against the run of play, Varty collected Rob Carney’s short corner and floated over a cross that Alan Shoulder headed home. Frustration got the better of the Enfield players as tempers boiled over, Mick O’Sullivan was sent off for a lunge on Steve Carney and then punching Carney as the players squared up to each other. Blyth were on top after the incident and comfortably saw out the remaining time to seal historic place the 4th Round.
* It was Alan Shoulder’s 1st FA Cup goal and his FA Cup debut for Blyth but it was not his ‘club debut’ as many claimed.
His debut had come on 10th December when he scored the only goal in a 1-0 home win over Durham City.
* The game kicked off at 2pm at the request of Enfield to allow them to catch an earlier train home.


4th Round – Monday 6th February 1978
Stoke City 2 Blyth Spartans 3
Goals Terry Johnson 2, Steve CarneyPicture 2
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Rob Carney, Keith Houghton, Steve Carney, Alan Shoulder, Terry Johnson.
Sub: Dave Varty for Alder.
Stoke City team: Roger Jones, Jackie Marsh, Alec Lindsay, Howard Kendall, Alan Dodd, Alan Bloor, Steve Waddington, Geoff Scott, Viv Busby, Terry Conroy, Garth Crooks.
Sub: Jeff Cook.
Ref: George Nolan.
Attendance 18,765

The tie was twice postponed with the Blyth party twice travelling down to the potteries.
Blyth pulled off their biggest giant killing coming from 1-2 down to beat the second Division side with a dramatic late winner by Terry Johnson.
NPLWearing their new away kit Spartans survived an early scare when Viv Busby crashed a shot against the post. Blyth settled and took a 12th minute lead, City keeper Roger Jones dropped Rob Carney and Terry Johnson reacted quickest to stab the ball home. The home side missed a chance to level straight after when Terry Conroy completely missed the ball with only Clarke to beat. Blyth held their lead into half time but the break galvanised the home team. In the 57th minute Busby drew city level, minutes later they had turned the tie around. A corner was flicked on and Garth Crooks dived low to head city into the lead. Blyth rallied and drew level following a free kick, Ron Guthrie’s thunderous free kick crashed into the wall. The ball spun up over the Stoke keeper and onto his left hand post. Alan Shoulder reacted the quickest but his header amazingly hit the opposite post before falling into the path of Steve Carney who hammered it home the equaliser, the Stoke defenders appealed in vain for offside. With seconds left another Blyth won another free kick. Result of roundJohn Waterson’s effort reached Keith Houghton on the edge of the box. He headed into the penalty area towards Rob Carney who just managed to get a touch, his flick took it past the two defenders and inadvertently into the path of the on rushing Terry Johnson. The former Brentford forward hammered it past Roger Jones to seal the club’s greatest giant killing.
* Both sides wore their away kits, ref George Nolan insisted Stoke wore their away kit to make sure there was a clear difference in colours. Blyth’s new away kit had white shorts & white socks, Stoke’s home kit had white shorts & white socks.
*St James’ Park, Newcastle had already been allocated any replay after authorities & officials decided that Croft Park would not have been suitable.
*After defeating Stoke City it would be another 18 years before Blyth beat another league side in the FA Cup.
* The game features in a ‘Classic Encounters’ blog, read the full in-depth story of the game:


5th Round –  Saturday 16th February 1978
Wrexham 1 Blyth Spartans 1
Goal: Terry Johnson. away prog
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Alan Shoulder, Keith Houghton, Terry Johnson, Rob Carney, Steve Carney.
Sub Dave Varty (unused).
Wrexham team:  Dai Davies, Mickey Evans, Alan Hill, Gareth Davis, John Roberts, Mickey Thomas, Bobby Shinton, Mel Sutton, Dixie McNeil, Graham Whittle, Les Cartwright.
Sub: John Lyons.
Ref: Alf Grey
Attendance: 18,999

Spartans were the first Non League side to play in the 5th Round for 29 years. Highlights of the game was shown on Match of the Day that night and the entire country saw the injustice as Alf Grey received even more criticism after the game for a pivotal decision he made during the game.
1978-wrexham.jpgBlyth took a 12th minute lead when Terry Johnson latched onto a poor back pass to slot the ball under the advancing Dai Davies. Blyth survived several scares to hold their lead until half time. Wrexham piled on the pressure after the break, a mix of poor finishing and good defending saw the home side struggle to break down the Spartans defence. In the 67th minute tempers boiled over several player shaving had running feuds. Steve Carney challenged John Lyons near the corner flag, Lyons then lashed out kicking Carney in the stomach as he fell over. The showed Lyons straight red card and then as Carney received treatment showed him his second yellow for the challenge and therefore produced the red card!.
Blyth appeared to have weather Wrexham’s late pressure when McNeil inexplicably divert Shinton’s goal bound header onto the bar!.
goal kickWith seconds left Grey wrongly awarded a corner when Waterson played the ball off Shinton for a goal kick. Cartwright’s first corner was punched away by Clarke for another corner. The second was swung in and caught by Clarke, however Grey noticed the corner flag had ‘fallen over’ and ordered it to be retaken. The flag had previously fallen over several times in the frozen surface, but Les Cartwright had in fact pushed it over to give himself room to take the corner!. 1-1The third corner was swung over and Roberts challenged Clarke, both missed it and it fell to McNeil who just managed to squeeze a header home at the far post.
Spartans were cruelly denied their rightful place in the Quarter Finals and a home tie with Arsenal.
* The game features in a ‘Classic Encounters’ blog, read the full in-depth story of the game:


5th Round replay –  Monday 27th February 1978
Blyth Spartans 1 Wrexham 2Replay prog
Goal: Terry Johnson.
Team: Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Dave Varty, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon, Alan Shoulder, Keith Houghton, Terry Johnson, Rob Carney, Steve Carney.
Sub: Ian Mutrie (unused).
Wrexham team: Dai Davies, Mickey Evans, Alan Dwyer,
Gareth Davis, John Roberts, Mickey Thomas, Bobby Shinton, Mel Sutton, Dixie McNeil, Graham Whittle, Les Cartwright.
Sub: Alan Hill.
Ref: Alf Grey
Attendance: 42,157

The replay at St James’ Park had been postponed 6 days earlier, the game attracted the biggest crowd of the season to St James’. A sudden downpour just before kick off turned the heavy pitch into a mud bath. The visitors took a 7th minute lead when Alf Grey controversially awarded them a penalty for a foul by Ronnie Scott on McNeil. Whitte 0-1 replayhammered home from the spot. Alan Shoulder came to close to an equaliser when he fired over, he was then cynically brought down by Dwyer when through on goal but the ref waved play on. The Welshmen extended their lead in the 26th minute when McNeil spectacularly crashed home a half volley giving Dave Clarke no chance. The half ended with Blyth being denied a clear penalty when Roberts blocked a shot with his hand. The second half saw Blyth pile on the pressure with Johnson, Steve Carney and Ronnie Scott all going close. Wrexham best chance came from Blyth captain John Waterson, attempting to clear he headed a Shinton cross onto his own bar!. Spartans got their reward 7 minutes from time, a rammed packed St James’ erupted when when Keith Houghton headed Rob Carney’s ball into the path of Terry Johnson.TJ at SJP 1
The striker spun passed the defenders and lashed home high passed as helpless Dai Davies. The remaining minutes were absolute bedlam as the crowd bayed for another goal but unfortunately it wasn’t to be and despite their valiant efforts the dream was over. Blyth Spartans may have lost the game but in the eyes of the packed St James’ Park and the North East they were the real winners.
* The game features in a ‘Classic Encounters’ blog, read the full in-depth story of the game:

Player Profiles:

Player/Manager – Brian Slane
BSBrian was signed in 1969 from NPL South Shields by then manager Jackie Marks, he scored his first Blyth goal on 27/8/1969 in 5-1 home win over Ferryhill.
His first hat trick came on 3/9/69 in 6-2 win at Crook Town, finishing his first season as top scorer with 44 goals.
A club record came on 25/9/69, the most goal scored by one player in an FA Cup tie.
He scored 6 in the 8-2 home win over Stockton, weeks later he also scored 7 in a 13-0 league win over Stanley Utd.
He was top scorer in 1970/71 with 28, in 71/72 he scored 40 goals helping Blyth reach the FA Cup 3rd Rd for the very first time. They reached the semi final of the FA Amateur Cup, only to lose to Enfield at St James Park.
After a season at Bishop Auckland in 72/73 he returned for the 1973/74 season scoring 28 goals as they reached the FA Cup 2nd Rd & Amateur Cup 4th Rd.
In 1974/75 he won his first Northern League title with Blyth scoring 30 as they won the title without losing a single game (a feat that has not been achieved since).
The goals continued to flow, retaining the NL title in 75/76 and winning the Senior Cup. He finished top scorer in 76/77 yet again, in February 1977 chairman Jim Turney surprised many by appointing him Player/Manager.
That summer along with his newly appointed assistant, Jackie Marks, they rebuilt the side for what became that historic season.
Brian scored the first goal of the cup run in the 3-0 1st Qual. Rd win at Shildon. He played in the early qualifying rounds against Shildon, Crook, Consett, Bishop Auckland before concentrating on managing.
He announced in December ’78 he was stepping down to spend more time with his family. His last game for the club game came on 16th December 1978 against Ferryhill and having scored his first ever Blyth goal against them 9 years earlier.
He named himself in the team and fittingly scored his last goal in the 3-1 win, becoming the clubs all time top scorer with 242 goals.

Assistant Manager/Coach – Jackie Marks
JM.JPGJackie was appointed Blyth manager in 1967, he rebuilt the side achieving the clubs highest NL finish of 3rd in 1969/70.
Leaving Blyth in 1970 he went on to managed Ashington, North Shields & Tow Law.
He brought through youngsters like Tommy Dixon, Rob Carney & Keith Houghton who would go onto the back bone of that 77/78 side.
Returning to Croft Park in August 1977 he was instrumental in bringing the likes of Terry Johnson & Ron Guthrie to the club.
His unique motivational techniques came to the fore during the cup run and armed with his famous ‘speed oil’ caught the media’s attentions:
“I carried a bottle of whisky and I made everybody have a small nip before they went out. We called it speedoil, and when people heard about it I got bottles of whisky from all over; some people even gave me gallon bottles.”
He famously he broke down in tears at St James after that 1-2 Wrexham replay defeat, when Slane stepped down in February 78 Jackie was the natural successor.
He reigned over an extremely successful 4 year spell which brought more cup runs and trophies. There was of course cup runs, including an epic 3 game battle with Hull Cuty and reaching the FA Trophy Quarter Finals.
He continued to bring in legendary Spartans, signing the likes of Paul Walker, Dave Mitchenson, Harry Dunn and the one he decreed his best signing of all; Les Mutrie.
After stepping down as manager he stayed for another 4 years as General Manager and was made an Honorary Life Member of the club.
*He could be regularly seen on the terraces at home games before sadly passing away in July 2017.
RIP Jackie.
Jackie featured in the Green & White Cult Heroes series, read his incredible football story.

Goalkeeper – Dave Clarke
DCClarkie was a 29-year-old Salesmen in 77/78, he also took up the role as bingo caller in the social club on occasions!.
He joined in summer of 77 when Gateshead United folded, he had played in the Football League for Doncaster Rovers and Darlington. He then moved into Non League football playing Gainsborough Trinity, South Shields & Gateshead Utd.
He played in every game of the cup run making vital saves against Chesterfield, Stoke & Wrexham and was awarded Non League Player of the Year for heroics that season.
Dave was with the club for 11 years playing over 400 games, he achieved a staggering 110 consecutive appearances from August 1979 through until April 1981.
An sign of Dave’s longevity is that from his debut until his retirement 11 years later, only 12 other keepers played for the club in that period and between them they managed to make less than 20 appearances!.
He was widely acknowledged as the best goalkeeper outside the football league and was the first choice for the England Semi Pro side, winning 16 caps for his country.
Clarkie received a testimonial in 1987, on Monday 19th October 4,650 packed into Croft Park to see Blyth beat a full strength Newcastle United 3-0.
He later went on to be a coach under Jim Pearson before being appointed manager in June 1988 becoming the 2nd member of the 77/78 side to manage the club.
Dave also featured in the green & White Cult heroes series, read all about the best Non League football’s goalkeeper of his era.

Right Back – John Waterson. Captain.
JW 77:78John was 29 years old in 77/78 and employed as a stock controller with British Ropes.
He was signed in summer of 1975 from Whitley Bay by then manager Allan O’Neill. He Joined Whitley Bay from Willington St Aidens in 1972 and was awarded Whitley’s Player of the Year in his very first season. After 3 seasons at Whitley he move to Croft Park becoming widely acclaimed as the best full back in the region.
His performances saw him picked for the FA XI team. In March 76’ he captained an FA XI side to a 1-0 win over Universities Athletic Union XI, in that FA XI side was his future teammates, North Shields Keith Houghton and Bishop Auckland’s Alan Shoulder.
He was appointed captain by Brian Slane at the start of the 77/78 season and stated:
“All my job entails is tossing the coin because we’ve so many experienced players”.
In September 1977 he was awarded the honour of captaining the prestigious Middlesex Wanderers team for their tour of South Korea!.
It was his challenge at the Racecourse Ground that won a goal kick that should have put Blyth into the Quarter Finals had it not been for Alf Gey making a wrong decision!.
John was a virtual ever-present at right back in his 5 years with the club but never managed to score a goal!.
In summer of 1980 he left and joined Gateshead, he played 2 seasons in the NPL before moving to North Shields. In 1982/83 he was involved in another cup run as the Robins won 6 games to reach the 2nd Round before losing at home to Walsall.
Being captain of the side that created such a legacy in 2014 he was invited to the official opening ceremony of the towns famous and iconic art deco cinema. The Wallaw had undergone a multi million pound conversion by Wetherspoons and they invited John to perform the ceremonial opening.

Left Back – Ron Guthrie
RG 77:78Ron was 33-year-old Insurance Company rep in 77/78, he played in every game of the run.
Having played in the Sunderland team that famously beat Leeds Utd to win the FA Cup in 1973 his experience proved invaluable as the run progressed.
Ron started his career at Newcastle Utd in 1963 as a 19-year-old. He workied his way through to the first team, making his debut at Villa Park in August 1966.
A tough tackling left back he played 68 times for United before being transferred to Sunderland in January 1973.
He made his debut on 20th Jan in 1-1 draw at Swindon. His first goal came in the FA Cup Quarter Final 2-0 home win against Luton Town in front of 53,000, scoring a dramatic over kick 8 minutes from time.
He made 81 appearances for Sunderland gaining further European experience playing in the Cup Winners Cup, having played in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup with Newcastle.
He was released in June 1975 and joined NPL Gateshead playing a season before leaving. He briefly played for Ashington in the Northern League before a spell in Petoria, South Africa with Arcadia Shepherds with former Newcastle teammate Tommy Cassidy.
When he returned home Jackie Marks stepped in quickly to sign him up.
“Mr Reliable” as he was dubbed by captain John Waterson: “he never gets flustered irrespective of the amount of pressure we have to soak up. He is so consistent its untrue. His mere presence in the dressing room was invaluable”.
Ron played on at Blyth for another 3 years after the cup run before retiring in 1981 aged 37. He added to his FA Cup winners medal while at Croft Park winning the Debenhams Cup, 2 NL titles, 1 NL League Cup and 2 Senior Cups.

