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

Green & White Cult Heroes – The Mutrie Brothers

From Andrew & Nixon Thompson and Davy & Billy Fairhurst of the early 1900’s
to George & Josh Pyke and Jack & George Prior of the 1920’s right through to
Rob & Steve Carney of the late 70’s and finally the Gildea’s, Alex & Liam in 2005
brothers playing for the Spartans have been an important part of the club’s history.
lead image

Mention the name Mutrie however and people instantly think of striker Les, yet that is doing a great injustice to his younger brother.

Ian Mutrie was one of the most highly regarded strikers of the 70’s & 80’s, yet never received the supporters acclaim given his older brother despite serving the Spartans longer & arguably playing a more pivotal role in bringing success to the club.


A young Les in action for Ashington.

Born in Newcastle, Les & Ian honed their talents in the back streets and on the playing fields of North Tyneside before making names for themselves in Sunday League, Les was attracting attention from an early age going to Blackpool for a trial aged only 15.
Nothing came of that and he continued to develop playing Sunday League before signing for Ashington at the beginning of the 1972/73, the Colliers had finished 3rd bottom when renowned coach Jackie Marks took charge. Marks developed a team of talented youngsters bringing through the likes of Tommy Dixon & Jimmy Harmison, along with the experienced players they achieved a respectable 9th place finish.
Les scored on his debut giving the Collier the lead in a 1-2 defeat at Champions Spennymoor, an early injury curtailed his second season. Once fit again the tall 20-year-old forged a great partnership with legendary Northern League striker Billy Wright as Marks famously guided the Colliers to the Semi Finals of the FA Amateur Cup, Cup games were to play a prominent part in Les’s career.

Despite success Marks moved on to manage North Shields, where he would bring through Les’s younger brother. Les was snapped up by Ray Wilkie for the ‘new’ Northern Premier League side; Gateshead United in 1974 in what Les made what he described as:
“A huge step up”.
He played 3 seasons in the NPL enjoying more Cup success in the FA Cup against League opposition; in 74/75 Wilkie’s side beat Crewe Alexandra after a replay before going out to Altrincham, in 75/76 they knocked out Grimsby Town before losing to Rochdale in a replay. Along with keeper Dave Clarke, Les was part of the Gateshead side that beat Blyth 3-0 in the 1976/77 FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round at Croft Park, their reward was a tie away at Wrexham but they were thumped 6-0.
LM7Les’s form earned him Representative Honours; he even played at Croft Park in March 77’ as part of an NPL Representative XI. However after only 3 seasons Gateshead United folded at the end of 1976/77 despite finishing 8th while future Premier League side Wigan Athletic finished 14th.
It worked out for Les though as Carlisle United manager Bobby Moncur stepped in to sign him, the former Newcastle United captain had monitored the 23 year olds progress for sometime Les revealed:
“I joined Carlisle from Gateshead though I believe Moncur had even been watching me in playing Sunday League.”

Unfortunately the move into full-time football literally ended in tears all to quickly:
“In my very first league game I broke my leg – except that I didn’t know it.
I trained and played four more matches before I was diagnosed. I’d had X-rays and the lot but they could find nothing even though I was in constant pain. I was ribbed by my team-mates for being a soft Geordie but I knew something was wrong. Eventually they found the problem and I returned to the Carlisle ground on crutches with my leg in plaster from top to bottom. I was met by assistant manager Martin Harvey and was in tears. Carlisle eventually let me go, I was expecting it and I went back to Gateshead.”

Released at the end of the season he joined the reformed Gateshead FC, having regained full fitness he made his debut on 2nd September 1978 in a 0-2 defeat at Altrincham. It took him 8 games to find the back of the net, his first goal came in a 1-2 defeat at Worksop Town on 27th September, he then scored in 5 consecutive games including a hat trick in a 5-2 FA Trophy at Prestwick Heys playing a total 32 times scoring 12 goals before his former mentor came calling.

Jackie Marks was now manager of Blyth Spartans having taken over after the shock resignation of Brian Slane in December 1978, by then Ian or Archie as he was more commonly known, had already wrote his name in Spartans folklore.
IM 1In August 1977 Marks was appointed coach to Player/Manager Brian Slane, rebuilding the side they signed Archie from North Shields in September, making a scoring debut in the 5-0 hammering of Ashington on 27th September.
Ian had a very successful youth career before staring for Newton Park Hotel in the Whitley Bay & District League Sunday League. After 2 years he moved to Nelson Village at the age of 18, a free scoring striker for the hugely successful Nelson Village side before joining North Shields in March 1975.
It took some convincing by then Shields manager, Jackie Marks, to get Archie to make the step up to the Northern League from his beloved Sunday League and even when he managed it, it wasn’t straightforward. Ian played 6 games at the end of 75/76 season then decided it wasn’t for him and returned to play for Nelson Village, but they weren’t your typical end of season games.
Shields played Whitley Bay in a Senior Cup Semi Final, ending 0-0 the replay saw Shields race into a 3-0 lead courtesy of future Spartans Steve Carney and a Keith Houghton brace. Bay pegged them back to 3-3 only for Archie to come off the bench and score the winner in the dying seconds!. Unknowingly he’d broken his toe in that ‘super sub’ appearance so had to settle for a place on the bench for the Final at St James Park against Blyth. Micky Pink give Spartans the lead only for an injured Archie to come off the bench to equaliser with 2 minutes remaining sending the tie to a replay. An Ian Hopkinson goal won the trophy for Shields in the replay, but the injury meant Archie didn’t even make the bench, disillusioned he decided to leave:
“The trouble was I didn’t realise I had stepped up a class and I went back to Nelson Village after the season. It was a big mistake, I should have been playing at Northern League level but I was daft as a brush and thought it was just a game”

Soon releasing he’d made a mistake he returned to Appleby Park, enjoying his football under manager Geoff Allen:
“I was glad to be back and I was playing to my strength’s. I worked my socks off for the team, I was brave and I could score goals, the manager told me to just do what I was good at, which was laying the ball off and going to the far post and I scored goals”.

cup teamIt was no surprise when the Blyth management team snapped up the striker, his impact was immediate scoring vital goals. None more so than on 5th November 77’ when he made it 4 goals in 3 games heading home a 75th winner away to Bishop Auckland in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round.
He repeated the feat in the next Round, collecting a Dagless pass before stabbing home the crucial winner to beat Burscough, it was during the after match celebrations he first donned his ‘lucky cap’ swearing to wear it until they were knocked out of the cup!.

Steve (lying down) celebrates another famous victory with his brother Rob and fellow teamates.

Archie and team mates celebrate another cup win.

Come the 2nd Round injuries were mounting, both Archie & Terry Johnson played against 3rd Division Chesterfield with knocks. Ian didn’t finish the game won by Steve ‘Jos’ Jones 31st minute strike (it was Jones 16th goal for the club in only his 21 appearance!).

Archie challenges the Enfield keeper.

Archie challenges the Enfield keeper.

He recovered in time to face Enfield in the 3rd Round but was replaced by Steve Carney before Alan Shoulder headed home the 77th minute winner.
He missed out on the famous win at Stoke City with Johnson & Shoulder the preferred strikers for the twice-postponed 4th Round tie. Despite playing and scoring in the game before the Wrexham 5th Round tie he missed out again, but was named sub for the sell out St James Park replay which provided his biggest disappointment in football:
“I was sub for that game; there was only one sub allowed in them days. It was my biggest disappointment that I didn’t get on. It was a fantastic night and we came within a whisker of a Quarter Final with Arsenal. They should have put me on when we were 0-2 down with 20 minutes to go – they might as well have had a goalkeeper on the bench!”.

Ian Mutrire fies home in the 1978 League Cup Final win.

Archie fires home in the League Cup Final win.

He missed out on playing at St James again later that season not making the team for the Senior Cup Final win over Blue Star but a week later started in the League Cup Final on his old stomping ground Appleby Park. Blyth hammered Willington 6-1 with Archie scoring a hat trick; he kept his place 4 days later when Blyth took on Wrexham in the Debenhams Cup at the Racecourse Ground. Blyth claimed a superb 2-1 victory over the now Third Division Champions, 5 days later Archie came on as a sub in the 1-1 draw at Croft Park that saw Blyth claim the Debenhams Cup 3-2 on aggregate.
The following season he scored in 5 successive games and bagged another 5 goals before Spartans set off on the FA Cup trail again. A 4th Qualifying Round game at Billingham Synthonia saw Archie get the winner when his cross-eluded the keeper. He lost his place for the 1st Round tie at York City which ended in a 1-1 draw, but injury to Terry Johnson saw him back in the side for the epic 3-5 defeat on a snow-covered Croft Park.

Archie and Rob Carney returned to Appleby Park at the turn of 1979 as Marks went about rebuilding his side, despite stating his frustration at the fee’s being asked for some of the players he wantedAfter signing Archie & Rob, Marks received little sympathy from Robins boss Geoff Allen:
“Spartans were not afraid to quote high fee’s for their players, I should know because I’ve bought two!.
Having returned to North Shields he reflected on his 2 great years at Blyth:
“I had some great times at Croft Park but some of the people in the crowd just wouldn’t get off my back. It got to the stage where I was thinking I couldn’t do anything to please them so the only thing to do was find a new club”.
And it was not just the fans that had it in for him:
Jackie Marks loved me because I worked until I dropped, but the hierarchy weren’t keen on my style.”


Yet another goal for Archie.

Archie scored 13 goals in 20 appearances as Shields finished 7th in the Northern League but the 79/80 didn’t go to plan, after a 6-1 victory on the opening day things fell apart. In September John Tudor replaced Geoff Allen and they didn’t see eye to eye:
“John Tudor came in and he said anyone who didn’t want to play could leave, he made it clear he didn’t fancy my style of play so I went to play for Chick Charlton at Ashington”.

The move to Portland Park proved a great one; Charlton had guided the Colliers to a superb 3rd place finish and saw Archie as the last piece of the jigsaw. Within weeks of the move John Tudor took ‘his’ Shields side to Portland Park and were hammered 6-1 with Archie bagging 5!. Reaching the FA Trophy 2nd Round brought old Amateur Cup foes Woking back to Portland Park but they avenged Ashington’s famous Quarter Final victory in 1974 by winning 0-2. 1980/81 continued in the same vein as the goals flowed, on the 25th October they recorded their biggest victory since joining the league 10 years earlier hammering Willington 9-2 with Archie scoring 6!. The Colliers recorded 6-1 homes win over Horden & West Auckland and scored 5 on their travels at Billingham & Whitley Bay as they finished the League’s top scorers with 95, Archie finished the League’s top scorer with a superb tally of 47!.
His goals earned him £300 from league sponsor Drybroughs, only £100 less that the club received for being the league’s top scorers!.
Bizarrely the FA Trophy success almost lead to Archie moving to the Midlands!, a tough 1st Round draw at Alliance Premier Nuneaton Borough saw Charlton’s side pull off a shock with Archie & former Blyth team-mate Ronnie Scott scoring in a superb 2-0 victory:
“Nuneaton Player Manager was ex Arsenal player John Sammells and after we beat them he enquired about signing myself & Dave Brown straight after the game but nothing came of it”.
The season ended with a medal, the Colliers capped off a wonderful season winning their 1st Northumberland Senior Cup in 12 years beating Wearside League Heaton Stannington 2-1 in a replay at Whitley Bay following a 0-0 draw at St James Park 10 days earlier.

While Archie was starring for a resurgent Ashington his 18 month older brother was doing likewise 18 miles down the road!.

Spartans boss Jackie Marks had convinced Chairman Jim Turney to strengthen the side using some of the fee from Alan Shoulder’s move to Newcastle United. He finally replaced legendary centre half Ronnie Scott with the signing of Dave Mitchenson from Gateshead and a week later swooped for Les.
The continuing turmoil at Gateshead had provided Spartans with some rich pickings, Dave Clarke signed in summer 1977 when Gateshead United folded and Keith Houghton joined in the November 77′ citing his commitment’s to the Police force making travelling difficult, Mutrie & Mitchenson were only to willing to come to Croft Park.

While it was a move back down the leagues for Les it proved an inspired one, transforming his career catapulting him back into the professional game.
Les scored on his debut in a 1-1 draw home with Bishop Auckland on 31st March 79’, a fortnight after joining he faced his younger brother when North Shields came to Croft Park on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. The clubs had met 3 days earlier in a League Cup Quarter Final at Appleby Park, Les scored in Blyth’s 2-1 win but Ian hadn’t played due to being cup-tied from an earlier round with the Spartans. The Bank Holiday meeting also saw brothers Rob & Steve Carney up against each other, Les made it 3 goals in 3 games scoring in the comfortable 4-1 victory.
Les would go on to score another 8 goals as Blyth finished 5th in the league ending the campaign with a 15 game unbeaten run in all competitions, Spartans retained the League Cup when Les scored a brace as Blyth beaten Consett 4-3 at Spennymoor.
photo(28)That summer saw Les & Keith Houghton earn the honour of being the first ever Northern League players to be capped for the England Semi Professional Squad, Les played in both games against Scotland & Holland as the 1st ever England Semi Pro team won the tournament. Les also became the first Blyth player to score for the National Semi Pro team in the 5-1 win over Scotland on 31st May.
LM8He scored 4 in the 1979/80 opening day 7-2 demolition of Crook Town, Jackie Marks side swept to the clubs 1st Northern League title since 75/76 scoring 93 goals (the 4th highest tally since joining the league back in 1964). Blyth disappointingly lost an FA Cup 1st Round home tie 0-2 to Third Division Mansfield Town, Spartans were unbeaten in the league while it was their 1st away win of the season!. It proved to be the only FA Cup Les played for Blyth in which he didn’t score!, and he almost missed the game due to suspension having been sent off a fortnight earlier when the referee heard him ‘tell a team-mate what he thought’!. LM 1
Les scored 35 goals in a season that saw Blyth reach the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy before losing 0-2 to eventual runners up Mossley in a replay.
Les again won England Semi Pro caps that summer along with team-mate Dave Clarke, featuring in all 3 games against Ireland, Scotland & Holland as England won the Four Team Tournament.

Les fires home the winner against Burton Albion

Les fires home the winner against Burton Albion

1980/81 was the season that put Les back where he belonged, scoring 13 goals as Blyth reached the FA Cup 2nd Round, including scoring in 6 consecutive games.
Having scored a hat  trick in the 7-o hammering of Horden CW in the 4th Qualifying Round Les then hit the winner in a 2-1 victory over Burton Albion in the 1st Round.
Blyth drew 3rd Division strugglers Hull City away. Spartans were in good form going into the tie, unbeaten in 7 having scoring 25 goals. Despite dominating play Blyth fell behind and despite hitting the woodwork several times it wasn’t until the 80th minute that Les fired home a deserved equaliser.
The replay went down as one of Croft Park’s all time great games, a 5,870 fanatical crowd was hopeful of a victory against the Third Division strugglers who had not won an away game in their last 32 attempts!. Les give Blyth an 18th minute lead with a superb solo goal, cutting in from left riding a challenge before unleashing a vicious 20 yard drive that give the Hull keeper no chance. LM4Craig Norrie equalised in the 39th minute with a header but right back Ray Young topped Les’s effort giving Blyth a deserved 2-1 half time lead with a stunning strike. Les switched play picking out Young with a 40-yard cross-field ball, Young took a touch before unleashing an equally spectacular 18 yards thunder bolt. Spartans suffered heartbreak in the 85th minute when Keith Edwards beat Tommy Dixon to a long ball down field to fire home an equaliser.

Extra time was just as dramatic, Blyth were awarded a penalty Les stepped up confidently but Tony Norman pulled off a remarkable double save parrying the spot kick then reacting to save Paul Ross’s follow up. Blyth were denied another winner 2 minutes later when Paul Ross’s goal was ruled offside sending the tie to a 2nd replay. Elland Road, Leeds staging the 2nd replay the following Monday give Les a problem, LM3he was booked into Newcastle RVI for treatment having played through the pain barrier since breaking his nose in June playing for England Semi Professional XI:
“I’m suffering stomach pains as a throwback to my broken nose which has never recovered. The problem is nobody seems to know what is the matter!. I have waited months for this appointment and I’m not going to cancel it and have to wait again. I want it sorted”.

Les kept his appointment and still made it to the game, once again the sides couldn’t be separated. Hull took a 64th minute lead but the Spartans took the game to extra time with a penalty 4 minutes from time, as in the first replay Les saw his spot kick saved by Norman only for the ref to order it to be retaken. Les made no mistake this time sending the tie into extra time, it took until the dying minutes to separate the sides when future England Manager Steve McClaren crossed for Stuart Croft to put the ball past Dave Clarke with his shoulder for a cruel winner as Hull reached the Third Round, but the drama wasn’t over for the Spartans fans.

  • Les finished top scorer in the entire 1980/81 FA Cup season with 7 goals, his prize from the FA ?……………………a magazine!
    “I scored seven goals in all Cup ties and the FA gave me a mag with my photo and record in it. I got nowt else officially, though my wife Sandra presented me with a great big cup as a memento”.
  • Les played a total of  8 FA Cup games for Blyth scoring 9 goals.

Hull & Welsh National boss Mike Smith impressed at what he had seen convinced Chairman Christopher Needler to try to buy Les.
The first Les knew of it was when Jackie Marks came rushing into the Elland Road dressing-room: “Hurry up, you’re wanted upstairs. There at the top of the stairs stood Mr Needler, he said they wanted to sign me and I should travel down for talks tomorrow!”.
“Jim Turney took me in his Mercedes and I was left twiddling my thumbs outside the boardroom while he and Needler concluded a deal. All I had to do was go in and sign.”

LM2The day after the game the local papers were running the story it was a done deal but Turney denied it and wasn’t giving much away amid reports the fee would be in excess of the £10,000 received from Newcastle United for Alan Shoulder a year earlier:
“We haven’t got around to a fee yet, but the lad is on a contract with us”.

The £30,000 fee Hull paid was their second highest outlay that season, and a record fee paid for a Non League player by a League club.
It was reported at the time that at 28 he would be the oldest Football League player debuting so far, none of it phased him and he was an instant hit with the Tigers fans but he wasn’t able to stop them being relegated to the Fourth Division fourth 1st time in their history, trouble was brewing inside Boothferry Park.
Les Mutrie HCFC 2In September 1981 Keith Edwards was sold to eventual Champions Sheffield United and Les became lead striker along with another of Smith’s Non League signings; Billy Whitehurst who cost considerably less, only £2,500 from Mexborough Town in October 1980. Despite receiving £100,000 for Edwards the club was in crisis, in February it became the 1st ever English club to be placed into receivership. Mike Smith & his coach Cyril Lea were sacked in March and players were put on the transfer list.
Les was far from happy revealing in an interview at the time that he along with other players were asked to take pay cut:
“Its ludicrous and a situation I’m not prepared to accept. My contract has a set wage, yet they are asking me to take a massive wage cut. I just can’t do it. If they don’t honour my contract then I become a free agent. I’m already looking for another club at the minute.
I don’t think there is any way that I shall be playing for Hull next season. I appreciate that the club gave me a second chance in league football last years at the age of 28, but I believe I have repaid them in full”.

Les had been close to a dream move to First Division Birmingham City just before the transfer deadline but the deal fell through, Ron Saunders had taken over from Jim Smith in February 82’ as City faced the threat of relegation. Saunders identified Les as the striker to save them from the drop but he also wanted keeper Tony Norman in a joint deal for £150,000. Despite their dire financial straits, Hull were not happy with the amount offered and held out for more. Saunders wasn’t having it and the deal fell through; he then went straight to Third Division Bristol City to signed Mick Harford for £100,000.
*24-year-old Norman would go on to make the record number of consecutive appearances for Hull, playing 226 consecutive games between August 1983 and September 1988 before joining Sunderland for £500,000!.

Les recalls being unhappy about how the deal fell through having a different take on who was to blame:
”I was bitterly disappointed when the Birmingham deal collapsed. We were led to believe that no fees would be involved; yet when Birmingham came in for us, a figure of around £150,000 was being talked about for goalkeeper, Tony Norman and myself. Now it looks as though I’m going to be a free agent anyway”.

Confident in his ability but realistic that age wasn’t on his side:
“At my age it would be no good me going into the first Division and playing three or four games and then ending up in the reserves. It may be a question of signing for any league club where I can be guaranteed first team football because that is all I want. But that is not to say I couldn’t do it in the First Division, from what I’ve seen I’m sure I could do a good job. But First Division clubs worry about the ages of players. They prefer to produce their own kids because it’s obviously cheaper that way.”

Despite the situation he was quick to stress they were committed to the cause:
“There is plenty of spirit in the dressing room because I suppose we are playing to save our League careers.”

Hull legend Chris Chilton & Bobby Brown (a former aide to Mike Smith) took over as a Caretaker double-act and guided City to a respectable 8th place finish.
Les Mutrie HCFCLes embraced the challenge between 13th February and 20th March he scored in 9 consecutive games to set a new club record, a record that still stands to this day!.
His 14-goal tally in that period saw him nicknamed ‘Sir Les’ by the City fans as he ended the campaign with 27 goals.

The financial situation was eventually sorted, a new chairman and manager were appointed, under Colin Appleton a remarkable transformation happened.
The former Scarborough boss piloted City out of the Fourth Division in 1982/83 as runners-up with 90 points – a new club record under the revised points system. Les’s form earned him a place in the PFA Fourth Division Team of the Year along with his Fourth Division Runners Up medal.

The following season he fell down the pecking order, Hull’s former assistant boss Cyril Lea was now manager of 4th Divison Colchester United and in January 84’ he signed Les for £10,000, making his debut on 28th January in a 1-1 home draw with Stockport County.
He made 16 appearance, 11 starts and 5 as a sub scoring twice, his first came on 4th February in a 4-1 win at Chester City.
RoversIn March 1984 Doncaster Rover boss Billy Bremner took Les on a month’s loan to cover an injury with Rovers closing in on promotion from the Fourth Division. Bremner had watched the 2 Blyth & Hull cup replays due to Rovers playing the winners so was aware of Les before he joined Hull, Les made his debut away to Aldershot on 24th March in a 1-2 defeat, he went on to play 9 times scoring twice which eventually helped Rovers clinched the Runners up spot.
Despite rumours of Rovers possibly making it a permanent deal nothing happened and Les returned Layer Road after the month. He played his last game for United in 11th May in the last day 1-4 defeat away at Halifax Town, in the summer of 1984 he returned to the North East signing for Hartlepool United.

Les made his Pools debut on 29th August 1984 in a 1-5 League Cup defeat to Derby County at the Baseball Ground, he played another 4 games before opening his account scoring the 2nd in a 3-0 home won over Crewe Alexandra on 29th September, they set off on a 13 game unbeaten which included avenging their earlier League Cup defeat with a 2-1 FA Cup home win over Derby County.
His next goal won the hearts of the Pool fans, grabbing the winner in a 1-0 victory at arch rivals Darlington on 2nd October. Les was to score twice more before injury ended his career, his 22nd and last game for Hartlepool was a 0-1 home defeat to Bury on 2nd January 1985, the niggling injury he’d been carrying finally ended his short but incident packed Football League career.

Les moved back to North Tyneside continuing involvement in the game having a spell as player/manager of Northern Alliance side Dudley Welfare while running a pub in Burradon. Les then became player/manager of North Eastern Amateur League side Rutherford AFC for 2 season’s, in his 1st season in charge he coaxed his brother into playing a few times. His last involvement in the game saw him guide Rutherford AFC to the 1990 North Eastern Amateur League Selcray Bowl before settling into retirement in the Northumberland countryside.
Les reflected on his time at Croft Park:
“I loved it there. Blyth had just undergone their fabulous run to the fifth round of the FA Cup which took Shoulder off to Newcastle United. I was signed from Gateshead as his replacement. We had a great team with the likes of Keith Houghton, Ray Young, Tommy Dixon, Dave Clark, and John Waterson and we continued to be very successful”.

And those of Hull City games and those penalties:
“What an almighty struggle those games were, we drew 1-1 at Hull when Keith Edwards put them ahead and I equalised with less than 10 minutes to go. We had paralysed them, hitting the post twice and the bar.
In the replay, I crashed the ball home from 25 yards only for Edwards to score again!.
It was 2-2 after extra time – and I had missed a penalty at the death!.LM9

I was usually lethal from 12 yards and I put the ball in my favourite corner to Tony Norman’s left, but he flung himself full length and saved.
I had been unplayable during the 120 minutes but I left the field with my head hung low.
We went to Leeds for the second replay and blow me if Edwards didn’t net again.
Then we were awarded a penalty once again!.
I had changed my approach after missing my first kick.
From then on I watched the keeper early doors to note what hand he threw the ball out with and what foot he kicked with because that was usually his strong side.
If he favoured his left when clearing I would strike a penalty to his right.

However I lost my head completely and my spot-kick struck a bloke standing at the top of the terrace behind the goal!.
LM10Unbelievably the referee blew for the kick to be retaken because of encroachment.
Jackie Marks was yelling for me to get off the ball and our skipper Tommy Dixon came over to ask if I was all right.

I snapped back: ‘Do you want to take it Dicka?’ He was off like a shot and I buried the ball.”


Archie shows off the teams silverware with team-mates, Dave Mitchenson, Maurice Hepworth Tommy Dixon, Jeff Peters & Geoff Hart.

By the time of Les’s retirement, Ian had made a successful return to Croft Park partly due to his brother transfer from Blyth!.
Former player Bob Elwell had been appointed manager in June 1981 after Jackie Marks quit, he rebuilt the squad partly thanks to the balance of Les Mutrie’s transfer fee being paid by Hull.
He pulled of a coup signing midfielder Harry Dunn from NPL side Scarborough, however the biggest surprise was the return of Archie, and no one had expected it after his parting salvo 2 years earlier.
Blyth’s interest in Archie hadn’t gone down well with Ashington’s management, Elwell wanted the league’s top marksman so offered him a wage the Colliers just couldn’t match, they were not willing to part with their star striker despite reports that Archie had threatened to go on strike to force through the move!. The Portland Park board ended the stalemate by deciding to sell, manager Chick Charlton & his assistant Cecil Irwin immediately quit and their successful side started to break up.
Archie instantly proved why Elwell was so desperate to get his man scoring in 10 consecutive games, his 15 goals helped Spartans reach the FA Cup 1st Round. However the home tie with Walsall in November, which Blyth lost 1-2 to a late goal, put Archie’s superb season on hold when he twisted his knee damaging his ligament right on half time putting him out of action for nearly 3 months. He returned to action as Elwell’s side swept to the Northern League title losing only once in 18 games reaching the League Cup Final & Senior Cup Final. The 2nd leg of the treble was completed when Archie’s equaliser took the League Cup Final to extra time and then penalties which Blyth won 2-1, a week later Archie was in the team that beat Westerhope Excelsior 1-0 at St James Park to complete the superb treble.
Elwell’s side kept up their staggering form into the new season going another 17 games unbeaten with Archie starting all bar 1 scoring 8 goals, but a 0-3 FA Cup defeat at Alliance Premier League side Northwich Victoria saw Elwell’s surprisingly sacked!.
IM9Archie thrived under new Player/Manager John Connolly, scoring twice in the 3-2 FA Trophy win at Whitby Town that set Connolly’s side off on a remarkable run, just like the lucky hat he wore throughout the famous 77/78 FA Cup, superstitious Archie decided not to have shave until Blyth went out of the Trophy!.
He then scored the winner against his former side Ashington in a Senior Cup Quarter Final before coming up against Nuneaton Borough in the FA Trophy once again.
This time Archie got the better of the Alliance Premier League high fliers scoring a dramatic late penalty to seal a famous 3-2 victory at Croft Park, in the 3rd Round Archie created the crucial goal that sealed a superb 2-0 victory over Altrincham that took the Spartans to the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy.
IM3A 1-1 draw with Northwich Victoria at Croft Park took the tie to a replay, now sporty in full beard Archie putt the Spartans 1-0 up from the penalty spot, the Vics eventually ran out 3-2 winners. Despite the disappointment of the Trophy defeat Blyth recovered to retain the Northern League title scoring 32 goals in 8 games with Archie bagging 2 consecutive hat tricks.
1983/84 saw Archie sharing the striking duties with Geoff Hart & new signing Tony McFadden in a 3 man attack with him taking up a wider role managing only 4 goal before his former team mates Mick Dagless took over a manager when Connolly left the club.
In January 84’ he decided to move on and return to North Shields after his old Blyth boss Bob Elwell made an approach.
He left the Spartans as the club’s 5th highest Northern League goalscorer and scored against every team he played against in the Northern League for Blyth.
He still holds a club record to this very day!.
From 29th September until 7th November 1981 he scored in a record 8 consecutive games.

