The 2nd in our Green & White Cult Heroes series features arguably the greatest modern-day striker to wear the famous Green & White stripes….
oh ah Pyla….
aka Steve Pyle
Natural born goal-scorers are a rare commodity in football and when Jim Pearson convinced Steve Pyle to drop out of the professional game in 1987 and return to his native North East to pull on the famous green and white jersey, supporters of Blyth Spartans were naturally excited about the new arrival.
But even when Pyla netted his first goal – just seven minutes into his debut – nobody could have foreseen what was to follow as the deadly striker went on to score an incredible 207 times in two spells at Croft Park – becoming a true Spartans legend in the process.
He made 69 appearances scoring eight times in a five-year spell at Cambridge, which included the accolade of becoming the fastest United player to hit a hat trick, when he scored three times in 11 minutes in a 4-2 home victory over Hartlepool in August 1985, it was a club record which stood until August 2010.
Following a five-year spell at the Abbey stadium Pyle moved to the south coast to sign for Torquay United but it wasn’t to be a happy time for him in the English Riviera as he broke his ankle in his first outing and played just 33 times in three years for the club.
On a trip up to the North East to see his family Pyle was invited to a Spartans match by Jackie Marks.
Blyth had just been knocked out the FA Trophy at the 3rd Round stage by Nuneaton Borough after 3 replays, and in the 2nd replay had lost services of striker Tony McFadden to his 2nd broken leg in a year, so the need for a new striker was paramount.
The rest as they say is history as Steve himself explains:
“I was back at home for a few days and Jackie Marks asked me if I was interested in coming across to watch a game at Croft Park.
I had no thoughts of coming back up at that point. I just remember going to the game and being so impressed with the crowd and also the team that Blyth had at the time.
After the game I had a quick word with Jim Pearson who was manager and he basically sold the club to me and told me to get myself back home.”
It proved to be a masterstroke from both Marks and Pearson and signalled the start of a tremendous rapport between Pyle and the Spartans supporters.
“It just broke to me in the box and I tucked it under the keeper and I just remember thinking how many fans were actually down in Durham and from that moment I think we just clicked.”
Pyle added: “Jim (Pearson) was great, he just said before the game, look we’ve got 12 games of the season remaining just go out there and enjoy it.
“I fitted in straight away and began to enjoy my football again after a difficult time at Torquay.”
In those 12 games at the end of the 1986/87 season Pyle scored on nine occasions (including 1 hat trick) and helped Spartans secure another Northern league title, but this was to be just a glimpse of things to come.
Despite speculation in the summer of Pyle moving back into the professional game he remained at Croft Park and alongside the fit again Tony McFadden, & Gary Nicholson they scored goals for fun as Steve went on to score a remarkable 44 goals in the following season – the club’s highest single tally in 30 years.
A tally that included four hat-tricks and Steve also hit 5 goals in 7-1 thrashing of Ryhope CA, as the Jim Pearson’s free scoring side scored a 135 goals in the 51 games played that season only failing to score on 4 occasions.
Pyla’s phenomenal strike rate helped Spartans to another Northern league title but the striker was quick to point out the exceptional contribution of his teammates:
“The players around me made it easy. The chances were there and I knew it was up to me to put them away.”
In the next season however, Blyth finished in a disappointing mid-table place, with Pyle sidelined for almost half the campaign through a serious head injury but still managed to score 11 times.
He said: “I sustained a brain haemorrhage in a game against North Shields on New Year’s Day. It was a real scare at the time because I wasn’t sure if I would play again but thankfully the tests went well and I was back playing before the end of the season.”
In February 1990 the club received a good offer from North Shields, who had left the Northern League to attempt an ill-fated climb up the Pyramid ladder. The approach tested the club’s ambition and ultimately it failed to meet Steve’s personal ambitions of playing at a higher level.
The offer proved too tempting and Steve left Croft Park following a dismal 0-1 defeat at Seaham Red Star. Blyth fans were gutted to lose their star player who had scored in 7 successive games on his way to 13 goals that season.
Pyle recalls his feelings at the time:
“I felt I was in a bit of a rut really. Ronnie Walton was in charge and for some reason we were struggling and we had lost a few of our better players and I didn’t think we had replaced them like for like.
Our performances at that time were not to the standard that Blyth had been accustomed to.
Colin Richardson was in charge of North Shields at the time and they were getting players from Blue Star and Blyth, they were trying to push to go up the pyramid system.”
“I had a good relationship with Ronnie Walton and Tommy Dixon and I spoke to the chairman but I told him I had made my mind up and I was leaving. I moved on because I still had an ambition to get back into the professional game.”
After initial success at North Shields, Pyle soon discovered that it wasn’t quite how it had appeared in the brochure as the club’s attempt to break into the football league ended in disaster.
Pyle recalls: “I went to North Shields and we got promoted in my second year but unfortunately the club then folded which was a massive shock because nobody had known anything about the problems behind the scenes.”
Pyle then joined Conference outfit Gateshead but once again it was to prove a difficult time for him on Tyneside. He said: “Tommy Cassidy rang me up and said would you like to come across and I thought yeah why not.
That’s when it turned really sour football wise because it was the most disappointing part of my career up to that point. At the time I was working at the Gosforth Park hotel and was going to be travelling all over the country with Gateshead.”