Centre Half – Tommy Dixon.
TD 77:78Tommy was 26 years old in 77/78 and employed as an electrical engineer.
He had been with the club since January 1975 when manager Allan O’Neill signed him from Ashington. Tom had begun his career at Gateshead before being signed by then Colliers manager Jackie Marks in 1972.
Tommy was an integral part of their side that reached the Semi Finals of the FA Amateur Cup in 1974 (playing alongside a young Les Mutrie).
Tom initially played as a defensive midfielder as long serving Ronnie Phillipson partnered Ronnie Scott at the centre of the defence. When Phillipson left in 1975 he established himself alongside Ronnie Scott in a formidable centre half pairing.
He played in every single game of the cup run as part of the same back four that played in 10 consecutive ties!.
He featured in every single FA XI game against the Northern League that was played in the 70’s but surprisingly never got called up when the new England Semi Pro was formed, despite even playing in every trial game!.
He was appointed captain when Jackie Marks took over as manager in February 1978.
In August/September 1983 he played for the prestigious Middlesex Wanderers in their tour of India & Bangladesh and was awarded the ‘Oustanding player of the Tour’.
In April 1984 Tommy had the honour of lifting the Northern League championship for a record 5th consecutive season. Blyth became the first club to win the Northern League 5 season running; 79/80, 80/81, 81/82, 82/83 and 83/84
He had made more than 600 appearances before being surprisingly released in summer of 1984 by manager Peter Feenan. He was quickly snapped up by one of his former Blyth managers; Bob Ewell who was now manager of North Shields.
Tommy was awarded a testimonial in November 1984, a 2,500 crowd saw his 77/78 teammates reunite to beat a Newcastle United XI 3-1.
Being a defender who only scored 8 goals for the club and only 1 of them being a penalty bizarrely his testimonial finished with a penalty shoot out!.
Tommy’s opponent in the shoot out was one of United’s young stars, he beat the future England star Chris Waddle 5-4!.
Finishing this playing career with North Shields he retuned to Croft Park as manager in November 1988 taking over from his former teammate Dave Clarke. He was the third member of the cup run side to manage the club.
* Tommy sadly passed away in July 2017 after a short illness.
RIP Tommy.


Centre Half – Ronnie Scott.
RS 77-78Ronnie was a 36-year-old colliery fitter in 77/78 and in his 10th season with the club.
It proved to be his last season with the club but what a season to finish on. He played over 500 games and was only ever booked 3 times!. Joining the club from Red Row FC he broke into the side toward the end of the 67/68 season under Caretaker Manager Peter Flaherty.
It was under the newly appointed Jackie Marks that he blossomed and gained rave reviews as the “coolest centre half in minor soccer in the North East”.
The club had initially struggled to adapt to life in the Northern League but under Marks they got a foothold and Ronnie was the rock that the 70’s teams were built around in a trophy laden decade.
He won the Northern League title 3 times; 72/73, 74/75 & 75/76 and he was a runner-up 3 times 71/72, 73/74 & 77/78. He also won the League Cup twice in 72/73 & 77/78 and the Northumberland Senior Cup four times 72,74,75 & 78.
He came within 90 minutes of reaching Wembley in 1972, when Blyth reached the Semi Final of the FA Amateur Cup only to lose 0-2 to Enfield at St James Park.
He played under 7 different manager in his decade with the club and never missed a single training session. It was quite an undertaking for Ronnie because he had to get 2 buses from his home in Broomhill to get him to Blyth. The hour and a half bus journey was then repeated to get him back home!.
Ronnie was known for his never say die attitude and played on despite suffering injury problems, John Waterson once said: “You’d have to break his leg before he’d pack in”.
Long serving club secretary George Watson said: “First and foremost Ronnie was a gentleman. He never had a bad word for anyone and was hard but always fair on the pitch”.
Ronnie was awarded a testimonial in October 1979 along with his long serving team-mate Eddie Alder, after leaving he briefly played for Ashington before retiring due to injury problems.
* Ronnie sadly passed away in March 2010 aged 68 after a battle with cancer.
RIP Ronnie.

Gordon Catterall – Midfielder
Gordon was a 22 year old catering rep in 1977/78 and had joined the club in March 1977. GCHe was in fact Brian Slane’s first signing after being appointed manager.
Gordon who was from Washington, had joined Leeds United as an apprentice aged 18 in 1972. He was released the following year and signed for Fourth Division Darlington.
He made 102 appearances in 3 years and was appointed captain at Feethams in his second season. In summer of 1976 he left full-time football  and was snapped up by Northern League Bishop Auckland where he played alongside Alan Shoulder. While playing for Bishops he also played for the very successful Langley Park Rams Head FC in the Durham Sunday League. The player manager of the Rams Head was none other than Brian Slane, he played with several of his 77/78 teammates as well such as John Waterson, Tommy Dixon, Mick Dagless and several other Blyth players who were at the club when he joined in March 77. A creative midfielder Gordon was an ever-present after signing but was in and out of the team at the star too 77/78. He had only made 2 appearances prior to the cup run starting but had scored in the opening day 3-0 win at Willington.
He started in midfield in the 1st Qualifying Round 3-0 win at Shildon and was then sub  in the 1-1 2nd Qualifying Round draw at Crook Town.
He didn’t feature in the cup run again and after only 4 more appearances he left to join Whitby Town in November 1977.

Midfield – John ‘Eddie’ Alder.
EA 77:78Eddie was a 34-year-old Painter & Decorator in 77/78.
He joined in summer of 1966 from Bedlington CW, he was originally a left winger when signed by then manager Jim Turney. Converted into a central midfielder he was the heart of the team that got a foot hold in the Northern League and went onto dominate with 3 titles and 2 runners-up places in the space of 5 years.
Known for his tenacity and hard work he was skilful footballer who could ‘use both feet’, playing alongside Mick Dagless they formed a formidable midfield partnership.
He first experienced a ‘cup run’ in 71/72 , Blyth won a 1st round tie at 1-0 won at Crewe then beat Stockport 1-0 before losing a 3rd Rd replay at Reading after a 2-2 draw at Croft Park.
1972/73 was one of his finest as the club won the Northern League title, reached the 2nd round of the FA Cup before losing a replay at Grimsby. The also reached the Semi Final of the FA Amateur Cup only to lose 0-2 to Enfield at St James Park.
His side also twice reached the Quarter Finals in 71/72 and 73/74. In January 73 Blyth hosted the holders Hendon in a 2nd round tie drawing 1-1 at home they went Hendon for the replay underdogs. Thanks to a superb Allan Young winner 4 minutes from time they knocked the holders out. Hendon were so impressed with Eddie over the 2 games they offered him a job and a house if he moved south and signed for them!.
In 194/75 Eddie got to pit his skills against World Cup winners Bobby Charlton & Nobby Stiles when Preston North End came to Blyth for 1st round tie.
He even had a spell as player/manager when he and Billy Fenwick took charge of team affairs from May 73 until the appointment of Alan O’Neill in August 1974.
Having suffered from persistent knee injury problems he retired in October 1976, when Brian Slane was appointed in February 1977 he brought Eddie back as his player/coach.
Having played alongside him Slane he wanted Eddie to play again, once Eddie proved his fitness Jackie Marks was appointed the new assistant manager for that historic 77/78 season.
Eddie played at Shildon & Crook, he missed the Bishop Auckland tie with injury but played against Burscough, Chesterfield. He missed the Enfield tie due failing a late fitness test. He played at Stoke & Wrexham but was left out of the replay for Dave Varty.
77/78 was his swan song he left in the summer of 78 and had a brief spell at Bedlington Terriers before retiring.
With his famous bald head Eddie was an iconic figure in the Blyth side for 13 years becoming the clubs record appearance holder with 625 games, he was awarded a Testimonial in October 1979.

Midfielder – Mick Dagless.
MD 77:78Mick was 29-year-old school teacher in 77/78 and had been with the club since September 1972.
Signed by then manager Billy Bell, he came to Croft Park with a very rare accolade for a non league footballer, he was a European Cup winner!.
Born in Norfolk, the family moved to Peterborough where he caught the eye of Peterborough United scouts. Playing for their Youth sides and Reserves he was capped by England Schoolboys.
He then moved to the North East aged 18 to study at Newcastle University and played for their Northern Combination League team.
He was signed by FA Amateur Cup holders North Shields in 1969, having won the Amateur Cup they played Alamos Rome in a 2 legged European Amateur Cup.
They won on a ‘toss of a coin’ after drawing 2-2 on aggregate giving 20-year-old Mick his unique European medal.
His performances attract the attentions of Liverpool and he turned down a move Hartlepool United to continue his studies.
Once at Croft Park he was central to a highly successful 70’s, he was a cultured free scoring midfielder known for his deadly shooting ability. He won 3 Northern League titles and reached the FA Amateur Cup Quarter Finals in consecutive seasons before that famous 77/78 season.
He played in the 1st Qual. win at Shildon and in both 2nd Qual. ties against Crook,. He scored in the 4-1 3rd Qual. Round win at Consett and played in 4th Qual. win at Bishop Auckland but on 19th November he was injured in a 1-1 draw at Durham City. That injury ruled him out of the ties against Burscough, Chesterfield, Enfield and Stoke City.
He returned to play in February but wasn’t able to reclaim his place in the midfield for the Wrexham games, he played in the Senior Cup Final win at SJP and the League Cup win over Willington, he got to face Wrexham in both Debenhams Cup ties at the end of that famous season.
He played on until 1980, winning another league title and reaching the FA Trophy Quarter Finals. He then took up a player/coach role at the new formed Bedlington Terriers before taking the manager’s job at Whitley Bay in summer of 1981.
He returned to Croft Park as manager November 1983 becoming the first member of the 77/78 team to take up the hot seat at Croft Park.
After leaving in March 84 he went to manage Alnwick Town where he brought through a young striker who would become future Spartans hero; Richie Bond.
He then ended his managerial spell as assistant at Northern Alliance Morpeth Town.
Mick was later heavily involved with the Northumberland County Schools FA while continuing his career as teacher.
Mick features in the Green & White Cult Heroes series, read all about the 21-year-old European Cup winner.

Midfielder – Keith Houghton.
KH 77:78Keith was a 23 year Wallsend Policeman in 77/78 and joined the club in November on the eve of the 1st Round against Burscough.
Having been an apprentice at Newcastle United he was surprisingly released and joined North Shields who also got him a job as a green keeper at a local golf club.
He played under Jackie Marks at Appleby Park making a name for himself in the with his commanding midfield performances and was a regular in the FA XI Select teams.
In summer of 1977 he signed for NPL Gateshead FC but having just joined the Police Force his work commitments limited him to 6 appearances because he was also regular for the British Police team.
Brian Slane made his move for the midfielder in the week leading up to the 1st Round tie and after negotiations with the British Police team he was allowed to play in the Burscough home tie.
Keith played in every round afterwards, it was his header through to Terry Johnson that lead to the goal at St James Park.
His first goal came on March 9th in 3-2 win at Crook Town, his next came in the 6-1 hammering of League Champion Spennymoor on 4th May.
In May 1979 he was called up for the inaugural England Semi Pro side for the new 3 team tournament and made this debut in the 5-1 win over Scotland.
The strong running, tough tacking midfielder was ever-present and his performances attracted the attentions of several league clubs. Chelsea, Peterborough & Carlisle chased his signature but he rebuffed their approaches due to his job as a Policeman.
However in January 1980 he handed in his notice and decided to join Third Division Carlisle United, feeling a move to the Cumbrians was the better option for him personally than moving down south to Peterborough or Chelsea.
Keith would drive across to Cumbria from his North Tyneside home daily and his passenger on the journey was a young 20-year-old striker who had also been released by Newcastle United; Peter Beardsley.
He played 87 times for the Cumbrians winning promotion to the Second Division with them in 1981/82. In 1983 signed for Lincoln City playing 26 times before retiring in 1984 due to a knee injury, having been a centre midfield in his early years he was often used as centre half at Carlisle & Lincoln.

Midfielder – Rob Carney.
RC 77:78Rob was a 26-year-old stock controller for a pharmaceutical firm in 77/78, he joined Blyth in the summer of 1977 from North Shields with his younger brother Steve.
He had played very little football between the ages of 14 to 24 having spent the time watching Newcastle United, he did however play for his works team.
Then North Shields manager Jackie Marks worked at the same factory and someone recommend he go and watch Rob play. Jackie like what he saw and signed him.
Rob made a name for himself as a box to box skilful midfielder playing alongside Keith Houghton, with and eye for goal it was no surprise he fitted in straight away at Croft Park.
He scored twice on his home debut in the 2-0 home win over Bishop Auckland on 27th August, he scored 5 goals in his first 4 games for the club. A first choice pick for his ability to run with the ball and hold the play up when under pressure, he played in every FA Cup game bar the 1-1 draw at Crook.
Rob scored the 3rd goal in the 3-0 1st Qual. Round win at Shildon and then the opening goal in the 2nd Qual. 3-0 replay win over Crook Town having missed the first game due to being best man at a wedding!.
He scored the winner in the League Cup Semi Final win over eventual League Champions Spennymoor, he got 13 goals from midfield in that 77/78 season. He was an unused sub in the 2-1 win at Wrexham in the Debenhams Cup 1st leg and played in the 2-1 Senior Cup Final win over North Shields at St James Park and the 6-1 League Cup Final win against Willington.
On the 12th November 1977 Rob and his brother Steve became the first brothers to score in the same game for the club since the 3 Turney brothers scored back in August 1955. They both netted in the 5-0 league win at Ashington, 40 years on that feat still hasn’t been repeated since.
In the 78/79 season he found starting appearances limited, he scored his last goal in the 3-2 win over Whitby Town in November. In January 79 he returned to North Shields in search of regular football. He retired in 1980 after suffering a broken leg.
He went into management with Blue Star and Tow Law Town after retiring and twice came close to being pointed manager at Croft Park. In summer of 1988 he was ‘in the running’ after Jim Pearson resigned but the job went his former teammate Dave Clarke.
In the November 88 after Clarke resigned both Rob and his brother were approached by the board as possible successors, they couldn’t agree terms and decided to stayed on as assistant manager at Tow Law Town.
Rob only played at Blyth for 18 months but what they achieved in that year and a half will never been forgotten.

Midfielder – Steve Carney.
SC 77:78Steve was a 20-year-old apprentice electrician in 77/78 and the youngest member of the squad, having joined in the summer of 77 along with his bother Rob.
He was a trainee at West Brom as a youngster but returned home when they let him go and joined North Shields where his brother was playing, making his debut as an 18-year-old in 75/76.
He played 31 games and was then snapped up in the summer by Blyth but a wrangle with the league over a suspension for being sent off for North Shields delayed his debut for 3 months. He was a proper utility player,  used in defence, midfield and up front.
He managed to score 16 goals in 77/78 season, he famously score the equaliser at Stoke.
His tough tackling no-nonsense approach saw him involved in 2 red card incidents, Enfield’s Mick O’Sullivan was sent off for punching Steve in the 3rd Round tie and then he was sent off at Wrexham for a second yellow card after clashing with Mick Lyons.
Steve’s final goal of 77/78 season was back at St James Park in May when he scored in the Senior Cup Final win over this former club North Shields, little did he know then that within a year St James would become his home ground!.
In 78/79 Steve played 35 times, catching the eye of Newcastle United boss Bill McGarry when he was watching Blyth prior to signing Alan Shoulder. Steve managed only 7 appearances in 79/80 as he went on trial to Newcastle. In October 79 Steve made the move to Newcastle United for £1,000.
He made 149 appearances for United playing under 4 different managers. He was an integral part of the 83/84 team playing alongside Kevin Keegan. He only managed 1 goal for United, on the opening day of 84/85 season he scored the club’s first goal of the campaign in the 3-2 win at Leicester City.
Following a loan spell at Carlisle United in March he was released by Jackie Charlton in August 85 and joined Darlington. He made 12 appearances before being loaned out to Rochdale for 4 games, he then briefly joined Hartlepool before retiring for the professional game. He then turned out for Tow Law Town as a favour for his brother Rob who was their assistant manager.
In April 87 he rejoined the Spartans as they closed in on the league title, he won the league again in 87/88 playing in all but 4 of the 51 games that season.
In November 1988 following discussions with the board he came close to being appointed manager following Dave Clarke’s resignation. An agreement couldn’t be reached and his former teammate Tommy Dixon took over with Steve staying on as a player. In March 1990 Steve had a month as Caretaker Manager before the club appointed Ronnie Walton following Tommy Dixon resignation.
He retired in May 1991 having played 167 times in his second spell with the club while running his family business. In January 2011 he set up ‘Steve Carney Fitness’ a personal trainer business.
* In February 2013 news broke that Steve was suffering from pancreatic cancer, he sadly passed away on 6th May 2013.
RIP Steve.
Steve feature in the Green & White Cult Heroes series, read all about the young Geordie who fulfilled his dream to play full-time football.