He scored 7 goals in his 17 appearance for the Robins as Elwell’s side pushed eventual Champions Spartans all the way finishing 9 points behind Blyth but outscoring them!.
Both Mutrie and Blyth stalwart Tommy Dixon had an opportunity to put one over on their old club in the Senior Cup Final at St James Park but a 2,000 crowd saw Tony McFadden’s extra time winner seal Blyth’s 1st county cup win in 3 years.

The following season saw Archie back in the goals for the Robins scoring a superb 33 goals from 47 games, they finished 6th in the league and lost the League Cup Final to Whitby after extra time.
He then joined Peter Feenan at Second Division Champions Brandon United for their 1st ever season in the Northern League First Division helping them to a respectable 8th place finish.
After a couple of season’s at the Welfare Ground he brought his illustrious Northern League career to an end playing for his old team-mate Mick Dagless at Alnwick Town.
Mick wanted Archie to use his experiences to help his young side and it worked a treat. Weighing in with goals as Alnwick finished Runners Up in the 2nd Division scoring 92 goals in the process. While at Alnwick he played with to future Spartans; Richie Bond, Gary Middleton & Mark Cameron before ending his footballing career with a very successful spell as manager of West Moor Social Club in the North East Sunday League.

IM14Known for being the joker in the changing room but there was method in his madness:
“I could dissolve the tension and relax people, but still went out and played in a committed way, you still had to produce the goods. You’ve got to perform and have pride behind the stupidity.
I had some great times and some great laughs in my playing career and I thoroughly enjoyed it”.

There is one massive popular misconception about him and that’s his name!.
Many actually thought his first name was indeed Archie, but it was only a nickname given to him by his best friend:
“As kids we used to wind up my father calling him ‘daft old Archie’ and because I was just as daft it was handed down to me and it just stuck, even now some people still think it’s my name!”.

Archie never compared himself with his older brother:
“Les had so much skill, he should have been a top-notch pro but he went to Blackpool aged 15 and they turned him down! He had loads of approaches from other clubs but because of that rejection he declined them all. The only time I played with him was at Burradon on a Sunday morning. His vision and skill were unbelievable; he was a big game player and he had everything.”

While they only time they ever played together was in their beloved Sunday League for Burradon Social Club, they were actually once named in the same Blyth side.
In November 1984 Les & Ian returned to Croft Park to take part in a Testimonial for their former Ashington & Blyth team-mate Tommy Dixon.
A 2,550 crowd saw Archie start and score as a Spartans 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 while they were in the same team that night they still never managed to actually play together for the Spartans!.

lesIM6When Blyth Spartans fans are recalling former greats, the name Mutrie should rightly bring both Les & Ian to mind.
Both were superb servants to the club, playing equally vital roles in bringing success, both deservedly earned their places as Spartan greats.



  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

Kevin Tilmouth for his continued help and again providing vital information & memorabilia from his vast Blyth Spartans collection.

Alan Matthews Chairman of North Shields FC for this continued help and providing vital information on Ian’s North Shields career.

Michael Harker who provided information on Les’s time with Doncaster Rovers & allowing use of an image from his excellent history website.

Chris Sanderson & Alf Marchetti who provided vital information on Ian’s time at Ashington.

Ken Sproat for allowing use of info & images from his superb history book  ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘.

Ashington AFC website for allowing use of photo’s from Les’s time at the club.
Images taken from the superb collection of old photo’s by then club photographer Mel Morpeth.

Alisdair Gibbs-Barton, for his genealogy research & continued help.
If you’re wanting to trace your family history check out his website:

Several books provided reference material:

We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘ The Official history of Blyth Spartans AFC.

We Love Football, a great book about local Non League Football by Barry Hindson.
It featured a section on Ian from which some info & images were used.

Northern Goalfields, The Official Centenary History of the Northern League 1889-1989

Northern Goalfields Revisited, The Millennium History of the Northern League both researched, complied & written by Brian Hunt.

The following football websites were used for reference & info:

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A tribute to the late great Tommy Orrick.

Friday 9th October 2015 brought the sad news that one of the most influential footballers of his generation, had passed away. Blyth colour

Tommy Orrick’s goal scoring feats rivalled that of any of the famed strikers at the regions professional clubs, however it was the supporters of the region’s  Non League clubs who saw his remarkable talent in front of goal and ability to transform the fortunes of the clubs he played for.

Tommy joined his local club North Shields aged only 17, after a short spell in the reserves he got his chance in the first team for a North Eastern Counties League Cup tie away at Stockton, he scored in the 1-1 draw. Come the 1962/63 season North Shields were now in the North Eastern League and 19-year-old Tom was holding down a regular starting place, he scored 12 times in his first 19 appearances attracting the attentions of scouts from league clubs and other local clubs.

He was offered professional terms at Portsmouth, where his father was working in the Navy, but Tommy wanted to stay in the North East he had no regrets about his decision, as a distinguished career followed.

10 times FA Amateur Cup Winners Bishop Auckland snapped up the promising youngster, playing under management of Bishop’s legend Bob Hardisty, it didn’t take him long to become a hit with the fans.
In September he scored a brace in a 7-1 hammering of ‘West’ in the Auckland Derby, initially a winger it was at Bishops were Tommy was pushed up front:
“I was really a right-winger but they put me up front playing just off Jimmy Douglas which resulted in 11 goals in 3 games”.

Tommy enjoyed his time at Kingsway:
“Bishops were a really big club at that time, having had great success in the ‘50s. It was the kind of club where you could turn up in your pyjamas – as long as you were wearing your club tie!”.
“Bishops were really disliked by opposition management and players. They did things their own way like getting to games. I lived in Byker at the time and, say we were playing at Whitley Bay, I had to get myself to Bishop Auckland to catch the team coach to Whitley. Then after the match get the team coach back to Bishop and then get myself back to Byker!”.

In 1963 Tom and four of his team mates moved to Northern League Champions Crook Town, but it didn’t work out as he had hoped:
They had the best 20 players in the Northern League and used a rotation system so I ended up playing only once every three weeks.”

In 1964 he moved nearer his home joining Whitley Bay, it proved a great move for him. Playing up front with Billy Wright & Bob Gidney, they score for fun Wright bagged a superb 51 while Tommy got 17 in his 33 games. Tommy was selected to represent Northumberland in the Northern Counties Championship while playing for the Bay.
It was Whitley’s most successful season as an Amateur side, they scored 112 league goals to dramatically snatch the League title from Tommy’s old club Crook Town in their last game. Crook were running away with the league but surprisingly lost at Stanley United while Tommy scored in Bay’s 5-3 hammering of Billingham, Crook then lost 1-3 at Northern League new boys North Shields while Bay beat West Auckland 1-0 to give themselves a chance.
While Crook drew their last game 0-0 at Willington, Tommy scored twice in Bay’s 7-2 hammering of South Bank. With 1 game left Whitley only needed a point to win the title, Bay held their nerve winning 2-1 at Penrith to claim their club’s 1st Northern League title 7 years after joining. 
A week later the Tommy made it a hat trick of trophies when the Bay beat Heaton Stannington 4-3 in the Northumberland Senior Cup Final at St James Park. They also reached the Quarter Finals of the FA Amateur Cup only to lose out to eventual winners Hendon 1-2 in front of a 7,000+ crowd packed into Hillheads.

In summer of 1965 Tommy surprisingly left Whitley Bay when he and 3 team-mates decided they wanted a new challenge, and it was a challenge leaving the League Champions for the club who had finished bottom!.
It was a moved that transformed the fortunes of a club and lead to Tommy being acclaimed as one of the club’s most influential players ever. Along with his friends Malcolm Peel, Stewart Graham & Michael Hind, they ‘offered’ their services to Blyth Spartans manager Jim Turney.
Turney had lost forward Ken Duffell to North Shields so to have a player of Tommy’s calibre offer to play for the club was one he couldn’t refuse:
“Within half an hour of calling Jim Turney he was on my doorstep”.

v. Ashington

Tommy in action during that pivotal Ashington game.

Blyth had struggled adapting to life as an Amateur club, finishing rock bottom in their very 1st season but Tommy never regretted the move: “Playing at Blyth was the highlight of my career. I would have been delighted to have finished my career at Croft Park. The whole atmosphere around the club was like one big family”. Tommy scored on his
Spartans debut as they raced into a 0-3 lead at Tow Law only to be pegged back and finally beaten 5-4. He found the back of the net with his usual regularity but results were still going against the Spartans who once again were proven too easily beaten.

Fortunes eventually started to turn and unsurprisingly Tommy was to play a pivotal role in the clubs revival, one game is noted in the club’s history book as the turning point.
5th February 1966 saw North Regional League Ashington visit Croft Park in a Northumberland Senior Cup tie, the return of the famous old ‘Blyth Spirit’ was on show as Blyth came from behind to beat local rival’s Ashington 3-2, Tommy lead the clubs revival with the opening goal, scored at 2.44pm it was credited in the clubs recent history book as the turning point for the clubs fortunes.
Spartans only lost 2 more games that season as Tommy finished with a 34 goals, including 4 hat tricks and a 4 goals haul in a 6-1 hammering of Ferryhill, the Spartans of old were finally back and the goals flowed the last four games saw a 6-1, 7-4 7-0 and a 4-0 victories. A respectable 10th place was achieved; thanks to Tommy Blyth were the league’s 3rd highest goal scorers, reflecting on those historic 3 successive hat-tricks he magnanimously stated:
“I shall look back on these games as games won by Blyth rather than Orrick hat-tricks. The team spirit at Blyth is the best I have known, and that’s half the battle”.

218 - Blyth Spartans 1966-67

Tommy with his 1966/67 teammates

There were high hopes for 1966/67 season after the strong end to the previous campaign  but it soon disappeared with only 1 win in the opening 4 league games, a 3-1 victory at Penrith in which Tommy opened his account for the season.
An 4-1 FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round home win over Whitley Bay, Tommy scored against his old club for the 1st time since joining the Spartans, raised hopes but they were dashed 3 days later when Bay beat Blyth in a league meeting!.
Things did click into place and as the team settled, Tommy scored yet another hat trick as Blyth beat Tow Law 3-2 after extra time in an FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round replay, the replay victory was even more remarkable because Tow Law had led 2-0 at half time!. Tommy found the net again in the next round as Blyth beat Gateshead 3-1 at Redheugh Park to set up a 1st Round tie with another of Tommy’s former club’s Bishop Auckland. Before that game Tommy scored in 4 successive games including a penalty in the 2-2 draw with a Sunderland XI at Croft Park on Tuesday 8th November 1966 to mark official switching on of the Croft Park floodlights.
The Bishop Auckland cup ties were truly epic, 3 draws sent the tie to a 3rd replay.
The 2nd replay was staged at Roker Park ending 3-3 after extra time, a meagre 2,306 witnessed Tommy scoring directly from a corner after 10 minutes to put Blyth 1-0 up.
The 3rd replay was also staged at Roker Park after Newcastle United refused use of St James Park because they had a home game the following weekend!.
The cup dream ended that December night despite Tommy scoring Bishop’s ran out 1-4 winners. The cup ties had set Tommy off an a prolific run of goals, he scored in 6 successive games, the last home game of the season saw Tommy score the ‘goal of the season’.
Blyth beat Willington 5-0 and lead 4-0 at half time guess who scored all 4!, his fourth saw him pick up a loose ball in midfield race 20 yards with it before launching a 20 yard rocket that give the keeper no chance.
Tommy ended an eventful season with 34 goals FullSizeRender1967/68 season saw Jim Turney step down as manager and Tony Knox was appointed Player Manager, the Spartans got off to a flyer. It took Tommy only 7 minutes of the new campaign to open his account scoring in the 2-2 at Penrith, he scored in 4 successive game including yet another hat trick in the 4-0 win at Durham. His 1st penalty of the season in the 6-0 home win over Willington, and then scored an 85th minute equaliser in the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Gateshead, then dramatically scored the winner in the replay in the dying second after Gateshead had equalised with only 6 minutes left.
Tommy then beat his own record when he scored in 9 successive games, the 19 goals in those games included 3 hat tricks one of which was in a 4 goal haul in Spartans 6-0 win at Hearst of Liddesdale which turned out to be Tony Knox’s final game in charge before he stepped down due to work commitments.
The club’s goal scoring record was under serious threat, Johnny Langland had scored 53 in 1957/58 and Tommy was on course to beat that total, his team mates played their part and began setting him up and not scoring themselves when they could. FullSizeRender[1]
The last game brought Billingham Synthonia to Croft Park and Tommy managed to equal the record thanks to fellow striker John Evans when he went around the keeper but did not score himself he waited to Tommy before passing to allow him to ‘tap’ the ball home for his 53rd of the season and at the final whistle the crowd flooded on top the pitch to celebrate his achievement.

In later years Tommy reflected on only equalling Johnny Langlands record:
“I’m just proud to have equalled the record. It’s an honour to have played for Blyth and to have been part of it all”. “A few years later, when Brian Slane looked like he would beat that total, I was praying that he would so that I could congratulate him in the same way Johnny Langland had made a point of congratulating me”.

The club arranged a special social evening to mark his achievement and presented Tommy with an engraved gold watch as recognition of his outstanding achievement.

Blyth appointed a new manager a week after the season finished and staggeringly it brought to an end Tommy’s time at Croft Park.
Having missed out to Tony Knox a year earlier, Jackie Marks was appointed the new manager, but the biggest shock of all was to come when Marks allowed Tommy who had scored a staggering 116 goals in 3 season to leave Croft Park!.
To the utter disbelief of the Blyth fans, Marks believed the side relied on Tommy too much and it would be better to have a ‘balanced’ team!.

Tommy later stated he didn’t want to leave and would have happily played out his career at Croft Park:
“They were such good times that I would have given up on my Amateur Cup medal which I later won with North Shields to have stayed at Blyth!. But Blyth coach Jackie Marks wanted the side to run for 90 minutes and said that all I did was score goals.
When I heard that I knew it was time to move on.”

Blyth’s loss was certainly North Shields gain when he returned to where it all began, and once again it was a move that transformed a clubs fortunes. 
Under the management of Frank Brennan North Shields completed a superb trophy treble, but this treble included the Holy Grail of Amateur football!.
In only their 4th season playing in the Amateur Cup Brennan guided the club to Wembley glory coming from behind to beat Sutton United 2-1. 
Shields had already won a league double, claiming the league title by 1 point over local rivals Whitley Bay scoring a 106 goals in the process and conceding only 29!.
The League Cup was also won for the 1st time beating Tow Law.
But it was the events of Saturday April 12th 1969 that cemented them in North East folklore. 
That victory was by North Shields in only their 4th season in the competition, it was some achievement because clubs had to play 4 regional qualifying rounds just to reach the national 1st Round!.
Shields earned their place at Wembley having beaten Skelmersdale United in a Semi Final replay at Southport, the fact the tie went to a replay was thanks to Tommy.
Down to 10 men at Ayresome Park with time ticking away he came on as a sub to score the dramatic equaliser that sending the tie to a replay. He came on as a sub for the injured Ray Wrightson in the replat staged at Southport FC as Shields came from behind to reach Wembley.

On Saturday 12th April a 47,500 crowd saw Frank Brennan lead out his team, Tommy who had made his Shields debut playing alongside the manager some 9 years earlier once again had to settle for a place the bench.colour pic
Brennan was meticulous in his planning for the Final, including not wanting his players to be overawed on the day so took them to see Wembley when they arrived in London on the Friday. 
Tommy recalled the only shock came when they saw the state of the hallowed Wembley turf: “Wembley had had the Horse of the Year Show the weekend before, when we arrived to have a look around on the Friday afternoon, the pitch was still all churned up and there were men literally painting the grass. It was amazing how good it looked by the Saturday.”

on knees

Tommy sank to his knees at the final whistle.

Sutton got off to a flyer scoring after on 4 minutes through Mick Mellows and they had another disallowed from Dario Gradi. In the second half Shields superior fitness and tactics won them the game.Tommy came off the bench and turned the game on its head setting up the equaliser, it was his corner that Richie Hall headed past Sutton keeper Roffey and then he crossed for the in rushing Brian Joicey to hammer home the all important winner as North Shields became the last ever Northern League side to win the illustrious trophy. CIVIC

Despite all the planning before the kick off, Tommy recalled the players almost went on strike before they had even left North Tyneside:
“The directors were always fantastic to us, but they weren’t going to pay for the wives and girlfriends to travel down so we threatened to go on strike.”
“We were going to get £30 each for winning. In the end they let the wives go if we paid £28 each. We won the cup for two quid.”

bus paradeTommy later reflected on his part in the game and the celebrations:
“Coming on as sub when were losing one nil the players agreed that we needed to show some true Geordie grit. We did and we went on to win. Even better than walking out at Wembley though was when our open-topped bus drove through Byker and the lads made sure I was holding the Cup as we passed my family.

NSAFC Amateur Cup team photoThe teamwork & fitness that had served them so well at Wembley also brought them the clubs 1st ever Northern League title, a superb run from 25th January saw them drop only 1 point until the end of the season.
The run saw them pip local rivals Whitley Bay to the title by 1 point!, having to play 5 games in 11 days didn’t faze Frank Brennan’s side as Tommy went on an amazing scoring run.
They beat Spennymoor 4-1 with Tommy scoring a brace, 2 days later beat Stanley 4-2 when Tommy scored another brace. He then bagged another 2 on the 5th May when they Durham City 3-0, 2 days later another brace in a 3-0 win over Billingham Synthonia to set up a dramatic final day.
Whitley Bay drew 3-3 with Shildon, meaning Shields 4-1 victory at Whitby gave them the title by a single point and unsurprisingly Tommy scored 2 in the famous 4-1 victory.
A superb treble was completed on 14th May when they beat Tow Law 2-0 at Spennymoor to claim League Cup, Tommy scored his 45th of the season & Bobby Wake scored the other, while the ease in which they could score goals had won them the title with a total of 106 goals they also had the best defensive record conceding only 29, that rock solid defence showed is worth in the Final because the Lawyers 3rd place Lawyers had outscored them with 110 league goals.
The Robins actually reached the Northumberland Senior Cup Final that season but due to the back log in fixture the Final was held over until the start of the 1969/70 season.
Local rivals Whitley Bay took their revenge for losing out in the title race beating Shields 4-0 at St James Park on 30th August.

However with a month they made up for the Cup Final disappointment by becoming European winners, tAlamas proghey accepted on invite to take part in the Coppa Ottrino Barassi, a challenge cup between the English & Italian Amateur Cup winners.
Almas of Rome came to Appleby Park for the 1st leg on 25th September, a 3,100 crowd saw Shields win 2-0 thanks to an early John Rutherford goal and a hotly disputed second half penalty from Tommy after he was adjudged to have been pushed  by the Almas captain Antonio Sales.
The 2nd leg on the 11th October saw Almas run out 2-0 winners so with the aggregate score tied it was decided to share the trophy for 6 months each.
However it wasn’t an outcome that had been considered and there was only 1 set of winners medals!.
FA Secretary Denis Follows, who had helped North Shields organise the tie and the trip to Rome, got together with his Italian counterpart and both clubs Secretaries decided it would come down to a ‘toss of the coin’!.
Shields captain Ron Tatum called correctly and the Robins players came home with the winners medals and they got to hold the trophy 1st before it was returned to Almas for their turn.


North Shileds FC 1968/69.

Following their European adventure the rest of the season never reached the heights of the previous one, Tommy made 30 appearances but only managed 10 goals as their reign as Amateur Cup holders was ended after a 1st Round Replay defeat at Hartlepool’s Victoria Ground losing 1-3 to the side who also took their Northern league title, Evenwood.
1970/71 was Tommy’s swansong before retiring he was back on song scoring 24 in 34 games but once again Shields failed to reach the high standards they’d set themselves.
Despite ending Spennymoor’s 10 games unbeaten run with a surprise 2-0 victory at Brewey Field a title challenge petered out finishing 7th but they did reach the League Cup Final again, but local rivals Whitley Bay claimed the trophy with a 1-0 victory at Croft Park, Blyth.

Even after retiring the sportsman stayed in him and he was still playing in an over 40s league and ran half marathons until he turned 62, completing The Great North Run many times.
In 1973 he and his wife Ann formed one of the region’s most famous Junior teams, Cramlington Juniors. A local Catholic Priest was keen to keep up strong links with the community and Tommy & Ann had a vision to form a local junior football club. Discussions took place and Cramlington Juniors were born, Anne & Tommy eventually became Vice Presidents.
Hard work & good organisation developed the club which launched the careers of Premier League players Alan Shearer, Andy Sinton, Graham Fenton, Tommy Widdrington & Jack Colback.

Tommy’s reputation within the local game hadn’t gone unnoticed and he was contacted by then Ipswich Town manager Bobby Robson about joining his back room staff but a devoted family man with young children and a good job, Tommy declined the offer.

It wasn’t just in the world of football that Tommy had forged a great reputation, after he stopped playing he and his wife Ann spent a lot of time breeding & showing their English Setter at Crufts.

In February 2013 Tommy was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and then suffered at heart attack in the May, despite his illness Tommy still loved watching his old team play, North Shields Chairman Alan Matthews enjoyed seeing him at their games:
“Tommy would often come to the game and say I’m only staying for 10 minutes and 2 hours later we were still talking away 2 hours later!”.

After recovering he & Anne were guests of honour at Croft Park and he spoke openly to club’s Media Manager Phil Castiaux about his illness:
“It took seven doctors over two days to be sure. Consultant Tim Williams, a brilliant man, confirmed it. It’s very rare, with only 5,000 people in the UK with the disease at any one time”.

As for his heart attack he thought he just had heartburn:
“It was incredible, thought I had really bad heartburn. Ann rang for an ambulance and it was at the house within five minutes. An hour later I was on the operating table at the Freeman Hospital!. After a three-hour operation I was back home the following day.” GNR

Tommy wasn’t letting it stop him doing another Great North Run:
“Obviously I can’t run it this year but I will be doing it in a wheelchair with five pushers, including my sons David and Mark as well as my grand-daughter’s fiancé Sam raising money for the MND Association.
The family have been brilliant all-round, helping with all sorts of things around the house to help Ann cope with my disability.”

He also pointed out his unsteadiness on his feet was partly down to an old football injury and how injuries have changed over the years:
“My legs aren’t good especially the left one which was the result of a football incident. I went to get the ball and the opposing goalkeeper caught me with his boot which raked up my thigh to my groin. The doctors just told me to rest, although nowadays they would have probably recommended an operation”.

Despite being in a wheelchair he was at Wembley in May 2015 to watch one of his former club’s become the 1st ever team to win bith the FA Amateur Cup & FA Vase.
North Shields remarkable revival saw them reach the Vase Final and many of Tommy’s 1969 teammates made the pilgrimage 46 years after their famous day at the old twin towers. wembley 2015
Upon reaching Wembley itself the ‘Spirit of 69’ and teamwork that had won them the Cup was on show again when 2 of his old team mates, Mick Morgan & Ron Tatum, spotted Tommy in his chair and picked him up and carried him into Wembley. at wembley

Fittingly with so many of the 1969 heroes watching on the current North Shields team repeated the feat of the 69’ team 46 years earlier coming from 1-0 down to win the FA Vase 2-1.

Tommy Orrick will be remembered as one of the most influential footballers ofBoys & Cup his generation.
A player with lightning quick pace and the natural ability scored goals.

A player who changed the course of a Wembley Final,
a Wembley winner and a European Cup winner.  

RIP Tommy Orrick… your legend will live on.


  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

Alan Matthews Chairman of  North Shields FC for this help with information on Tommy’s career at North Shields FC & his memories of Tommy.

Craig Dodson, North Shields FC programme editor, for help with info & images.

Phil Castiaux, Blyth Spartans Media Manager Phil Castiaux, for use of his interview with Tommy.

Ken Sproat for allowing use of his interviews with Tommy for his superb history book  ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘.

Several books provided reference material:

We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘ The Official history of Blyth Spartans AFC.

Northern Goalfields, The Official Centenary History of the Northern League 1889-1989

Northern Goalfields Revisited, The Millennium History of the Northern League both researched, complied & written by Brian Hunt.

Kings of Amateur Soccer, The official centenary history of Bishop Auckland FC by Chris Foote Wood.

The following football websiteS were used for reference & info:      

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10 titles 2,450 goals & 19 managers – the Northern League Years.

The story of Blyth Spartans 30 years in the second oldest football league in the world.

The Northern League was the stable competition needed having spent the past 7 seasons’ playing in 4 different leagues!, however the club had to turned from Semi Professional to Amateur to gain entry although the upside being it give entry to the famous FA Amateur Cup.

After 34 years in the North Eastern League, 1964 saw the league fold for good there was no revival as there had been in 1960, the NEL had operated since 1906 when Newcastle United ‘A’ were the 1st ever Champions of the 10 team league.
The NEL ran until 1958 but financial difficulties saw it disappear for 2 seasons before returning in 1960/61 as the Northern Counties League, in the intervening years Blyth spent 2 seasons in the Midland League with fellow NEL clubs South Shields, Ashington, North Shields, Horden CW, Consett, Spennymoor United, Stockton.
The strength of the NEL was shown instantly in 1958/59 with 6 of the top 8 being former NEL clubs (2nd place Ashington pushed 4 times Champions Peterborough United all the way to the title. A year later the Posh won a 5th successive title and were accepted into the Football League 4th Division.)

After another 5th place finish in 59/60 it was announced that due to financial problems the Midland League would fold, Blyth along with; Annfield Plain, Horden CW, Ashington, North Shields, Scarborough, Consett, South Shields, Gateshead & Stockton joined the new Northern Counties League finishing 3rd as North Shields won the 10 club league.
In 1961-62 Darlington, Carlisle United & Workington’s Reserve sides joined the league as Blyth finished 9th. 1962/63 saw the Spartans improve to 4th place finish but the 3 Reserves sides & Champions Scarborough moved to the Midland League. The 63/64 campaign ran with only 8 teams but somehow Blyth & Consett still managed to duplicate a fixture!. Having beaten Consett 6-2 at Croft Park on 14th September then 6-0 at Belle Vue on 5th October the clubs managed to play each other again at Croft Park on 4th January!,
Blyth won the 3rd meeting 2-1 only for game to be to be expunged from the records, how a fixture was duplicated when only 14 games were played is unknown but it was no surprise when the league folded in May 1964 never to return again.

Founded in 1889 the Northern League is the oldest surviving league outside the Football League along with North Shields the Spartans submitted an application, the league was open to new clubs Whitley Bay joined in 1958 & Spennymoor 2 years later, but it was far from cut and dry for Blyth.
The board of direNL brochurectors produced a brochure outlining why the club should be admitted and sent one to each of the Northern League’s members; it took two ballots by the AGM for the decisions to go Blyth’s way. The first ballot was to decide if they should expand the league by 2 teams, which was passed by 1 vote!. The next ballot was for which of the 4 new applicants got the 2 new places, the applicants were: Blyth, North Shields, Stockton & Consett plus the bottom 2 clubs South Bank & Durham were applying for re-election.
Despite the brochure stating the benefits of voting for the Spartans it didn’t appear to win over the members, the Spartans only just scrapped through by 1 vote!. South Bank & Durham were unanimously re-elected with 16 & 15 votes respectively, North Shields were accepted with 13 votes and Blyth took the final place with 9 votes over Stockton who polled 8 votes while Consett got 7, consequently Stockton & Consett were accepted into the Wearside League.

