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 on the 19th 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.
It wasn’t the trophy he won that season, his other one came with a different club thanks to his mentor Arnold Bell.
When Brian left Consett to join South Shields, Arnold had the foresight to ensure he kept Brian’s signature on a joint registration so he was able to call upon Brian if it didn’t clash with a South Shields game. It only happened the once and that occasion arose on 23rd April 1969.
Consett were due to face Northern League side Ferryhill Athletic in the Final of the Durham County Challenge Cup when Arnold’s preparations were throw into turmoil when star player.
When right winger Doug Morris was ruled out due to injury, the wily manager played his trump card and called up Brian fill in the position.
It was an inspired move by the manager as the Steelmen upset their higher league opponents with an impressive 2-0 win to become the first Wearside League club to win the prestigious Durham Challenge Cup.
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 reply, 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”.
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.
While 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
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 Player/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:
“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.
The 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.
“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!.
They 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 –
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 –
104 games in charge: W67 L16 D21 F241 A88
Honours as Player/Manager:
Debenhams Cup winner
Northumberland Senior Cup winner
Northern League Cup winner
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.
Add 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.
The late Ken Sproat‘s superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’ was as ever an important source of information.
‘The Bishops‘ Facebook page provided 2 excellent images of Bishop Auckland teams Brian’s time at the club.
Consett AFC‘s website provided information and images on Brian’s time at the club.
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.