Midfielder – Dave Varty.
DV 77:78Dave was 21-year-old in 77/78 and a student studying for an honours degree in Civil Engineering, he lived a matter of yards from the ground on Broadway Circle. He had joined in the summer from Whitley Bay, a pacey box to box midfielder he had initially struggled to settle into the team but as the season progressed his ability and pace made him a vital squad member.
Before joining Whitley Bay he had starred for Blyth Town Boys Club and Blyth Schoolboys teams. He had signed for Newcastle United Juniors and also had trials at Leicester City.
He played against Crook and was sub for the Consett game, he played at Bishop Auckland but missed the Burscough tie and was sub against Chesterfield.
He started in the 3rd Round win over Enfield and was a sub at Stoke and Wrexham. Brian Slane made a change for the replay at St James Park with Dave’s ‘young’ legs being preferred to Eddie Alder.
Having only scored twice all season he was the star of the Debenhams Cup Final against Wrexham scoring in both legs as Blyth gained some revenge over the Welshmen.
Dave played on for 3 more season at Croft Park winning 2 Northern League titles, a League Cup and reached the FA Trophy Quarter Finals.
In 1980/81 he was unlucky to miss out on the 3 epic FA Cup ties with Hull City when he picked up an injury in the game before at Penrith that kept him out for a month.
He left summer of 1981 joining North Shields, in 1981/82 he and his fellow Blyth teammate John Waterson were involved in another cup run. The Robins won 6 cup ties to reach the 2nd Round. Their win at league side Halifax Town in the 1st Round was the first time the club had ever beaten a league club in the cup.
Dave later moved on to Bishop Auckland where he won another 2 league titles before returning to Croft Park in summer 1987, ironically his final game for Bishops came at Croft Park in the final game of 86/87.
He played 2 more seasons winning yet another league title in his first season back.
He retired at the end of 88/89 season, with Dave and Steve Carney being the youngest members of the 77/78 team they were the last 2 members of that squad to still play for the club.

Forward – Steve ‘Jos’ Jones.
SJJ 77:78Jos was a 20-year-old Civil Servant in 77/78 having joined in spring 77 after catching the eye in a friendly against the club. After leaving school he worked for the Department of Health and Social Security down in Essex. When he came back home every month he played for the Golden Eagle pub on a Sunday morning (the Golden Eagle pub was owned by Blyth Chairman Jim Turney).
Shortly after returning home permanently the Golden Eagle team was asked to play in a friendly against the Spartans because they had a game postponed, and wanted match practise.
Jos played in the game at Croft Park and despite being up against Tommy Dixon & Ronnie Scott caught the eye of the Blyth management. Straight after the game Brian Slane invited him to train with the club. After impressing with his speed and finishing ability he was handed his debut in the final game of 76/77 at home to Willington on 30th April.
What a debut it was, he scored a perfect hat trick, left foot shot, right foot shot and header. But he ended the game with a broken nose after a defender elbowed him in the first half and then he got hit in the face by a trademark Mick Dagless thunderbolt shot. Days later he ended up in hospital and had to have his nose operated on, quite an introduction to the Northern League.
Jos was lightning quick and the star of the early rounds, he scored the vital equaliser at Crook in the 2nd qualifying round that earned the replay and scored again the in 4-1 victory at Consett in the next round.
But it was this winner in the 2nd round at home to Chesterfield that caught every ones attention, latching on to a loose back pass he stabbed the ball pass the advancing keeper.
It was his 16th goal for the club in only his 21st appearance, his early form had drawn the attentions of league clubs Aston Villa and Burnley who both wanted him for trials.
A bout of flu forced him to miss the 3rd Round tie against Enfield and after that he didn’t feature due to the form of Alan Shoulder & Terry Johnson, he ended his first season with an impressive 18 goals.
He found it hard to get games in 78/79 season and in January left to join Blue Star as part off the deal that brought defender Steve Dixon to Croft Park.
He went to play for Whitley Bay before returning to Blyth in November 1983, playing for 3 more seasons winning a Northern League title and the Senior Cup. In 85/86 he had his most prolific spell in since that 77/78 season scoring 7 goals in 3 games.
He finished his playing days at Alnwick Town, deciding to call it a day when he scored the winner in a game at Crook Town shortly after his 40th birthday.

Forward – Ian ‘Archie’ Mutrie.
IM 77:78Archie was a 24-year-old Warehouseman in 77/78 and had joined in the summer from North Shields.
Archie had a successful youth career and was a star of the local Sunday League when Jackie Marks signed him for North Shields in March 75. After 6 games at end of that season he left and went back to playing Sunday League, thinking Northern league football didn’t suit him. He soon returned to playing for North Shields, and it was no surprise once Jackie became Blyth’s assistant manager he signed Archie.
On 27th September 77 he scored a hat trick on his debut in the 5-0 win over Ashington.
He headed home the 72nd minute winner at Bishop Auckland in the 4th Qualifying round and then fired home the winner against Burscough in the 1st Round.
It was during those celebrations he first donned his ‘lucky cap’ swearing to wear it until they were knocked out the cup. He played against Chesterfield in the 2nd Round carrying an injury and didn’t finish the game.
He recovered to face Enfield in the 3rd Round but was subbed for Steve Carney before Alan Shoulder head home the 77th minute winner.
He missed out in the 4th Round when Shoulder & Johnson were the preferred and missed out again for the Wrexham tie. He was named on the bench for the replay at St James but didn’t get on.
He missed out on playing at St James Park again in May when he didn’t feature in the Senior Cup Final against his old club North Shields, but days later scored a hat trick in the 5-1 League Cup Final win over Willington.
He kept his place for the Debenhams Cup Final 1st leg 2-1 win at Wrexham and was a sub for the 2nd leg at Croft Park.
In 78/79 he scored in 5 consecutive games before returning to North Shields in the January, he scored 13 in his first 20 games back at Shields.
In September 79 his moved to Ashington, and scored 5 against North Shields in their first meeting after leaving, he finished the league’s top scorer with 47 goals and won the Senior Cup.
Archie surprisingly returned to Croft Park In September 1981 continuing his great form scoring in 8 consecutive games, his 15 goals helped Blyth reach the FA Cup 1st Round.
Unfortunately he twisted his knee in the 1-2 defeat to Walsall and was ruled out for 3 months. He returned in time to win the league title and league cup double.
Ever the joker, after scoring twice in the FA Trophy 1st Round win at Whitby he decided to not shave again until Blyth went out the trophy. By the time Spartans went out in the Quarter Finals he had full beard!. He scored 2 consecutive hat tricks as Blyth scored 32 goals in 8 games on way to another title.
He again rejoined North Shields in January 84, he left Blyth having scored 78 goals and was the club’s 5th top goalscorer in their 18 years in the Northern League. Unsurprisingly in his first full season back at Shields, 84/85, he was the league’s top scorer again with 33.
He went on to play for Brandon United under Peter Feenan then under Mick Dagless at Alnwick Town before returning to Sunday league and a successful spell at manager of West Moor Social Club.
The only time he played alongside his brother, Les was in Sunday League for Burradon Social Club. They were however actually once named in the same Blyth team.
In November 1984 they both returned for Tommy Dixon’s testimonial.
Archie started and scored as a side featuring Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Ronnie Scott, Alan Shoulder, Terry Johnson & Eddie Alder beat a Newcastle United XI 3-1.
Les came on as a sub for his brother in the second half, so despite being named in the same team they never managed to actually play together for the Spartans!.

Forward – Alan Shoulder.
AS 77:78Alan was a 25-year-old miner at Horden Colliery in 77/78, he had joined from Bishop Auckland in December 77.
He began playing for Leeholme Juniors before signing for Bishop Auckland in 1972, he was a regular in the league’s representative side and played in Bishop’s FA Cup run to the 2nd Round in 74/75. After 5 years at Kingsway, 77/78 season started with him in a dispute with the club which resulted him refusing to play, he played Sunday Morning football to keep fit. Having been persuaded to move to Croft Park by Brian Slane, the move was delayed by his dispute with Bishops who got the Northern League involved.
The wrangle meant he was forced to miss the Chesterfield 2nd round tie despite having made his debut the week earlier!.
Alan made a goalscoring debut on 10th December against Durham City in the 1-0 league win. His next goal sent Blyth through to the League Cup Semi Final with a 1-0 win at Horden CW the week prior to the Enfield cup tie.
Famously it was his 72nd minute header that sealed a place in the 4th Round.
He played every FA Cup tie after signing and scored 20 goals that season.
The following season he scored 7 goals before attracting the attention of Newcastle boss Bill McGarry. He scored twice in the FA Cup 1st Round replay defeat at home to York City watched by McGarry who made his move after the game.
Having joined Blyth for £200 he signed for Newcastle United for £20,000, and made his debut ironically against Stoke City exactly a year after making his Spartans debut!.
He went on to make 117 appearances for Newcastle scoring 38 goals with an average of a goal every other game. The arrival of Kevin Keegan saw Alan allowed to leave St James’, he was snapped up by Carlisle United manager Bob Stokoe on a free transfer.
His first season was explosive, he played 46 games and scored 21 goals which saw him win the Player of the Year award. It would be another 13 seasons before a Carlisle player scored more goals in a single season.
In 1985 he joined Hartlepool United on another free transfer. He scored on his debut and was their top scorer with 17 goals in 36 appearances. He played 76 games over 3 seasons scoring 26 goals. In December 1988 he was forced to retire from the professional game due to an eye injury.
Continuing to play part-time for Ferryhill Athletic, he then went into management as assistant at Gretna and coach at Newcastle Blue Star. He was caretaker at Gateshead before being appoint to the Croft Park hot seat in May 1988.
He was the last of the 77/78 players to manage the club but his reign only lasted 14 games, one of the shortest ever by a Blyth manager with only 4 wins from 14 games he resigned after an FA Cup defeat.
He also managed Crook Town Bishop Auckland, Willington & West Auckland and still played for Stanley, he was sent off at the ripe old age of 47 for arguing with a referee in a Durham Challenge Cup tie, he carried on playing ‘occasionally’ until he was 53 years old!.

Forward – Terry Johnson.
TJ 77:78Terry was a 26-year-old store man at a local toiletries firm in 77/78.
He joined of the beginning of the season having been allowed to return to his native North East by Brentford due to being homesick.
However they had to agree to him playing for Blyth due to him still being registered with them and he wasn’t allowed to play full-time for anyone.
Terry had played for his school team and South East Northumberland Boys before joining Newcastle. Playing for United’s Under 18 teams before signing as a professional aged 17, he played for United’s Junior and Central league team. He was top scorer with 34 goals in his first season in the Central League team, in his last season with the club he scored 15.
Lack of first team opportunities saw him loaned out to Darlington in November 1969.
In January 1971, aged 22, he give up hope of making United’s first team and moved to Southend United for £7,000. Playing in their final 21 games of that season he scored 8 goals. He was a virtual ever-present for the next 3 season’s helping them win promotion to Division Three in 1971/72,. He was awarded Player of the Year for his performances in 72/73. In November 74 having played 168 times and scored 38 goals he was sold to Brentford for £15,000. He played 110 times scoring 30 goals before he left the club at the end of 76/77.
He scored 32 goals in his first season with Blyth as his experience showed at the crucial times. He scored in the 1st Qual win at Shildon, in the 2nd Qual. replay win over Crook and the 3rd Qual. win at Consett and twice at Stoke.
He scored in the 12th minute to put Blyth 1-0 up at the Victoria Ground before famously hammering home the dramatic last gasp winner that sent the Spartans into the 5th Round. As well know he then scored at Wrexham and in the replay at St James Park, he scored 32 goals in that season which his former club Brentford noted and looked into the possibility of taking him back to Griffin Park.
Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 14.22.30He also played for Bedlington Terriers briefly before returning to Croft Park and played until 1983 scoring a total 67 goals for the Spartans, his final goals came at Tow Law in April when he scored 4 in the 9-1 win that sealed the Northern League title.
After retiring he famously ran a very successful fruit & veg stall on Blyth market where his Spartans fame brought him regular customers every week.


  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat’s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was a crucial source of information.

Andrew Griffins excellent 2006 books about the cup run
‘Two wins from Wembley
‘ was another crucial source of information and images.
It is well worth a read with some great insight by those involved such as players, officials and supporters.

Kevin Tilmouth who once again provided rare memorabilia from his private collection that was used in this article.

Phil Castiaux who helped arrange the 40th Anniversary Reunion. Phil organised the players returning as guests of honour at homes games throughout the 2017/18 season.
He also interviewed them for the match day programme articles we produced throughout the season.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

Blog Ping
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Classic Encounters – Blyth Spartans v Wrexham FA Cup 5th Round Replay 1977/78.

Monday 27th February 1978
FA Cup Fifth Round Replay
Blyth Spartans v Wrexham
St James’ Park, Newcastle.

A week before the 1-1 draw at Wrexham the club met with council officials and Police to assess Croft Park’s ability to host a possible replay. Manager Brian Slane was keen to stage any replay at Croft Park but with a possibly 4th Round Stoke City replay already assigned to St James’ Park the outcome seemed inevitable. Officials again decided that due to Croft Park’s limitations this replay would also have to be held there.
The only game the club had wanted at St James’ was a 5th Round tie against Newcastle United but Wrexham had put pay to that!.

The prospect of hosting Arsenal in the Quarter Finals added to the high demand for replay tickets, putting even more pressure on both Blyth and Newcastle officials. United Secretary Russell Cushing wasn’t sure that the game would even go ahead: “There are 12 inches of snow on the pitch and we are not very hopeful. The sale of tickets has still to be arranged”.

As expected the Wednesday night replay (22nd February) was postponed, local ref Alan Saunders was called into make the official decision. The postponement allowed officials to organise what had become the biggest game staged in the North East for years.
The tie was rescheduled for Monday 27th, a night that would become enshrined in North East football folklore. 
The delay raised concerns that the FA would invoke Steve Carney’s red card and therefore rule him out. If that happened, Brian Slane wanted the club to look into the possibility of getting a game staged that would act as his suspension.
Blyth went without a game between the ties when the scheduled Senior Cup replay at Whitley Bay was called off due to the heavy snowfall. Fortunately the FA didn’t act and it also meant further injuries were avoided. Eddie Alder (knee), Ronnie Scott (heel) and Rob Carney (leg) had picked up knocks at the Racecourse Ground and were giving cause for concern. The squad trained on the Sunday before the tie with the national press invited to an open training session at Croft Park.