As expected the clubs inaugural season was a struggle, manager Jim Turney had to overhaul the playing staff releasing the professional players. The new side won only 4 of their 34 games to finish bottom with only 10 points (13 points adrift of 2nd bottom Shildon) it still is the lowest points tally by the club in any season and is also the only time the club have finished bottom of any league.6465
– There have only ever been two 2nd bottom finishes, some 82 years apart; in 1929/30  finished 2nd bottom of the North Eastern League First Division then in 2011/12 the 2nd bottom finish in the Conference North saw the club lose its coveted place in the Conference set up.

220 - Blyth Spartans 1964-65

Blyth Spartans 1st ever NL team photo, the new shirts for the new season was the 1st time ever the club shirts carried a crest.


Ken Duffell scorer of club’s 1st ever NL goal.

Blyth’s 1st ever Northern League game was a Croft Park on 22nd August 1964 when Tow Law provided the opposition it brought a 0-2 defeat.
Blyth team that day was:
M Ingoe, JW Embleton, JM Simpson, E Kelly, K Dodd, SH Bell, D Nixon, R Smith,
K Duffell, A King, N. Hetherington.
The clubs 1st NL goal was scored by Ken Duffell in a 1-2 defeat at Evenwood on 29th August, (it came in the 3rd game of the season after two successive 0-2 defeats). 7 straight defeats had seen 20 goals conceded and it could have been far worse, having lost 0-7 at Whitley Bay on 5th September the Seasiders came to Croft Park in the return fixture 11 days later and were 1-7 up only for the game to be abandoned in the 85th minute due to poor light!. The first victory didn’t come until 19th September when Durham City were beaten 4-0 at Croft Park with a Ken Duffell brace & 1 each from Dodd & Easton,  it wasn’t a sign of things to come 7 consecutive defeats followed and the clubs 1st ever Northern League Cup tie also brought defeat at local rivals North Shields when Frank Rankin scored the clubs 1st ever League Cup goal in a 1-2 defeat. The clubs 1st ever NL penalty was scored by Jackie Embleton in a 2-6 defeat at Stanley United on 14th November. A run of 11 defeats in last 12 games shipping 41 goals saw the Spartans concede a total of 105 goals, it was the most the club had conceded in a league season since 1925/26, joining Durham City on 105 in 1960/61 as the most conceded in the NL since South Bank let in 129 in 1957/58, the paltry 38 goals scored is still to this day the fewest the club have ever scored in a league campaign.

In 1970 the league expanded again to 20 clubs, Northern Premier League club Ashington were accepted the Colliers had only played 1 season in the NPL after 3 years in the North Regional League, Consett AFC joined after 6 seasons in the Wearside League.
In 1972 the Blyth board submit a proposal for a 2nd Division to be added, it had been a regular topic at League Management Committee meetings since the 1920’s,
the proposal was passed by 10 votes to 8 and new member clubs were sought.
Several clubs made enquirers but only 11 clubs made applications, (Alnwick Town, Bedlington CW, Blue Star, Horden CW, Newton Aycliffe, Norton CCT, Seaham UDC, Wallsend Town, Whickham, Wingate, Washington) however the committee decided there was insufficient numbers to make it viable and the plans were scrapped.

It was another 9 years before the Second Division finally returned after a 85 year absence, the original Second Division only ran for 3 seasons; 1897/1898, 1989/1899 & 1899/1900 before the ‘trial’ was deemed a failure and the league was disbanded in 1900.
The Championship trophy from the original Second Division was recycled and became the League Challenge Cup Trophy that is still used to this day, the new Second Division Championship Trophy is actually the old Challenge Cup from the Semi Professional North Eastern League which was found in a storeroom at the FA Headquarters in Lancaster Gate and fully restored to be used for the new Second Division trophy.
The new Second Division was far more successful although there was still apprehension from the Management Committee they initally went against the idea but the clubs fully backed the idea. The appeal of the new division attraction to clubs from further a field than it had in 1972, 4 teams came from the Northern Alliance, 3 from the Wearside League, 2 from the Teesside League and 1 each from the Carlisle & District League and Harrogate & District League.
Founder Members for the inaugural 1983/83 season were Alnwick Town, Bedlington Terriers, Billingham Town, Darlington Reserves, Esh Winning, Gretna, Hartlepool United Reserves, Northallerton Town, Norton & Stockton Ancients, Peterlee Newtown, Ryhope Community Association.

The Spartans would compete in the Northern League for 30 years after a difficult first few seasons they forced their way into the title race season after season.
The 70’s saw a battle with Spennymoor United to become the dominant force, from 1972 to 1979 either United or the Spartans won the title the rivalry was so close that in 1973/74 they tied at the top on 64 points and for the 1st time since 1946/47 a Play Off game was needed to decide who were crowned Champions.
Unlike the 46/47 Play Off when Bishop Auckland beat Crook Town 5-1, as expected it was a far closer affair with Spennymoor edging it 2-1 to take the trophy off the Spartans.

colour team NEW

1974/74 unbeaten League Champions.

The Spartans response to losing the title on a Play Off was truly spectacular, the title was brought back to Croft Park in style finishing 10 points clear of their rivals United. Remarkably the Spartans went the entire season unbeaten, it was the 1st time it had been achieved since Shildon did it in 1936/37, it was the 4th time in the Leagues history it had done. It was first achieved by Middleborough Ironopolis in 1892/93 then in 1898/99 Bishop Auckland achieved it, however they were with significantly smaller leagues the those previous occasions.
Still to this day it hasn’t been achieved since, the closest a team has come was in 2004/2005 when Dunston Federation Brewery won the title losing only 1 game in a 21 team league.

  • 1971/72 season actually saw Blyth compete in two league competitions!. That season saw the inagural Vaux Floodlight League, a midweek competition for clubs on Tyneside, while the idea was a good one supported by the clubs the timings of the games proved difficult. Spartans played 72 games that season with runs to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup & the Semi Final of the FA Amateur Cup and staging of the VFL games lead to the club withdrawing from the competition after only 3 games:
    13th October drew 1-1 with Gateshead at home played 3 days before an Amateur Cup tie, 17th November lost 1-5 at South Shields played 3 days before FA Cup 1st Round tie at Crewe Alexandra & 24th November beat Whitley Bay 3-2 away played 3 days before an Amateur Cup tie.

Blyth would retain the title in 1975/76 before Spennymoor went on to win the title for 3 consecutive seasons 76/77, 77/78 & 78/79 becoming the 5th different club to achieve 3 successive titles, previous 3 times winners were:
Ironopolis 1890/91, 1891/92 & 1892/93
Shildon 1934-35, 1935-36 & 1936-37
Newcastle United “A”  1902-03, 1903-04 & 1904-05
Bishop Auckland 1953/54, 1954/55 & 1955/56

222 - Tommy Dixon collects the Fifth NL - 83-84

Captain Tommy Dixon recieves the NL trophy for a record 5th time from Chairman Arthur Clark.


Commercial Manager Mike Turnbull, Chairman Jim Turney along with players Geoff Peters, Maurice Hepworth, Dave Mitchenson Director Brian Morgan and defender Jeff Peters proudly display the 1982 trophy haul.

Those 3 successive titles by Bishops could have been even more had it not been for a surprise 1952/53 title win for Crook Town claiming their 1st title in 1926/27, (even more commendable having finished the previous season 9th!). Bishops then won league the following 3 seasons meaning Crook denied Bishops what could have been 7 straight Northern League titles, still they had became the only club to have achieved it twice.
Always up for a challenge the Spartans set about breaking all those records winning 5 successive titles from 1979/80 to 1983/84, Blyth were denied a 6th successive title by Bishop Auckland having to settle for runners up spot for a 4th time.
The feat of 5 titles in a row was then equalled by Bedlington Terriers from 1997/98 to 2001/02 and like the Spartans missed a 6th title finishing Runners Up in 2002/03.


After back to back titles for Bishops, the title was brought back to Croft Park in 1986/87 finishing 14 points clear of 2nd place.
The title was retained in 87/88 for what was to be the last time the club won the Northern League title, that season proved to be a pivotal one for the League.
The league had lost members before over the years most notably in 73/74 when Stanley United withdrew only 3 days before that start of the season but 1988/89 was a pivotal for the Management Committee when 2 of its biggest clubs tendered their resignations at the AGM, Bishop Auckland (who had finished 6th) and Whitley Bay (who had finished 4th) wanted to join the Northern Premier League.
The discussions on the Leagues stance about joining the ‘pyramid’ system had rumbled for a few years and it had come to the point where clubs actively sort ‘promotion’ to the pyramid and were forced to resign to achieve this.
It was a massive blow to the League having lost 2 clubs the League decided to increase its membership to 40 clubs by adding 4 new clubs to the Second Division with 4 clubs being promoted instead of the usual 2 to make up for the loss of Bishops & Whitley Bay. Washington, who had finished 4th in the ballot piping just Wingate to the final place, became the 100th different club to play in the Northern League.

The resignation of Bishops & Whitley set the ball rolling, having finished a lowly 18th in 88/89 North Shields tendered their resignation and joined the Northern Counties East League with the intention of gaining promotion to the NPL through the pyramid system.
In 1990 talks were held about were the NL would fit into the pyramid, but the proposal of being placed on a par with the Northern Counties East League didn’t go down well with the NL and the delays forced the hand of another heavy weight NL club eyeing progress and Spennymoor jumped ship to the join the Northern Counties East.
Seaham Red Star & Gretna also declared an interesting in leave the league, after ground grading by the NECL Seaham eventually decided to remain where they were and Gretna declined an offer of a place in the Northern Counties League, however they eventually left for the NPL after winning the 91/92 title.

In 1992 it had been agreed that the champions would be promoted to the NPL, Whitby Town claimed their 1st ever NL title but somewhat unsurprisingly when it came to the crunch they were to be denied their rightful place in the NPL after an almighty argument broke out between the 2 leagues over the lack of teams being relegated into the NL and the relevant ground grading. It was resolved 2 days prior to the start of the new campaign and despite appeals Whitby were denied their promotion. 4 years later Whitby would finally gain the promotion they had been denied, wining the league again in 1996/97 becoming the 1st team to leave the NL as Champions.

9394 Team pic

Pre season team photo before what proved to be the clubs final Northern League season.

The 1993/94 season had started with Blyth’s new chairman indicating that if things were in place behind the scenes at Croft Park the club would consider promotion to the NPL if they were to win the league.
While the Northern League had provided much needed stable home the club since 1965 the origins of the clubs departure could be traced back to 1979/80 when the Football Alliance was formed. The Northern &  Southern Premier leagues merged to form one league that it was hoped would eventually see the winners automatically promoted to the Football League rather than going through the much maligned election/re-election system.
It had been intended that 3 leagues would ‘merge’ to create the top division, the Isthmian League were offered to become part of the Alliance Premier but refused unhappy at the perceived ‘creaming off’ of each league’s top teams to create the division, within 2 years their top 2 teams Enfield & and Dagenham defected to the APL and it was not until 1985 that the Isthmian League champions were given a promotion place to the newly renamed Football Conference

The clubs standing in the Non League game had become such that they were offered a place in the inaugural season (the only club outside the NPL & SPL to be offered a place) but after discussions within the club it was rejected on the basis of geography, the club would be offered a place in the Alliance on 3 separate occasions.
While there was little doubt within club that the team could compete on the field with the clubs in the APL, the fact that the most northern club was Scarborough and the other closest being Barrow the travelling involved would be to prohibitive for the club to sustain, a point the club felt emphasised by the prospects of away games at Weymouth & Yeovil!.
At the time many thought it was a wise decision because the club was on a high, regularly beating clubs from higher leagues and doing well in the FA Cup & FA Trophy but as the years passed the clubs fortunes on the field started to wane.
Supporters feared the club was becoming stale in a league that offered no hope of promotion and as the NL stood firmly to their beliefs they should be placed higher than was on offer the league slipped down the pyramid system to level 9.

With the clubs entry into the Northern League going right down to the wire back in 1964 it was no surprise that the clubs departure was equally as dramatic, having blown a handsome 17 point lead at top of the table Durham piped the Spartans to the title and the automatic place in the NPL.
However in the final weeks of the season news broke that Ferens Park hadn’t gained the required grading level and the NPL were not going to allow Durham to ground share, Croft Park had gained the regquired grading and it soon became apparent that Blyth would be offered the promotion as runners up. Durham were not at all happy they appealed but the NPL were not changing their stance. Durham had been planning for a new ground for years and works started in June 1994 but building problems meant it wasn’t finished until August 1995

last NL top

Craig Liddle’s shirt & the match ball from the club’s final NL game at Ferryhill.

So after 30 season’s 10 titles, 2,450 goals and 19 managers Blyth Spartans left the Northern League.
Blyth’s 1,108th and final game was at Ferryhill Athletic on Saturday 30th April 1994, it ended 1-1 with Steve Pyle scoring the clubs 2,450th and final NL goal.
The last ever team Blyth fielded in the Northern League was:
Paul O’Connor, Craig Liddle, Gary Hays, Keith Mills, Shaun Dunn, Warren Teasdale, Kevin Caizley,
Tony Burgess, Dave Hallam, Steve Pyle, Don Peattie.
Subs: Eddie Jenkins, John Terrel.

While Blyth’s first and last games in the NL were not as dramatic as others the opposition was somewhat fitting, for Ferryhill along with Tow Law and Whitby Town were the only 3 clubs Blyth played in everyone of their 30 seasons.
last NLCBlyth’s final involvement in the Northern League was an appearance in a 7th Challenge Cup Final against Northallerton played at the Welfare Ground, Brandon on 11th May which Blyth lost 0-2, the team that night was: Paul O’Connor, Eddie Jenkins, Warren Teasdale, Keith Mills, Shaun Dunn, John Terrel, Paul Donaghy, Tony Burgess, Don Peattie, Steve Pyle, Garry Middleton. Sub: Kevin Caizley.
By the time the Final was played, 11 days after the league programme finished, Blyth’s place in the Northern Premier League was all but confirmed only ratification at the NPL AGM was needed. The club had already moved to prepare for the new adventure appointing Harry Dunn as manager for the new season.

The Spartans ended their 30 year run with the following record:
Played 1,108  Won 654  Drew 208  Lost 242  Scored 2450  Conceded 1337
winning a total of 1,981 points.

329 - Jimmy Turney

Jim Turney admires another NL title trophy.

During the clubs 30 years the club evolved as had been intended as did Croft Park floodlights were installed in 1966, the first ever competitive game played under floodlights at Croft Park was a Northern League game on 10th October 1966 which Whitley Bay won 2-1. A new cantilever stand built in 1972 after fire destroyed the old wooden stand a year earlier and a new clubhouse was built by Jim Turney’s building company in 1974.
Having been a board member while manager Turney was the natural successor to the outgoing Chairman Tommy James in 1968, Blyth Spartans effectively became ‘his club’ for 20 years before Turney officially stepped down as chairman 1988, despite John Hethrington taken over Turney was till very much in charge as club President. Bill Cook was appointed chairman in January 1989 but the clubs fortunes were in decline long serving secretary George Watson stepped down a year later, in 1991 former board member Dave Monaghan replaced Cook as chairman but lasted only a matter of weeks resigning due to ‘family reasons’ just as the worse cash crisis since the 30’s hit the club. Lack of sponsorship and falling crowds saw the club coffers down to the bare bones, the players took a 50% pay cut for 3 weeks and made their own way to away games to help save money as manager shrewd manager Ronnie Walton kept the team going. A sponsor was found in the form of cult North East comic ‘VIZ’, the £10,000 deal was a desperately needed lifeline.

N Buses

Jim Turney signs the new sponsorship deal with Northumbria Motor Company on top a double decker parked inside Croft Park.

-The club had 4 shirt sponsor during it’s life in the NL, the clubs first ever shirt sponsor came back in 1982 when ‘Universal Building Society’ was added to the famous Bukta tops worn in the 78’s cup run, a year later a new kit was introduced when a new deal was announced with the Mercantile Building Society, that deal lasted until 1988 when Northumbria Buses took over as shirt sponsor, the tops stayed the same style but carried the companies ‘N’ logo.

Jim Telford came in 1993 with the main objective to address the club’s ailing finances and sort out the administration side, having achieved the main objectives he wasn’t going to pass up the chance to move the club forward when the opportunity arose despite it happening a year earlier than they had initially planned citing the supporters deserved it “having endure Northern League football for far too long”!.

While the chairmanship of the club had been in safe hands despite the success the managers position was far less stable, 19 managers were appointed. There were 5 caretakers, 2 joint managers (1 of them being a joint manager & a player) another 2 players managers, 10 of the those even played in the NL for the club & 3 managers had 2 spells in charge.
The managers in those 30 years were:
Jim Turney, Tony Knox (player manager), Billy Fenwick (caretaker), Peter Flaherty (caretaker), Jackie Marks, Allan Jones, Billy Bell, Eddie Alder & Billy Fenwick (joint managers Alder was also a player), Alan O’Neill, Brian Slane (player manager),
Jackie Marks, Bob Elwell, Jon Connolly (player manager), Mick Dagless, Peter Feenan,
Jim Pearson, Dave Clarke, Tommy Dixon, Steve Carney (caretaker), Ronnie Walton,
Nigel Walker (caretaker), Peter Feenan & Dave Robertson (caretaker).

1977/78 saw the Spartans famously reach the 5th Round of the FA Cup and also won the Debenhams Cup, the club donatated £1,000 from their winnings to the League which the management committee used to start a good conduct award scheme.
The league also changed dramatically over the 30 years with new clubs, promotion & relegation, introduction of floodlights but possibly the biggest change was the introduction of sponsorship, while the league may have not had a sponsor for 77/78 season there was still a sponsorship in place from Radio Luxembourg, it provided Spartans with one of there lesser known trophies. The station awarded a trophy and £208 to the club who scored the most goal in the league season and despite finishing runners up Blyth outscored champions Spennymoor by 4 goals scoring a total of 107 goals to claim the trophy.
The league had 4 different sponsors during Blyth’s involvement, the ground breaking Rothmans deal started in 1974/75 and saw the introduction of 3 points for a win with a host of other financial incentives for clubs, the deal ran for 3 seasons before Rothmans ended all and any association with Football in January 1977 leaving the league without a sponsor for 2 seasons. After running for 1977/78 & 1978/79 without sponsorship in 1979/80 Drybroughs of Edinburgh started an initial 3 deal worth £18,000 a season to the league and was reputedly one of the best deals outside the Football League, the breweries association with the league eventually ran for 8 years. In 1988/89 it became the Skol Northern League for 2 seasons before running for the next 3 seasons without a sponsor, Blyth final season 1993/94 it was the Federation Brewery League.




Over the 30 years Spartans only had NL 4 games abandoned, 2 away games were abandoned due to floodlight failure while 2 was halted at Croft Park:
5th September 1965 Blyth were 1-7 down to Whitley Bay only for the game to be abandoned in the 85th minute!. 19th August 1980 away at Horden Colliery Welfare abandoned at 0-0 dues to floodlight failure. On 2nd October 1979 a home game with Evenwood was abandoned at 1-1 due to fog. 27th September 1988 saw the away game at Easington Colliery Welfare abandoned at 0-0 due to floodlight failure.

Blyth played 42 different clubs over the 30 years, the following teams were already in the league when Blyth joined:
Spennymoor United, Evenwood, Bishop Auckland, Whitley Bay, Crook Town, Durham City, Ferryhill Athletic, Stanley United, Whitby, Willington, Shildon, Billingham Synthonia,
North Shields, Penrith, South Bank, Shildon, Willington, Tow Law, West Auckland.
– 3 clubs joined the League after Blyth gained membership:
Consett, Ashington & Horden CW.

Blyth came up against 21 clubs who gained promotion from the Second Division:
Gretna, Peterlee NT, Brandon United, Bedlington Terriers, Hartlepool United Reserves, Newcastle Blue Star, Easington CW, Billingham Synthonia, Guisborough Town Stockton, Seaham Red Star, Billingham Town, Whickham, Alnwick Town, Consett, Murton, Northallerton Town, Easington Colliery, Langley Park, Dunston Federation Brewery, Eppleton Colliery Welfare.

As well as winning 10 league title, Blyth finished runners up on 5 occasions and won the League Cup 5 times as well as being Runners up twice, also in 1981 the league introduced a Charity Shield style cup competition with the previous seasons League winners taking on the League Cup winners in a season opener, Blyth won the JR Cleator Cup 5 times.
*Jim R. Cleator was a former South Bank FC player & official who later served the NL as Chairman & President and had passed away in December 1980.

Clubs NL honours & stats:NL Record
League Champions:
1972/73, 1974/75, 1975/76, 1979/80, 1980/81, 198/82, 1982/83, 1983/84, 1986/87, 1987/88.
League Runners Up:
1971/72, 1973/74, 1977/78, 1984/85, 1993/94.

League Cup Winners:
1972/73, 1977/78, 1978/79, 1984/85, 1991/92.
League Cup Runners Up: 1983/84, 1993/94.

Ian Mutrire fies home in the 1978 League Cup Final win.

Ian Mutrie fires home in the 1978 League Cup Final win.

League Cup record: Played 85
Won 49 games outright (1 AET)
Lost 26 (1 AET)
Drew 10 then won 3 on penalties
Biggest win 7-1 v South Bank 6/10/1971
Heaviest defeat 1-5 v Spennymoor 30/9/1970

The 7 League Cup Finals were:
07/05/1973  beat Spennymoor United 2-1 at Crook
09/05/1978  beat Willington 5-1 at North Shields
22/05/1979  beat Consett 4-3 at Spennymoor
05/05/1982  beat South Bank 2-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Bishop Auckland
03/05/1984  lost 0-2 to Horden Colliery Welfare at North Shields
05/05/1992  beat Consett 1-0 at Murton
11/05/1994  lost 0-2 to Northallerton Town at Brandon

JR Cleator Cup Winners:
1982, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1992.
JR Cleator Cup Runners Up:
1981, 1987.
The 7 Cleator Cup games were:
21/08/1982 beat Whitby Town 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw
27/08/1983 beat Norton & Stockton Ancients 5-1
21/08/1984 beat Horden CW 3-1
11/08/1987 lost 1-3 to Spennymoor
23/08/1988 beat Billingham Synthonia 2-1
12/08/1992 beat Murton 4-1

Blyth also won 2 ‘Rest of League v. Champions’ games, losing another:
14/10/1980 lost 0-1
21/12/1976 won 4-2
17/11/1975 won 3-1

Croft Park staged 3 League Cup Finals:
1970/71 Whitley Bay 1 North Shields 0
1971/72 North Shields 0 Spennymoor 0 (Shields won replay 2-1at Ferryhill)
1980/81 Spennymoor 3 Consett 0

Croft Park also staged 7 Northern League Representative games and was the leagues lucky ground going unbeaten in every game they staged at Blyth:NL 100 PROG
01/05/1976 NL v. Rothmans Western League (NL won 2-1)
15/03/1977 NL v. FA XI (NL won 3-2)
05/04/1978 NL v. FA XI (won 3-2)
27/02/1980 NL v. FA XI (won 3-1)
05/03/1981 NL v. Scottish Junior FA XI (won 1-0)
16/05/1989 NL v. Barclays Football League XI (drew 2-2)

Other achievements as a NL club included reaching the FA Cup 5th Round in 77/78,
3rd Round in 71/72 and 2nd Round in 73/74 & 80/81.
Reached Semi Final of FA Amateur Cup in 71/72.
In 79/80 & 82/83 reached the Quarter Final of the FA Trophy.
Won the Debenhams Cup in 77/78.
Awarded Non League Team of the Year 1977/78.
Dave Clarke awarded Non League Player of the Year 1977/78.
Won Radio Luxembourg Trophy 1977/78.

During the clubs time several players gained Representative honours and 6 players gained England Semi Professional International caps:
Dave Clarke, Keith Houghton, Les Mutrie, Paul Walker, Dave Buchanan &
Peter Robinson.
*To this day they are still the only NL players to gain England Semi Professional International caps.

Another goal for Brian Slane

Another goal for Brian Slane

2,450 goal were scored in the 30 seasons with the top 5 goalscorers being:
1- Brian Slane
181 goals including 11 hat tricks and 4, 5 & even a 7 goal hauls
2- Steve Pyle
107 goals including 8 hat tricks and a 5 goal haul
3- Tony McFadden
93 goals including 6 hat tricks 3 of which came in 4 goals hauls
4- Tommy Orrick
89 goals including 3 successive hat tricks
5- Ian Mutrie
60 goals including 3 hat tricks

Ian Mutrie holds the club record for scoring in the most successive league games with 13 goals in 8 successive games from 29th September until 7th November 1981.
Steve Cuggy & Steve Pyle both scored in 7 successive games while Brian Slane, Paul Ross, Terry Johnson & Tommy Orrick scored in 6.

Clubs longest unbeaten run was 40 games 17th August 1974 until 8th September 1975
Longest run without a win was 18 games from 9th January 1965 until 25th August 1965
Longest run of clean sheets was 9 games from 12th April 1975 until 6th September 1975

Playing records against all Northern League opposition:
(Key – P-played, W-won, D-drew, L-lost, F-goals for, A-goals against)
Alnwick Town – P4 W2 D0 L2 F9 A7
Ashington – P28 W9 D5 L4 F62 A25
Bedlington Terriers – P4 W3 L1 F9 A6
Billingham Synthonia – P58 W31 D9 L18 F119 A67
Billingham Town – P6 W2 D2 L2 F13 A10
Bishop Auckland – P48 W28 D9 L11 F100 A67
Blue Star – P12 W7 D5 L0 F17 A9
Newcastle Blue Star – P4 W2 D1 L1 F7 A4
Brandon United – P18 W12 D2 L4 F40 A19
Chester le Street – P14 W12 D2 L0F37 A11
Consett – P46 W34 D4 L8 F105 A35
Crook Town – P50 W34 D5 L11 F 25 A63
Dunston Federation – P2 W1 L1 F4 A3
Durham City – P8 W28  D10 L10 F107 A 50
Easington Colliery Welfare – P13* W7 D2 L3 F33 A16
*(1 game abandoned at 0-0 due to floodlight failure)
Eppleton Colliery Welfare – P2 W1 D1 F3 A3
Evenwood Town – P41* W28 D4 L8 F91 A40
*(1 game abandoned at 1-1 due to fog)
Ferryhill Athletic – P60 W36 D9 L5 F135 A65
Gretna – P18 W6 D3 L7 F31 A34
Guisborough Town – P14 W3 D5 L5 F16 A18
Hartlepool United Reserves – P4 W2 D1 L1 F10 A4
Hebburn – Played 4 won 4 F 12  A 3
Horden Colliery Welfare – P21* W12 D5 L3 F46 A19
* (1 game abandoned due to floodlight failure at 0-0)
Langley Park – P2 W1 D1 L0 F3 A2
Murton – P8 W5 D2 L1 F17 A9
North Shields – P50 W25 D18 L7 F112 A72
Northallerton Town – P7 W4 D1 L2 F8 A9
Penrith – P36 W25 D9 L2 F85 A37
Peterlee Newtown – P14 W10 D4 L0 F35 A14
Ryhope Community Association – P8 W5 D3 L0 F28 A10
Seaham Red Star – P12 W7 D1 L 4 F23 A14
Shildon – P54 W33 D8 L13 F126 A80
South Bank – P8  W35 D13 L10 F119 A48
Spennymoor United – P53* W9 D15 L19 F93 A93
*(Includes 73/74 Championship Play Off game)
Stanley United – P20 W13 D2 L5 F82 A33
Stockton – P10 W6 D3 L1 F22 A11
Tow Law Town –  P60 W32 D12 L16 F126 A82
West Auckland Town – P44 W36 D3 L5 F117 A36
Whickham – P6 W3 D2 L1 F14 A7
Whitby Town – P60 W26 D12 L22 F96 A84
Whitley Bay – P47* W29 D6 L11 F97 A66
* (1 game abandoned in 85th minute with Blyth losing 1-7 due to poor light)
Willington – P38 W26 D4 L8 F119 A59


…..Life was a struggle for Blyth in their early Northern League days but the club grew and became an integral part of the League’s history and Northern League is important part of the clubs history that should never be forgotten, it helped make the club what it is today.


