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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McNeil heads over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While Brian Slane sounded a cautionary note:

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

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

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

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

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

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

The following excellent websites provided important info and images:

http://www.non-leagueclubdirectory.co.uk/index.php/clubs/club-year/blyth-spartans-1977-1978

http://fchd.info

http://www.nufc.com

http://www.wrexhamprogrammes.com

http://www.penmon.org/page70.htm

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Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, Classic Matches, FA Cup, Giant Killings, History, Managers, Players | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Les.

A Spartan legend and idol to many.

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

RIP Jackie Marks – A Blyth Spartans legend.

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

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

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

Hull AET

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

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

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

Green & White Cult Heroes – Jackie Marks

 

RIP Jackie

A club legend who truly earned his legendary status.

Posted in Blyth Spartans AFC, Green & White Cult Heroes, History, Managers | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The fallen Spartans of The Great War.

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

This is the story of that player: Richard McFadden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-20-52-26screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-20-55-31To this day the 3 players are still remembered by the Leyton Orient fans, making several trip to the graves of their fallen heroes. 
Books have been written about the fallen O’s players and they are celebrated in the play by writer Michael Head called ‘The Greater Game’. 
Based on the book ‘They Took The Lead’ by Leyton Orient historian Stephen Jenkins it tells the true story of the men who swapped the football fields of London for the battle fields of the Somme in 1916.
screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-07-17-52
In June 2014 over 200 Leyton Orient fans joined local dignitaries at the unveiling of a memorial to the 3 players in the French town of Flers.
Stephen Jenkins and the Leyton Orient supporters even took the descendants of Richard McFadden, William Jonas and George Scott to visit the memorial and their resting places.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lest we forget…

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-18-28-22

 

Acknowledgements, Credits & Thankyou’s:

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

http://www.theytookthelead.com

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

Several websites have been used for research including:

http://www.leytonorient.com

http://www.footballandthefirstworldwar.org

http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/community/stories/remembrance/sport-remembers-the-three-lost-heroes-of-clapton-orient/

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

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Home sweet home, the story of Croft Park.

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

Grounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JG

John Goulding

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

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

groundsmens

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

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

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

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

Lord Ridley take a run up at the ball.

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

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

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

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

wide pic

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

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

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

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

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

A.Walton

Aaron Walton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rundown

Run down Croft Park before its transformation.

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

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

old stand

Main stand before new seating.

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

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

Standing paddock converted to extra seating & roof extension.

Standing paddock converted to extra seating & roof extension.

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

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

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

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

100 kick off

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

bikes

Motor bike riders competed in races on the pitch.

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

race

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

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

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

1932 adverts

First known action photo of the Spartans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A place we all proudly call home.

 

 

  • Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:

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

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

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

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

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

The Onion Bag – award winning photo’s from Non League football grounds:
onion-bag.blogspot.co.uk
flickr.com/photos
@TheOnionBag1

Revell Cornell for his Croft Park drone footage.

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

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RIP Bill Fenwick… a genuine Spartan great.

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

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

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

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

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

http://wp.me/p1NLiC-aA

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

RIP William Randolph Fenwick.

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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.

AFC 2

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.”

IM13

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”.

LM HUFCThe £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.”

IM10

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:
http://www.oth-research.co.uk/

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: 

http://fchd.info/indexa-z.htm

http://www.northshieldsfc.co.uk/

http://doncasterrovers.co.uk/

http://poolstats.co.uk/

 http://blythspartansafc.co.uk/

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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.

000004B

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:
http://fchd.info/indexa-z.htm

http://www.northshieldsfc.co.uk/      

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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.

duffell

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

RNLDNLSNLDunston Fed

 

 

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:

http://fchd.info/indexa-z.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 nufc.com 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 nufc.com 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.

http://howardlinskey.weebly.com/

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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