Brian Slane had approached Newcastle United asking if the players could have a look around the ground ahead of the game. United officials went one better inviting them to be guests of honour for the home game against Ipswich Town on the Saturday.
Players and officials were given a tour of the ground and the players received a standing ovation when presented to the crowd. Ironically it was United’s first home game since Wrexham snatched a 2-2 draw in the 4th Round a month earlier. Wrexham did play over the weekend, they got FA approval to bring their away game at Lincoln City forward 24 hours to give then time to recover. The Friday night 1-0 win also served as John Lyons suspension so he was free to play in the replay.

The replay wasn’t all-ticket but the 11,000 seats inside
St James’ Park had sold out and the crowd exceeded expectations. Officially given as 42,187, however people took to climbing over walls to get in as up to 10,000 were reported to have been locked out after the gates were closed.
The North East had truly taken the Spartans to their hearts and after the game Wrexham manager Afron Griffiths commented he hadn’t seen a game played in such fervent atmosphere since the first game at Old Trafford after the Munich Air Disaster. He stated that he had felt sorry for their 500 fans tucked away in a corner of the ground rammed with 40,000 partisan Geordies!.

The team got an idea of what was happening that night when their bus struggled to make it to the ground due to the sheer numbers of people trying to get into the city centre.
It was a surreal experience for the squad as Dave Clarke recalled:
“We were stuck in traffic and a police officer on a motorbike pulled up beside the front of the bus and Jackie Marks wound the window down and asked him if there had been an accident. The lads were anxiously waiting to hear what the situation was because we’d been stuck for a while. Jackie turned around and told us that it was just the traffic heading for the ground and we were going to have to be escorted. Nobody would believe him until the blue lights started flashing and we made our way to the ground.”

  • That 42,187 was easily the biggest crowd at St James’ Park that season and it wouldn’t be bettered for another 22 years!. 
As planned the Leazes Stand was demolished after the 77/78 season and with the clubs fortunes falling on harder times it wasn’t replaced.
    It was not until the complete redevelopment of St James’ to its current capacity that the crowd was bettered.
    On 23rd August 2000 a crowd of 51,327 saw United beat Derby County 3-2.
  • There was damming criticism for the way Newcastle United Football Club handled the night and a war of words between club officials, fans, Police and St Johns Ambulance officials ensued.
    Many had paid £2 for seat tickets believing they were guaranteed entry but that didn’t happen. Two gates were stormed by angry fans after club officials took the decision to close some gates an hour before kick off.
    There was a mad scramble around the ground when people found the gates shut, ironically one of the those locked out was Richard Dennis who had been sacked as United’s manager earlier that season. He had tried and failed to gain entry via the officials entrance and the media’s gate.
    A senior Police spokesman criticised the facilities at the ground and believed the gates should have been opened earlier to allow for people arriving early. Secretary Russell Cushing defended their actions stating the club always considered public safety and the ground complied with the Safety Act:
    “The reason why they didn’t get in was because the gates were shut by ourselves and the police. It was full!”.
    Many wanted to know why the official attendance was 5,000 less than the ground’s 47,000 capacity. Cushing replied:
    “We got broken into in several places. We had to shut gates so we could move people at half time into places where there was room left.”
    Cushing was also quick to point out that there “is a no money refund provision on the tickets” meaning those who had bought tickets and didn’t get in weren’t getting their money back!.

As was the way back then the original match referee was given the replay much to the anguish of the Blyth officials, they felt he should have been relieved of his duties.
What was to come just made him even more infamous.
Brian Slane made what he later described as the hardest decision in his life, Dave Varty came into midfield for Eddie Alder:
“I told Eddie I was using the younger legs of David Varty and he accepted the decision although I knew he was disappointed. We were only allowed one sub then and I used Ian Mutrie as I felt he would be the best all round replacement on this day. The decision tore me to bits, and even though Eddie was still essential to the side for his opinions and encouragement, to this day I don’t know if it was the right move.”
At the time Alder spoke of his disappointment:

“Sure, I’m upset and I’ve told the manager about my feelings. I felt my experience would have been a benefit in this match, more so than in the first game at Wrexham. I had a slight hunch that I might be left out. It was simply a feeling in the back of my mind. But it was still a surprise when it happened.”

That was the only change for Blyth who had named the same back four for the 10th successive FA Cup game. Wrexham also made one change from the first tie with Gareth Evans replacing Alan Hill at right back with Hill dropping to the bench so it meant John Lyons missed out:
Blyth Spartans: Clarke, Waterson, Guthrie, Varty, Scott, Dixon, Shoulder, Houghton, Johnson, R.Carney, S Carney, Sub I.Mutrie.
Wrexham: Davies, Evans, Dwyer, Davis, Roberts, Thomas, Shinton, Sutton, McNeil, Whittle, Cartwright, Sub Hill.

The game kicked off in explosive fashion, in only the 7th minute the ref stunned the crowd by controversially awarding Wrexham a penalty.
Micky Thomas swung in a cross from the left, Ronnie Scott and Dixie McNeil challenged for the ball, both missed it. As they turned to follow the ball Alf Grey pointed at the penalty spot making gestures that Scott had pushed McNeill.


The challenge that lead to the penalty award!.

0-1 replayDespite vigorous protests Graham Whittle stepped up to fire the Third Division side ahead in front of the packed Leazes Stand.
Blyth settled and created chances, Carney charged down a Roberts clearance but Dai Davies was alert and gathered the ball.
Dave Varty twisted away from Dwyer but as he bore down on goal Roberts just managed to nip the ball away.
Wrexham replied with efforts from Shinton and Whittle that Clarke dealt with comfortably. The ref then further angered the crowd by ignoring his linesman’s signal for a goal kick and awarded a corner to Wrexham. The playing surface was getting worse as the rain poured down, Alan Shoulder did well to keep his footing as he skipped passed two defenders only to see his shot rise over the bar. Seconds later defender Dwyer cynically brought Shoulder down as he went passed him but staggeringly the ref waved play on.

McNeil makes it 0-2.

Wrexham’s quick breaks were keeping the Blyth defenders on their toes, one led to the visitors going two up. In the 26th minute Bobby Shinton collected the ball deep in their half and ran almost the length of the field. He crossed for Dixie McNeil to crash home a thunderous half volley that give Dave Clarke no chance.
Despite the setback the crowd responded to drive the Spartans on, the Gallowgate end erupted thinking Alan Shoulder had pulled one back. His viciously dipping effort looked to have been pushed in by Dai Davies but it had in fact been pushed around the post for a corner.
Blyth were pushing hard to get back into the game, Rob Carney won a corner when his drive was blocked by Evans. From the corner a scramble ensued when the ball wasn’t cleared. Terry Johnson & Tommy Dixon just failed to get a touch on the ball before keeper Dai Davies smothered the ball in the mud bath of a goalmouth.
What wasn’t know until later was that Davies picked up an injury making that save. Manager Aaron Griffiths took the decision at half time to keep quiet about it, deciding to not tell his players to avoid them over protecting Davies. He didn’t want to make it obvious to the Blyth players that his keeper was carrying an injury. After the game Davies was taken straight to the RVI with a suspected broken hand!.
Just before the break Blyth had a big appeal for a penalty waved away, defender John Roberts appeared to push a shot away with his hand. The Blyth players were furious with Alf Grey for denying them what they saw as a clear penalty. Roberts even admitted after the game he’d handled the ball.
Blyth started the second half as they had left off and pinned the visitors back. In the very first minute Varty’s corner was agonisingly missed by both Steve Carney & Terry Johnson. Even the defenders were getting involved, Ronnie Scott superbly intercepted a pass and surged forward before unleashing a 40 yard drive that Davies did well to hold. Aside from conceding ground to Blyth the Welshmen were conceding countless corners, Varty swung in a superb ball that Terry Johnson was unlucky not to connect with.
Wrexham’s best chance of the half came from a Blyth defender, captain John Waterson tried to clear a Shinton cross but only succeeded in heading against his own crossbar, Tommy Dixon reacted the quickest to clear the rebound.
Rob Carney then collected a weak clearance by Roberts and went close with a left foot drive that just cleared the bar. Dave Clarke produced his only save of the second half when he got down well to a low drive from Whittle.

With only 7 minutes remaining St James Park erupted, another poor clearance was once again collected by Rob Carney who turned the ball into Keith Houghton.
He headed into the path of Terry Johnson who then turned on the ball before hammering home high & wide of the despairing Davies.

The remaining minutes were absolute bedlam as the crowd bayed for another goal but unfortunately it wasn’t to be and despite their valiant efforts the dream was over.

After the players exchanged pleasantries the Wrexham players slipped off the pitch celebrating their victory almost unnoticed. The Blyth players took the adulation of the crowd who refused to leave without giving their heroes the send off they deserved.
The players and officials took a lap of honour around a raucous St James’s and the emotion of it got too much for some. Coach Jackie Marks broke down in tears and had to be consoled by physio Pat Smith.
Blyth Spartans may have lost the game but in the eyes of the packed St James’ Park and the North East they were the real winners.

After they players finally left the pitch there was a celebratory mood in the changing room. Champagne flowed as they all toasted their superb achievement.
Brian Slane couldn’t hide his feelings about the part the referee had played in the two games:
“After what happened in the first match the referee was determined to show he was not pro-Blyth but he went completely the other way. It was never a penalty. That sort of challenge happens dozens of times in a game. 
We should have had a penalty when John Roberts tipped the ball away in the first half. But there is nothing we can do now, we have just got to accept it. I’m sick at the result for the lads but I’m proud for every player because of the way they played. But that’s football and you have got to accept it. We have done a wonderful public relations job for football and we have shown many professional sides how to accept defeat with dignity”.

Ronnie Scott was equally adamant about the controversial decision:
“I just went for the ball, my hand was up but McNeil made a meal of it. It wasn’t a penalty it was just a 50-50 ball we both missed it and as I went to chase it he was appealing to the ref!”.
Dave Clarke had the best view of the incident, happening right in front of him:
“It was a brave decision by the ref but a wrong one. It was a driven cross from my left and Scotty and Dixie went for it and both missed it, and as they tried to chase the ball the ref was conned by a good pro who made a meal of the challenge”.

Terry Johnson spoke about his goal but couldn’t hide his frustration at the ref:
“A header put the ball through, I controlled it and just turned and put it in. There are better referee’s in the Northern League. He robbed us tonight and cost us the match at Wrexham. 
If they had not got an early goal it would have been a different match”.

Many felt the highly qualified referee had favoured the league side and made wrong decisions at key points throughout the two ties. Within the club there was a belief that their exploits had become an embarrassment to the FA and they had wanted the part timers out the cup no matter what. Chairman Jim Turney didn’t hold back:
“The referee started off tonight as he left of at Wrexham. Again they were favoured by him. 
I expected this because in my experience as a player, manager and chairman of Blyth the referee has always favoured the football league side. We put up a great performance, a fantastic team effort and at the end of the day we were the real winners”.

Captain John Waterson, who’s challenge 10 days earlier at the Racecourse Ground should have put his side into the Quarter Finals, summed how his teammates felt:
“It was absolutely marvellous the way the lads gave 110 percent. We can’t speak highly enough of the supported in the North East. It was tremendous to walk out in front of them. The way they helped us was amazing. We felt ten feet tall when we heard them and it never stopped. I can’t pit it into words how we all feel about them. We have memories for a lifetime now-something you can’t possibly forget.

Having played for both Newcastle and Sunderland Ron Guthrie knew what they had done for the region:
“We have brought a lot of pride back to the North East and we did it playing good football”.

Wrexham boss Afron Griffiths commended the Spartans:
“They did exceptionally well. They got better as the game went on. I don’t mind admitting I was worried. You can’t take anything away from them, they battled at our place but they were even better tonight. Two goals down and they stuck to the task we were hanging on in the end. What a performance.”

The local and national media were full of praise for the club in their efforts on the pitch and how the club had handled itself off the field, FA secretary Ted Croker was also full of praise famously stating:
“Blyth Spartans must be the most famous non-league football team in the world.”

Many awards were bestowed on the club such as Non League Team of the Year, the FA Team of the Year and Dave Clarke was named the Non League Player of the Year.
The club had become a star attraction and was inundated with offers from clubs wanting to play the ‘famous Blyth Spartans’, including offers from abroad!.
The town’s twin-town of Solingen in Germany invited them over for a friendly, one offer that was accepted came from Irish club Finn Harps who offered an all expenses paid trip over for a friendly.

Two local businessmen were intent on making the game everyone wanted happen.
Bothers Roy & Ian Caller, owners of the Caller’s store chain, were Joint Vice Presidents of the club and contacted Arsenal in an attempt to arrange a friendly.
They offered an all expenses package if they travelled up to Croft Park for a game.
However, citing fixture commitments they turned down the offer, Roy Caller contacted them again on the clubs behalf proposing a pre season friendly but they replied stating they had already arranged a pre season tour of Germany!.
The Arsenal game never happened but Blyth did face Wrexham again that season and got some revenge when they beat them in Debenhams Cup. 

Despite missing out on the league title three trophies were won, the Northern League Cup, Northumberland Senior Cup and the Debenhams Cup. There was an open top bus parade around the town as a thank you to the fans and town for their support throughout the historic season.

The club received a civic reception in honour of their achievements and there was a social evening held in the clubhouse at Croft Park.
Of the many souvenirs that came out of the cup run, one of the most popular was the ‘Blyth Spirit’ record produced in conjunction with Radio Newcastle.
It featured commentary from the cup games including BBC Sport broadcaster Peter Jones’s now iconic words from the St James’ Park replay:
“I have seen many many memorable moments on football grounds not many would beat this….”

Unsurprisingly several players found themselves targets of league clubs, within a year Alan Shoulder signed Newcastle United for £20,000 and not long after Steve Carney also joined the United ranks.
Keith Houghton was pursued by Second Division Chelsea and Carlisle United but spurned their advances due to his job as a Policeman, but finally quit the force in October 1980 to join the Cumbrians.