  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat for images and information and of course his superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’  was a crucial source of information.

Jeff Young & Kevin Tilmouth for thier memories of Blyth’s Northern League years & Kevin’s superb collection of memorabilia.

The following excellent books provided a vital source of reference & information on the NL & Blyth’s 30 year involvement:
Northern Goalfields, The Official Centenary History of the Northern League 1889-1989Northern Goalfields Revisited, The Millennium History of the Northern League
both researched, complied & written by Brian Hunt.

The following football website were used for reference & info:









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A novel tribute to a late great Spartan.

Writer & Newcastle United fan Howard Linskey has paid a ‘novel’ tribute to the late great Steve Carney, in his landmark new novel ‘No Name Lane’.

howard-linskeyFerryhill born Howard had written 3 hugely successful crime thrillers about gangland Newcastle for his previous publishers No Exit Press, before being snapped up by publishing giants Penguin.

Following Newcastle United through the 80’s one of Howard’s favourite players was defender Steve Carney, his whole-hearted committed approach to the game was exactly what he demanded from those who wore the famous black & white.

When Steve sadly passed away in May 2013 acclaimed Newcastle United website got in touch for details on Steve’s career pre St James and linked this blog’s tribute to Steve to their own tribute.
Howard’s novels had been promoted by and he read the article about Steve’s tragic passing and he got in touch after reading the blog, with a new novel in the early stages of planning he hatched a plot to pay his own tribute to his Steve.

Howard was then snapped up by Penguin Books to write a 3 book series
and  having5005931 already planned his tribute to Steve he hoped he would be able to keep it in the new novel.
Despite working with new editors, who may have had their own ideas about characters in the new book Howard managed to keep his secret tribute in his brand new novel No Name Lane features disgraced Journalist Tom Carney!.

While writing his first 3 novels Howard had often used the names of former Newcastle players for major characters in his books, another former Spartan Peter Cartwright gets a name check in Howard’s superb debut novel The Drop.
The first of the David Blake trilogy, The Drop features Geordie Cartwright who has vanished along with a very large sum of money belonging to gangster Bobby Mahoney.
(Bobby Mahoney named after former United keeper Mick Mahoney).

523309944896715642607If you like crime thrillers especially North East based crime thrillers,
these are 4 of the best novels you’ll read.

Howard Linskey’s first novel, The Drop, was voted one of the Top Five Thrillers of 2011 by The Times Newspaper.
His second, The Damage, was a Top 12 Best Summer Read in the same newspaper.
Both books reached the top five in the Amazon Kindle charts and the David Blake trilogy has been optioned for film by Harry Potter producer, David Barron.


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The managerial history of Blyth Spartans AFC

Always a much sort after job the Croft Park ‘hot-seat’ has surprisingly seen less than 40 occupants in clubs history stretching back 116 years.
The club’s longest-serving manager has been Jim Turney, taken charge in April 1957 he served for 10 years. Jim would go on to complete a unique hat trick serving the club with great distinction as a player a manager and then Chairman, he is the only person to serve the club in those 3 roles.
The honour of the shortest spell as manager goes to Alan Shoulder who quit the post in October 1998 after only 14 games in charge!.
He was 1 of 5 players who featured in the famous 1977/78 FA Cup run that went on to have periods of varying lengths in charge of the club;
Mick Dagless, Dave Clarke, Tommy Dixon, Alan Shoulder & Steve Carney.
23 managers have either played for the club or acted as Player Manager, Joe Wilson was the 1st Player Manager in 1948.
6 managers have returned for 2nd spells in charge;
Mark Lawton, Jackie Marks, Peter Feenan, Harry Dunn, Mick Tait.
The average ‘life span’ of a Blyth manager works out at just over 2 years in charge!.

With the club coming into existence in 1899 the first ‘manager’ wasn’t appointed until 1933, before that the team had been selected by the committee.EH
The first ‘manager’ was former England Amateur International Ernie Hoffman, appointed in May 1933 Yorkshire born to German parents although officially Secretary he was classed at the 1st manager of the club.
Although his appointment didn’t go down well with town’s folk due to him living outside the town, Hoffman’s 4 years in charge were highly successful culminating in the historic North Eastern League title in 1935/36 when his side scored 104 goals in 38 games to become the first non Reserve team to win the league, Hoffman resigned in May 1937 to take up the post at Birmingham City.

Billy HoggHis replacement was Ashington FC Secretary Billy Hogg, however his reign only lasted until December 1938 when his policy of experienced signings proved too costly, poor results and low crowds didn’t help his cause.
To everyone’s approval Hogg’s replacement was a Blyth lad, living in the avenue’s Mark Lawton was the first Blyth born manager of the club as well as the first former player to manage the club.
His family had a long tradition with the club, his uncle Billy Lawton had played for the club and was Ernie Hoffman’s right hand man and Hilda Lawton played for the famous Blyth Spartans Munitionettes.
Lawton initially got off to a poor start but turned things around in the second half of the season, however his 2nd season was brought to an abrupt end with the outbreak of World War I.

  • Mark ‘Marky’ Lawton (1896-1981) was born in Phoenix Row Newsham and joined the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1914. image(1)
    He was transferred to the King’s Liverpool Regiment at some point and received two ‘Blighty’ wounds at Arras and Passchendaele.
    A ‘Blighty’ was a wound bad enough for a soldier to be sent back to England during the war, Mark was patched up and sent back to the front both times.
    Back home he was a miner at Crofton Pit but eventually got a job at the Blyth Labour Exchange.
    He married Barbara Allon (the Allons had a hat shop in Blyth) and they had three children: Dorothy (who married Cdr John Davis the commander of Blyth Submarine base in WW2), Ken Lawton (1924-2013) and Alan who is still alive.
Joe Wilson 1st PM

Joe Wilson on the right was the club’s 1st Player/Manager and captain!.

The club shut up shop during the war and when the club started up again Lawton was asked reprise his role as the club looked to get back to where they had been.
Lawton had been aided by player coach Joe Wilson, in April 1948 the County Durham born former Brentford, Reading & Barnsley centre half became the clubs 1st ever Player/Manager.
However come April 1950 the club was experiencing financial worries and could no longer justify employing Wilson so ‘for the foreseeable future the board would select the team’.

149 - Tom Blenkinsop

Tom Blenkinsopp in action at Croft Park.

After 3 good years for the club things had improved and a new manager was appointed in the summer of 1953.
It was a rather high-profile appointment, another Player/Manager came in the form of former Middlesbrough centre half Tom Blenkinsopp.
Born 13th May 1920 in Bishop Auckland, Blenkinsopp started off playing for West Auckland before playing for Grimsby Town, Middlesborough & Barnsley. Being paid £8 per week he was even bought a house in Kimberley Terrace by the Supporters club!. Blenkinsopp used his contacts and brought in expensive former League players, however it was a rather disastrous appointment and the club made a heavy loss on the season leaving the club in debt so he was given a month’s notice to quit his home and duly sacked.

166 - duggie wright at practice Aug 56

Dougie Wright (far left) watches a practise match at Croft Park in August 1956

Yet again the board took over the running of the team until they finally managed to appoint former Lincoln City player Dougie Wright as Player Manager in December 1954 after drawn out negotiations.
Blyth officials had been in talks to appoint the former Newcastle United player for over a month before Lincoln finally agreed to release Wright who had looked to retire from professional football due to injury. Wright eventually stopped playing and concentrated on managing the side, he was in the charge until the end of the 1956/1957 season the club had announced in the February that Wright’s contract wouldn’t be extended at the end of the season.

  • Had it not been for the fact that he was wounded in the leg at Dunkirk during the Second World War, it was more than likely Dougie Wright would spent the majority of his post-war career in the top flight of English football.Dougie wright pic
    He proved many wrong that the injury he suffered would prevent him from playing and battled on to forge a career in the game making 336 appearances for 3 clubs despite the events of Dunkirk. An England international at the age of 21, winning one cap in friendly against Norway in November 1938 playing along with the likes of Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Stan Cullis.
    Born on 29/04/1917 in Rochford, Southend John Douglas Wright played for Chelmsford City before joining his who home town team in 1936. After 2 years making a name for himself as a wing half he joined Newcastle United in 1938 for £3,250, the injury he suffered at Dunkirk effected his career at St James Park but Jackie Milburn rated him as “the best half back he played with in a Newcastle shirt!”.
    In 1947 Lincoln City boss Bill Anderson paid £650 for Dougie, it turned out to be an inspirational signing as he captained the Imps from his second game – against Chesterfield at Sincil Bank on Christmas Day 1948 – until his departure 245 League and Cup games later in December 1954.
    An ever-present in the Imps’ Division Three North championship winning campaign of 1951/52 Doug was in his 38th year when he parted company with the Imps by mutual consent; he had never been booked throughout his City career and received a benefit of £750 when he left to join the Spartans.
    After he retired from playing he worked at Blyth Power Station, Dougie Wright died in December 1992 at the age of 75.

April 19141 - Jimmy Turney 157 saw Jim Turney appointed, he had come to the end of a long-playing career with the club and was seen as highly ambitious. After 10 years in the hot seat that had seen the club play in 4 different leagues Turney stepped down as manager and within a year became the Chairman and as they say ‘the rest is history’.
Turney’s replacement was former Whitley Bay defender Tony Knox, Knox had a successful career for Hendon & Wycombe Wanderers and represented England at Amateur level before returning to play for his home town club in 1965 when he become a PE teacher in Newcastle.
He played 2Tony Knox seasons for Bay and scored the penalty in their Amateur Cup Semi Final 1-2 defeat to his old club Hendon at Roker Park in 1966. The full back gained more International & FA XI honours while playing for Whitley before he became Blyth’s Player/Manager in 1967. He only lasted 6 months resigning immediately after a 6-0 FA Amateur Cup win at Hearts of Liddlesdale in October citing family & work commitments, he returned to play for Whitley Bay before retiring at the end of the 69/70 season, he also had a brief spell as Bay manager in the 70’s.

Billy Fenwick took temporary charge until March before another
former player, JM 1stPeter Flaherty took over as caretaker boss until the end of the season, once the campaign ended Jim Turney set about appointing Jackie Marks. Having been over looked in preference to Knox, Turney had to personally go and visit Marks at his place of work to tempt him to Croft Park. Jackie Marks reign as manager lasted 2 years before he fell out with Jim Turney after a ‘discussion’ over a pay rise and he announced he would be leaving at the end of the
season to join Tow Law.

326 - Allan JonesFormer Bristol City coach Allan Jones was appointed, and it was announced that the PE teacher would ‘work with’ the Chairman!.
Jones methods suited the board and for 2 years it worked well the club reached the FA Cup 3rd Round for the 1st time ever beating League side Crewe & Stockport before losing to reading after a draw at Croft Park.
In April 1972 Jones confirmed he would take up the role as full-time manager at Fourth Division Darlington.
*Allan only lasted 6 months at Feethams and then managed Bermuda National team before moving to New Zealand in 1979 to managed their national side for 4 years and even he managed the New Zealand Womens team at the Olympics.

BBThe board acted quickly in appointing highly experienced Northern League manager Billy Bell, he had won the title with Evenwood & Spennymoor in previous seasons.
Bell achieved the aim and sealed his 4th title in 4 years with 3 different teams, however despite bringing the club their 1st ever Northern League title his reign was over before the season ended after disagreements with the board, Bell claimed promises made pre season had not been meet, claims the board refuted.
Eddie Alder & Billy Fenwick were put in charge for the League Cup Final victory over  Spennymoor to seal the clubs 1st ever Northern League Cup.

After a board meeting it was unanimously agreed that Alder & Fenwick should be
appointO'Neilled for the coming 73/74 season, after a season in which Blyth lost out on the NL title when a Play Off game was needed to separate the Spartans & Spennymoor the board felt a change was needed and in June 36-year-old former South Shields manager Alan O’Neill was appointed.
The appointment of the former Sunderland player proved inspired and he achieved great success with a free-flowing style of football winning the Northern League without losing a single game!.
Despite a very successful 2 seasons winning back to back titles in February 1977 O’Neill, who had a strained relationship with sections of the Croft Park crowd, resigned.

264 - Marks and Slane 77-78 training

Slane & Marks over see training (Marks still wearing his former club North Shields training top).

The club wasn’t short of applicants for the vacant job but the appointment was to be a historic one.
Brian Slane was brought back to the club as Player/Manager, and he in turn brought Eddie Alder back as his player coach. Alder proved his fitness to play every week so come the start of 77/78 Slane needed a new coach and appointed the man who had signed him for Blyth,
Jackie Marks.

The 1977/78 season is possibly the most famous in the club’s long history but come December 1978 Slane had announced he would be stepping down to spend more time with his family and concentrate on his teaching career.
Continuity saw Jackie Marks return to the hot seat for his 2nd spell, Marks reigned for 3 more highly successful seasons before discussions with Jim Turney & the board in May 1981 led to him leaving the job.

In June 1981 former player Bob Elwell was appointed, he had extensive BE
management experience with like of Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor & North Shields. After landing the clubs 3rd successive title, Elwell was rather harshly sacked in November 1982 following what the board decided was an unacceptable FA Cup defeat at Alliance Premier League side Northwich Victoria. Despite landed a trophy treble winning the league & League Cup and JR Cleator Cup all in his 1st season such was the standards demanded losing to an established Alliance Premier side was seen as unacceptable!.

JConnollyHis replacement was former Everton, Birmingham City & Newcastle winger John Connolly who had played in the Alliance Premier League with Gateshead. Connolly brought the 4th successive NL title to the Croft Park trophy cabinet with an attacking brand of football that also saw the club reach the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy but within a year he decided he wanted to return to a higher level of the game and went back to play for Gateshead. He played another year before returning to management with Whitley Bay in 1984.

Former Croft Park favourite Mick Dagless, who had been No.2 to Connolly, was appointed and he carried on the success landing a record 5th successive NL title.
However there was the now customary upheaval and the club ended the 1983/84 campaign losing services of yet another manager, the 5 successive league titles had been won by 4 different managers !.

The board turned to another former player when they appointed PF
Peter Feenan, he had great success as manager of Blue Star & Brandon United but he wasn’t able to keep title as the Spartans finished runners-up in 1984/85 to Bishop Auckland.
In October 1985 once again the boards action left the supporters stunned when the hugely popular manager was sensationally sacked just before the kick off an FA Cup tie after a row over team selection, making it 5 managers in 5 years.

JPFinally some stability was achieved with the appointment of former Everton & Newcaslte United forward Jim Pearson, however it took some rare patience from the board to see the club return to its Northern League dominance. A 4th place finish wasn’t what either party had anticipated but the patience paid dividends in 86/87 when Pearson’s rebuilt side swept to a 9th title with a handsome 14 points over the runners-up and he made it won back to back titles retaining the trophy 87/88.

Despite the success Pearson joined the ever-growing list to fall foul of
Chairman JiDCm Turney and was sacked shortly before the beginning of the 88/89 campaign, in August Dave Clarke was appointed the new manager he brought former striker Geoff Hart in as his No.2.
Clarke’s reign was shorted lived and the legendary goalkeeper resigned in November after poor run of results, his replacement was another ’78 Cup run legend Tommy Dixon, he brought in another former Spartans player Ronnie Walton as his assistant.

TDDixon’s near 2 year reign saw the club struggle a 9th place finish put pressure on Dixon who struggled to attract the quality of player he wanted and key players left for clubs trying their hand in the pyramid. In March 1990 Dixon eventually quit the club and Steve Carney saw out the season as caretaker manager.

Ronnie WaltonRW was the next appointed to manage the ailing club he had to work with an ever decreasing budget but his emphasis on youth worked as the club came through some tough times. In his first full season he achieved a 3rd place finish in the league however come February 1992 he felt he could no longer continue and left the club and midfielder Nigel Walker was appointed as caretaker. In a typical Blyth managerial twist Walton was to return to his post with a month of leaving!. In March 92 Ronnie left the job for good when he moved away from the North East for business. Walton was in charge during some difficult times at the club as financial worries mounted but showed his calibre as a manager developing a good mix of youth & experience and was rewarded with 3 trophies in 1 season; Northumberland Senior Cup, Northern League Cup and the JR Cleator Cup a feat no manager had achieved since the early 80’s.

  • Born on 12th October 1945 in Plymouth, Ronnie started his career as an apprentice with Rotherham United. Without making an appearance he joined Northampton for 1964/65 season but after only 1 game that season he joined Crewe, playing only twice he joined Carlisle until end of the campaign.
    Walton AFCIn Summer of 66 he signed for Aldershot where he would goon to make 193 appearances in next 6 seasons scoring 41 goals.

    Walton CUFC Promo

    Cambridge players celebrate promotion with Ronnie bare-chested in the centre.

    He then signed for Cambridge United in 1971 and was a vital apart of their 72/73 4th Division promotion side, scoring twice in the win over Mansfield that clinched promotion.
    Shots manager Tom MacAnearney took him back to the Recreation Ground and he would go on to play another 117 times taking into the top 10 of the clubs all time appearances with 310 in total and his 55 goals put him in their top 10 all time goal scorers. At the end of the 1976/77 season he left to join Southern Premier League club Dartford, after 2 season’s he relocated to the North East to open a car parts accessory business and was snapped up by  Spartans manager Brian Slane.
    Ronnie made his debut in a pre season friendly at Croft Park against Dutch 2nd Division side Den Bosch, Blyth ran out comfortable 4-1 winners on the night and Slane describe the signing of the impressive debutant as a “real discovery”.
    *It was also the game when Newcastle United & West Ham scouted Alan Shoulder, Magpies boss Bill McGarry was clearly impressed by the hat trick scorer and Alan moved to St James Park for £5,000 months later.
    Running his car accessory business was taking up more time and with a niggling knee injury Ronnie almost stopped playing in November 1978, but he carried on making the odd appearance before calling it time in March 1979. By the time he had returned to Croft Park as Tommy Dixon’s assistant in 1988 he had added one of Tyneside’s 1st KFC franchises to his business empire.

Peter Feenan made a return to the club some 7 years PF 2after being controversially sacked, it was a historic one for the club as he became the clubs 18th and last Northern League manager as the club made it known they would accept the place in the Northern Premier League on offer to the league winners.
Feenan’s side lead the table until the turn of the year before losing top spot to eventual champions Durham City, Peter resigned in the March after a run of 1 win in 7 games had dealt a fatal blow to the club’s hope of the title and subsequent promotion to the NPL.
Dave Robertson took charge as Caretaker and guided the club to the Northern League Cup Final (which they lost 0-2 to Northallerton) however by then there had been a huge twist in the automatic promotion place. It had become clear that Champions Durham’s new ground was not going to be ready on time and the NPL offered the promotion to the runners-up; Blyth Spartans.

HD 1The appointment of former midfielder Harry Dunn who had been manager of NPL Bishop Auckland was an ideal and popular choice for the club’s long-awaited venture into the pyramid. The club’s fortunes were on the up and Harry Dunn gained promotion as First Division Champions at the first attempt, however just when everything appeared to be going well Chairman Jim Telford proved he was just as ruthless as his predecessor. With 3 wins & 3 defeats in the first 6 games in the Premier Division Harry Dunn was sacked amid rumours of disagreements over playing certain players against the Chairman’s strict instructions.
Coach Tony Lowery took over from his former boss and for the 1st and only time in the club’s history a Director of Football was appointed. Former Manchester United & Newcastle United midfielder David McCreery was brought in to work with Lowery.
The new management team guided the club to its first FA Cup victory over a League club since the 1978 win over Stoke City when they beat Bury 2-0 at Gigg Lane however Chairman Jim Telford once again proved he was the boss. Entering the dressing room during the after match celebrations he introduced the new manager.
Peter Harrison was announced as the new manager with the intention of PH
Lowery being his coach and staying McCreery as a ‘consultant’!.
Needless to say it didn’t work out and within weeks Lowery left to join Bedlington after McCreery had taken a coaching job in America, Harrison brought in his own man as No.2 with his former Gateshead teammate Derek Bell coming to Croft Park as Player/Assistant.
After initial success guiding the club to an excellent 6th place finish in 95/96 his second season didn’t go to plan despite a handsome playing budget and after 1 win in 10 games he handed in his resignation after a 0-4 defeat at Leek Town, the board accepted it and keeper John Burridge stepped into the breach.
Taking caretaker charge for a league game at Witton and an abandoned Presidents Cup tie at Worksop Budgie was soon installed Player Manager on a permanent basis.
JBUnsurprisingly Budgie’s time in charge was eventful with a famous FA Cup game at Blackpool but it’s end was just as eventful but for less auspicious reason. Form hit a low and Budgie seemed unable to turn things around 2 wins in 14 home games was one of the worse home records the club had for many years and then just as it seemed it couldn’t get any worse it did. The club was handed a 10 point reduction from the NPL for playing a player without getting International Clearance then to make matters worse it turned out a player was used when he was supposed to be suspended!.
Budgie was sacked after a Senior Cup Final defeat at St James Park, popular tale has it he was in the bath when he was asked to step down, refusing he was then being sacked!.

ASNext into the hot seat was another hero from the 77/78 Cup run,
Alan Shoulder however in one of the shortest reigns ever for Blyth manager Shoulder was gone. After 14 games Alan had managed only 4 wins and his short spell ended after an FA Cup defeat charge Chairman Ernie O’Keefe reluctantly accepted his resignation, Shoulder’s Assistant John Gamble stepped up to become Player/Manager.

JGThe hugely popular defender’s reign in charge lasted just under a year, the club Centenary season didn’t go to plan and John resigned in the September after a very poor start which saw his side win 1 in 13 games and score in only 4 of the first 11 league games in which 5 players were sent off in the opening 9 games!.

Right back Michael Farrey & physio Glen Martin took charge for 1 game before the board appointed former Hartlepool manager Mick Tait, it was an impressive appointment landing Tait and it worked as he steered the side away from the relegation zone and achieved a decent 14th place finish. However financial problems caught up with the club once again leading to Tait and his assistant Tony Harrison quitting in July 2000 citing funds promised to build and side for a ‘promotion challenge’ weren’t forthcoming.

John Charlton was brought in as manager, it was his first experience as a manager but had coaching experience working under his father Jack while in charge of the Republic of Ireland team. Charlton set about his brief of building a team as cheaply as possible to keep the club in the NPL. Despite achieving this crowds were falling and money problems kept on growing. Money problems almost brought an end to the club in summer of 2001 as the club only just managed to stave off a winding up order. Charlton continued his policy of bringing on young players but come October 2002 the board’s faith in his approach was waning and yet again the FA Cup put pay to another manager, Charlton’s side lost at home to Runcorn Halton FC and he was sacked. The decision didn’t go down well with him and there was a bit of a ‘war of words’ with reports of threats made to players who continued to play for the club, a misunderstanding over player bonuses seemed to be the cause.

The club’s Football Development Officer Tom Wade took temporary charge and had the difficult task of sorting out the ‘issues’ left by a bitter Charlton. After 2 impressive victories things looked to have been sorted but heavy home defeat followed by a Monday night game at Drolysden brought things to a head, all of a sudden several players became ‘unavailable, injured or ill’ on the morning of the game!.
Only 7 players were available for the trip and Wade had to use his contacts in local football to draft in fours 17 years olds from Blyth Town just to be able to field a side, and with no subs Blyth lost a player injured after 25 minutes with the game at a 0-0 stalemate. In the end the 10 men lost 0-7 but given the circumstances the players deserved the utmost credit for playing the consequences of not fulfilling the fixture far worse than losing 3 points!.

PBA fortnight after sacking Charon the club appointed his replacement in former Hartlepool legend and UEFA ‘B’ coach Paul Baker who had played for the club 4 times under Charlton.
Although not primarily a Player/Manager Baker would continued to be registered as a player and used himself on another 9 occasions over his near 2 year spell in charge.
Wade stayed on as assistant until he was replaced by forward Graham Fenton for the 2003/04 season. Despite the much-needed overhaul of the playing squad Baker’s team struggled badly in the league there was a 10 game win less run as the club finished 3rd bottom 2 points from safety!.
*Fortunately for the club there was a very lucky escape because for once a bottom 3 place didn’t lead to relegation, the season had been played in the knowledge that the Northern Premier, Southern Premier & Isthmian League would provide their top 13 teams to create the new Conference North & South feeder leagues to the Conference Premier.
The new 2004/05 season brought hope with the new assistant in place but after another raft of new signings things hadn’t improved much 2 wins in 7 games and a surprise home FA Cup defeat at hands of North West Counties league side Skelmersdale United put severe pressure on Baker, despite calls to quit he stood firm only to quit 4 days later after another league defeat at Whitby.

The nextHarry Dunn appointment changed the fortunes of the club in ways nobody could have imagined after seasons of struggling in the NPL. After 9 years service Harry Duun had been sacked by Whitby shortly before Baker had quit the Croft Park hot seat and to many it was the perfect fit, the deal was done and Harry Dunn was tasked with reviving the floundering team who sat bottom of the NPL. It initially took time to turn things around but Dunn and his assistant Graham Fenton achieved a respectable 12th place finish.
Harry Dunn’s legendary status with Blyth fans was enhanced even more in the following 2 season’s. Having won the First Division title at the 1st attempt back in 1994/95, he then went one better in his first full season back at the club guiding the side to the NPL Premier League title despite a crazy fixture backlog. Dunn then saw his side adjust to the Conference North with ease topping the league in September and come April they only just missed out on the Play off’s by 3 points!. The next season Dunn’s team found it tougher and finished 18th, but in 2008/09 Harry Dunn guided the club to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup for the 1st time in 31 years. The league campaign took a severe hit as they concentrated on the cup and it took a sterling effort to salvage the league season fight off the threat of relegation and achieve a 15th place finish.
With Harry’s contract up at the end of the season the board decided not to extend it and there was a parting of the ways for arguably one of the greatest managers the club had ever had.

MTThere was a return for a former manager when the board acted quickly to appoint Mick Tait as new manager in the May, since 2000 he had an eventful year at Darlington acting as Caretaker Manager, Full time manager & Reserve Team Coach and a spell as manager of the ill-fated Newcastle Blue Star. His 2 year spell back at Croft Park saw the Spartans play an exciting brand of free-flowing football which lead to an FA Trophy Quarter Final appearance for 1st time in 28 years. However after a 9th place finish in 2010/11 Tait left the club at the end of the season

Once again the board acted very quickly and within days had a new SCmanagement team in place, former Spartan Steve Cuggy was appointed manager having been coach at Whitley Bay. However despite confidence it was a fresh start with the appointment of an up and coming young manager it was anything but and lead to a turbulent time for the club which was to see 3 managers in a single season!. Despite an FA Cup 1st Round appearance the league results were far from the expected level and the club found itself in a relegation battle!, Cuggy resigned in the December.

TCThe highly experienced former Workington & Whitby manager Tommy Cassidy was seen as the perfect appointment to try to save the club from relegation.
However the task looked to be a daunting one for Cassidy as it took him 9 games to record his 1st victory by then the damaged looked to have been done and after only 5 wins in his 20 games it was not enough and it was a bitter blow for the club to lose the Conference North status it valued so highly it was the 1st time the club had ever been relegated in its 113 years. Cassidy failed to turn the clubs fortunes around and despite 5 wins in the opening 12 games pf the season the board terminated his contract after a FA Cup defeat at his former club Workington.

PAFormer Blyth player & Cassidy’s assistant Paddy Atkinson was caretaker for a month before being appointed permanently, he in turn appointed Tom Wade as his No.2.
Atkinson’s spell didn’t go well and only lasted 4 months and 25 games, with only 7 wins recorded and the club’s heaviest defeat since 1953 in a 1-8 mauling at Worksop he handed in his resignation in early March 2013 citing ‘increasing work commitments’.

Once again ToTWm Wade had stepped into the breach taking charge for an away game at Kendal when Atkinson hadn’t been ‘available’ for the game only days before handing in his resignation!.
Wade recorded the club’s 1st away victory of the season at Kendal and the board ‘offered’ him the role until the end of the campaign. Within a month Wade had accepted the offer of managing the club for the following 2013/14 season.

Tom Wade is still in TW 100charge now and clocked up his 100th game in charge in December 2014.
In typical Spartans managerial style it came in the competition that had cost so many managers their job. He joined Allan Jones, Brian Slane & Harry Dunn taking the club into the 3rd Round of the FA Cup dramatically beating Hartlepool United 2-1 away watched by millions live on the BBC.
Not a bad way to celebrate 100 games in charge!.


  • The managers of Blyth Spartans AFC in reverse order:

Tom Wade March 2013 > current
Coach Lee Picton – February 2015 > current
Assistant Colin Myers – June 2013 > February 2015

Coach John Cornforth – March 2013 > May 2013

Paddy Atkinson November 2012 > March 2013
Assistant Tom Wade – October 2012 > March 2013

  • Paddy Atkinson Caretaker Manager October 2012 – November 2012

Tommy Cassidy December 2011 > October 2012
Team Coach Paddy Atkinson – June 2012 > October 2012
Assistant Gavin Fell – May 2011 > May 2012

Steve CuggyMay 2011 > December 2011
Assistant Gavin Fell

Mick TaitMay 2009 > May 2011
Player/Assistant Manager Chris Swailes June 2010 – May 2011.
Assistant Adam Sadler June 2009 – January 2010

Harry Dunn October 2004 > April 2009
Assistant Graham Fenton

  • Graham Fenton & Paddy Atkinson – Caretaker Managers September 2004

Paul Baker November 2002 > September 2004
Player/Assistant Graham Fenton Summer 2004September 2004
Assistant Tom Wade November 2002 – Summer 2004

  • Tom Wade – Caretaker Manager October/November 2002

John Charlton July 2000 > October 2002
Assistant Graeme Clark

Mick Tait September 1999 > July 2000
Assistant Tony Harrison

  • Michael Farrey – Caretaker Manager (1 game) September 1999

John Gamble October 1998 > September 1999
Assistant Lawrie Pearson

Alan Shoulder May 1998 > October 1998
Assistant John Gamble

John Burridge – Player Manager – March 1997 > May 1998

Peter Harrison November 1995 > March 1997
Assistant Derek Bell – November 1995 > March 1997
Coach Tony Lowery – November 1995
Director of Football David McCreery – November 1995

Tony Lowery Coach
David McCreery Director of Football
September 1995 > November 1995

Harry Dunn May 1994 > September 1995
Coach Tony Lowery

  • Dave Robertson Caretaker Manager March – May 1994

Peter Feenan March 1993 > March 1994

Ronnie Walton –  April 1990 > March 1993
(Nigel Walker Caretaker Manager February – March 1992)

  • Steve Carney Caretaker Manager March – April 1990

Tommy Dixon November 1988 – March 1990
Assistant Ronnie Walton

Dave Clarke – August 1988 – November 1988
Assistant Geoff Hart

Jim Pearson –
November 1985 – August 1988
Assistant Fred Turnbull, Coach Dave Clarke

Peter Feenan –
May 1984 – October 1985
2nd – Derek Middleton
1st – Alan York

Mick Dagless – November 1983 – May 1984
Assistant/Coach Brian Main

John Connolly Player Manager
November 1982 – November 1983
Coach Mick Dagless

Bob Elwell – June 1981 – November 1982
Coach Tony (Anthony) Britt

Jackie Marks – December 1978 – May 1981
Coach Peter Flaherty
Coach Gary Moore

Brian Slane Player Manager
February 1977 – December 1978
Coach Jackie Marks
Player Coach Eddie Alder

Alan O’Neill
August 1974 – February 1977
Coach A.Cruddance
Trainer Pat Smith

Eddie Alder & Billy Fenwick Joint Managers
May 1973 – August 1974

Billy Bell –
June 1972 – May 1973

Allan Jones
May 1970 – April 1972
Trainer Billy Fenwick

Jackie Marks
May 1968 – May 1970
Trainer Billy Fenwick

  • Peter Flaherty Caretaker Manager March 1968 – May 1968
  • Billy Fenwick Caretaker Manager October 1967- March 1968

Tony KnoxPlayer Manager
August 1967 – October 1967
Trainer Billy Fenwick

Jim Turney –
April 1957 – Summer 1967
Trainer Billy Fenwic

Dougie Wright – Player Manager
December 1954 – April 1957
Contract as manager not extended but Wright stayed on as Secretary.

*Team was picked by the committee until Wright appointed.

Tom Blenkinsopp Player Manager
Summer  1953 Summer 1954

*Team was picked by the committee until Blenkinsopp appointed.

Joe Wilson Player Manager
April 1948 – April 1950
* Wilson became first player manager.

Mark Lawton
July 1946 April 1948
Joe Wilson Player Coach

  • November 1939 Blyth Spartans ceased due to the outbreak of the war.

Mark Lawton
December 1938 November 1939
Trainer Billy Lawton

Billy Hogg
May 1937  December 1938

Ernie Hoffman Secretary/Manager
May 1933  May 1937
Trainer Billy Lawton
* Hoffman was appointed as a Full Time Secretary but also worked as team manager.

  • Before Ernie Hoffman the team was picked by the committee.



  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Dan Jackson for providing excellent information & images on his great-grandfather Mark Lawton.

Ken Sproat for images and information and of course his superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’  was a crucial source of info.

Kevin Tilmouth for providing information & images on former managers.

The following excellent football websites were used for reference & info:



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Classic Matches – Blackpool FA Cup 1997/1998

Blackpool 4 Blyth Spartans 3

Saturday 16th November 1997programme
Littlewoods FA Cup 1st Round
Bloomfield Road, Blackpool.
Attendance: 4,814
Preece 4th
Henderson 11th
Di Lella 44th
Linighan 60th
Clarkson 69th
Atkinson 84th
Clarkson 89th

Referee: M.Dean.
Linesmen: S.J Griffiths & A.N. Smith.
Blackpool team:
Banks, Lydiate, Dixon, Butler, Linighan, Philpott, Bonner, Clarkson, Bent, Ellis, Preece.
Subs: Omerod for Ellis 76th minute, Longworth for Bent 90th min.
Unused: Brabin, Barnes, Reed.
Blyth team:
Burridge, Farrey, Pike, Todd, Gamble, McGarrigle, Renforth, Hislop, Henderson, Fletcher, Di Lella.
Subs: Jon Atkinson for Fletcher 76th min, Jason Ainsley for Di Lella 76th min,
Willie Moat for Henderson 81st min.
Unsused: Cole, Tinkler.

The clubs history means that FA Cup ties always attract a degree of media attention, that degree of attention depends on certain factors such as what round of the cup it is, who the opposition are etc but in October 1997 the media attention went into an absolute frenzy.

Amid a very mediocre beginning to the 1996/97 Unibond Premier season Blyth had reached the 4th Qualifying Round defeating Spennymoor United (1-0 in replay after a 1-1 draw), Garforth Town (1-0), Worksop Town (4-0), Conference side Kidderminster Harriers provided the opposition for what was a difficult hurdle to overcome to reach the promised land of the FA Cup 1st Round.

Blyth’s form could be best described as ‘ropey’ following the opening day 3-1 win at Chorley, only 1 more league victory had been registered, (another away victory at Marine). The home form was worse with only 6 goals scored in 7 league home games and 3 draws had yielded 3 points, the pressure was mounting on the manager.
Having ground out a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Accrington Stanley a week before the Kidderminster tie things seemed on the up, however only 4 days before the tie local rivals Bishop Auckland inflicted a 4-1 home defeat on the Spartans and the fans frustration grew even more at the inconsistency of the vastly experienced players.

The manager however remained totally unfazed by the pressure and even more unflappable in his belief that he was right and things would come good, confidence was one thing that John Burridge had never lacked in his football career.

Having been brought to the club as a player in September 1996 by then manager and now infamous Football Agent Peter Harrison, Budgie had taken over as Player Manager in March 1997 as a the Spartans finisheda  respectable 7th place in the Unibond Premier League.Man city
Budgie had made his Spartans playing debut against Hyde United in the Unibond Premier League on 7th September 1996 only 15 months after he became the oldest player to play in the Premier League played for Manchester City v. QPR on 14th May 1995 aged 43 years and 163 days. In those 15 months Budgie had become ‘gloves for hire’, signing for clubs as emergency cover signing for 8 clubs in those 15 months (Notts County, Witton Albion, Darlington, Grimsby Town, Gateshead, Northampton, Queeen of the South & Purfleet).

Hopes had been high for the new campaign and the supremely confidant Burridge who had no previous managerial experience prior being appointed but had spent many years coaching top flight goalkeepers was expected to use his contacts within the game to build on what he had inherited. However things hadn’t quite gone to plan so to get within touching distance of the FA Cup 1st Round was seen by many as having kept Budgie in the job.
The 4th Qualifying Round opponents weren’t in great form themselves, the Harriers had won just 4 of their opening 14 games so hopes were high of an upset and reaching  the 1st Round. In keeping with Blyth’s cup traditions the Conference club were sent packing thanks to goals from Damien Henderson & Willie Moat in a 2-1 victory in front of the local news camera’s.
The draw for the 1st Round was straight after the 4th Qualifying Round games so almost all the 643 crowd crammed into the Spartans social club to watch the draw live on TV.
Needless to say the reactions when the draw was made where euphoric, people were up on the seats tables celebrating & already plotting their weekend away in Blackpool.
For Budgie it was all too much and he broke down in tears at the news of a return to the club that set him off on his rather illustrious career, one that would see him play for 29 different clubs clocking up 771 league appearances in England & Scotland in a career that lasted nearly 30 years.
The media soon picked up the relevance of the tie with some mistakenly claiming it was a return to his 1st League club, however that was wrong because he had played for Workington in 3rd Division North from 3 years before signing permanently for the Seasiders after a loan spell at Bloomfield Road.

Blyth’s form picked up approaching the Blackpool game with a 5 game unbeaten run and foundations of a story that stole some of Budgie’s limelight on that brisk November day where cast during that run.
On Tuesday 27th October, Blyth beat local rivals Whitley Bay 1-0 in a dour Northern Premier League Cup 1st Round tie, with the impending cup tie looming Budgie juggled his squad giving 2 Yorkshire based players (striker Damian Henderson & midfielder Mark Todd) the night off and in typical Budgie fashion handed a debut to an unknown striker, it was a rather unspectacular debut to say the least.

GUSBorn on 6th October 1973 in Buenos Aires, Gustavo di Lella had arrived at the club after unsuccessful trials at Tranmere Rovers & Darlington, Budgie had put him up in his in Durham city home. With Italian ancestry, he was able to get round Work Permit restrictions and arrived in the UK to try to make his name as a professional footballer. ‘Gus’ had been playing for Club Deportivo Móstoles, a Spanish team from Móstoles, a city in the southern metropolitan area of Madrid so a cold October night in Northumberland was a culture shock for the player who didn’t speak a word of English and unsurprisingly became the clubs 1st ever Argentinean player.

Blyth fans were rather surprised when ‘Gus’ kept his place for the next game 4 days later at the cost of their ‘cult hero’ Willie Moat & young striker Jon Atkinson, thinking Budgie had seen something in him they hadn’t. Unknown to them the team Budgie fielded in the 3-1 win over Colwyn Bay was the same side he planned to put out against the 2nd Division side the following week.

The week before the big game the media frenzy intensified and news broke that the team would be filmed on their weekend in Blackpool for a documentary about Budgie returning to ‘his’ club, the result being a rather strange documentary that also featured the Spartans social clubs barmaids on there weekender in Blackpool !.
budge blackpoolThe papers were full of stories recounting Budgie’s youth and early days at Blackpool following his £10,000 move into the ‘big time’, such as the tale of his Blackpool debut in April 1971 away at Goodison Park with classic quotes such as:
“I was just a teenager fresh from playing for Workington and I looked a real country hick !.
I was wearing a ridiculous suit-the only one I had-and all the Blackpool players were taking the mick out of me. I couldn’t get off the coach quick enough, raced into raced into Goodison and get my gear off. I felt humiliated. We were a poor family and my dad had died so mam was looking after us. I often wondered when I was a kid going to school why others laughed at me just because I was dressed as a Japanese Admiral !”.
“There I was ranged against all the top stars-Alan Ball was wearing his white boots and shouting in that squeaky voice, I could see the likes of Howard Kendall, Joe Royal & Colin Harvey. Mind you, I was ruddy marvellous. I had a blinder and we drew 0-0!”.


Kona (left) and his bother Shaka.

The Evening Chronicle picked up on the goalkeeper theme but from a different angle with an article on Blyth’s midfielder Kona Hislop and his brother Newcastle United’s £1.75 million keeper Shaka.
The FA Cup is very special the biggest cup tournament in the world where dreams come true” said Shaka.
“I only hope they do for Kona & Blyth. I may be the brother who has played in the big time but I’ve never enjoyed Cup glory. At Reading we always seemed to fall at the first hurdle, even when we were doing well in the league and it hasn’t been much different for me personally at Newcastle.
However on Saturday, Kona can grab my thunder and I wish him well”.

Kona, who had joined Blyth in the summer having made 30 appearances for Hartlepool before being released, born in London he was only 2 months old when the family moved back to the West Indies, Shaka who had been 2 years old laughed:
“He seems to have followed me around. He went to the same American University as me on a soccer scholarship and then came over to reading a few months before my transfer to Newcastle.
When I came to the North East, Kona followed me up and played for Hartlepool last season. I watched him a few times at Victoria Park but I haven’t seen him play for Blyth. It’s his big day on Saturday-we haven’t got a match and he has the spotlight as all little clubs do on the first round day. It could turn out a headline event”.

The Evening Chronicle even sought an opinion on Blyth’s chances of a Cup upset from Blackpool’s most recent opponents Burnley!.
The Seasiders had beaten Burnley 2-1 at Bloomfield Road the week before the Cup tie and the Burnley Player/Manager was none other than Chris Waddle.
“They are capable of beating Blackpool, you can never rule out the chances of a non league club winning, especially in the first round”.
“There have been plenty of shocks at this stage in the past and there could well be at least one on Saturday. However I must warn Blyth that Blackpool looked a powerful unit last Saturday. They played in a 4-4-2 formation against us and they played at a high tempo from star to finish”.

Waddle who had played against Blyth as a 19-year-old in his Tow Law days recalled:
“They were happy days, but its more than a few years since the. I remember Blyth as a competitive team – and that’s just what they will have to be at Bloomfield Road. If they work hard and match that high Blackpool tempo, then I would not be greatly surprised if there was not at least one upset on Saturday”.

Waddle’s warning to be ready wasn’t lost on Burridge, two things Budgie could never be accused of was not being ready or lacking confidence which showed in his appraisal of the opposition:
“I saw nothing to make us afraid. We are a bunch of proud men and we are well aware of our mission. We will play with skill, flair and courage. That is a promise to our fans and the rest of the North East.”

The team, accompanied by a TV crew, travelled down on the Friday morning in preparation for the game, interviewed in the team’s hotel Budgie stated:
We will go into the game as the best prepared Non League side there has been.
But some of my lads will be close to tears when we leave our hotel because they will know they are not in the starting line-up. Tomorrow is not a day for sentiment. I will go with a team that I think is best for the occasion and if that means breaking a few hearts, then so be it. The important thing is to make sure we break a few when the games is on.”

When pressed by the interviewer on his side he firmly replied:
The players concerned will be the first to know”.

Both sides had fully fit squads to pick from although Blackpool defender Phil King was cup tied giving Player/Manager Nigel Worthington a straight choice of playing himself or giving youngster Bill Dixon his senior debut.
Blackpool were more than aware of the dangers Non League sides can cause and the potential of an upset, it was the 3rd season in a row they had hosted a Non League side in the cup and they keen to avoid a repeat of the previous season when Conference side Hednesford reached the 3rd Round for the 1st time in their history winning 1-0 at Bloomfield Road.

The team ran out Bloomfield Road acknowledging the 1,000+ travelling Blyth fans housed in the corner of uncovered Spion Kop and a small adjoining section of the East Paddock Stand, little did they know the dramatic 90 minutes that awaited.
Despite having played his starting XI in the previous fixture Blyth’s team selection surprised a few with new boy Di Lella starting and Jon Atkinson & Willie Moat having to settle for a place on the bench, however the naming of former Barrow & Gateshead midfielder John Ainsley as a sub proved the biggest surprise. Blyth had signed the highly rated midfielder following his return to the UK after another spell playing professionally in Singapore, Burridge acted quickly to beat other clubs to his signature having being tipped off about his return by a friend of Jason’s who just happened to be club captain John Gamble!.

Spion Kop

The Spion Kop East which housed the Blyth fans seen with the famous tower behind it.

Blyth started the game defending the Kop end that housed their boisterous support, and as warned Blackpool started the stronger, Blyth were instantly on the back foot and as early as the 3rd minute the home side had the lead.
Di Lella conceded a free kick on the left hand touchline Lee Philpott curled the free kick into the Blyth penalty area, as the defenders hesitated Andy Preece held of his marker to calmly head past a stranded Burridge, the player manager raged at his defenders who seemingly realised the wasn’t intending on coming for crosses, the spat didn’t help matters as minutes later the home side were also gifted a 2nd. .
Despite Budgie’s pledge of being ready Blyth’s defence was rocking and the omens didn’t look good when 5 minutes later the veteran keeper launched an attempted clearance straight into captain John Gamble’s back, it fell nicely to scorer Preece but fortunately when it seemed easier to score he lifted his attempted chip wide of the post. It was a massive let off for the Non League side and it served as a warning and appeared to have the required effect as Mark Todd & Kona Hislop started to get a grip of the midfield battle and Blyth steadied the ship with some neat midfield ball possession.


Damian Henderson is rather pleased with his equaliser.

Blyth equalised with almost their first effort on goal in the 10th minute, Todd’s clever diagonal pass played in Di Lella he worked space behind debuting Pool left back Dixon to reach the byline, before pulling the ball back towards the penalty spot for the on rushing Damien Henderson to calmly slot underneath the keeper from 8 yards out for a superbly worked goal.

Blackpool were surprised by the goal but came back strongly and the Blyth defence came under pressure, sensing Burridge’s failure to come for crosses earlier they bombardment the penalty area, but captain John Gamble dealt with them with some towering clearing headers and Budgie showed all his experience to make 2 excellent saves.
Junior Bent’s cross-picked out Lee Philpott but the midfielders free header Budgie & Hislopwas parried by the keeper then hacked clear by Kona Hislop.
Minutes later he was called into action again when another deep cross picked out the unmarked Tony Butler, but his 6 yard header was superbly blocked by Burridge. Blyth gradually weathered the storm and fought back with winger Glen Renforth testing Banks from 25 yards out. However as speculative as Renforth’s effort was it was nothing compared to what happened in the 44th minute, after a neat passage of play from Pike, Henderson & Farrey, Gustavo di Lella collected the ball on the right hand touch-line.
There appeared little danger as he took a pass from Renforth, di Lella cut inside and glided past 2 defenders with ease then when closed down by a 3rd defender looked up and sized up the distance before launching a stunning 30 yard shot high into the top left hand corner of Steve Banks goal, it was a staggering goal that Blackpool boss Nigel Worthington summed up by saying:
“If Zola had scored that in a World Cup Final, he would be a hero for life”.

gus goal

Kevin McGarrigle grabs Di Lella as John Gamble salutes the fans after the wonder goal.

The Blyth players mobbed the little Argentine as the ecstatic Blyth fans could barely believe the goal they had just saw from their new hero, the Spartans ended the half better than they started it taken an unexpected 2-1 lead into the break.
The home fans were not at all happy and a chorus of boo’s rained down from the South Stand as the players approached the tunnel to the dressing rooms which was situated within the South Stand.

Despite leading at the break the TV crew which had followed the team all weekend captured a rather tense half time dressing room. Burridge flaty refused to take any responsibilty for failing to deal with crosses into the box that caused problems. When midfielder Mark Todd spoke up against Budgie’s ‘nothing to do with me’ attitude and pointed out that the agreed pre match game plan needed to change the cameras caught a glimse of Burridge’s somewhat bombastic management. Clealry aggrieved that a player dare question him or his tatics he shouted down and belittled Todd in a somewhat bullying way.

The expected second half onslaught from the stunned home side came and Bonner went close curling a shot wide of the post before Tony Ellis forced a good save from Burridge.
The home side were back on level terms in the 59th minute when Hartlepool born Andy Linighan rose unchallenged at the back post to head home a Philpott corner. It was all hands to the pump for Blyth who had to work hard to stem the aerial bombardment as the home side attacked the South Stand which contained the majority of the home support now roaring them on from behind Budgie’s goal.
In the 71st minute Blyth fell behind in controversial circumstances, defender Kevin McGarrigle was clearly fouled by Junior Bent as a cross came in, the forward held McGarrigle back as he attempted to reach the ball. The ref allowed play to continue and Bent retrieved the loose ball to cross for Andy Preece who cushioned a header down for Phil Clarkson to hook a volley across Burridge to make it 3-2, the Blyth players were incensed at the referee allowing play to carry on despite foul and the lack of advantage to Blyth.
The Spartans settled after the disappointment as top scorer Keith Fletcher, who had been well marshaled by defender Linighan for most of the game managed to wriggle free to blast an effort over the bar.

Willie Moat celebrates in front of the fans as Jon Atkinson turns away after scoring.

Willie Moat celebrates in front of the fans as Jon Atkinson turns away after scoring.

Blyth then made 2 changes as Jon Atkinson replaced Fletcher and Jason Ainsley replaced Di Lella in the 76th minute as Burridge attempted to freshen up the side, but it wasn’t until the 81st minute introduction of Willie Moat that Blyth showed they were still in the game.
With only 6 minutes remaining the beauty & sheer cruelty of the FA Cup was clear for all to see.
Mark Todd chipped a pass for Willie Moat to run on to, he forced his way past the Blackpool right back Dixon to reach the by-line. Right in front of the Blyth fans, Moat managed to hook a cross in the penalty box for on rushing fellow sub Jon Atkinson to crash home a diving header to square the game up at 3-3 in truly dramatic fashion.

The Blyth fans celebrated with a mini pitch invasion as their heroes looked on course for a well-earned replay. A replay loomed as both teams clearly tired from an epic afternoon, however with barely a minute left on the clock there was yet another twist, a long throw from the right was flicked on into the 6 yard box by Linighan. Tony Ellis managed to get a touch as the ball bobbed around in a mass of bodies in the Blyth penalty box, it broke to Phil Clarkson who volleyed home the loose ball giving Burridge no chance whatsoever to send the home side into the Second Round with 15 seconds left to play.


Mark Todd leads the players in acknowledging the fans after the final whistle.

The Blyth players and supporters were left shattered and heartbroken, the home supporters paid respect to the effort they had witnessed giving the team a standing ovation and even applauding the traveling Spartans fans, not surprisingly Burridge was last off the field taken the adulation of the Bloomfield Road crowd.
Burridge and team captain John Gamble were interviewed on the pitch for Match of the Day and the devastation at getting so close to a replay was clearly evident as they paid tribute to the fans who were still in the ground singing there praises.

Gustavo Di Lella’s goal received high praise on that nights Match of the Day FA Cup highlights programme and even made it into the November goal of the month competition!.

Speaking about his goal scoring hero attracting attention from League clubs following his wonder goal Budgie stated:
“We want good money for him. I have had to alter the whole structure of the team to accommodate him. But if Gustavo can score goals like that, then we have to make room for him because he could have won the game for us”.

Typically Budgie was a bullish as ever after the game:
“If I wasn’t managing, I could be playing in the Premiership – no doubt about it”.
Having stated this could be his last game as a player as was struggling to:
“do justice to both keeping goal and managing the team” after the game he started the search for his replacement making only 13 more appearances before handing over the gloves to Steve Jones.

  • In a footnote to the publicity storm that surrounded the tie, the man who was once quoted as saying “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” eventually paid the price for publicity.
    When his sports business was chargedand found guilty of selling counterfeit goods, Magistrates ordered him to pay £16,000.
    He maintained he was an innocent pawn claiming:
    “I didn’t know the goods were fake. I bought them from a warehouse in Manchester and had no reason to believe they were not the real deal.
    I got them cheaply because they had minor imperfections and sold what I believed to be good quality clothes”.
    Part of the evidence used in the prosecution was footage of his players wearing the suspect sportswear on the team coach travelling to the Blackpool FA Cup tie !.D&K

…That weekend in November 1997 still lives on in the memories of many Blyth fans who made the most of what then was probably the best draw possible for an FA Cup 1st Round tie, a great weekend was certainly had by all. 

  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Kevin Tilmouth, who provided vital information and items of Blyth Spartans memorabilia.

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Green & White Cult Heroes – Mick Dagless

daglessAn extremely gifted footballer with the ability to produce the unexpected quickly made Mick Dagless a firm crowd favourite at Croft Park throughout the 70’s.

Dago as he was known to his teammates, was a regular name on the score-sheet and eventually ended his 8 year trophy laden Spartans career with an impressive 93 goals from midfield.
A free scoring midfielder with an eye for a spectacular goal, he was the creative lynch-pin of the team who was attributed with the hardest shot in the Northern League.

Born in Norfolk, Mick’s family moved to Peterborough when he was aged 11 and his performances for his school impressed scouts from Peterborough United.
He was soon representing ‘The Posh’ in youth sides and later played a couple of games for the Reserves as well as being capped by England Schoolboys.
However his academic interests put pay to his time at ‘The Posh’ when Mick moved to the North East at the age of 18 to study Chemistry at Newcastle University.
It was while playing for the University’s first team in the Northern Combination League he first came to the attention of Blyth Spartans, in November 1968 the students came to Croft Park in the 1st Round of the Northumberland Senior Cup and caused a major upset. Belaying their lowly league placing Mick starred as they dumped the manager less Spartans out of the cup with a shock 2-0 win.
Mick continued to attract attention with his performances and it was no surprise when he was snapped up by FA Amateur Cup winners & Northern League champions North Shields in summer of 1969.


A youthful Mick (front row 2nd right) with his North Shields teammates.
Future Blyth keeper Mick Morgan is back row centre and the prolific former Spartan Tommy Orrick is on Mick’s right.

His continued to impress and attracted the scouts of several league clubs to Appleby Park, most notably the best team in the land; Liverpool.
He turned down a chance to sign for Hartlepool United and regrets not giving the professional game a go:
“Looking back I wish I’d signed just to see how far the full-time training and the extra fitness would have taken me in the game.”
For a player who possessed guile, vision and technical ability in abundance, the step up to a higher level would surely not have troubled Dagless.

Mike became an established member of the North Shields side and over the next 3 seasons made 147 appearances scoring 42 goals, his performances had caught the eye of acclaimed Northern League manager Billy Bell, who had been appointed to the Croft Park hot seat in the summer of 1972.
Mike didn’t hesitate to move to the Spartans, his wish to play for the Spartans could be attributed in part to the Croft Park groundsman:
“I was always impressed with the condition of the pitch at Blyth.
It was nice and wide and excellent for players who liked to pass the ball.
I felt I could express myself better on a good playing surface”.
When Mick came to Croft Park in September 1972, he arrived with a unique honour already in his trophy cabinet.
Many footballers have played for the club having had extensive League experience and many honours from time as professionals, however Mick’s arrival brought a 1st for the club: a player who had a European Winners medal!.
Mick had played in and won the European Amateur Cup for North Shields in his very first season!.

  • In beating Sutton United at Wembley the Robins qualified as England’s representatives for the Coppa Ottrino Barassi – the European Amateur Cup.
    Shields took on Alamas Rome, the first leg on 25th September 1969 at Appleby Park in front of a 3,100 crowd who saw Jon Rutherford put the Robins 1-0 up.Alamas prog
    Teeside ref Kevin Howley then awarded them a hotly disputed penalty that sub Tommy Orrick put away for a 2-0 lead to take to Rome. The Robins side that night included 10 of the 13 players who had played at Wembley:
    Jim Goundry, Alan Driver, John Twaddle, Ritchie Hall,
    Ron Tatum, George Thompson, Mick Dagless, Bobby Wake,
    Ray Wrightson, Tony Cassidy (Tommy Orrick), John Rutherford.