  • What of the man many blamed for killing the dream, referee Alf Grey.
    To this day his name still rankles Spartans fans, some believe he’d long since passed away but he is still alive albeit 83 now.
    The Great Yarmouth ref had initially harboured ambitions of becoming a cricket umpire:
    “Cricket was my first love and I qualified as a cricket umpire whilst serving in the Royal Air Force in Germany in 1953. It was only when I was told that I had no chance to progress very far in that profession and most certainly not to County Championship level that I turned my intentions to football refereeing…and immediately became one of football’s most unloved ones!
    Starting his refereeing career in 1960, his first major appointment was the 1971 Amateur Cup Final at Wembley. He was appointed to the Football League in 72: “After eight demanding years’ apprenticeship, I was appointed to the linesmen’s list of the Football League and then to the referees’ list. I soon realised that I could not rest on my laurels for the road down was much quicker than the road to the top, and there were far more critics available to help me on the way down if I should fail.”
    He was Clive Thomas’s lead linesman for the 76 Southampton v Manchester United FA Cup Final. In January 77 he was elected to the FIFA International Referee’s pool and appointed to 3 European club ties. He also ruled over 3 Internationals; Saudi Arabia’s 0-1 World Cup Asia/Oceania Qualifier defeat to Kuwait in November 81, Ireland’s 3-1 friendly win over Czechoslovakia 3-1 in April 82 then in June 1983 his last ever game before retiring was Brazil’s 2-1 win in Switzerland.
    His other Wembley ‘appearances’ were the 78 FA Trophy Final and the 81 Charity Shield, having announced he was retiring at the end of the 82/83 season he was appointed to the FA Cup Final and it’s replay between Manchester United and Brighton.
    Once his ‘playing days’ finished he became an assessor on the FA and Premier Leagues Referee’s panels and also a UEFA delegate/referees observer controlling matches throughout Europe.
    During his career as a referee he always found time to referee local school finals and charity matches.
    He bracketed referee’s in three groups:
    ‘sergeant-major’, ‘showman’ and ‘keep-calm’
    a category he placed himself in:
    “I tried not to irritate players by over-anxiety on my part. There was, however, the danger that at times my tolerance would be taken as a sign of weakness, but those who knew me knew I could get tough if the occasion demanded.”
    3 years after the Blyth v Wrexham games he was in the headlines again with Manchester City fans up in arms about him. He controversially ruled out a City goal that features in the 2017 book ’50 Years of Manchester City: The Best and Worst of Everything’ written by Steve Mingles chronicling his life watching City.
    City hosted Liverpool in the ’81 League Cup Semi Final 1st leg, 6 minutes in Kevin Reeves out jumped Alan Kennedy to head past the advancing Ray Clemence. Grey inexplicably ruled the goal out for a foul on Clemence.  He then further incensed the City fans awarding a contentious late free kick that sealed Liverpool’s 0-1 win, the irate City fans dubbed it the ‘f***ing Alf Grey game’. Grey was involved in football for 44 years and travelled to 50 countries as an official. Even before retiring he rarely spoke publicly, but in 2011 he granted a journalist & sports writer from his home town an extremely rare interview in which he spoke about his career.
    One of his clearest recollections was by his own admittance his most controversial fixture and the one he is still remembered for; Wrexham v Blyth.
    Despite initially admitting his mistake with the passing of time he was somewhat blasé about it:
    “If Blyth had won they would have gone into the sixth round and a tie against Arsenal. I am still remembered for awarding Wrexham a corner kick, that they say was not a corner, that led to an equalising goal in the dying minutes for Wrexham.”
    “In those early days I was sufficiently ambitious to tolerate the abuse from fans and as I progressed through the Football League – sensational journalism, slow-motion television replays, anonymous abusive telephone calls and even bomb threats!”.
    In 2012 he received an England cap to mark his contribution to English football during his time as a FIFA Referee, it was presented to him by FA Referees Committee chairman David Elleray in a ceremony held in London.


In 2003 the players & officials gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of their historic cup run and it was the feature of an TV documentary:

The club had a proud FA Cup tradition before the events of 1977/78 but what was achieved that season capped off a superb era in the clubs history.
Having rebuilt itself after becoming ‘amateur’ in 1964, the club eventually got to grips with life as a part-timers and went on to great success in the 70’s.

Despite the passing of time the achievements and memories of 77/78 have deservedly lived on. 
team shotThose ‘part time’ footballers rightly became legends of North East football and the name of Blyth Spartans became famous throughout football because of their historic achievements.

To this day the FA Cup still holds a special place with the club and it’s supporters. The famous 77/78 ‘Blyth Spirit’ was shown to be still alive & kicking in the two recent cup runs to the 3rd Round.


stripThe club have marked the 40th Anniversary throughout 2017/18 with a series of events and the current home kit is a replica of the one worn that famous season.
The players have been guests of honours at home games building up to the anniversary when a special social evening is planned to mark the historic event.


4 club legends from that epic season have sadly since passed away –
RIP Ronnie Scott, Steve Carney, Jackie Marks,  Tommy Dixon.

  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat’s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was a crucial source of information.

Andrew Griffins excellent 2006 books about the cup run
‘Two wins from Wembley
‘ was another crucial source of information and images.
It is well worth a read with some great insight by those involved such as players, officials and supporters.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

Blog Ping
Hostgator promo codes


Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, Classic Matches, FA Cup, Giant Killings, Green & White Cult Heroes, History, Managers, Players, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Classic Encounters – Wrexham v Blyth Spartans, FA Cup 5th Round 1977/78.

Saturday 18th February 1978
FA Cup Fifth Round
Wrexham v Blyth Spartans
The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham.

After a fortnight of intense build up FA Cup 5th Round day finally arrived. Sixteen teams remained and the superb win at Second Division Stoke City had given the Spartans their rightful place.
The Northern League part-timers were the first Non League club to reach the 5th Round in 29 years, Third Division Wrexham stood in the way of them becoming the first Non League side to reach the Quarter Finals since 1914.
64 years earlier, Southern League Queens Park Rangers lost 1-2 at Liverpool (however in 1914 the FA Cup had been very different with less ‘proper’ rounds making that Quarter Final the equivalent of a fourth round tie).

The clubs had met twice before, both FA Cup 1st Round ties, in November 1936 Spartans lost 0-2 at home then 20 years later lost again going down 1-2 at the Racecourse Ground.
It was the 10th FA Cup game played that season and as with all cup runs there had been some ‘close calls’. A late equaliser away at Crook Town earned a 2nd Qualifying Round replay which Blyth won 3-0. In the 4th Qualifying Round Blyth lead 1-0 at Bishop Auckland when the home side believed they’d scored a last minute equaliser. Claiming the ball had crossed the line the Bishops players angrily chased after the ref who had waved ‘play on’ following Tommy Dixon’s goal line clearance.
Wrexham also had their share of close calls, they had been 2-4 down at Bristol City with only 20 minutes left and came back to draw 4-4, winning the replay 3-0. Then a last minute equaliser by Dixie McNeil in a 2-2 draw at Newcastle United earned a 4th Round replay.

The severe winter had proved as difficult as any opponents, Brian Slane’s side had only played once since the win at Stoke 12 days earlier.
In-form Wrexham had denied Blyth and the North East the 5th Round tie everybody wanted when they comfortably beat Newcastle United 4-1 in their 4th Round replay. Their only defeat in their last 12 games had been to Liverpool in the League Cup Quarter Finals!.
Following the Stoke victory the players had become local celebrities, the national press wanted to know everything about the teacher, painter & decorator, electrician and coal miner. Everyday working men who now stood on the brink of football history.
As well as their employers giving them the time off they needed, many local companies showed their gratitude for putting Blyth ‘on the map’. A furniture company invited them to their premises so each player could pick out £230 worth of furniture and a supermarket invited them all do their weekly shop for free!.
The thought of reaching the Quarter Final was posing a problem for 20 year old electrician Steve Carney, he had set his March 4th wedding date long before the cup run started and naturally they had booked a honeymoon. The Quarter Final was Saturday 11th March when Steve and his bride would be on honeymoon:
“It is going to be a problem for me if we win on Saturday, if we get through to the next round I will try to change the date of the wedding if possible but I don’t think Lizzie will be too pleased”.
Lizzie had other ideas: “I did not realise the dates might clash.
I don’t know what we’ll do but the wedding will go ahead”

Wrexham boss Arfon Griffiths was well aware of the threat Blyth posed:
“I’m not worried about it, it’s a game to be won and it doesn’t matter who we are playing, a First Division side or non-league team, we go out and play to the best of our ability. I’ve had a chat with Alan A’Court at Stoke and he said if we don’t treat them as league opposition we will be in trouble. I know a little about their strengths and weaknesses but we never divert from our pattern of play.

Blyth’s management team of Brian Slane & Jackie Marks were undaunted by the task, Slane stating:
We have a side who believe in themselves, we are not going out in awe of the competition. Wrexham are standing in the way of us making history. That’s incentive enough for the players. 
The attention and publicity are doing the side the power of good.”
While Marks was his usual upbeat self:
“They’re hating Wrexham because they are the team that can stop us. I think we can surprise them. I don’t like predicting but one thing is for certain, they will know they have been in a game. The lads won’t want to let anyone down. This is the hardest game without a doubt. They might be a Third Division side but on paper they are the best we have met. But we’ll be ready.”

Shane’s plans to watch Wrexham in person were foiled when their Welsh Cup tie at Merthyr Tydfil was postponed. He received help from Southampton’s North East born boss Laurie McMenemy who supplied an in-depth dossier on Wrexham and put him in touch with other Third Division managers who had played Wrexham.
WB 77:78With the team short of match practice Slane had not wanted them to go two weeks without a game. They had been due to play Whitley Bay in the Northumberland Senior Cup the week before but Croft Park was under six inches of snow. 
Discussions had taken place about the need to play a game so an appeal went out on Radio Newcastle for volunteers to help clear enough snow to get the game on. Hundreds turned up to help and the game was played on a snow-covered pitch were only the lines were visible. The 2-2 draw was watched by the Wrexham Youth team coach Terry Bates who had been sent by Afron Griffiths to get a ‘first hand’ look at the Spartans.

The Blyth party were due to leave for their base in Chester on the Friday, but concerns had grown when word was received that a morning pitch inspection would be needed due to a severe frost in North Wales. Having already made two wasted trips to Stoke for the previous round Jackie Marks feared they could face another:
“I understand the ground is very hard and it could be another case of us having another wasted journey, but you have to prepare as though the game will be played”.
Having travelled as planned he recalled how they adapted their pre match preparations:
“It was so frosty we trained on the hotel car park; Barry Davies the BBC commentator even joined in the five-a-side!.
As usual we sang on the bus on the way to the ground led by Rob Carney and Dave Clarke. 
Then we sang in the dressing room and it went around the world on ‘Match of the Day’.  
Then it was a nip of speed oil and out we went.”
Jackie Marks ‘speed oil’ had drawn plenty of attention with people wanting to know what this secret potion was. They were later inundated with bottles of ‘speed oil’ when everyone found out it was indeed whiskey. It was Ron Guthrie who had suggested the idea to Marks, having previously played at Newcastle & Sunderland where they had a bottle in the changing room. In the winter months the players were able to have a sip to warm themselves up before they went out onto the pitch.

That ‘training session’ in the car park stood the players in good stead, Great Yarmouth referee Alf Grey deemed the frozen pitch as ‘playable’ but it was so hard it wouldn’t ‘take a stud’ so most players took to wearing trainers.

IMG_9669 (1)Off the field matters were a concern to Chairman Jim Turney as around 7,000 Blyth fans were expected to make the journey down to North Wales. 1,000 seat tickets in the Mold Road Stand had been snapped up while the Tech End allocated to Blyth fans could hold up to 7,000.
Turney was worried by reports that local police planned to hold buses back staggering their arrival into Wrexham to make it easier for them to handle the travelling fans. Despite the Chairman’s worries all the fans made it into the ground before kick off and 
the players came out to a raucous welcome, unfurling a huge “Super Fans OK” banner to show their appreciation.

The game kicked off with Blyth attacking a sea of green & white in the Tech End, the travelling fans made it a 19,935 crowd.
It was clear straight away the players were struggling on the frozen surface, running and stopping were proving very difficult.
As expected the home side started strongly and swept forward, Clarke pulled off a fantastic diving save to tip a Micky Thomas shot away for a corner, then minutes late he palmed another  Thomas drive over the bar.

Blyth settled and finally got a foot hold in the game in the 12th minute with a marvelous opportunist goal by Terry  Johnson.
Full back Alan Hill, under pressure from Rob Carney and Alan Shoulder, tried to reach Dai Davies with a back pass but Johnson read his intentions and intercepted. As the keeper rushed out the ball bobbled up before he calmly slotted it through the keepers legs into the net sending the Blyth fans behind that goal wild.

The goal only increased the home sides pressure and Blyth were forced on to the back foot, in the 20th minute Graham Whittle beat five men in a mazy run but Clarke and Guthrie blocked his shot.
Chip shots from Bobby Shinton and Dixie McNeil gave Clarke some anxious moments but both went just over the bar.
The game then became scrappy, after Eddie Alder fired a shot well over John Waterson received a talking to from the ref after a lunging tackle sent Whittle tumbling. From the free kick Whittle got in behind the Blyth wall but with a free shot hammered over. Steve Carney was booked on the stroke of half-time for a late tackle on Micky Thomas.

At the start of the second half Carney was immediately brought down in revenge for his challenge on Thomas. Dave Clarke caused concern by dropping a McNeil cross but he recovered quickly to smother the ball.
McNeil was the second man to be shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Clarke. 
Steve Carney was on the receiving end again in the 56 minutes when John Roberts was booked for the high tackle. 
McNeil then missed an open goal when he failed to control a pass and was robbed by Ron Guthrie.
In the 67th minute tempers boiled over and the ref sent off Wrexham sub John Lyons and Steve Carney. Following a Wrexham throw-in near the corner flag Carney, who had been in a running feud with several opponents, caught Lyons with a late challenge on his foot. Lyons retaliated by viciously kicking Carney in the groin, unsurprisingly he was shown a straight red card. 
At first Carney was thought to be led off for treatment by physio Pat Smith but he too had been given his marching orders. For some reason Lyons strongly protested he even tried to grab hold of the ref’s arm that held up the red card!.
• One point of note from the incident was that after awarding the initial throw in that led to the red cards the ref had gone over to try to stick the corner flag further into the ground having noticed it was falling over!.

McNeil heads over.

Clarke them produced another wonder save leaping to grab a McNeil header bound for the top corner.
With only five minutes left Blyth almost sealed a place in the Quarter Finals when a superb ball from Keith Houghton played in Terry Johnson, but as he bore down on goal two Wrexham defenders closed in to dispossess him.
The home side piled on the pressure, Cartwright fired across the face of Clarke’s goal with McNeil unable to get on the end of it. Then McNeil wasted what looked be their last chance, Dwyer whipped in a cross that Shinton got on the end off and headed goal wards however McNeil tried to make sure but only succeeded in flicking the ball on to the top of bar and away for a goal kick.

Then came that bizarre sequence of events that shattered the dream…
With time almost up Bobby Shinton raced down the left-wing with captain John Waterson, as they approached the bye-line Waterson cleverly played the ball off Shinton and out for a goal kick.
Both players appealed and inexplicably ref Alf Grey give a corner!.
What followed was just as difficult to believe, as Les Cartwright set to take the corner with the corner flag lying on an angle the ref went over and tried to stick it into the frozen ground so it stood upright. Cartwright whipped over the ball which Dave Clarke rose to punch away for another corner.
This time Cartwright pushed the flag over to give himself room to take the corner, again Clarke rose above everyone to superbly collect the ball, however Alf Grey wasn’t happy and ordered it to be retaken because the flag wasn’t in place!.
Once again attempts were made to push the flag into the frozen ground, Cartwright swung the ball over and this time Wrexham defender John Roberts jumped with Clarke.
Both missed the ball and it fell to Dixie McNeil who just about managed to head home a highly controversial 89th minute equaliser off the back of defender Ronnie Scott!.
There was only just time to restart the game but that was the last meaningful action as Alf Grey blew the final whistle.

The Blyth players acknowledged the travelling fans in joyous mood and deservedly took all the plaudits but it was a case of what could have been. They were understandably dejected captain John Waterson stated:
“We were just a minute away from victory, it was hard to take. If they had scored the equaliser earlier it might not have been so bad but a minute from the end…”

When asked if he would have taken a draw before the game Jack Marks refused to be downhearted:
“Of course you would, I told the lads to forget about their goal and instead to think positively on how far we had come. We’re still in there fighting and you can show them next time.”
He lifted the players spirits with his now famous chanting & singing in the dressing room afterwards, as dignified as ever Brian Slane was full of pride:
“This has been the greatest moment of my football life in spite of the disputed end of the game. 
I am proud that we as a side have maintained a dignity and calmness that has typified Blyth Spartans throughout their run.”
Facing the nation’s press, Slane showed no bitterness when he gave his philosophical view: “It was never a corner – Shinton ran the ball out of play. Clarkie dealt with the first corner, caught the second but then the ref made Wrexham take a third. It’s unfortunate but that’s football, we have just got to live with it. The lads were disappointed. They held them for 89 minutes and then they come back with a goal like that. However, we are still in there and no one is going to dampen our spirits.”