    The 2nd leg was played in the Stadio Flaminio, which had staged the football Final of the 1960 Summer Olympics. The Robins fielded the same side from the 1st leg but the Italians, who played in the 7th tier of Italian league system, reversed the score line and ran out 2-0 winners. The aggregate score was 2-2 so with both teams having no away goals the tie was classed as drawn with both team sharing the trophy, however it wasn’t an outcome that had been thought of and their was only 1 set of winners medals!.
    FA Secretary Denis Follows, who had helped organise the tie and the trip to Rome for North Shields, got together with his Italian counterpart and both clubs Secretaries  decided it would come down to a ‘toss of the coin!. Shields captain Ron Tatum called correctly and the Robins players came home with the winners medals and they got to hold the trophy 1st before it was returned to Almas for their turn.
  • Euro Amateur CupIn 1968 the Football Associations of England and Italy established a European competition – known also as the Coppa Ottorino Barassi –
    to be contested solely by the winners of their respective countries’ domestic amateur knock-out tournaments the FA Amateur Cup and the Italian Coppa Italia Dilettanti, the tie was played over 2 legs. Leytonstone F.C. were the first champions of the competition in 1968, winning on the away goals rule having drawn 1-1 at home they drew 2-2 away to Stefer Roma.
    1970 – Enfield won the trophy beating Ponte San Pietro 3-0 at home, losing the away leg 1-2 to win 4-2 on aggregate.
    1971 – Skelmersdale United won 2-1 on aggregate after a 2-0 home win followed by a 0-1 defeat to Montebelluna.
    1972 – Hendon claim the trophy beating Unione Valdinievole 2-0 at home then drawing 1-1 away to win 3-1 on aggregate.
    1973 – Walton & Hersham beat Jesolo 4-0 at hoem then 2-0 away to claim a 6-0 victory.
    1974 – Bishop Stortford were due to play Miranese but the tie didn’t take place due to organisational problems.

    • Following the abolishon of the FA Amateur Cup in 1974 the English representatives became the champions of the Second Division of the Isthmian League.
      In 1975 Staines Town beat 1-0 2-0 Banco di Roma 1-0 at home and 2-1 away, then in 1976 Tilbury & Unione Sportiva Sorinese drew 1-1 in both ties and the Italian won 5-3 penalties to become the 1st ever Italian club to win the trophy. Simultaneous to this change in 1975 another competition was created, the Anglo-Italian Semi professional Cup, which had the Italian Semi-professional Cup winners play the champions of the Isthmian League Division 1 (in 1975) and the FA Trophy winners (in 1976).
      In 1975 Wycombe Wanderers beat Monza 2-1 on aggregate and in 1976 Scarborough beat Lecce 4-1 on aggregate.
      Both these tournaments disappeared when the Gigi Peronace Memorial (more commonly know as the Anglo Italian Cup) continued as a competition between Semi-Professional teams from both countries in 1976.

Mike had completed his studies by the time he joined the Spartans and began teaching Chemistry at King Edward Grammar school in Morpeth, he forged a successful teaching career and remained at King Edwards’s until his retirement in 2008.
Hugely popular with his students it was during those years he was to forge a football coaching career that would eventually see him turn a highly successful playing career into an equally successful coaching career.

Mick instantly established himself as a vital part of Billy Bell’s Spartans side, and his 1st season couldn’t have gone much better with a League & Cup double. Bell proved his undouted Northern League pedigree guiding the Spartans to their 1st ever Northern League title and guided the club to the Northern League Cup Final.
Mick scored his 1st goal of many goals for the club on 27th September when he scored the 4th in a 4-1 home win over Stanley United, it was a sign he had found his range as he then scored in the next 3 games, ending his successful first season with 8 goals, he also played a vital role in Blyth reaching the 4th Round of the FA Amateur Cup.
Despite the success Billy Bell’s methods wasn’t to the board’s liking and they brought to an end his reign, Mick thought highly of the manager who brought him to Croft Park:
“Billy Bell was very tactical. In training we worked on our positional play a lot and where we should be on the pitch when we lost the ball. It was very structured and it was an effective way of playing and we done a lot of fitness training. Billy had a successful record over a long period with many clubs.

Mick’s fellow midfielder Eddie Alder was installed to ‘run’ the team along with club legend Billy Fenwick for the 1973/74 season, under the new management team Mick found the back of the net a remarkable 33 times to finish top scorer.
His haul included 2 hat tricks and 1 penalty, but the events of Saturday 27th April 74′ was his finest of the campaign when he hit 5 in the 6-1 home win over Willington.
Mick shared the penalty taking duties with Mick Lister, but he had the dubious honour of missing the first penalty awarded that season in the 1-0 home victory over Bishop Auckland on 8th September. Two weeks later Spartans stretched their run to 9 straight league victories with a 5-2 hammering of Crook Town at Croft Park however despite scoring twice Mick failed to record his 1st hat trick for the club when he missed another penalty!.
Mick did eventually get his hat trick on the 2nd February in the 3-1 Northumberland Senior Cup victory over Wallsend side Marine Park. The turn of the year saw Mick find the back of the next with regularity and on 27th April he scored 5 (including a penalty) in the 6-1 demolition of Willington at Croft Park. However despite Mick’s goals Blyth lost their Northern League title to rivals Spennymoor United, after finishing level on 64 points a Play Off game was held at Portland Park, Ashington which the Spartans lost 1-2.
Mick added another medal to his ever-growing collection four days layer when Blyth beat local rivals Ashington 3-0 in a replay to win the Northumberland Senior Cup.
One of Mick’s 33 goals give him the honour of being the club’s last ever goalscorer in the FA Amateur Cup when he scored in the 1-3 defeat to eventual winners Bishop Stortford.
That season also give Mick his first real taste of FA Cup football as a Spartan, having crashed out on the 4th Qualifying round the year earlier Blyth reached the 2nd Round. Victories over Netherfield and Alfreton Town (after a replay) saw the club drawn away to Grimsby Town and the Mick starred in his midfield role as Spartans were more than a match for the League side bringing the Mariners back to Croft Park for a replay, which the League side ran out 0-2 winners.

Back Row (LtoR): Dave Burowski, Alan Cruddace, John Lang, Ronnie Phillipson, Micky Pink, Mick Third, Ronnie Scott, Alan O'Neill. Front Row (Lto R): Mickey Pink, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Ian Nixon. Inset Gerry Donoghue.

Allan O’Neill’s side line at the beginning of a remarkable season. Back Row (LtoR):
Dave Burowski, Alan Cruddace, John Lang, Ronnie Phillipson, Micky Pink, Mick Third, Ronnie Scott, Alan O’Neill.
Front Row (Lto R):
Mickey Pink, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Ian Nixon.
Inset Gerry Donoghue.

A new manager was installed for the 74/75 campaign, into the hot seat came former South Shields manager Alan O’Neill, he made a few changes in the team including bringing in Mick’s former North Shields teammate Mick Morgan. O’Neill’s experience and shrewd acquisitions soon became clear as the Spartans set off on an extraordinary season that saw them regain the Northern League title without losing a single league game. Mick scored 19 goals from his midfield birth however 1 of them stands out in the club’s history.
That historic season saw Blyth draw Preston North End at home in an FA Cup 2nd Round tie, what made the tie even more special was that the North End player manager was World Cup winner Bobby Charlton and fellow 1966 hero Nobby Stiles also played for PNE.
The game was played in front of an all ticket 8,500 crowd packed into Croft Park and it was barely 3 minutes old when Blyth were awarded a free kick for a Nobby Stiles foul, Mick stepped up to lash a 25 yard rocket past North End keeper Ray Trunks –

Dagless v PNEMick recalled that famous goal:
“It was a low hard shot into the corner, it wasn’t the best goal I scored but one I remember fondly due to the occasion.”

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Preston equalised through Mel Holden and went on to win the replay 5-1, however Blyth recovered from the defeat (which denied them a 3rd round meeting with Arsenal) to the win the league wihtout losing a single game all season and retaining the Northumberland Senior Cup.
Mick’s superb form was rewarded with selection to the Middlesex Wanderers squad for the summer tour of Malaysia.

Comparing the 2 managers that brought him 2 League Winners medals:
From a personal point of view I felt I played better in Alan O’Neill’s team. He basically just let me play and I really enjoyed that time. He was more laid back than Billy and the team fared less well by Blyth’s standards but O’Neil’s style of management really suited me.”

1975/76 season saw Blyth retained the Northern League title with Mick scoring 14 times including 4 in the 5-1 Senior Cup win at Alnwick Town and he scored the final league goal in the 4-0 win over Durham at Croft Park that retained the title.
It was a season in which Mick learned even more of just how cup competitions are an important part of the club’s traditions, despite cashing out of the FA Cup in a replay at Rossendale United the new Rothmans Challenge Cup brought brand new opposition for the club with away ties at Forest Green Rovers & Clanfield, Blyth played 15 cup ties of which 5 went to extra time!.
By the standards he had previously set 1976/77 started poorly for O’Neill, a draw with 2 defeats in the first 3 games but the ship was steadied with a 7 game unbeaten run in which Mick scored 2 in the 4-1 win over Shildon. Mick was denied another winners medal to add to his collection when Spartans took on holders Whitby Town in the Rothmans Challenge Cup Final that had been held over for the previous season. The game played at Brewery Field Spennymoor saw Brain Slane score twice but Whitby ran out 3-2 winners.
The team results continued to be patchy as Mick scored 4 more goals before hitting 2 in Blyth’s 4-2 win over a Rest of League side at Croft Park in December.
A 1-5 at Wearside League Blue Star in the Senior Cup Semi Final really set alarm bells ringing, only 2 more wins came before Alan O’Neill quit in February, his replacement was a teammate of Mick’s: Brian Slane.

Free scoring Dagless scores against Bishop Auckland

Free scoring Dagless scores against Bishop Auckland

Slane’s 13 games in charge that season fared little better with only 5 victories, Mick’s final goal of the season came in a friendly on 7th April when Norweigan side OS Turnforening came to Croft Park, Dagless & Hartley Maddison scored in the 2-1 victory.
MD ColourThe season did however bring Mick another winners medal to add to his unique collection but this one wasn’t with the Spartans, although it was with many of his Blyth team mates.
Mick had been playing in the Durham and District Sunday League for a side that Brian Slane ran in Langley Park.
Slane had built a truly formidable side which included well-known Blyth stars like John Waterson, Alan Shoulder, Tommy Dixon & Mick Morgan plus experienced Football League players who had recently dropped down into the Northern League such as Allan Gauden & John Tones.
When the Rams Head won the FA Sunday Cup it was seen as a shock to many outside the North East but certianly not to those who knew Slane and his players, they beat 2 times winners Newtown Unity FC from Birmingham 2-1 at the Brewery Field, Spennymoor.

  • Slane’s Rams Head side were hugely successful in the mid 70’s winning the Alan Smith Memorial Trophy in seasons 1975, 1977, 1978 and the League Cup in Season 1977.
    In 1983 they became Langley Park Welfare and brought Northern League football back to the village for the 1st time since 1929. The original Langley Park had joined the Northern League in 1920/21 and played until 1929/30 season before quitting after only 7 games.
    In 1990 they dropped the ‘Welfare’ from their name reverting back to the original name but only for history to repeat itself in 1995 when they left the Northern League and folded, a Langley Park Rams Head side reformed and still to this day play in the Durham Sunday League.
  • Mick then played Sunday League football closer to his home along with some former teamates when he played with Ronnie Scott & Eddie Alder for Bedlington Station SC in the Blyth & Wansbeck League, in fact his final playing days was in Sunday League football was with Morpeth St Georges.

Brian Slane and his new coach Jackie Marks rebuilt the faltering side and as history shows it was truly fairy tale season for the club, from early on Mick sensed something special was in the making:
“Brian had brought in some real quality during the summer.
The likes of Terry Johnson, Dave Clarke and then later on Alan Shoulder were key players during that run.  Brian had a good eye for a player and Jackie Marks was the best possible motivator so it was a good combination.”

Enfield injury

An anxious looking Mick watches the Enfield victory form the bench.

changing room

Mick watches Jackie Marks cracking open the bubbly in the St James Park dressing room.

However for Mick it was to prove frustrating season, now the established lynchpin in the Spartans midfield he had scored in the 4-1 FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round win at Consett and then 3 days later bagged a brace in the 8-2 hammering of Whitby Town at Croft Park.
However the events 10th December 1977 were to cruelly ended Mick’s his participation in the historic FA Cup run, during the 1-0 win over Durham City Mick picked up an injury which was to keep him out for 2 months.
The injury ruled Mick out of the victories over Chesterfield, Enfield & Stoke City but he made his comeback on 11th February in Senior Cup Semi Final 2-2 draw with Whitley Bay.
Having rarely suffered from injuries during his career it was a massive blow for Mick:
“It was devastating really.
I hadn’t been out through injury before that season and it
obviously happened at the worst possible time.
I was probably fit by the time we faced
Wrexham again in the replay but the team was settled and playing brilliantly so there wasn’t a chance I could get back in.
I remember walking out onto the pitch at St James and seeing the huge crowd, from a personal point of view it was sickening to miss the chance to play in such a match”.

Mick quickly forced his way back into his accustomed midfield birth and on 2nd May he got to grace St James Park when the Spartans beat North Shields 2-1 in the Northumberland Senior Cup Final, although it wasn’t the same as that famous February night there was a lot few than the 42,000+ inside the ground to see Steve Carney & Terry Johnson score. Mick added another winners medal to his ever-growing collection on 6 days later when Blyth won the Northern League Cup thrashing Willington 5-1 at Appleby Park, North Shields.


Mick collects the Debenhams Cup with teammates John Waterson & Ronnie Scott.

Mick may have been ‘sickened’ to miss the Wrexham FA Cup ties but did get to face them in the final 2 games of that long 62 game season.
Come May 1978 Wrexham had been crowned Third Division Champions and both clubs epic cup runs had qualified them to contest the Debenhams Cup. Mick played in both leg’s of the tie, Blyth won 2-1 at the Racecourse Ground and the 1-1 at Croft Park 5 days later which saw Blyth take the trophy 3-2 on aggregate to give the club some small reward for the injustice they suffered at the Racecourse Ground back in February.

Despite only losing 1 game since the New Year the Spartans missed out on the League title by 6 points to winners Spennymoor who retained their title despite a 6-1 hammering by the Spartans in the final game of the season as the Croft Park side took their league goal tally to 107!.

The following season saw Mick play a more deep-lying role in midfield as the Spartans found themselves up against Football League opposition once again in the FA Cup. However this time there was no giant killing, being drawn away to York City the Spartans were denied a place in the 2nd Round as the Ministermen snatched a 1-1 to earn a replay at Croft Park. On a snow covered pitch the game went to extra time before the Third Division side finally ran out 3-5 winners.

dago at york

Peter Davies & Mick Dagless watch on as York captain Roy Kay is about to bring down Alan Shoulder for a penalty that Terry Johnson scored to bring Blyth level at Bootham Crescent.

Mick was to end the campaign playing under his 4th manager at the club when his long time friend Brian Slane stepped down in December 78′, Mick had played with Brian since he joined the club in 1972 and continuity was kept when coach Jackie Marks stepped up into the managers roll.
Marks started bringing in new players but Mick was the central part of his midfield rebuild and the FA Cup brought another League team for Mick to pit his skills against, Mansfield came to Croft Park to face an unbeaten Blyth side who despite being hit by injuries were expected to claim another cup upset. With Mick’s midfield partner Keith Houghton forced to fill as an emergency centre half Blyth never got to grips with the League side who had won an away game all season and they ran out 0-2 winners in front of a 4,433 crowd.

Mick Dagless shootsMarks continued to strengthen the side and the Spartans went on to reach the 4th Round of the FA Trophy taking eventual winners Mossley to a replay and sealed their 1st Northern League title for 3 years, it was to prove to be the 1st of a remarkable 5 successive League titles.
It also proved to be Mick’s last season with the club, his last game came on 29th April in the final game of the season 2-1 victory over West Auckland (his last goal had been in the 2-4 defeat at Spennymoor on 15th December).
During the summer of 1980 Mick decided it was time to move on and brought to an end a trophy laden 8 year career at Croft Park, it was a shock to the supporters who had idolised the gifted midfielder and thought the club would struggle to replace a of his style.

Mick hadn’t just been using his teaching skills in the class room he was running the football teams at the King Edward’s School and was in charge of the Northumberland Schools FA  County Under 18/19’s teams so it was a natural progression into coaching for him and in the summer of 1980 he accepted an offer from the newly formed Bedlington Terriers manager Billy Ward to be player/coach for their first season in the Northern Alliance.
Mick was joined by his former teammate Eddie Adler who had been coaxed out of his 2 year retirement for one final swan song at the Terriers.
Mick & Eddie helped Bedlington to a 3rd place finish but he only played the single season at the Terriers before he was approached by Whitley Bay manager Micky Clifford to become player/coach at Hillheads in summer the of 1981.
It was a struggle at Whitley as they finished the 2nd bottom in his first season however fortunes improved slightly in 82/83 as they finished 13th but in June 83′ there was boardroom upheaval at the Bay with the Chairman Ted Fuller stepping down and Clifford ended his 7 year spell as Manager, with Micky having brought Dago to the club he decided to leave Hillheads.

Unsurprisingly Mick wasn’t sort of offers and after 2 years away made a return to Croft Park when Spartans Player/Manager John Connolly moved quickly to appoint Dago as his coach, it was a shrewd move by Connolly allowing him to concentrate on playing with Mick experience on the bench.
The Connolly & Dagless management team went down a storm with the supporters thanks to the free-flowing style of football partnership instilled, it saw Blyth reach a Quarter Final of the FA Trophy and won a record equalling 4th successive Northern League title.
However come the November ’83 season Connolly has expressed a wish to return to playing at a higher level and within weeks resigned his post, only 2 weeks earlier Mick had turned down an offer to become manager of Whitley Bay choosing to stay on as Connolly’s assistant and it proved a wise decision when Chairman Jim Turney appointed 36-year-old Mick temporary manager of the Spartans, MD Jobit was long before Mick was appointed permanent manager some 11 years after first joining the club, becoming the 7th former player to manage the club.
Instilling into his team the flair & style Mick had shown as a player the Spartans went on to win a record 5th successive Northern League title by 9 points and Mick was quick to praise backroom staff:
“I have to thank assistant Brian Main, who has created great moral among the players and to Secretary George Watson and Treasurer David Lees for their invaluable help.”
Mick never lost a single league game since he took charge in fact his only defeat as Blyth manager came in an FA Trophy Replay with Whitby Town and even that went down to a last-minute penalty!.

However despite completing the league campaign with that record 5th successive title and also guiding the club to their 11th League Cup Final & 4th consecutive Senior Cup Final things had built up behind the scenes. Blyth drew 0-0 with Blue Star in the Senior Cup Final at St James Park then played their last league game at Gretna winning 2-1 to end the season unbeaten in 22 games, but 4 days later they lost 0-2 in the League Cup Final to a Paul Walker inspired Horden CW at Appleby Park, North Shields.
MD Quit 1It proved to be the final straw for Mick and on Sunday 6th May he dropped the bombshell that he & his assistant Brian Main were resigning with immediate effect!.
Coming on the eve of the Northumberland Senior Cup Final, unsurprisingly it didn’t go down well with a ‘shattered and stunned’ Jim Turney who called the timing as ‘dreadful’:MD Quit 2
“We at Blyth give him his big chance to be a manager only last November.  All I can say is that this is one hell of a way to repay us for that favour.

Mick was adamant about his decision though:
“I resigned because I was disappointed with the attitude and open criticism of myself and my players I have brought to the side from certain members of the board. This reached an unacceptable level and it made my job extremely difficult.
I know I will be criticised over the timing of my decision there has been so much unwarranted hassle from within the club that there was no point carrying on as manager. I want to very much remain dignified in this matter, but I will say that there are people at Blyth Spartans with whom it has become impossible to work with.
The supporters  have been excellent in their attitude towards the team since last November and I would like to thank them for that.
But I don’t have any regrets about resigning, I am in fact relieved!”.

Summing up his first experience as a manager:
If managing is like this at every club, I would drop out of the game!. I certainly in no hurry to get back into football, but if a reasonable offer came along some time in the future I would consider it”.

Alnwick celebrattions

Mick and his players celebrate after clinching promotion.

Alnwick celebrations 2

End of season celebrations for Mick’s Alnwick side, former Spartans Mark Cameron, Ian Mutrie & Gary Middleton watch future Spartan hero Richie Bond take centre stage.

Mick did make a return to management with reigning Northern Alliance Champions Morpeth Town but left before Christmas feeling they didn’t quite match his ambitions as a manager. Struggling Northern League 2nd Division side Alnwick Town acted quickly offering him their vacant managers job.
He and Brian Main saw a project took up the offer and turned around the clubs fortunes, they were rock bottom and looking doomed with a single victory when he took over and he guided them to 5th bottom and safety in his first season.
Building on that they finished 10th in 85/86, and really started to challenge from there one finishing 6th in 86/87 and again in 87/88.
But it was in 1988/89 that Mick’s hard work paid off when they achieved a 2nd place finish on goal difference, to gain promotion alongside 2nd Division Champions Consett & 3rd place Whickham.
Mick built side using all his contacts and experience bringing players such as his former team-mates Ian Mutrie & Dave Clarke mixing experience with good young local talent such as youngsters Gary Middleton & Mark Cameron who he took from Croft Park (although both would later return to Croft Park) and the main star of the side a young fleet-footed forward by the name…..Richie Bond!
Mick’s side had a superb first ever season in the Northern League First Division making their highest ever finish to a season since they 111 year history finishing 8th, 1 place higher that the Spartans!.
The curse of the returning former manager saw Mick twice bring his side to Croft Park and win, in October they beat the Spartans  2-0 in the league meeting and they repeated the feat in January winning a Northumberland Senior Cup Quarter Final tie 2-1 and the main architect of those 2 defeats was Richie Bond!.
(The Spartans and Alnwick Town have only ever meet 3 times in league competitions 1946/47 in Northern Alliance, 1989/90 & 1990/91 in Northern League).
However the next season wasn’t as good they struggled badly without the services of their star player Richie Bond who had been snapped up by the Spartans in the summer, Mick’s side finished 2nd bottom and were relegated back to the Second Division and Mick parted company with the St James Park club.

Mick then accepted an offer to help out his friend Brian Penfold who was manager at Northern Alliance Morpeth Town (Brian was one of his former players while Mick was Blyth manager). Brian & Mick guided Morpeth to the Northern Alliance title in 1993/94 but they both walked away from Criak Park the following season after a fall out with Chairman Ken Beattie.
It was to be his last involvement with club management and he then devoted his free Saturdays to watching Newcastle United.

NSFA County Team ManagerIt wasn’t just in the world of football that Mick’s talent’s were so highly thought of, he was extremely popular teacher with all his students, his style of teaching left an impression on many of his student an example of which was recently shown by Professor Alfred William Rutherford.
In May 2014 ‘Bill’ Rutherford was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his ground breaking work in solar energy,
Prof Rutherford first showed academic prowess at the age of 12 at King Edward VI Grammar School and one of people he credits with setting him off on his academic path was Mick:
My chemistry teacher called was Mick Dagless and his teaching was hugely exciting to me. I hated chemistry, but this guy taught me to love it and my whole career has been on the edge of chemistry and physics.”

Mike’s performances in a green and white shirt are still remembered fondly by those who saw his exquisite skills.
It wasn’t just on the terraces where Dagless was so greatly revered either be it his teammates or his student he is recognised as a class act and the mark of the man that he is so highly spoken of.



  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Andrew Dodds co-writer and interviewer for the original match day programme version of this article.

Mick Dagless himself for helping with this article.

Chris Sanderson for his memory and knowledge of the local game.

Neil Pont & Alan Head of the Northumberland County Schools FA for their help.

Alan Matthews Chairman of  North Shields FC for this help with information & images of Mick’s time at North Sheilds.

Michael Cook for this help with information & images of Alnwick Town FC.

Martin Hunter for his records of Blyth Spartans goalscorers.

Ken Sproat who’s superb history book  ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘ is a great source of reference.

The following website was used as a source of information:




Posted in FA Amateur Cup, FA Cup, Green & White Cult Heroes, Players | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

For club and country

2014 saw the 125th Anniversary of the world’s second oldest football league:
The Northern League.

125 logoA commemorative book was launched there was exhibitions, a celebratory dinner, but to mark 125 years to the exact day that the league was formed in the Brown’s Hotel in Durham City, a team consisting of the league’s best current crop of players took on an FA Representative XI.

While Blyth Spartans may left the Northern League some 20 years ago seeking new challenges, having been members of the league for 30 seasons winning the title 10 times in the process (still to this day Blyth remain the last unbeaten Champions) and having hosted the league’s Centenary game back in May 1989 the fact the club played some part in the celebrations was only fitting.

However the part the club pphoto(26)layed was to supply 7 players for the FA Representative XI, which in itself was a huge credit to the club.
The Spartans 7: Left to Right:
Lewis Horner, Nathan Buddle, Danny Parker, Connor Grant, Daniel Maguire, Matthew Wade, Arran Wearmouth.
Far right is Paul Fairclough manager of the England C side who managed the FA side on the night.
To receive FA recognition was great reward for the players but being against the Northern League XI in that celebration game it took the club full circle back to being the only Northern League club that supplied players to the very first England Semi Professional team.

2 years after the abolition of the amateur status in 1974 the FA set up an Ad Hoc Committee upon the request of the Emergency Committee of the FA to organise the re-introduction of certain FA XI Representative games against the Services, Universities and other organisations that had played in some of the many games against the old FA Amateur XI sides. The 1st oJohn Watersonf these games took place in January 1976 against a Royal Air Force XI at Wealdstone which the FA XI won 2-1, the next game in March 76’ took place at York City’s Bootham Cresent against a Universities Athletic Union XI and Spartans right back John Waterson played in the 1-0 victory.

But it was the make up of that FA XI that was far more interesting the starting eleven included 2 players who within a couple of years became John’s teammates in that famous cup run side, North Shields midfielder Keith Houghton and Bishop Auckland forward Alan Shoulder.
However 3 other names stand out, the Boston United player manager Howard Wilkinson, who would later go on to manager the England C side, Under 21 & have 2 spells as caretaker of the England full side. The 2 other are very notable and all together stranger for their inclusion in a FA XI side that was supposedly for Non League footballers, they were World Cup winners Nobby Stiles & Bobby Charlton. Neither were still playing at the time having been Manager & Assistant at Preston North End earlier that season. Stiles returned to Preston NE as manager having initially resigned in support of Charlton when he quit over the John Bird transfer to Newcastle United saga.
John was again called into the FA XI side for the following years York fixture against Universities Athletic Union and once again lined up along side Bobby Charlton in the 2-2 draw, although this time ‘R.Charlton’ was officially as ‘guest’ player.

The FA XI representative fixtures continued up and down the country just as they had for the original FA XI Amateur side before 1974 but with no international recognition available for the top Non League players the games carried little importance other than giving the players recognition for the performances, unlike the old FA XI Amateur team that represented the county at the Olympics !.
In the 70’s the FA XI team’s weren’t the only Representative games a player could get selected for, Rothmans groundbreaking sponsorship deal with Non League football had led to sponsored leagues, an Inter-League Challenge competition and in 1978 they organised a Rothmans Tour, taken a nationally selected squad to the Canary Islands.
No Blyth players featured in the first tour but the party did include 3 Northern League players Spennymoor’s Dave Curry, Tow Law’s Fred Hissett and Bishop Auckland’s Alan Shoulder who played in all 4 games and scored twice in the 6-3 win over a Las Palmas Under 23 side.
The following year a Spartan did make the squad when Dave Clarke was called up along with Brandon United’s Colin Hammond & Tommy Holden as well as Derek Hampton from Whitby, Clarke played in the 2-1 victory over Tenerife and the 0-1 defeat to Las Palmas.