Goalscorer Terry Johnson told how his anticipation set up his famous goal:
”Alan put their full-back under pressure and you could see a mile off that he was going to pass back. 
The Wrexham lad put me through and I knew I had scored as soon as I touched it. 
The goalie came rushing out like a mad gorilla but I put the ball through his legs. 
I could do with a chance like that every week. It was magic scoring in front of all the Blyth fans”.

Speaking of his red card Steve Carney admitted he was overzealous at times but wouldn’t change: 
“I deserved the yellow card for my first tackle against Thomas, it was a bit bad, stupid really. 
The second yellow against Lyons was a fair tackle though I did catch his foot after playing the ball. As I fell down he booted me in the groin, really hard. I was really sick to be shown red; it was so unfair. Lyons didn’t like the treatment I was giving him and he reacted but I didn’t deserve to be sent off.
In the next match I will play as I always do and I’ll get stuck in – you have to if you’re going to win. You must tackle hard but fair. You have to stop the opposition from playing but I will kerb my enthusiasm a bit so I don’t do anything silly.”

One of the most frustrated players was David Varty who didn’t even get on the pitch:
“When Steve Carney was injured after his clash with Lyons, I was raring to go and Brian had given me the nod to get ready. I couldn’t believe it when I realised Steve had also been sent off and I had to sit back in the dugout. I will never be as disappointed again.”

Alf Grey explained his decision to send both players off:
 “The Wrexham player was sent off for deliberately kicking an opponent after he was fouled. Carney, who had been booked earlier, went because of a late and dangerous tackle on the Wrexham player,
I suppose it was a rush of blood to the head by him”.

Spartans secretary George Watson had to look up the rules with the FA about a possible suspension for Carney: “League players are automatically suspended for one game after being sent off. Non league players come under FA Rules on disciplinary matters. They are dealt with on each offence. We don’t know when Steve’s case comes up but he could ask for a personal hearing which would make him available for the replay”.

Club legend Eddie Alder reckoned the game should never have been played:
“There was a bit of sun which softened one edge of the pitch but most was in shade and that was rock solid underfoot. There was a discussion about what studs to wear in our boots or should we wear trainers. 
It is the toughest match I have played in all season. Physically it was very hard and it proved to be a test of character too. Both sides wanted to win so badly. We stuck it out up to the last dying moments and although we knew Wrexham were on their knees, they just wouldn’t lie down. They came up with that late goal so that shows you their resolve. It took until the end of the game for them to score and that tells you something about us as well.”

Wrexham boss Aaron Griffiths firmly believed they were going out and agreed the tie should not have gone ahead:
“I thought we’d lost it. There was no way I could see us equalising after the first 15 minutes of the second half. We were lucky in the end to get the draw. Even the referee couldn’t keep his feet, horses are not expected to race on this type of ground so I don’t see why footballers should be elected to play!.”

Thoughts quickly moved to the replay the players were looking forward to it, a confident Alan Shoulder stated:
“I think we will stuff them in the replay at St James’ Park. It will be a different game, we will come more into it and play better football.”
While Ron Guthrie who had spent 10 years at Newcastle and won the FA Cup 5 years earlier with Sunderland believed playing in front of a big crowd would help: “We have a good chance of winning the replay. Wrexham will have to face thousands of fans shouting for us at St James’ Park. The bigger the crowd the better the motivation for the players.”

One of the reasons that led to Blyth’s national recognition was the BBC’s long-running Match of the Day programme that went out on that Saturday night. The tie became the main focus of the broadcast, with millions watching the main theme was replaced by the club’s pre match dressing room sing-a-long of “Victory Doo-dah’ and Jackie Marks famous chanting of “Give us a B (B, B), Give us an L (L, L)” etc etc.
The highlights clearly showed Shinton deflect the ball out for a goal kick, 
Jimmy Hill along with his studio pundits, highlighted Mr Grey’s error and extended their sympathy to the non-leaguers.
Bobby Shinton even admitted it came off him:
“It came off me last. I only got the corner because I put my hand up to appeal first, which is a natural reaction.”

The FIFA referee was public enemy No.1 for what happened, as time passed he was vilified for apparently not admitting his mistake or even speaking about the incident when continually asked.
Despite what many thought, he had spoken to the Daily Mirror on Monday after the tie. Having watched the incident from a camera situated behind the goal he stated:
 “The cameras showed quite clearly that the ball came off a Wrexham player.
I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Blyth and it was unfortunate that the second corner had to be taken again. It appears that the gods were against them. From my position I gave what I thought was the correct 
decision  – a corner – and I didn’t give it another thought until I was told afterwards that there was doubt over which player touched it last. It was unfortunate from my point of view, but incidents like this happen frequently during the course of every game”.

The draw for the Quarter Finals was made on the Monday with Blyth being the first Non League side in 64 years making it into the draw. The players and officials sat round the radio waiting to hear the draw, the press had crowded into the Blyth Social Club to record their reaction.
There was a hushed silence as the draw took place, then the suspense was broken as the presenter announced …”will play Arsenal.”

It was the game everyone had wanted a home tie with the mighty Arsenal but the Chairman’s perspective differed from the players:
“Arsenal would give the club its biggest ever pay-day. This is the tie we wanted and it has taken until the 6th Round to achieve it.”
John Waterson was delighted: “We couldn’t have picked a better one. This has really brought us up again after the disappointment of last Saturday. We had a huge incentive beating Stoke by either having Wrexham or Newcastle United but you can’t get any better than ‘the Gunners’. It will really lift the players.”
Jack Marks felt the draw would help them ahead of the replay:
“If this doesn’t motivate the players, nothing will. The lads will give blood to win.
This promises to be the game to end all games.”

While Brian Slane sounded a cautionary note:

“There is a little matter of Wrexham to consider. Let’s not get too carried away.”

…the replay meant that the cup fever which had gripped the region continued and intensified following the Quarter Final draw.

That replay would be a legendary night in the history of North East football, again it was filled with drama and controversy.

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat’s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was a crucial source of information.

Andrew Griffins excellent 2006 books about the cup run
‘Two wins from Wembley
‘ was another crucial source of information and images.
It is well worth a read with some great insight by those involved such as players, officials and supporters.

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

Blog Ping
Hostgator promo codes


Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, Classic Matches, FA Cup, Giant Killings, History, Managers, Players | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

RIP Les Mutrie … one of the clubs truly legendary strikers.

Tuesday 3rd October 2017 brought the sad news that legendary striker, Les Mutrie had lost his long battle with cancer.

Les scored 58 goals in 86 appearances for the club and was the idol of many Blyth fans.
His flamboyant goalscoring feats of the 70’s and early 80’s famously earned him transfer to Hull City in December 1980 after 3 epic FA Cup battles with them.

During his time with the club he won a Northern League title in 1979/80 and the Northern League Cup 1978/79.
In May 1979 he became the first Spartan to play for the England Semi Professional team and also the first Northern League player to represent his country at Semi Professional level.
Les finished top scorer in the entire 1980/81 FA Cup season with 7 goals, his prize from the FA ?……………………a magazine!

Les started his career with Northern League Ashington in 1972/73 season before joining Gateshead United in 1974.
The NPL club when they went bust at the end of the 76/77 season and Carlisle United stepped in to sign him, but injury curtailed a professional career and he was released he joined reformed Gateshead FC in 1978.
He joined Blyth from Gateshead United in March 1979, scoring on his debut on 31st March 1979 in a 1-1 draw with Bishop Auckland and on his final appearance on 22nd December 1980 in 1-2 FA cup defeat by Hull City at Elland Road.
Hull were so impressed they immediately signed him for £30,000 at the time it was record fee paid by a League club for a for a Non League player
Les was so popular with the Hull City fans they nickname him ‘Sir Les’, after he scored in 9 consecutive games to set a new club record, a record that still stands to this day!.
After 4 season in which he played 115 times scoring 49 goals he went on to play for Doncaster Rovers, Colchester United, Hartlepool United before injury forced him to retire.

RIP Les.

A Spartan legend and idol to many.

Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, Green & White Cult Heroes, History, Players | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

RIP Jackie Marks – A Blyth Spartans legend.

Jackie MarksMonday 3rd July 2017 brought the sad news that club legend Jackie Marks had passed away.

Jackie had 2 spells as manager and was well known for being coach during the historic 1977/78 season which saw the club reach the FA Cup 5th Round, he received national fame for his unique moral boosting coaching methods.

The 85 year old was a legendary figure around Croft Park and still attended games standing with the supporters behind the goal, enjoying nothing better than chatting about the old days and the club in general.

Hull AET

Jackie was responsible for bring some of the clubs greatest players to Croft Park.
Tributes flooded in from his former players and supporters alike, Jackie had successful spell as manager of Ashington, North Shields and Tow Law Town. He was highly respected throughout the North East Non League football as one of the all time greats.

The news was even sadder given it happened days after the club had announced it was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the famous 77/78 season with a specially commissioned kit of the forthcoming season that was identical to that which Jackie’s side wore in 77/78 season.

In 2013 Jackie helped write this article on his fascinating career in the game:

Green & White Cult Heroes – Jackie Marks


RIP Jackie

A club legend who truly earned his legendary status.

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The fallen Spartans of The Great War.

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-19-07-40Blyth Spartans players who served their country were honoured by the club at the town’s Cenotaph during the 2014 Centenary Remembrance of the Great War, yet the name of one former player does not appear on it.

This is the story of that player: Richard McFadden.

Richard and Cambois born William Jonas have had several books written about their lives and even a London Theatre company has created a play about their place in football history.

A childhood friendship that started in a Blyth school classroom would endure to the very end on the Somme.
Born 1889 to John and Mary in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire. Richard was aged only 3 when his father moved the family down to Blyth to look for work in the local coalfields.

As the friends grew up and started playing football it was with great surprise that neither started their careers with the Spartans, or even in the same team together. Richard started playing for Newburn while William started playing for Jarrow Croft.

Richard married Isabella Robson in 1909, a year later the 20-year-old had become a much sought after forward and joined his hometown club in the summer of 1910 at the cost of 12/6 per game. Blyth paid some of the best wages in the area and having transferred 5 players to First Division clubs in the previous 2 years they were an attractive proposition for a young footballer.

Despite being badly injured earlier in the week at work, Richard made his Spartans debut on 3rd September 1910, a 3,000 crowd witnessed the 1-2 home defeat against his old team Newburn.
 After an initial flurry of goals he was soon in demand and moved to Wallsend Park Villa for a fee of £2 in November 1910. 
He attracted the attentions of league clubs and after Wallsend finished their season he signed for Clapton Orient in May 1911. 
His goalscoring debut against Derby County on 2nd September 1911 was a sign of things to come, he broke Orient’s goalscoring record in his first season, scoring 19 goals only to break the record again in what was to be his final season, 1914/15, with 21 goals.
When Clapton Orient looked to bolster their attacking line Richard recommended his friend William Jonas.

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-20-56-23A miner by trade William married Mary Jane Anderson on 16th December 1911, and they lived in Elliot Street, Blyth (the street still exists to this day). While playing for Jarrow Croft his performances also attracted league clubs. 
Happily married and enjoying life in his native North East he turned down an offer from Burnley and signed for Havannah Rovers who were a pit/miners team based in Washington. Now working at Washington ‘F’ pit William & Mary Jane moved into a house in Shafto Terrace, New Washington.
68 goals in his two seasons for Rovers proved enough to convince Clapton Orient that Richard’s best friend was indeed the player they needed. In June 1912 the childhood friends were reunited in the capital, they even lived together in the same house in Clapton.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-21-11-22Renowned at Orient’s Millfields Road ground for his goalscoring exploits, Richard was something of a reluctant hero. He received local acclaim after dragging 2 young boys to safety from the River Lea in Clapton.
His reputation soared some time later, while in Clapton Park, he stumbled across a woman screaming that her baby was trapped inside her burning house. Having already received accolades for saving a man from an inferno while living in Blyth, he came to the rescue once more. 
Yet he had to be persuaded to accept a specially commissioned bravery medal from the local mayor.

William on the other hand, was in the spotlight for rather different reasons. The dashing centre-forward was the darling of the young women of Clapton, so much so that at one point he received 50 love letters a week. Being happily married he even went to the extent of placing an article in the Orient programme politely asking his female admirers to cease writing  — declaring he was happily married to his sweetheart Mary Jane.
On the field he could play in almost any position, even making several appearances in goal. 
He was normally such an unassuming person, however he was sent off during a match at Millwall in January 1915 for fighting with the home goalkeeper Joseph Orme. An incident which started a riot among the 16,900 crowd that had to be quelled by police on horseback!.

Just two months before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo lit the touch paper for the First World War, the pair had celebrated thwarting mighty Arsenal at Highbury.
screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-20-55-55Richard had scored a last-gasp equaliser for Orient to earn a 2-2 draw which denied the Gunners an immediate return to England’s top division. 
By the close of the 1914/15 season, Richard’s goal-getting was causing a stir in England, prompting Middlesbrough to make an offer of £2,000. 
In November 1914, he had scored for a Southern XI side against England at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, earning the plaudits of the Football Editor at the Daily Express who was clearly unaware of his origins:
‘He is rather short for a forward, yet sturdily built, and he certainly knows how to make the best of his weight, a very tricky player who always troubled the England defence. 
I hope we see a lot more of him, especially in an England shirt.’

Richard was lined up to win his first Scotland cap when events in Europe put an end to the dream. Although war had raged since August 1914 English football had soldiered on. This sparked public outcry that professional footballers continued to play while young men were dying on the front line.
16 members of the Hearts team had already responded to Sir George McCrae’s call for footballers to join up. In London, news of the Scottish footballers’ major contribution to the war effort filtered through to the O’s players via team mate Robert Dalrymple (the Glaswegian inside-forward had won a Scottish Cup runners’ up medal with Hearts in 1903).

Eventually, a meeting was convened at Fulham Town Hall on 15 December 1914 to encourage footballers in England to enlist. That night 10 Orient players signed up, led by their skipper Fred Parker, Richard and William felt duty bound to serve their King & Country.
They were the inaugural recruits of the 17th Middlesex Regiment, colloquially known as the Footballers’ Battalion, and were later joined by players from across the country.

Almost 21,000 turned out to witness Orient’s last match, a 2-0 victory against Leicester Fosse on 24 April 1915. Straight after the final whistle the players changed into their uniforms conducted a military parade around the Millfields Road ground ahead of their departure.
Childhood friends, classmates, team-mates, Company Serjeant Major McFadden and Private Jonas were now comrades.

Richard’s heroism in his life before the war carried on in uniform and resulted in him being awarded the Military Medal for ‘Bravery in the Field’. It was known that he often went out into No Man’s Land to rescue wounded comrades. He was also in-line for a commission as an officer, before the tragic events of 1916.

Little more than a year after their final game of football, from a muddy hellhole one pal would bid a final farewell to another.
With their Battalion under orders to clear Delville Wood of Germans, they became trapped in a trench under heavy fire.
 On the 27th July 1916 William turned to his friend and said: “Goodbye Mac”.
“Best of luck. Special love to my sweetheart Mary Jane and best regards to the lads at Orient.”
He jumped out of the trench and was killed instantly!.
 His body was never recovered, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Richard had regularly written to the club throughout the war and his final emotional correspondence reached the club in November telling of the tragic events in Delville Wood.
Of that day he wrote: “Before I could reply to him, he was up and over,”
“No sooner had he jumped up out of the trench, my best friend of nearly 20 years was killed before my eyes. Words cannot express my feelings at this time.”

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-21-09-25Tragically, by the time the letter was published, Richard had succumbed to his injuries from a shell blast. 
On 22nd October 1916, he was leading troops to the line along a trench near the village of Serre when he was hit by a shell blast.
Seriously wounded, he died next day in a field hospital, he is buried at Couin British Cemetery.