While Clarke’s performances for the Spartans earned him a somewhat exotic reward to play for a representative side his trip to the Canaries is somewhat local compared to the reward bestowed upon midfielder Mick Dagless for his efforts in the clubs historic 1973/74 season. Mick was selected in the Middlesex Wanderers squad for their summer tour of Malaysia!.

  • mwThe Middlesex Wanderers were formed in 1905 by brothers Bob and Horace Alaway to provide recognition to those players deserving of such,
    whom, through differing circumstances, may well not have been given national recognition, tours to more than forty countries with the vision of establishing a touring football club to promote goodwill through the “beautiful game” to some countries in Europe.
  • As standards improved in Europe the Wanderers looked further afield and toured in the Caribbean and Africa in the 60s and 70s. WANDERERS More recently they have visited Vietnam, Burma and The Gambia, the players are selected from senior non-league clubs and it’s viewed as a considerable honour to tour the far-flung corners of the world playing for the Wanderers.
    8 Blyth Spartans players have been selected to tour with Middlesex Wanderers: –
    – Mick Dagless toured Malaysia in May/June 1975. –
    – John Waterson captained the touring party for South Korea in the September 1977.
    – Dave Clarke went to Malaysia and Singapore in May 1979.
    – Tommy Dixon was on the August/September 1983 tour to Bangladesh.
    – Bobby Scaife traveled to Indonesia in May 1984.
    – Peter Cartwright went to Indonesia in April 1985 and the Netherlands in May 1986.
    – Paul Walker was on the tour to Indonesia in May/June 1988
    and as recently as 2007 Robbie Dale was selected for the tour of Tanzania.

By 1978 the countless FA XI fixtures had began to lose their appeal and without a purpose clubs weren’t keen on sending players to take part in extra games which many considered of little importance, so by the summer of 1978 plans were already in place for an International Tournament for which an England Semi Professional team was required and give the FA XI’s some importance.
The news pleased many important figures who worked hard to keep the Non league game going strong, the FA Non League Football Annual edited by the influential Non League figure Tony Williams stated:
“The gap between the glamorous but at times rather unreal ‘amateur’ days has been bridged, and hopefully we can look forward to a new and exciting English International squad representing their country with distinction at Semi Professional level for years to come”
Howard Wilkinson was now part of Ron Greenwood’s backroom team and he was appointed manager of the Semi Pro team and aided by his assistant Keith Wright they tasked regional coaches to ‘produce a team worthy of representing it’s country’.

The selection process for the inaugural Semi Pro squad was aided by the new
O.C.S Inter-League Cup (Office Cleaning Services), the Cup saw the Northern League play the Northern Premier League at the Brewery Field, Spennymoor on Monday 23rd April,
the NPL won 2-1 after extra time having come from 0-1 down.
The Spartans had 3 players in the side, Dave Clarke, Tommy Dixon & Les Mutrie.
The Southern League beat the Berger Isthmian League 3-0 in the other game to set up a Final at Huish, Yeovil on 13th May which the Southern League won 1-0.
When the final squad selection came around it was a genuine surprise that neither Dave Clarke nor Tommy Dixon made it into the final 18 man squad, Clarke especially was a shock omission he was widely regarded as the ‘finest’ keeper outside the professional game and had already been awarded Player of the Year for his part in the famous 1977/78 season.
Tommy Dixon could count himself extremely unfortunate to never get the call up as a lynchpin in the highly successful Blyth side of the 70’s he featured in every single FA XI game against the Northern League but surprisingly never call the cap he deserved. Forward Les Mutrie did make the squad and there was a surprise inclusion for Spartans midfielder Keith Houghton who hadn’t featured in any of the selection games. The squad had training games victories over Barton Rovers, Moor Green & Telford United before their opening game of the tournament on 31st May against Scotland at Stafford Rangers.


The 1st ever England Semi Pro squad featuring Les Mutrie & Keith Houghton.

The first Four National Semi Professional Tournament was staged from May 31st – June 2nd at Northwich and Stafford and featured Italy Serie C
U-21, Netherlands Amateurs and Scotland Semi-Pro. England’s first game was on 31st May when they beat the old enemy Scotland 5-1, Les Mutrie & Keith Houghton both started. Mutrie had the honour of scoring on his debut for England after a poor clearance from the Scottish keeper was swifted dispatched.
The England team for that historic game was: Jim Armold (Stafford Rangers), Brian Thompson (Yeovil Town), John Davidson (Altrincham), Dave Adamson (Boston United), Trevor Peake (Nuneaton Borough), Tony Jennings (Enfield), Eamon O’Keefe (Mossley), Brendan Phillips (Nuneaton Borough), Les Mutrie (Blyth Spartans), Keith Houghton (Blyth Spartans), Barry Whitbread (Runcorn).
Subs: Gordon Simmonite (Boston United) on for Thompson, John Watson (Wealdsone) on for Houghton.
1st cupThe Final played Stafford Rangers on 3rd June and pitted England against Holland’s all Amateur team who had beaten a volatile Italy Under 21 team 3-0 in the other Semi Final which saw 2 Italians sent off.
In a close Final England won 1-0 thanks to a Eamonn O’Keefe header from a corner in the 75th minute sealed the trophy which was presented by the Chairman of the FA Representative Match Committee Barney Mulrenan to captain Tony Jennings, with all the players having exchanged shirts at the end of the Final Jennings lifted England’s 1st Semi Pro trophy in a Holland shirt!.

Keith Houghton didn’t play in the Final losing his place to John Watson who had replaced him in the Semi Final, that was the only change between the 2 sides Howard Wilkinson fielded. The whole fortnight had been a roaring success and FA’s Administor in charge Adrian Titchcombe had proved that football at this level could be organised and played to a very high standard.

Those events of May and June weren’t the only major change to the Semi Professional game in 1979, in late April plans had been finalised for the creation of a new Alliance Premier League creating a 2 tier where the Alliance Premier was feed by the Northern Premier League and the Southern Premier League effectively pushing the Northern League a step further down the pyramid ladder.

Blyth Spartans were offered a place in the Alliance Premier League but the board decided to turn down the offer due to the extra travelling & cost involved, this in turn meant that any future Blyth players to make the Semi Professional team would be from the lower level of the game that players they were competing against for a place in the squad. FA XI at CP prog

In February 1980 Croft Park staged it’s first FA XI fixture when a Dryborough Northern League side took on a FA XI selected from Alliance & Northern Premier League club’s in the North such as Scarborough, Gateshead, Barrow, Workington & Gateshead. 5 Spartans were selected for the squad; Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Alan Walker, Tommy Dixon & Les Mutrie along with many of the stalwarts of the Northern League such as Kevin Reilly, Jackie Foster David Curry & Maurice Gormley.
The real interest on the night was the selection of a young 20-year-old winger who had earned weekly rave reviews in the Northern League.
Despite having a good game he didn’t get the call for the England Semi Pro squad but 4 years later gained an Under-21 cap and a year after that his first senior cap on 24th March in England’s 2-1 victory over Republic of Ireland, that winger was:
Chris Waddle.

Come the 1980 Tournament 4 members England’s had to secured moves to League clubs, Jim Arnold (Blackburn Rovers), Keith Houghton (Carlisle United), Eamon O’Keefe (Everton) and Trevor Peake (Coventry City) so were no longer available to England manager Keith Wright. Arnold’s move opened the door for Dave Clarke who was finally rewarded with selection along with Les Mutrie for the Tournament in Zeist, Holland.DC England
Clarke & Mutrie played in all 3 games during the tournament held from June
3rd – 7th, both started the 2-0 win over Italy then Clarke came off the bench to replace the injured Brian Parker in the 2-4 defeat by Scotland in which Les Mutrie scored. England beat Holland 2-1 in their final game to finish 2nd in the table to Tournament winners Scotland.
A sign of how much more importance the Scottish FA put on the Tournament they were far better prepared and manager Jock Stein selected a far more experience squad with some talented youngsters including an up & coming striker from St Johnstone by the name of Alastair McCoist!.

In 1981 Les Mutrie was playing for Hull City so ended his Semi Pro career with 5 caps & 2 goals, it was Italy’s turn to host the Tournament which was staged in Lucca, Empoli and Montecatini Terme between 9th – 13th June.
By now Dave Clarke was rightfully the first choice goalkeeper for England and played in all 3 games, a 2-0 win over Holland then a 0-0 draw with Scotland and the 1-1 draw with Italy to give England the trophy thanks to goal difference over the Tournament host’s.

In 1982 an extra warm-up game had been arranged in Gibraltar at the end of April was added to the full programme of FA XI representative matches to give the managers the opportunity to test promising players. There wsmithas a new face in the squad for the game at The Victoria Stadium on Tuesday April 27th, a young striker from West Midlands club Alvechurch by the name of Alan Smith had attracted plenty of attention. Smith made his debut in the 3-2 win that saw Dave Clarke watch from the bench as an unused sub.
Dave Clarke however did play in all 3 games of the Tournament held in Aberdeen, Scotland from June 1st – June 5th, which saw England draw 0-0 with Italy then beat Holland 1-0 before holding the host’s to a 1-1 draw which this year saw England lose the trophy to the hosts on goal difference!. Alan Smith played in the first 2 games but his pending move to Leicester City saw him miss out on the game against Scotland.

83 programmeThe 1983 Tournament was staged in Scarborough from May 31- June 4th and saw Blyth’s experienced defender Peter Robinson called into the squad. The Newbiggin born defender started his career as a 16 year robinsondebuting at Burnley, then in July 1980 signed for Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam in a £30,000 transfer.
He returned to the North East after a 3 year spell playing in Holland. The classy defender made his debut in the 2-0 victory over Italy but Clarke didn’t feature in the game.
Both did play in the 6-0 hammering of Holland and the 2-1 win over Scotland that sealed their 3rd Four Nation’s Trophy.

It was Italy’s turn to stage the 1984 Tournament and it was staged from June 5th – 9th in Parma, Modena and Reggio nell’Emilia.
Both Dave Clarke & Peter Robinson were included once again, the host’s finally won the Tournament at the 6th attempt, becoming the 4th country to win the Tournament they had staged. England finished Runners Up after a 3-3 draw with Holland a 2-0 victory over Scotland set up a winners takes all last game with Italy which the hosts won the 1-0.
Dave Clarke played in all 3 games while Peter Robinson was to only feature in the crucial Italy game. That game was to prove to be Dave Clarke last game for the England semi Professional side ending a wonderful period of his career with a record 14 caps all gained with selection ahead to goalkeepers from 3 leagues higher than he played at and, it also turned out to be Peter Robinson’s final cap as he moved back into full-time football with Rochdale in 1985.

The 1985 squad for the Tournament, which was won by Scotland and staged in Holland, saw no Blyth players selected for the 1st time since it’s inception.

The 1986 Tournament which was due to be staged in Scotland but was cancelled so the FA staged a series of International instead which once again Blyth players involved with midfielder Paul Walker & forward Dave Buchanan selected. Paul Walker started in England’s 1-3 defeat to Wales in Merthyr on 26th March, once the domestic season had finished England played a Republic of Ireland team in a double-header staged over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

Paul Walker v Eire Paul Walker evades a challenge at Kidderminster while Dave Buchanan is denied by the keeper at Nuneaton.

Dave Buchanan v Eire

The 2-1 victory at Kidderminster on Saturday May 24th saw Paul Walker start and
Dave Buchanan come off the bench to make his International debut.
2 days later England played Eire again at Nuneaton. England won 2-1 again and this time Dave Buchanan started while Paul Walker came off the bench this time.

  • Dave Buchanan had returned home to the North East having been released by Peterborough United in 1984 and was snapped up by the Spartans and his performances were soon attracting attention from League clubs hitting 31 goals in his first season at Croft Park. imagesDave came through as an apprentice at Filbert Street and made his league debut in the same game as Gary Lineker on News Years Day 1979 at Oldham Athletic and he was initially seen as a better prospect than Lineker. After 5 seasons at Leicester Dave signed for Peterborough United and made his debut in a Posh side featuring another future England player;
    David Seaman.

It was no surprise with a pedigree like that he was soon called up to the England SemBuchanan Sunderlandi Pro team but a return to the professional game limited his England appearances to only 2 games when Lawrie McMeneny snapped Dave up. He made his Sunderland debut in August 1986 in a 2-0 win at Huddersfield, going on to make 34 appearances scoring 8 goals. Dave had a spell on loan at York City in 87/88 season before being released and returning to Croft Park for a season then moving to Blue Star for 2 years before ending his playing career at Whitley Bay.

In 1987 the Tournament returned and was staged in Scotland this time with Italy recording the 2nd triumph but that was to be the last Four Nations for some time it disappearing from the Non League calendar for one reason or another until 2002. NL 100 PROG

In May 1989 Tottenham Hotspur’s Chris Waddle made a return to Croft Park as part of Football League XI that included Manchester United & England captain Bryan Robson that played a Representative XI including Blyth’s Neil Howie & Nigel Walker to mark the Northern League’s Centenary. Another Spartan involved in the Northern League Centenary celebrations was David Scope. The 22-year-old winger was signed from Killingworth Juniors in the summer and had made such an impact in the 7 games he played for Blyth before a Northampton Town manager Graham Carr snapped him up. One of the last games Scope played as a Spartans was to represent the club in a game at St James Park. The game in September 1989 was against a Combined Juventus & Liverpool Under 21 side.

Bartlett EnglandBy 2002 the Non League game had changed dramatically with most players of Conference clubs now being full-time professionals so it was probably no surprise that no Blyth player was selected, however that all changed in May 2007 when goalkeeper Adam Bartlett was selected for the now named England C side for his debut against Finland in Helsinki.
It was just reward for the much sought after keeper who had been released by Newcastle United as a youth player and then within a year of being the 1st Blyth player to play for his country in 21 years he went on to play in the Football League.

In November 2007, the iconic bible of all things Non League ‘The Non League Directory’ celebrated its 30th Anniversary by recognising those clubs which have achieved outstanding success over that period, editor and leading advocate of Non League football in England Tony Williams presented the club with an award to mark their unique achievements in those 30 years and to mark it’s unique record of providing players for the England Semi Pro team:
“Following on from the great FA Cup run of 1977/78 the Spartans have consistently been successful and have led the way for non league football in the region.”


Tony Williams present Chairman Tony Platten with the award with Dave Clarke & Peter Robinson watching on, along with 2 great Blyth managers Harry Dunn and Jim Pearson.

Now called the England C team home matches are played at various League and Non-League grounds around the country. Friendly matches are played with equal teams from other nations, and compete in the Four Nations Tournament each season, along with Scotland, Wales and the full Gibraltar team.
They have more recently begun playing against Under 23 teams from the likes of Belgium and Turkey, which have included players capped at full international level.

  • Weather any of the ‘Spartans 7’ go on to make the England C squad remains to be seen, either way the players can be proud of their achievement in representing their country and in doing so they now have the honour of joining an exclusive group of famous former Spartans who have earned International or Representative honours while playing for the club.
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Ladies doing it for themselves…

For many years this well known photograph of a Blyth Spartans team has exisited but few knew the intriguing story behind it:

Blyth Spartans with club officials

Even fewer knew the name of one of the town most famous footballers; Bella Reay.

The remarkable story of the Blyth Spartans Munitionettes was shown by BBC North East as part of a series that explored the tales of the British women who kept the UK moving during World War One.
The UK-wide project, World War One At Home, told more than 1400 powerful, fascinating and moving stories  across local, regional and national radio, television and online.

However the real credit for bringing the story of these remarkable ladies back to life goes to local historian Patrick Brennan.
BBC North East reporter Gerry Jackson worked with Patrick to produce the piece:

Patrick had completed atruly  superb piece of research into Blyth Spartans Ladies way back in 2006 and publish the fascinating story on his excellent local history website:

Patrick has now kindly given permission to reproduce his work.


  • Blyth Spartans Ladies 1917-1918

The battlefield carnage during the Great War created an urgent need for women to assist their country by engaging in “munitions work.”

In practical terms this could mean any activity that was directed towards the war effort, and in the case of a group of young women working on the South Docks in Blyth, it involved unloading boxes of empty shell cases which were destined for recycling, and loading ships with fresh ammunition for the front. It was hard physical work, but youth and strength were on their side, and whenever a break in the work permitted they still had enough energy to kick a football around on the nearby sands. Their efforts attracted the attention of the crew of a Royal Navy ship stationed in the harbour, and a friendly acquaintanceship grew up between the two groups, with the sailors giving the women some coaching hints.
This casual encounter was to lead to the formation of the best women’s football team that the North East has ever seen – Blyth Spartans Ladies’ F.C.

The girls take the field –
On 14th July 1917 all roads in Blyth led to Croft Park, the home of Blyth Spartans A.F.C. The ladies of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company and Palmers of Jarrow, the champions of Northumberland and Durham respectively, were to meet in a match to raise funds for the Blyth Military Merit and Homecoming Fund. The Blyth News reported that H.M. Navy would be well represented in the crowd, judging by the sale of tickets, and it is quite possible that the young women from the South Docks would have made up a party with some of their new friends. The match, which Wallsend won by four goals to nil, clearly inspired them, for two weeks later it was announced that Blyth now had its own team of lady footballers, who were “undergoing a thorough initiation into the art of controlling the elusive pigskin.” The training the ladies received was from their Navy friends.
They evidently were good pupils, for on 4th August they themselves took to the field at Croft Park in a match against their mentors. Mr. J. Bates of Bebside acted as referee, assisted by Mr. C. Ellis and Mr. W. Pithkealy.

The game was organised by Petty Officer Baker, who played at centre-forward for the “Jack Tars,” and who livened the proceedings by giving an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin at the kick-off. It was played according to the usual format of the day – that is, the men played with their hands tied behind their backs, and with this encumbrance the winning score of 7-2 to the ladies was hardly surprising. Playing at centre-forward for the women’s team was a 17-year-old girl from Cowpen, Bella Reay, who gave an early indication of her talents by bagging 6 of the goals.

Four days later it was announced that another ladies team had been formed in Blyth – the Blyth United Munitions Ladies.
A showdown between the two teams was arranged for Saturday August 18th, with the Cowpen and Crofton Workmen’s Patriotic Fund as beneficiary. Messrs. Herrons the jewellers, still a feature of the Blyth landscape today, would present a souvenir brooch to each member of the winning side, and a private donor would also present souvenir brooches to the losing side.
The teams lined up as follows:
Spartans: L. James, N. Fairless, H. Malone, A. Sample, M. O’Brien, B. Metcalfe, J. Nuttall, M. Robinson, B. Reay, D. Allen, A. Reed
United: M. Spinks, E. Davison, H. Lawton, M. Foster, J. Watson, F. Thompson, M. Shields, J. Balls, S. Atkinson, H. Harvey, M. Downey

Despite all the hype the match was a no-contest, as Spartans thrashed United by ten goals to one. Bella Reay scored seven, with Bella Metcalfe, Jennie Nuttall and Dolly Allen each getting one. Miss Downey scored a solitary consolation goal for United. The United team were clearly chastened by this experience, and never again played another ladies’ team, confining themselves to friendlies against teams drawn from the forces.

Not everyone in Blyth was pleased with this development, and tongues evidently started to wag. This prompted a letter to the Blyth News which was published on 30th August 1917. The author – “Munitioneer”, did not mince his words in defence of the lady footballers:
I have heard, more than once, some very uncharitable and uncalled-for criticism of the respectability of the young women playing these matches, certain of the “unco guid” asserting that it is not decent for them to appear in public in “knickers!” – pardon my mentioning the article of clothing that has raised their ire.May I say that these girls are doing an excellent work of charity in playing. We cannot all subscribe hard cash to the hundred and one deserving funds now calling for our support. They are doing their bit by work; all honour to them.I should like to suggest that they are more decently dressed in the “unmentionable” garments than their prurient minded critics who are parading the streets in blouses open nearly to the waist and skirts too short for a girl of 12.
I am working with these girls and I am proud of it. Some of them are a bit boisterous, but they all have hearts as big as a lion. If some of the weak-minded and weak-kneed could only have seen them stick in manfully during the recent inclement weather they would feel reassured that there is no possible doubt of our winning the war while we have such women (heroines I call them) as mothers of the race.

It is fairly clear from this letter that the “uncalled-for criticism” was coming from other women.

The Munitionettes’ Cup
Two days after Spartans’ emphatic win against Blyth United, the Newcastle Daily Chronicle carried an article entitled “Munition Girls’ Challenge Cup”. A solid silver trophy had been donated for a knock-out competition to be held between Munition Girls. The competition would be organised along the following lines; charitable organisations would apply for cup-ties to be allocated to them, and they would be expected to make all the necessary arrangements. The teams would turn up on the day and play, and whatever takings were made at the gate would go to charity. It was envisaged that charities such as Soldiers’ Welcome Home Funds, Prisoner of War Funds, Aged Miners’ Homes, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans Funds and such like would be supported in this way. The official title of the trophy was the “Alfred Wood Munition Girls Challenge Cup,” but it was invariably referred to as the “Munitionettes’ Cup.”

The term “Munition Girls” was to be interpreted rather widely; “Ladies’ teams from Tyneside District drawn from any establishment or concern such as works, factories, mills, railways, tramways, collieries, shops etc. will be allowed to compete.” This description clearly covered the work being carried out by the Blyth Spartans, and they were one of the first teams to sign up for the competition.

The cup draw was set for the end of September, and the Spartans used the time intervening to get in some match practice. On 15th September they played once more against the “Jack Tars,” this time at Seghill, and succeeded in beating them 5-3 on this occasion, with goals from Bella Reay (2), Jenny Nuttall (2) and Nellie Fairless. However, playing against men’s teams, and weaker sides such as Blyth United had given the Spartans a false sense of confidence. Their next match brought them down to earth with a bump. Their opponents were Wallsend Slipway, a highly-experienced side, who had been playing since early February. The match, at Croft Park, was in aid of the widow and family of Peter Mackin, a popular local footballer, who had been killed in action on Easter Monday. Used to scoring freely, the Spartans found Slipway a tougher proposition altogether, and the game ended in a tense 0-0 draw.

The Munitionettes’ Cup draw went ahead at Shield’s Cafe in the Bigg Market, Newcastle on 26th September, and Spartans were drawn against Aviation Athletic. This team was based at Armstrong-Whitworth’s aeroplane assembly factory at Grandstand Road, Gosforth. According to the rules of the competition teams were drawn neither home nor away, but played wherever the sponsoring charity asked them to. It was expected however that Spartans’ first round tie would be played at Blyth.

The team’s next match was played at New Hartley on 6th October in aid of the local Military Merit and Homecoming Fund. The visitors were Palmer’s of Jarrow, another strong side. There were two changes from the side which had played Blyth United; Ada Reed and Jennie Nuttall had swapped positions, and Lizzie Lowery replaced M. Robinson at inside right. Spartans’ experience against Wallsend Slipway had taught them not to underestimate their opponents, a lesson they had learned well, as they defeated Palmer’s by three clear goals, two scored by Bella Reay and one by Jennie Nuttall.

On 13th October Spartans played at Burradon, against a team made up of local ladies, in aid of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Comforts Fund. Jennie Nuttall was again picked for the left wing, but on this occasion it was not as Jennie Nuttall that she turned up to play. Instead, it was as the newly-married Jennie Morgan, having hurried from St Cuthbert’s church at Blyth to take part in the game. She celebrated her wedding by getting two goals in Spartans’ 4-1 win, the other two being scored by Bella Reay and Ada Reed.

New Hartley had been fixed for the team’s first round Munitionettes’ Cup tie, and the date was set for October 20th. It had to be postponed, however, as the Sporting Man bluntly commented, “owing to the military authorities refusing to allow the game to proceed, although expense has been incurred.” This was probably due to the local military commander deciding he wanted to use the ground on the day. At the commencement of the war many football grounds had been commandeered by the Army, as they were ideal for practising field gun drills and other such exercises.

For their next outing Spartans travelled to Morpeth, to play a team drawn from the Post Office. The match took place on the Grange House Field in aid of the Rose Cottage Hospital and the local War Heroes’ Fund. Florrie Harris replaced Dolly Allen at inside-left in the Spartans’ line-up, which was otherwise unchanged. It promised to be a baptism of fire for the Post Office girls, as it was their first-ever competitive game, but they did not do too badly, restricting the Blyth girls to a 3-0 scoreline, the goals coming from Bella Reay (2) and Ada Reed.

On 3rd November Spartans faced Wallsend Slipway again. The venue was Seaton Delaval, in aid of the local R.A.O.B. War Memorial Fund. From the start Slipway made clear their determination to prove themselves champions of Northumberland, and were leading by a single goal at half-time. Spartans fought hard on the resumption, but although they kept the play in their opponents’ half, their shooting was off-target. It looked as if Spartans were heading for their first defeat, but then Bella Reay received the ball in an open position, and her first time shot gave the Slipway keeper no chance. The game finished at one goal apiece, leaving the question of who could claim to be “top dogs” still undecided. This was felt to be unsatisfactory by both teams, and a third meeting was arranged for 29th December to try to resolve the issue.

The postponed cup tie with the Gosforth Aviation team finally took place on 17th November at New Delaval, the proceeds being for the St John’s Ambulance Society. Spartans were back to full strength with the return of Dolly Allen at inside-left, and she showed how important she was to the side by getting the first goal within ten minutes. Further goals followed from Bella Reay (2) and Ada Reed, and after half-an-hour Spartans were 4-0 up. Emma Waters, the Gosforth centre-forward, managed to get one back before the interval with a lucky shot which bounced off one of the Spartans’ full-backs. After half-time Spartans eased off, which was the signal for Emma Waters to launch a number of individual assaults on their goal, from one of which she scored a second. As the final whistle neared Spartans got going again, with both Bella Reay and Ada Reed coming close, but there was no further score, and Spartans had secured their passage into the second round. The draw had already taken place, so they knew their opponents would be North East Marine Engineering of Wallsend – another strong team from Tyneside whose captain, Bella Carrott, was a particularly skillful player, and who would later captain the first England Ladies International team.

For their next game, against Sunderland Ladies, Spartans made one change, Annie Allen coming in at inside-right in place of Lizzie Lowery. The Sunderland Echo had difficulty in getting their name right, referring to them as “Blyth Spurs.” The venue was the Sunderland Rovers ground at Hendon, the original home of Sunderland AFC in the 1880’s. The Sunderland team was somewhat unusual in that it was not a works-based side, but had been formed as a result of an advertisement placed in the Daily Echo, seeking ladies to play football to raise funds for Sunderland Hospitals. Whatever their pedigree, the Sunderland team was no match for Blyth Spartans, who returned home with a 5-0 victory.

Coincidentally, 5-0 was also the score two weeks later when Spartans faced a side described as “Newcastle Ladies.” This was something of a misnomer, as the side was not representative of the city of Newcastle, but was in fact the works team of Angus Sanderson’s motor assembly factory. The match, which was in aid of the Red Cross, was staged at the Morpeth Road ground in Blyth, rather than Croft Park, and the visitors were given a tremendous welcome, being met at Blyth station by the band of the 3rd Battalion, Northumberland Volunteers and escorted to the ground. This must have lifted their spirits, for in the first half they held their own against the Spartans, and half-time arrived without any score being recorded. In the second half Spartans’ fitness and match experience began to tell, Bella Reay opening the score, and following up with a further three goals, one of which was a penalty. The fifth and final goal came from a cross from Jennie Morgan to Dollie Allen, who sent in a fierce shot. As was customary on these occasions, both teams were entertained to tea at St John’s Hall by their hosts, and thanked for their services.

This match probably cost Bella Reay an international opportunity; a ladies’ international had been arranged to take place in Belfast on Boxing Day, and Bella had been selected to take part in a trial match at Wallsend, playing for the “Possibles” against the “Probables.” With her goalscoring abilities she would have been a hot favourite for the position of centre-forward, but by electing to turn out instead for Blyth Spartans she passed up this chance. Whether other factors contributed to this unfortunate turn of events is not known.