One of their team mates George Scott also died on the Somme, Scott was one of Orient’s best pre ­war players. Born in West Stanley, Co Durham, in 1885, he played for Braeside FC and Sunderland West End before joining Orient in July 1908. 
He was a centre-half, famed for his bandy legs. A month into the Somme, 30­-year-­old Scott was wounded, taken prisoner and died at a German field hospital on August 16, 1916. He is buried at St Souplet British Cemetery.

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-20-52-26screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-20-55-31To this day the 3 players are still remembered by the Leyton Orient fans, making several trip to the graves of their fallen heroes. 
Books have been written about the fallen O’s players and they are celebrated in the play by writer Michael Head called ‘The Greater Game’. 
Based on the book ‘They Took The Lead’ by Leyton Orient historian Stephen Jenkins it tells the true story of the men who swapped the football fields of London for the battle fields of the Somme in 1916.
In June 2014 over 200 Leyton Orient fans joined local dignitaries at the unveiling of a memorial to the 3 players in the French town of Flers.
Stephen Jenkins and the Leyton Orient supporters even took the descendants of Richard McFadden, William Jonas and George Scott to visit the memorial and their resting places.

Richard even has a block of flats named in his honour at the recently renovated Leyton Orient ground.

At the start of the 1914/15 season such was call to arms that local teams and leagues closed down for the duration of the ensuing conflict citing lack of players and supporters.

A Blyth training game was interrupted by Earl Grey and Lord Howick who had set up a stall in the main stand enticing the young men in the 1,000+ crowd to volunteer by making patriotic speeches.
Jock McKay, who had signed for the club from Southend United in the summer, held four First Class Admiralty certificates he was the first Spartan to sign up.

Richard McFadden aside, several other Spartans lost their lives in the Great War.
Peter Mackin, George Robertson, Dan Dunglinson, Jack Robson, Patrick McLaughlin and Jack Nichol all signed up and died serving their king & country.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-07-30-54Of the fallen Peter Mackin was probably the most famous Spartan largely due to scoring the club’s first goal from open play at the newly opened Croft Park and the club’s first ever goal in the FA Cup. 
Starting at Sunderland, Peter transferred to Lincoln City where he scored 21 goals in 59 appearances. After leaving Lincoln City he played for Wallsend Park Villa before transferring to Blyth Spartans in 1908.
Peter worked in the Blyth Shipyard, to where he would walk from his home in nearby Maddison Street. A father of four children he was in his mid 30s when he signed up for service with the Northumberland Fusiliers (24th Tyneside Irish Battalion).
After being wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, he was killed at the Battle of Arras in France on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, aged 39.
Peter Mackin was the key figure for Spartans as they became one of the strongest non-league teams in the North East. 
An inspirational, forceful leader – a “generalissimo” according to reports from the time, Peter made up for an almost complete lack of pace with the ability to bewilder opponents with incredible dribbling skills and ferocious finishing power.
An instant crowd favourite, he cemented his status as a Spartans legend with the brilliant hat-trick he scored when Spartans won the Tynemouth Infirmary Cup in 1909. Peter was carried from the field shoulder-high by jubilant supporters, in those days crowds were regularly 3-4000.
His death stunned a town already used to losing its sons. A fund was created to support his family, and to this end Blyth Spartans Ladies, one of the most successful of the “Munitionettes” football teams was formed. They raised over £2,000 for service charities – a huge amount at that time.

The other former Spartans who perished were;
Jack Nichol died on the 10th August, 1915, at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey
He was a Lance Corporal with the 8th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.
 Jack’s pre-war job as an attendant at Morpeth asylum. Jack has the distinction of scoring in Spartans’ record 18-0 win.

Patrick McLaughlin was killed on 27th March 1916
Patrick aged 32, was from Hebburn and left behind a wife and three young children.
He was killed by a sniper, the Northumberland Fusilier’s name is on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

GC Robertson plaqueGeorge Robertson was killed on July 1915 in with the 6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry.
Aged 37 George who was a bank manager from Rothbury had the unique distinction of being Blyth Spartans first ever captain and first ever goal scorer!.

Dan Dunglinson died on the 1st July 1916.
Dan was another club captain and he died in the catastrophe that was the first day of the Battle of the Somme serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers. He had signed for Newcastle United from Spartans prior to the war.

Jack Robson was killed in action in July 1917.
Before the war he was a tailor at Cambois Co-op. Like Peter Mackin he took part in the inaugural match at Croft Park.


Lest we forget…



Acknowledgements, Credits & Thankyou’s:

Steve Jenkins, Leyton Orient FC’s Great War historian.
Thanks to Steve for taking the time to help with this blog and sharing information.
Check out his website for more details on the players:

Ken Sproat‘s excellent Blyth Spartans history book, ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘ provided vital information on the Blyth players who perished in the Great War.

Several websites have been used for research including:

Several online newspaper articles about the Great War and the Footballers Battalion have been used for research material.

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Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, History, Players | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Home sweet home, the story of Croft Park.

Upon formation in 1899 Blyth Spartans may have had a remarkable future ahead but it took the fledgling club nearly 10 years to find a permanent home, using 5 other sites before settling at Croft Park.
All bar one of the sites have been clustered around the same area, to the south-west of what is now the town centre. At the turn of the century this area was largely undeveloped so it is no surprise that this is where open land was available for recreational purposes.


Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 15.28.14The club’s 1st ground was fairly humble and it doesn’t even have a proper name.
It was situated near to Percy’s Gardens which is now the junction of Middleton Street and Cypress Gardens, only a short walk from the Kingsway End of Croft Park. This ground was used until early 1901 so it was never used for competitive football.
The next ground, after making do at ‘Blyth Flats’ Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 15.17.34for a few weeks, was a mile north of Croft Park. The ‘Blyth Flats’ was public area at the end of Blyth links which later turned into Ridley Park.

The 3rd site was originally known as the North Pit ground but was popularly known as the Spion Kop and was used from September 1901 for the next four seasons.1828

The name comes from a military engagement in 1900 during the Second Boer War where the British defended an exposed hill, taking heavy losses from the Boer Army.
Exposed terraces were named in honour of this battle at several football grounds.
As soldiers from Blyth gave their lives in the Boer War it could be assumed that this ground was named with their loss in mind. However, that the pitch had a distinct slope, “a hill” according to many match reports, may have led to ground’s name having more ironic origins.
*The first use of the ‘Spion Kop’ name for North Pit is reported in December 1903.
It should be noted that the first use of Spion Kop anywhere in football is previously acknowledged to be at Arsenal’s Highbury Ground in 1904 — so Blyth Spartans may instead have a claim to this “first”.

Facilities at Spion Kop amounted to nothing more than it being enclosed to enable the club to charge admission money and the pitch being roped off to separate spectator from players. There were places where the lay of the land meant large numbers of spectators could watch for free, much to the dismay of the administration. A nearby pub was used as  the clubs headquarters and the changing rooms!.
However, the main gripe of those running the club was the North Pit pitch as a local writer stated:
“It grieves enthusiasts of the pastime that the Spars should have to perform their pedipulations on such a wretchedly uneven slope, with its deep marked rigs and awkward angles. Pretty play is absolutely impossible”.
That the Spartans were looking to move away from the ground almost as soon as they started to use it speaks volumes.

Like all of Spartans’ grounds, Spion Kop was used by other teams, mainly from minor leagues, as a place for their cup finals. Blyth Stanley played in the Second Division of the Northumberland League and used the ground during the 1902/03 season. The following season, on Stanley’s demise, Blyth Catherine Swifts took up residence.

The Spion Kop ground was vacated just as the area was needed for expanded colliery workings (which became known as Bates Pit).
Bates Pit closed in 1986 and the site was cleared, the site of the football pitch itself after Spartans vacated became allotment gardens for a few years before being developed for housing, Chestnut Avenue and Poplar Avenue cover that area now.

In October 1904 it was announced the Spartans would be leaving Spion Kop for a new ground the following season, it would be just to the south of Plessey Waggon Way.
Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 15.36.28This ground was on the south side of Plessey Road in the Crofton suburb of Blyth.
They played here for the 1905-1906 season only because the land was already earmarked for building. The location of this 4th site is directly over Plessey Road from the southern end of Croft Park.
The housing development here happened in stages and, like Spion Kop, the football ground was converted into allotments before being turned to housing usage sometime later.
The site forms a distinctive outline when compared to the layout of the surrounding houses — the west side of the ground can be traced via the street pattern. The western halves of Hedley Avenue and Hunter Avenue, as well has the northern portion of Shotton Avenue cover this site.

Not everyone was happy with the venue:
“Some critics say it is worse than North Pit. It is deeply rigged and at the entrance end somewhat rough and uneven”.
What it did lack though was the notorious slope, the “Spion Kop” of North Pit, however there were severe drainage problems with this ground with deep puddles forming between the ruts.  The report from a game against Shankhouse Albion in December 1905 illustrates the scene perfectly:
“Nixon Thompson was getting into a fine position for shooting when he was pushed into a small lake of water. He was dripping and uncomfortable afterwards”.
Better was expected for £12 a year rent.

Not until April 1906 was news received that Blyth would have to quit Crofton, with the club stating:
“It would be good news if it was supplemented with news of a new plot”.
A great advantage Crofton had was its location — close to the bulk of the town’s population at that time.
The last game played there was Willington Athletic’s Tyne Charity Cup Final victory over Newcastle United ‘A’ watched by 1,200.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 15.14.11At the AGM of June 1906 it was reported that Spartans had been offered “a good field” on the Thoroton Cottage Road.
The field was very level and plans were announced for it to be “railed around”.
The start of the 1906/07 season saw the Spartans begin their tenancy of Thoroton Cottage. They stayed here for three seasons and it is at this ground where Spartans would record their record victory. The site of this ground is now largely covered by the Broadway Circle and the immediate western end of Princess Louise Road at the time this area was farmland. The ground was at the end of Thoroton Cottage Road which very roughly followed the direction of where Renwick Road now lies.
By the early 1930s the town’s westward expansion consumed this land too — where it had been used as allotments — seemingly the fate of all former Spartans pitches.
At the north end of Renwick Road is the Thornton Hotel (popularly known as the Burglar’s Dog) the nearby Thoroton Street, is the only reminder of what else used to be near bearing the same name. The name Thoroton comes from Mr George Thoroton who was the agent of Lord Ridley, the owner of extensive tracts of land in the town.

The first match at Thoroton Cottage was a friendly (although more like a trial match) between Blyth Spartans and a Blyth & District League XI on 5th September 1906.
Soon, there were proposals to build “commodious housing quarters and press accommodation”.
On fine days seating was provided for members and on election to the Northern Alliance in 1907 a turnstile, a members’ gate and a boys’ gate were erected.
The ground was “partially covered round by substantial boards containing tradesmen’s advertisements”.
1908 saw the employment of four gatemen, the strengthening of the barriers around the field and the building of a café. There was one problem little could be done about though — mud, as well as on the pitch it particularly clogged the entrances.

Map shows how the previous ground were swallowed up by the developing town.

Map shows how the earlier ground’s were swallowed up by the developing town.

After all the early ground hopping the club was established enough to be given a plot to call home. 5 sites in ten years is some going but the 6th has been the club’s permanent home since 1909.

The move to the new ground was confirmed on 23rd October 1908 after “courteous and generous” negotiations with Mr JM Clark who was agent for the Thoroton and Croft Trustees. It was agreed that the tenancy would begin on New Year’s Day 1909 to enable the club to “ready the enclosure” for the start of the 1909/10 season.


John Goulding

The first act was to completely enclose the ground with a seven feet high fence — work carried out by a Mr JL Wood for £153. Plans for the ground included four turnstiles, a members’ gate and large folding double gates at the main entrance.
‘Stripping quarters’, hot baths and a grandstand were also mooted.
The grandstand was eventually commissioned in March 1909 with the architect being John Goulding (who would later become club President).
The final agreement to go ahead with the 1,000 capacity structure didn’t happen until mid-May and by then the turnstiles and cabins had already been moved across from Thoroton Cottage.

The same JL Wood who enclosed the ground also won the tender to build the grandstand. It was completed by early August for £313 15s 9d.
The new ground was to be known as ‘Croft Park Recreation Ground’ and prices for admittance were set out. A Vice President’s season ticket cost 10 shillings and sixpence (53p) and an ordinary members season ticket good value at four shillings (20p).
Match day entrance was 4d (about 2p) for men, 3d for women and 2d for boys.
“Hawkers of cakes, chocolates, oranges etc. (of which there were many)” were charged a uniform rate for ground entry though it is not recorded how much this was.


Groundsmen dig up the Croft Park pitch to lay drainage pipes.

A handsome new flag denoting the Northern Alliance championship was supplied by Vice President Robert Nicholson of Beaconsfield Street and flew proudly over the new ground. The total cost of getting Croft Park up to scratch was about £620 of which £300 came from the club profits of the previous two seasons.
To take care of Croft Park a permanent groundsman & caretaker were appointed.
He was called John Douglas and had only one leg!, the other being “boiled” in an industrial accident. Six other gentlemen were employed by the club as gatemen and these were Chas Reaveley, L. Moorhead, F. Turner, R. Howard, J. Vickers and J. Laws.

The first game held at Croft Park was a Possibles v Probables practice match on the evening of the 21st August 1909 and despite the heavy rain about 1,500 attended.
The official opening of Croft Park was on 1st September 1909 when Blyth Spartans played Newcastle United Reserves.
This was also the day a bust of the late Lord Ridley was unveiled in Ridley Park and “most of the leading public men” present at that occasion made there way along to Croft Park for the 6pm kick off on a “beautifully fine” evening.
A gold key was presented to the wife of JM Clark of Bellister Castle, the agent who negotiated the tenancy and in front of “an immense crowd, particularly of the fair sex”, speeches were made Club President A. Askwith thanked Lord Ridley for attending and hoped Blyth Spartans would soon find themselves in “the First League” while Mrs Clark hoped that one day Blyth Spartans would win the “English Cup”!.

063 - Spartans v Newcastle Reserves - the opening match at Croft Park on 1st September 1909. Lord Ridley is about to punt the ball

Lord Ridley take a run up at the ball.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.01.442nd Viscount Ridley himself ceremonially started the game by punting the ball towards goal.
The teams in the first match were:
Blyth Spartans;
J. McManus, J. Robson, W. Lawton, M. Pattison, N. Thompson, J. Wright, H. Lamb, J. Holmes, P. Mackin, J.D. Jarvis, W. Gallagher.
Newcastle United Reserves;
Sinclair, George Robson, Thompson, Henderson, Liddell, Hughes, Snowdon, Rutherford, Allan, Randall, Ridley.

The occasion appears to have got to Blyth goalkeeper Jim McManus who had a very poor match as Newcastle won 4-2. Billy Gallagher scored Blyth’s first goal at Croft Park with a penalty and Peter Mackin the first from open play.

On the following Saturday the first competitive match took place at Croft Park and it ended in a goalless draw against Willington Athletic. On the 11th September 1909 Croft Park witnessed Blyth Spartans’ first ever FA Cup match — a 1-1 draw against Washington United. Croft Park was initially an unlucky ground for Spartans it was not until the 16th October that the home fans saw a victory — 3-0 against Morpeth Harriers.

Gradual improvements to Croft Park were funded by the healthy crowds Spartans were attracting as a successful Northern Alliance team. In the four years leading up to the start of World War One in 1914 upgrades were made to Croft Park.
The most noticeable was the erection of a roofless wooden stand at the Kingsway End in October 1912. The eight steps of terracing, dotted with crush barriers, stretched for 80 yards and it could hold 2,000. The reason for its construction was that a crowd of over 6,000 had turned up for an FA Cup match against South Shields and it was clear many could not see the full game. This stand cost £127 (the South Shields receipts were £108) and “affords a splendid uninterrupted view of the whole field”.

wide pic

1930’s photo shows Croft Park before the Free Stand was built, note the brand new ‘Broadway Circle’ and allotments which became Kingsway.

In 1921 the directors purchased Croft Park for £3,100 from the owners — Thoroton and Croft Trustees. A deposit of £1,000 was paid (roughly the profit made over the previous two seasons) and in 1925 a further £700 was paid off the debt when lanIMG_6734d between the Plessey Road end and Plessey Road was sold to the United Automobile Services for the construction of a bus depot. This grey hulk loomed over the south end of Croft Park until the late 1970’s when it was demolished and replaced with Patterson House.

In the early ’30s the newly formed and highly motivated Supporters Club assisted in the gradual improvement of Croft Park.
Despite the economic dark days having skilled men available with nothing to do but help at the ground benefited the club, they built a stand on the west side of the ground to allow cover for standing spectators.
This stand was known as the ‘Free Stand’ on account spectators could use it without having to pay any extra to the admission price, this stand is now the oldest feature of the ground.

As the financial confidence of the period up to the mid 1920s turned into a situation of serious economic pessimism, Blyth, like most other places, was hit by the depression of the 1930s. Because unemployment rose and more people had less money, an adverse impact on the revenue brought in by spectators was inevitable. The £1,400 still owed by the club from the purchase of the ground became a big source of worry because instead of being paid off, the amount owed was increasing due to interest accumulating. This added another £1,000 to the debts – an unsustainable position.

Two ideas to ease the problem were mooted. The first involved the establishment of a greyhound track around the pitch at Croft Park and that this would be a long lease with control still in the hands of the football club.
The other proposal was that Croft Park should be incorporated into the Sportsdome scheme undertaken by Blyth Borough Council. The intention was that the Council would receive a grant from the National Fitness Council and would use this to buy Croft Park but still allow the club to play at the ground.
The club agreed to the Sportsdome scheme. Not only would it be of benefit to the football club but it would also benefit the town. The Borough Engineer drew up impressive plans for the layout and facilities.
The National Fitness Council approved and were set to make the necessary large grant available. But this was 1939 many, many plans were scrapped as more urgent matters arose….World War II.


Aaron Walton

Though the pre-war hopes for Croft Park did not come to fruition, the basic idea of a municipally owned stadium did not vanish. Due largely to the insistence of Alderman Aaron Walton the Borough Council finally purchased the ground from Spartans.
This occurred in June 1944, for the sum of £4,150.
All the liabilities amassed by Blyth Spartans were cleared. The majority of the debt was the £1,500 owed to shareholders, £1,400 still owed to Thoroton & Croft Trustees and a bank over-draft of £790. In taking this action though, Blyth Spartans AFC Ltd were wound up. The football club lay dormant for a short while but the usage of Croft Park continued. During World War Two football was an understandably rare activity but several teams used Croft Park as a base. These included The Co-op FC, Police FC and most successfully Blyth Shipyard FC.

If the Sportsdome scheme had managed to be implemented Croft Park would have been much altered. The pitch would have been turned 90 degrees so that it ran from east to west and it would also have been surrounded by a greyhound and running track – distancing the fans from the action on the field and making for a poorer spectator experience. It would certainly be different from the Croft Park that allows for more intimate and immediate expression between player and supporter!.
A plan to turn the Croft Park pitch east to west was again mooted in 1960, thankfully without a track of some description around the perimeter, but this failed to gather any enthusiasm and was dropped after planning was rejected at the behest of the residents of Broadway.

A tannoy system was installed in 1956 which meant Blyth were o010ne of the first Non League clubs to have such a device.
Floodlights were installed in 1966 after sterling work by the Supporters Club who sold a house they owned to help pay for them.
The first floodlight match was against Whitley Bay on Monday 10th October 1966, Blyth lost that historic Northern League game 1-2 (future club legend Jackie Marks played for Whitley that night). The floodlights were officially switched on in a friendly against Sunderland on 9th November.

The board of Blyth Spartans made the decision to build a clubhouse right next to the ground. This was completed in 1972 and was built by Turney-Wylde.
Over the years this has provided significant extra income for the club as it is used as the “local” for many in the area and it brings in money from those who otherwise would have no contact with the football club. Prior to this the Supporters Club had opened a clubhouse of their own at 56 William Street in 1961, which was only a short walk from Croft Park.

Both grandstands at Croft Park have been situated on the east side of the ground. The first grandstand was in place when the ground opened and stood until 6th October 1971 when a fire started by children destroyed both it and the dressing rooms. It was a major disruptive loss to the club, many a classic match had been played out in front of its bench seats and distinctive gabled press box.
Heeding the main problems of wooden stands, that the roof needs intrusive propping and they have a tendency to burn alarmingly easily, a concrete, brick and steel cantilever stand was constructed as a replacement. This was opened in March 1972 at a cost of £15,000.
It was designed and built by S. McCullough — a business partner to then Spartans Chairman Jimmy Turney and it originally sat 277.
Also in the design was concrete terracing in the paddock areas – the first in the ground, the stand also contained the dressing rooms, the boardroom and club offices.

The Free Stand gave cowshed style shelter for about 3,000 spectators and the terracing under this was concreted over in 1978. This improvement was funded by money generated by the 1977/78 cup run. In the early ’90s structural damage to the West Stand roof meant that all the cover had to be removed. stand
For a while the pillars of the West Stand stood starkly against the winter skies and barely any cover existed for standing spectators in Croft Park. That the structure still stands is a tribute to the legacy of the many hours of unpaid volunteer work put in by the supporters club many, many years ago.
Behind the Plessey Road end, where the United bus depot once stood, is Patterson House which offers sheltered housing for the elderly and until 2007 used to give the best free views of football matches in Northumberland!. Plessey Road stand
However the covering of the Plessey Road terrace prevented this but as a gesture of goodwill, and good publicity, the club gave free season tickets to the residents most affected. To prevent wayward finishing putting the windows out at Patterson House mesh fencing was erected at this end of the ground.

In the 1990s it was suggested that Croft Park be sold and the club move to a new site about a mile away on the southern fringes of the town at South Newsham as part of a leisure and retail development. However, this proved an unpopular idea and was eventually dropped.


Run down Croft Park before its transformation.

By the turn of the new millennium Croft Park was looking increasingly dated, especially compared to some of the other clubs in the Unibond League. In 2003 significant work was taken to upgrade Croft Park. Standards expected of football grounds have increased markedly over the years and non-league football has not escaped the trend.
Indeed, neglecting these off the field improvements could cause otherwise successful clubs to be denied promotion and in some cases, even forced demotion. Grants totalling £300,000 were secured from Blyth Valley Borough Council and Football Foundation.
On top of this Blyth Spartans AFC contributed £15,000. Though this amount seems small in comparison to the overall grant the club itself had just emerged from its darkest financial hour and was still £123,000 in debt. The £15,000 was made up purely from donations, both personal and from local businesses.

FullSizeRender 6FullSizeRender 4This welcome and overdue modernisation meant the ash & cinder banking, repaired and stepped with surplus railway sleepers after World War Two by the Supporters Club, was bulldozed away. Eight steps of concrete terracing totalling 64 metres in length were built behind each goal and crush barriers were installed. Prior to this the wooden bench seats were taken out of the Turney Stand and replaced with plastic tip up seats. These came from St James Park where Newcastle United were expanding and refurbishing their facilities. Some seats had the names of Newcastle United bond holders who’d bought the seat for ten years only a few years previously.

old stand

Main stand before new seating.

The modernisation also affected on the structure of the main stand. Extra access to the seats was created by the installation of steel staircases on each wing. The original central staircase, which ran next to the players tunnel, was removed. A small stand designed for wheelchair users was built just to the north of the main stand. Importantly, should future circumstances require the ground is in a state where expansion to terraces or stands can be more easily carried out. Success on the field is unlikely to be hindered by inadequate facilities off it. This was shown to be the case in 2007.

With further funding from Blyth Valley Borough Council and Football Foundation (£34,000 and £33,000 respectively) plus an interest free loan of £36,500 from a rather committed person, as well as £3,500 raised via the supporter funded “brick in the wall” scheme work to bring the ground up to “Level 2” status commenced.

Standing paddock converted to extra seating & roof extension.

Standing paddock converted to extra seating & roof extension.

As part of the requirements of additional seating for clubs in the Conference North it was decided to install seats into the main stand paddock, and cover these by extending the cantilever roof. There are now 544 seats at Croft Park, at the same time the Plessey Road end was entirely covered by a steel roof.
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.04.24

 The number of turnstiles was doubled to six.
The actual mechanisms were bought from Doncaster Rovers who were leaving their Belle Vue ground (ironically the scene of Spartans’ heaviest FA Cup defeat) where they had been installed at the away supporters end.
An inner An inner perimeter of concrete fencing now rings the ground and though the redevelopment left the West Stand untouched, the new concrete fencing has had the effect of impairing sight lines in this part of the ground. However, because the West Stand has a safety certificate stipulating that it can hold 300 spectators there is plenty room and no one should have to watch “half a game”. 

Another development at Croft Park saw the “Playing for Success” facility to the rear of the main stand. This £120,000 building was largely funded by Northumberland County Council and the Playing For Success organisation. It’s purpose was to give a footballing back drop to the enhancement of children’s literacy and numeracy. In creating this facility at Blyth the county of Northumberland was no longer the only county in the country not to have a “Playing for Success” facility. On match days it can be converted into a sponsors lounge where on non match days it provides an excellent link between club and community.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.01.51 Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.01.40Finances from another famous FA Cup run in 2008/09 enabled the club to cover the Kingsway end in the same way the Plessey Road end was, making Croft Park the only Non League ground in the North East to provided cover on all four sides.

100 kick off

Almost 100 years to the day Croft Park’s centenary was celebrated with a another game against Newcastle United’s Reserves which ended in the same scoreline from 100 years earlier, fittingly the 4th Viscount Ridley marked the anniversary kicking off the game just as his ancestor had, also presenting the club with commemorative plaque to mark the grounds centenary. The club produced a booklet, written by club historian Ken Sproat, detailing the grounds long & illustrious history.


Motor bike riders competed in races on the pitch.

As well as being the home of Blyth Spartans since 1909 Croft Park has been used as a venue for a variety of other activities.
These have included an annual fireworks show (sadly very often the highest attendance of the season), athletics the famous Albert Spence of Blyth would run in professional sprint races here and even archery and motor cycle stunt riders. In the summers of 1972 & 1973 it was the venue for ‘Midsummer Madness’ which was a copycat event of the popular TV series – It’s a Knock out. It proved hugely popular with the first attracting the biggest ever crowd to the ground when 11,500 spectators crammed in, the following year’s event attracted 8,000. 


Bates Pit Children’s Gala races at Croft Park in June 1968. Buses can been seen in the background at the United Services depot.

Many local teams get to play at Croft Park each season as it is used for minor league and Sunday league cup finals, representative games and some junior matches. It has also hosted many Northumberland Senior Cup Finals & several Northern League Cup Finals.

The modern-day game has seen many football grounds renamed or re branded to help raise funds, while the stands within Croft Park have been sponsored in recent years thankfully the ground itself has not fallen foul and retained its iconic name.
However sponsorship is nothing new to Croft Park, wh1936 ground readyen it opened in 1909 the new main stand bore the name:
“W.Percfree stand adverty’s Nurseries for Plants and Flowers” emblazoned across the front. The pitch has always had some form of advertising boards around it, as shown in this great old photo of the pitch being made ready for a new season.
This 1939 picture of a school parade on Broadway field even shows the back of the Free stand was used to advertise!.

1932 adverts

First known action photo of the Spartans.

The very first action photograph of the Spartans from 1932 shows all the advertising around the pitch and even on the gable end of the stand.

The overall ground record attendance is for the Blyth Boys versus Liverpool Boys in the English Schools Shield Final in 1937 – an incredible 11,100.
The record crowd for a Blyth Spartans match at the ground was set in 1956 when the visit of Hartlepools United attracted 10,186.
Other large crowds at Croft Park have been the 9,468 for the visit of Bishop Auckland in 1951, then later in the same season 9,388 for the first replay against Tranmere Rovers, 9,121 for Stoke City’s FA Cup visit in 1923 and 8,717 to see Torquay in 1954.

The largest crowds in more modern times have been the 8,500 v Preston North End in 1974 and the 6,006 v Hull City in 1980.
The current capacity is 4,200 and this was tested fully when 4,040 squeezed in to see the FA Cup Second Round Replay against Bournemouth on 16th December 2008.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.10.00That cup run proved how far the ‘old’ ground had come in the last decade when the demands of modern football saw satellite broadcasters set up camp inside the ground. Live coverage of the AFC Bournemouth & Blackburn Rovers games saw camera gantries pop up all round the ground as media demands were put on the club & ground normally associated with proScreen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.11.42fessional clubs.

Unsurprisingly the club rose to the occasion both on & off the field and the hosting of a Premier League club at Croft Park drew praise from the TV companies, FA, countless media outlets and local authorities.
In 2015 the club drew on that previous experience when once again another Cup to the 3rd round brought the TV camera’s back to Northumberland.

Image-1The latest development has seen the creation of a 3G pitch behind the Kingsway end stand, the grass area was previously used as the clubs training area, it will also be used by the local Croftway Primary Academy.

The playing surface had been much maligned over the years but the club have invested both time & expense into transforming it. Groundsman Peter Henderson has worked tirelessly to improve the pitch resulting in his hard worked received national recognition. PHIn August 2016 Peter was awarded Groundsman of the Year for steps three & four and also named runner up for the whole country!.


So, we are left with what we have today – the best non-league football ground in the North East, perfectly suitable for the current needs of Blyth Spartans AFC and easily adaptable should future success need it.

Croft Park, the place we have grown up with,  the place in which has witnessed some historic moments…

A place we all proudly call home.



  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat for allowing use of info & images collected for his superb history book:
We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans
and the use of his excellent 2009 booklet ‘100 Years of Blyth Spartans at Croft Park‘.100 years booklet

Colin Brown for allowing use of images from his superb Facebook page: ‘Blyth Remembered‘.
*If your on Facebook check out his page, it is the place to go for all your info & images on town’s history.

Ken Teasdale for use of his great grand father who was a groundsman at Croft Park.

Gordon Smith of the Blyth Local History Societyfor use of images from their collection and help with information.

Blyth Spartans AFC for the images of the run-down ground before the transformation.

The Onion Bag – award winning photo’s from Non League football grounds:

Revell Cornell for his Croft Park drone footage.

The images of the 3G pitch came from the ‘Blyth Spartans Unofficial‘ Facebook page.

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RIP Bill Fenwick… a genuine Spartan great.

March 30th 2016 brought the sad news that the oldest known former Blyth player had sadly passed away.

billy95 year old Bill Fenwick was more than just a former player he was a genuine Spartan great.

In 1937 Bill joined his hometown club as a 17 year old forward and went on to serve as coach, physio, manager & even kit man in a lifelong association with
‘his’ club.

Even aged 92 Bill could still be found at Croft Park watching games, such was his love for his club.

Back in 2013 Bill only too willingly helped us with
a blog in which we paid tribute & chronicled his truly remarkable life and football career:

The club has lost one of its greatest ever servants, he was ‘Mr Blyth Spartans’.

RIP William Randolph Fenwick.

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