Christmas Day in the early part of the last century was not a time for relaxing in front of the television and trying to digest the Christmas dinner. There was no television, or radio for that matter. For this reason Christmas Day football matches were both common, and popular. On Christmas Day 1917 the good citizens of Blyth turned out in large numbers to see Spartans play their Munitionette Cup rivals Gosforth Aviation. The match, at Cowpen Square, was in aid of the Duke of Wellington Social Club’s Parcel Fund. Spartans attacked strongly from the kick-off, and took the lead after only a few minutes with a goal from Dolly Allen. Bella Reay quickly added another two, as Gosforth found themselves hemmed in in their own half, unable to break out. Just before the interval Jennie Morgan added a fourth goal. Although helped by a strong breeze in the second half, Gosforth could make little progress, and Bella Reay was able to complete her hat-trick. The final goal, a penalty, was put away by right-half Agnes Sample, to make the final score a convincing 6-0 win for Spartans.

December 29th had now come round, and it was time for Blyth Spartans and Wallsend Slipway to settle some unresolved business. The third meeting between the teams took place at Portland Park, Ashington, in aid of the Ashington Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Christmas Gifts Fund. As expected there was a large crowd in attendance to see the female gladiators battle for the (unofficial) title of the best ladies’ team in Northumberland. The Wallsend team included no less than four members of the England side that had won 4-1 in Belfast three days earlier. One of these, Ethel Jackson, was not even a Slipway player, being the regular centre-forward for the neighbouring North East Marine. Things looked bleak for Spartans when their captain, Bella Metcalfe, had to leave the field with a sprained ankle after only ten minutes’ play. Substitutes were still a thing of the future, and Spartans had to continue with only ten players. They wisely switched one of their forwards to defence, and the weakened forward line hammered away at Slipway’s defence until just before the interval, when Bella Reay made an individual run through and scored the vital first goal.

In the second half Wallsend fought hard for an equaliser, Ethel Jackson in particular making many attempts to get through, but on each occasion being held up by a rock-solid Spartans defence. With two minutes to go Spartans almost added a second; a Bella Reay shot beat the goalkeeper only to hit the upright, and from the rebound Annie Allen fired in a shot which caught a Slipway player and went out for a corner. The final whistle marked the end of the game, and a superb 1-0 win for Spartans against the toughest opponents they had faced so far.

“From the sublime to the ridiculous,” – so it must have seemed for Spartans when they faced their next opponents, Sunderland Ladies, on 2nd January 1918. This was not the Sunderland Ladies team they had beaten 5-0 on 1st December, but the works team of Webster’s rope factory. They were back in action at their favourite Croft Park, though the pitch was in poor condition and the ground very heavy. The game was a complete mismatch; the 5,000 spectators present must have felt nothing but pity for the Sunderland girls as Bella Reay scored six goals before half-time, bringing her personal tally so far to 77. In the second half she left it to her colleagues to extend the lead, and they were more than up to the task, with Ada Reed adding the seventh goal, Annie Allen getting a brace, and a Dollie Allen penalty adding the tenth nail to the Sunderland coffin.

Trouble on the terraces
The Blyth Spartans team had now formed themselves into a well-honed footballing machine. The stability of their team, as well as the individual skills of its members gave them a tremendous advantage over opponents who were scratch sides at best, or lacked the Spartans’ extensive match practice. Their opponents in the second round of the Munitionettes’ Cup, North East Marine, were by no means novices themselves. As mentioned earlier, their captain, Bella Carrot, had captained the England side in Belfast, and two other N.E.M. players, Hilda Weygood and Ethel Jackson had taken part in that game. The two sides met at a most prestigious venue – St James’s Park, Newcastle, on 12th January. The match was in aid of the Joseph and Jane Cowen Training Home at Benwell, and Sir Thomas Oliver performed the customary formal kick-off. The conditions were poor, with the pitch covered with snow, and this favoured the bigger and heavier Spartans side. Play was fairly fast to begin with, and both goals were visited in turn, but Spartans soon got the upper hand. Ada Reed got the first goal, and then Bella Reay opened up firing on all cylinders, adding a further four goals before half-time. She continued in like manner after the interval, but her fifth goal was hotly disputed by the N.E.M. players, who claimed it was offside. When the referee refused to change his decision N.E.M. walked off the field. The pitch was invaded by spectators, and a heated argument ensued. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the organisers were making frantic efforts to persuade N.E.M. to return, fearing a riot if they refused and the crowd demanded their money back. After an anxious fifteen minutes N.E.M. agreed to restart the game, but the farce was not yet over as the referee now refused to take any further part in the proceedings. Fortunately a substitute referee was found, and the game continued, Bella Reay rubbing salt in the wound by notching up a seventh goal. Ethel Wilson managed to get one back for N.E.M., but it was too late, and their cup run was over, in circumstances which they could not have imagined, and certainly would have wished to avoid.

Spartans had now reached the third round of the Munitionettes’ Cup, in which their opponents would be Armstrong’s Naval Yard at Walker. The tie was fixed for 23rd February at Westoe, South Shields, and in the run-up to this game Spartans fitted in an 8-0 thrashing of Morpeth Post Office Girls, in which Bella Reay scored another seven goals, and a 4-2 victory over Jarrow Palmers. Against the Naval Yard they took control from the start and breezed past them into the semi-final by a margin of three goals to nil. (Some newspapers, notably the Newcastle Journal, mistakenly reported this game as the semi-final) They should have scored four, but Bella Reay surprisingly missed an early penalty. She did however score two of Spartans’ goals.

The competition had been organised on a “seeded” basis, with the Tyneside and Northumberland clubs being in one half of the draw, and the Teesside clubs in the other half. This ensured a North-South confrontation in the final, and helped to contain travelling costs in the earlier rounds. It also meant that the semi-final, in which Spartans’ opponents were Armstrong-Whitworth’s 57 Shell Shop would be, in effect, the Northern section championship.

St James’s Park was the venue for the semi-final, and 10,000 spectators made their way there on the afternoon of March 9th 1918. Play was evenly balanced for the first 30 minutes, with each side testing the other, but then Spartans made a breakthrough with a goal from Annie Allen. 57 Shop came back however, and Ethel Wallace equalised just before half-time. Play resumed in the second half much as in the first, with the sides engaged in a ding-dong battle in which the respective defences had the upper hand. With five minutes to go a draw seemed inevitable, but two minutes later Bella Reay eluded her markers, and dashed through to score a fine individual goal. 57 Shop frantically piled on the attacks, and gained a corner, but before it could be taken the referee blew for full time, and Spartans advanced to the final with a 2-1 victory.

The Teesside section semi-final had taken place on the same day at Darlington Forge Albion’s ground, the opposing sides representing Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. of South Bank, and the Rise Carr steel mill at Darlington. It ended in a 1-1 draw, necessitating a replay. This was played the following weekend at South Bank, and Bolckow, Vaughan gained the victory with a single goal from their captain, Winnie McKenna, who had established a goalscoring reputation in the south of the region equal to that of Bella Reay in the north.

The final was fixed for 30th April 1918 at St James’s Park. There was high excitement in Blyth at the prospect, and the band of the 3rd Battalion Northumberland Volunteers was given permission by their commanding officer to travel with the team on the 12:30 train from Blyth. Bob Pailor, the pre-war Newcastle United centre-forward was to referee the game, which would be recorded for posterity for a newsreel company. The team selected to represent Spartans was as follows: Lizzie James, Hannah Malone, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe (capt.), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dollie Allen, Jennie Morgan. The Bolckow, Vaughan team was not published. The game ended in a 0-0 stalemate, which is probably why I have been able to find only one newspaper account of the event.
This appeared in the Shields Daily News, and is reproduced below.

Weather conditions were no better than Friday when the Bolckow-Vaughan’s played the Blyth Spartans for the Tyne, Wear and Tees Munitionettes’ Cup Final at St. James’s Park, Newcastle, on Saturday. But a crowd of about 15,000 persons assembled, and followed the game with the greatest interest.A strong opening was made by Blyth, but the Bolckows proved a good match, and when they had once got going proved themselves no easy opponents. No goals were scored in the first half, but there were some exciting moments. A shot from Reay, the Spartans’ centre, bounced on the crossbar, and then Powell, rushing in, all but scored for the Teessiders. A penalty was granted when, during an exciting moment around the Blyth goal, Malone handled.In the second half Blyth again opened vigorously, but, owing to the smart play of McKenna for the Teessiders, a corner was forced. There followed in quick succession five corners for Bolckow’s. Reay would have scored an easy goal for Blyth, but Kirk thwarted her efforts. There was keen play to the last, but no goals were scored.

Needless to say, no trace of the newsreel film can be found.

The replay was delayed for some time, due to difficulties encountered in arranging a venue. There seemed to be no difficulties in securing suitable grounds for these matches, so the likely scenario is that Bolckow’s were holding out for the South Bank ground, but Spartans would not agree, on the grounds that this was Bolckow’s home pitch. Spartans went ahead with a busy schedule of matches while negotiations continued; on 1st April they travelled to Jarrow to play the women of Palmer’s shipyard. Spartans won the game 4-2, with goals from Ada Reed, Bella Reay and two from Violet Bryant, who had been “borrowed” from the Wallsend Slipway team. The trip was significant for another reason; they would have seen a young inside forward named Mary Lyons for the first time. She was to play an important part in Spartans’ future success. A match against Birtley scheduled for 6th April at Seaton Delaval failed to take place when the Birtley team got on the wrong train, and did not arrive at the ground until 5.30 pm.

Spartans were the first team, other than district representative sides, to play outside the North East, when on 20th April they journeyed to Brunton Park, Carlisle to face the Carlisle Munition Ladies. The defence remained unchanged, but the forward line included two new names – Ethel Jackson of Wallsend Slipway and Mary Lyons of Jarrow.
The venture was a success; Spartans returned 3-0 winners with goals from Jennie Morgan and Bella Reay (2)

Carlisle Munitionettes

Carlisle Munitionettes

In common with most Cumbrian sides, they played in skirts, which must have hampered them considerably
(photograph courtesy of Sheila Angus)

On 4th May Armstrong-Whitworth’s 57 Shop visited Blyth, but with a below-strength team, only nine players having made the journey. This almost certainly contributed to their 6-0 defeat. Lyons played again for Spartans, and there was another new name at right-back – S. Rhodes in place of Hannah Malone. The following weekend they were once again at St James’s Park, but this time it was not the famous Newcastle football ground, but the similarly-named park in Alnwick which was the venue. Their opponents were Armstrong-Whitworth’s 60 Shop, who faced a Spartans team which the press described as “weakened,” but without giving any details. Weakened or not, Spartans proved more than a match for 60 Shop, with a 4-2 victory in which Bella Reay bagged another hat-trick.
This was the first time women’s football teams had been seen in Alnwick and District, and the event was a success, raising £43 for the Discharged Soldiers’and Sailors’ Federation

The cup comes to Blyth
On 14th May it was announced that the teams had agreed to replay the Munitionettes’ Cup Final at Ayresome Park on the following Saturday. Spartans made one change from the team they had fielded in the first encounter; Mary Lyons of Jarrow was drafted in at inside-left in place of Dolly Allen. The fact that Mary had already played in the tournament for Palmers did not seem to worry the organisers. Another apparent change, at left-back, was the name of Hannah Weir, but this was, in fact, Hannah Malone playing under her newly-married name. The two teams lined up as follows:

Blyth Spartans: Lizzie James, Hannah Weir, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe (capt.), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Mary Lyons, Jennie Morgan
Bolckow, Vaughan: Greta Kirk, V. Martin, Amelia Farrell, E. Rowell, Emily Milner, Anne Wharton, Mary Mahon, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna (capt.), Gladys Reece, A. Leach

22,000 spectators turned up to witness the showdown. Bolckow’s won the toss, and Spartans had to kick off facing the sun and the wind. It did not disadvantage them however, and within ten minutes they had taken the lead through Jennie Morgan. Bolckow’s made tremendous efforts to equalise, the crowd cheering Winnie McKenna whenever she got the ball, but Martha O’Brien had her well under control and made sure she had no chance to score. The interval came with Spartans still leading by a single goal.

The second half saw Spartans at their very best; their half-back line was solid, not only breaking up the Bolckow attacks but carrying the play forward, making it possible for their own forwards to maintain constant pressure on the Bolckow defence. The Blyth News reported that “Bella Reay and Mary Lyons were in their element, the former completing the hat-trick. The latter was repeatedly cheered to the echo for her work and dribbling, which reached a point of brilliance when, beating four opponents in succession, she dashed through and beat the fifth, the goalkeeper, thus securing the fifth and last goal.” After their lacklustre performance in the first meeting this was a tremendous achievement for Spartans, and they came home to a heroes’, or rather heroines’ welcome. One might have expected the team to have rested on their laurels for a little while; not so the football-mad Spartans. Two days after the final they entertained Armstrong-Whitworth’s 58 Shop at Croft Park. The Munitionettes’ Cup was on display, to the delight of their fans, and Spartans gave them more to be happy about by beating 58 Shop 4-0. Bella Reay scored one goal and Mary Lyons, who had become almost a regular in the side, celebrated with a hat-trick, a remarkable achievement considering she was only 14 years old!

Blyth Spartans with Alfred Wood cupBlyth Spartans Munition Girls – Munitionette Cup Winners 1918
Back Row: Hannah Weir, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless
Centre Row: Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe
Front Row: Dollie Allan, Annie Allan, Bella Reay, Ada Reed(?), Jennie Morgan
(photograph courtesy of Yvonne Crawford)

Bolckow Vaughan ladies FC 1918

Bolckow, Vaughan Ladies – Munitionette Cup Runners-up 1918
Back Row: Emily Milner, Amelia Farrell, Greta Kirk, Violet Sharples
Front Row : Elizabeth Powell, Mary Mohan, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna, Gladys Reece, Olive Percival, Anne Wharton
(photograph courtesy of Peter McNaughton; identifications thanks to John O’Neill, Grangetown in Times Past)

Although the cup had been presented to Spartans immediately after their victory at Ayresome Park, a more formal presentation took place at the Theatre Royal in Blyth on 31st May. Jonathan Ridley, President of the Northumberland Football Association, handed the Cup to Mr. R. Thompson, the Secretary of the Blyth Spartans team. In doing so he said that his audience would agree, “that if ever there was a team that deserved a set of medals these girls deserved them. They had had many good football teams in Blyth, but never one with the record the ladies possessed. They had won the Ladies’ Challenge Cup and had played the whole of their ties away from home. Since August 1917 they had played 30 games, and had won 26, drawn 4 and lost none, and the goal-getter – ‘Wor Bella’ had scored 133 goals. The team had travelled through the principal parts of the three adjoining counties playing for charity, and the sum reached was over £2,000.” Responding, Mr. Thompson thanked both the Chairman, Colonel Christie, and Mr Ridley for their interest in the team, and also Mr. D. Hardy, who had been so confident in the success of the team that he had offered the use of the theatre for this ceremony long before the close of the competition. They were all very proud of the team’s record, which had not been achieved without some sacrifice and self-denial. In closing, he too thanked the public for the support they had shown the team.

Blyth Spartans with club officials

Blyth Spartans with their supporters
front row: Dollie Summers, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dolly Allen, Jennie Morgan
second row: R. Thompson, Agnes Sample, Martha O’ Brien, Bella Metcalfe, Ted Ellis
third row: W. Fairless, G. Bird, Julia Stevens, Mrs Fawcett, M. Carr, Jim McNally, W. Campbell
back row: “Easy” Baker, Hannah Malone, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless, Steve (surname unknown)
(photograph courtesy of Yvonne Crawford)

Jennie Morgan's medal
Munitionettes’ Cup – winner’s medal awarded to Jennie Morgan

(photograph courtesy of John Morgan)

Their season was not yet over; on 25th May a return match against the Carlisle Munition Ladies took place at Croft Park. Spartans fielded the same team that had won the Cup – with one exception, Rhodes coming in for Lyons at inside-left. Carlisle were the first to make a serious attack on goal, their left winger Howson putting in a speculative shot which was saved. Spartans responded by besieging the Carlisle goal, and forced a corner after three minutes. Martha O’Brien connected with the ball as it crossed the penalty area and sent it into the net for Spartans’ first goal. Carlisle continued to mount attacks, being particularly dangerous down the right flank, and from one of these sorties their right winger sent in a shot that James had to go full-length to save. Play was end-to-end, and on Spartans’ next attack Annie Allen managed to put the ball beyond the reach of the Carlisle keeper for the second goal.

Spartans thought they had a third goal a short while later when a Carlisle defender miskicked in front of goal. The keeper failed to stop the ball, and when another defender ran across and cleared it from the goalmouth it was claimed that it had crossed the line. Play stopped, but the referee had not blown for a goal, so the game was restarted with a bounce-up. There was no further score in the first half, but after the interval Spartans stepped up a gear, Bella Reay getting a hat-trick. This brought her personal tally to a remarkable 113.

Spartans had three more games before they took a well-earned summer break. On 15th June they played Walker Naval Yard at Croft Park, winning by 3 goals to nil – another Bella Reay hat-trick.
On June 22nd a large crowd made their way to the Friarage Field, Hartlepool, to see them take on a Hartlepool representative side, but Blyth Spartans were not playing!.
Instead, it was a composite team, with only members drawn from Blyth Spartans, the rest coming from Wallsend Slipway, North East Marine, and Bolckow, Vaughan. It is not clear whether or not this was a deliberate ploy by the organisers to get a bigger attendance, but the crowd were disappointed, although they did see Bella Reay score the only goal of the game.

Their last match of the season was held, fittingly enough, at Croft Park, against a side representing the North of England. The teams lined up as follows:
Blyth Spartans: Lizzie James, S. Rhodes, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe, Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Mary Lyons, Jennie Morgan
North of England: Ada Shaw (60 Shop), Maggie Short (Slipway), Amelia Farrell (South Bank), Bella Willis (60 Shop), Ethel Jackson (NEM), Annie Wharton (South Bank),
Ethel Wallace (57 Shop), Minnie Seed (Naval Yard), Winnie McKenna (South Bank),
Violet Bryant (Naval Yard), Lizzie McConnell (Slipway)

The game got off to a sensational start, Bella Reay charging through on her own and scoring within the first few seconds with a well-hit drive. The stunned North of England team rallied, and worked hard through the remainder of the first half to get an equaliser, but several promising runs by Minnie Seed, the Sunderland international, failed due to her holding on to the ball too long.

In the second half Jennie Morgan gave the North of England no end of problems, but it was from the centre that the second goal came. Bella Metcalfe released Reay with a clever pass, and the latter eluded a desperate tackle to stab the ball wide of the keeper. A fitting unbeaten finish to the season for a remarkable team!

The team’s season had closed, but for Bella Reay there remained two more matches before she could hang up her boots. On 6th July she played for a North of England side against the so-called “Tyneside Internationals.” This was the team which had defeated Ireland on Boxing Day. The match took place at St. James’s Park in Newcastle, and attracted a crowd of 4,000 who witnessed a 1-1 draw. Two weeks later, on 20th July, she was at St. James’s Park again, this time as an international herself, playing in her favourite centre-forward position against a Scottish representative side. Also making her debut as an international was Mary Lyons, who had played an important role for Spartans in the latter half of the season. The match was a rough affair, and some of the Scots women had to be cautioned by the referee. It ended in a 3-2 win for England, but Bella for once failed to find the net.

It seems incredible that Bella Reay was the only member of the Spartans side to achieve this recognition, especially when one considers that the Blyth Spartans team itself could probably have beaten any international side of the day. The organisation of Munitionette football was, however, controlled from Tyneside, and one suspects that an element of favouritism may have been at work.

Bella Reay
Bella Reay
The reverse side carries the following inscription in Bella’s own hand:
“Bella Reay age 17 in Blyth Ladies Spartan team
Trained by Navy Lads whose boat was in Blyth Harbour”
(photograph courtesy of Yvonne Crawford)

– Now you see them, now you don’t
When the 1918-19 football season commenced, the supporters and players of Blyth Spartans Ladies’ FC were no doubt looking forward to further success on the field. Sadly, they were to be disappointed. The season began in unremarkable fashion on 31st August, with a visit from the women of Angus Sanderson, Newcastle. It was known in advance that this would be the last match at Croft Park; the Navy and Garrison department had requisitioned the ground and would take possession on September 1st. There were a number of new faces in the Spartans line-up; the Blyth News reported that the team would be selected from the following: M. King (captain), N. Fairless, H. Weir, A. Sample, M. O’Brien, B. Metcalfe, A. Allen, S. Rhodes, B. Reay, J. Morgan, M. Jayne, N. Cocks, N. Scruffin. A detailed account of the game did not appear in the newspapers, but the score was reported in the Daily Chronicle; 3-0 to Spartans, with Bella Reay getting her first hat-trick of the season.

The next scheduled appearance for Spartans was at Burradon on 7th September, but this game was cancelled by the hosts at the last minute.
A return match against Sandersons was arranged to take place at Stakeford on 14th September. The Blyth News announced the team selection in advance:
M. King (captain), N. Fairless, H. Weir, S. Rhodes, A. Sample, M. O’Brien, N. Cocks, A. Allen, B. Reay, J. Morgan, N. Scruffam; reserve, Mary Lane.
Whether the match took place or not is unknown; no report of it appeared in any of the usual newspapers, nor, in the weeks to come, were there any further reports of the team’s matches. It was as if Blyth Spartans had vanished without trace.

The names of some team members were mentioned from time to time; for example on 12th October Nellie Fairless, Martha O’Brien, Bella Reay and Jennie Morgan were all members of the Northumberland side which beat Durham 1-0 at St. James’s Park.
Bella Reay also played for Tyneside against Hartlepool on 14th December, and for Palmer’s of Jarrow in their Munitionettes’ Cup campaign, which culminated in a victory against Brown’s of West Hartlepool on 22nd March 1919. It was a good move by Palmer’s; Bella scored the winning (and only) goal on a snow-covered St. James’s Park.

Blyth Spartans’ name cropped up in three enigmatic press clippings which were published subsequently. On 8th October, the Northern Echo listed the entries for that Munitionettes’ Cup, and Spartans were included in the list. On 25th November the Newcastle Journal, reporting on a first-round tie between 43 Shell Shop and the Newcastle Motor Company, stated that the winners would meet Blyth Spartans in the second round. Finally, on 16th December, the Middlesbrough-based North East Daily Gazette, describing a forthcoming game at Stockton between Teesside and Palmers, stated that Palmers were the only team to have beaten Blyth Spartans.

Simple explanations can be put forward for the first two of these reports. It is probably true that Spartans had entered the Munitionettes’ Cup. As holders, they would have been keen to defend their title. They may well have received a bye in the first round, which was not uncommon – in the previous season 6 teams had received a bye in the first round. The third statement is more problematic; there is no record of Blyth Spartans having been defeated by Palmers. In the absence of any corroborative evidence this statement must remain suspect.

What could have brought about this state of affairs? We can dismiss the loss of Croft Park as their home ground; there were many other venues available in the Blyth area who would have been delighted to have the famous Spartans as residents. Three possibilities come to mind:

Firstly, by October 1918 it was clear that the Allies had won the war. Austria and Turkey were crumbling in the face of determined Allied offensives and Bulgaria had already surrendered. Germany itself was exhausted, and the only question outstanding was the terms on which an Armistice would be signed. Already the Allied requirement for munitions was diminishing, and it was uncertain whether the munitionettes themselves would continue to be employed for much longer. Given the nature of the work carried out by the Blyth Spartans women it is possible that their jobs were among the first to disappear. The loss of a common centre of employment may have led to the team breaking up.

Secondly, a virulent strain of influenza had reached the UK in May 1918 and spread to the whole country during the summer. In all, 228,000 people died before the epidemic ran its course. At least one Munitionettes’ Cup tie was directly affected by it; the second round tie between Armstrong-Whitworths and North East Marine was postponed when N.E.M. could only field two players owing to the ‘flu. Could it be that the Spartans’ team was badly hit by ‘flu in October 1918, and were unable to continue with their commitments?

Finally, we cannot rule out the possibility that the break-up was caused by personal differences between the team members. The announcement of the new squad on 1st September must have caused some raised eyebrows in Blyth. Throughout the successful campaign of 1917-18 Bella Metcalfe had held the team captaincy, and the half-back line had been renowned for its strength and stability. However, for 1918-19 a new captain had been appointed – M. King. This lady had never appeared previously for Blyth, nor indeed for any other munitionettes team. What had qualified her to assume the captaincy of the most successful side in the region? Furthermore, when the team to play Sandersons at Stakeford was announced, Bella Metcalfe had been left out altogether. Could this factor have led to a split in the camp, making it impossible to put a side together?

The true explanation for the disappearance of the team may never be known, unless somewhere, in an attic in Blyth, there is a personal account by one of its members, just waiting to be discovered.

As the munitionettes were laid off, so their football teams were wound up. It is difficult to accurately assess the rate at which munitionette football declined, as the local press lost interest in it after the resumption of the men’s professional game. The last game to be reported in the Newcastle Journal, was billed as Newcastle Ladies versus Sunderland Ladies. It took place at St James’s Park on 31st May 1919 in aid of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, and Newcastle won 4-1. Both Bella Reay and Martha O’Brien were included in the Sunderland squad!

Women’s football continued elsewhere in the country, notably in Lancashire, but as far as the North East was concerned, it either ceased to exist, or went completely underground. It experienced a brief, but interesting resurgence however during the Coal Dispute of 1921.

Following the return of the collieries to private control on 1st April 1921, the Miners’ Federation withdrew their labour. In their opinion they had been locked-out, as the private owners proposed to reduce their wages. In the press the dispute was referred to as a strike. The dispute lasted three months until a settlement was reached on 7th July.

Miners’ families were suffering right from the beginning of the dispute, and soup kitchens were quickly established in pit villages to relieve hardship. Various fund-raising initiatives were started to support them, and some bright soul remembered how successful women’s football matches had been at raising money during the war. Before long women’s football teams were once more taking to the field – this time in support of their own families.

In Northumberland the greatest degree of activity was in the Blyth and Wansbeck valleys. In a remarkable parallel with wartime women’s football, once again a single team emerged which stood head and shoulders above the others. This time it was the ladies of Barrington Colliery, who between May and August played 23 games, winning 22 of them, and in the process scoring 77 goals, for only 10 conceded. They too had a hot-shot centre-forward – Lillian Ritchie, who was responsible for 43 of their goals.

A more detailed account of women’s football in Northumberland and Durham during the dispute can be found here

Bella Reay, now Mrs Bella Henstock, and the mother of a young daughter, had been tempted out of retirement to help the fund-raising efforts, and she turned out for a number of teams, including Cowpen, Cambois, and a team known simply as Blyth.
She could still score goals; in a match between Cowpen and Bebside on 25th May she got all four in Cowpen’s 4-0 win.

It was inevitable that a comparison would be made between the young lass from Barrington and Blyth’s wartime heroine, and equally inevitable that efforts would be made to arrange a show-down. On 29th June 5,000 spectators packed into the Barrington Institute ground to see a reformed Blyth Spartans Ladies take on the local upstarts.
The Spartans’ team, which included many members from their war-time heyday, lined up as follows:
Lizzie James, S. Rhodes, M. Long, Agnes Sample, M. Douglas, M. Snowdon, Ada Reed, M. Reay, Bella Reay, M. Scuffham, Jennie Morgan

Bella Reay kicked off, and for the first half Spartans were the better side, serving up some of the best football witnessed at Barrington. It was not all one-way traffic however, and Ritchie brought a fine save from the Blyth goalkeeper. For a short period at the beginning of the second half Barrington had the upper hand, but Spartans once more established their superiority, and had it not been for a text book display of goalkeeping from the 12-year-old Miss Scott in the Barrington goal their unbeaten record would have been brought to an end. The game was nearly marred by an incident close to time; Spartans took a corner which went straight out of play, but a spectator mischievously tapped it back onto the field, and Spartans forced the ball into the net.
Fortunately for Barrington the referee had a clear view of the incident and the goal was disallowed. The game ended goalless, but honour had been preserved all round; both teams had held on to their unbeaten records, though no doubt the argument as to which was the better side continued to rage for some time to come.

Patrick Brennan.

This is an intruging piece of football history that bears the famous name of Blyth Spartans and it’s an even more important part of the towns history.


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