Pyle added: “I was getting home really late and I thought this is not for me.”
Pyle made just two appearances for Gateshead before deciding that the gruelling schedule of playing in a national league as well as juggling work and family commitments was going to be too much.
He said: “I had played on the Saturday and then on the Tuesday night and we were due on the Thursday at training to collect our wages.
So I rang Tommy Cassidy straight up on the Wednesday and said it’s no good to me. I had a signing on fee to pick up on that Thursday as well so I walked away without picking up a penny.”
Much to the delight of the Spartans supporters and Pyle himself, Blyth manager Ronnie Walton brought the striker back to Croft Park for a second spell at the club.
“Blyth came straight back in for me and I jumped at the chance.” said Pyle
“Gateshead didn’t let me play straight away because they hadn’t given me the seven days notice in time. They were still annoyed with me but I had done the right thing and hadn’t taken any money from the club”
Pyle admits that once Blyth had swooped for his signature there was absolutely no hesitation in rejoining his former club: “It didn’t take any convincing. I had played for North Shields against Blyth in the senior cup final and I knew what sort of team they were putting together at that time and I couldn’t wait to get back.”
“The fans could have easily gone against me for leaving the first time but they didn’t and obviously I had another great spell.”
Typically he made a scoring return in a 2-0 success at Consett. The goals continued to flow with 26 strikes as Blyth reached the First Round of the F.A. Cup for the first time in eleven seasons and narrowly missed out on another Northern League Title.
Pyle, in fact should have ended his Blyth career with 208 goals for the club but had one ruled out at Easington in 1992 in controversial circumstances.
He recalls the goal that never was: “They used to have an old-fashioned stanchion.
“It was in the first half and I’ve hit a shot that has gone right in the top corner and hit the stanchion and came straight back out and I just turned away to celebrate but the ref didn’t blow the whistle and their players looked at each other and realised the goal wasn’t given and just carried on. Luckily we ended up getting five or six.”
The 1993/94 season saw Blyth finish runners-up in the Northern League, enough to clinch promotion to the Unibond First Division and also win the Northumberland Senior Cup.
A 36 goal haul from Pyla was his best since the 1987/88 season.
The following season was even better for Blyth as they completed a superb double of the Unibond Title and the First Division Cup. Steve scored 34 goals and formed another lethal strike force with Steve Harkus & Richie Bond as Blyth powered their way to glory with their free scoring forwards.
There was a great buzz around Croft Park as Spartans were exceeding all expectations as they moved in to unchartered territory.
Pyle summed up the mood at the club: “We moved out of the Northern league and were going to different places and that was a great experience.
“I would say getting promotion at Harrogate is one of my best days in football as we took a lot of fans down there and it was a great day.”
Now under the guidance of Harry Dunn, Pyle was delighted to be back at Croft Park and finding the net on a regular basis. Pyle had absolutely no regrets on his decision to return to the club, saying: “I enjoyed the second spell more because you’re told never to go back.
“You’re always worried that you’ll not score as many goals or play as well, and there are all these things going around your head but the second time Harry Dunn came in and got a great team together.”
In the next season Spartans adapted to life in The Unibond Premier division extremely well with a sixth placed finish but it was their FA cup exploits that were to grab all the headlines.
Unfortunately for Pyle he was to be sidelined through injury for the first round clash at Bury, which Spartans famously won 2-0 with goals from Tommy Ditchburn and Richie Bond.
He recalls: “Missing the Bury game was hard to take but the performance that we put in against league opposition was very good.”
The 1996/97 season saw Pyla playing a deeper role behind the main strikers with Stuart Young taking over as the main goal scorer.
Steve was restricted to seven goals but there was another memorable strike as despite losing his balance and falling over, he still scored from the edge of the box in a game at Spennymoor.
He also rolled back the years when he scored a hat-trick in a 7-3 win over Bilston Town in the FA Trophy.
In February 1997 Manager Peter Harrison resigned and Steve assisted John Gamble, Mark Todd & John Burridge in the running of the team, but quickly ruled himself out of the chase for the Manager’s job.
This eventually went to John Burridge and would lead to Pyle’s departure from the club.
Pyle explains: “Myself and John Burridge had never seen eye to eye.
“I had known him outside of football before he arrived at the club and we had already fallen out.”
Pyle added: “I declined the offer from Burridge to be his number two at Blyth.”
Tensions between himself and Burridge came to a head at the end of a cup tie away to Radcliffe Borough which would prove to be Pyle’s last game for the club.
“We had an argument after the final whistle and he told me I would never play for the club again and that was my last game for Blyth.” said Pyle.
The manner of ‘Pyla’s’ departure didn’t please the fans, they viewed it as one of many questionable decisions made by John Burridge during his 14 month tenure as Manager.
It was somewhat of a sad end for the loyal service Pyle had given to Blyth Spartans and many thought he deserved a lot better.
At the time there was talk of a testimonial for Pyle who by that point was considered by the Spartans supporters as an all-time-great.
But the chance never materialized for Pyle as he explains:
“I was gutted at the way it happened and how I never got the chance to say goodbye to the Blyth fans.
I would have loved to have stayed a bit longer to get my testimonial. It would have been a great occasion for my family and also you get the chance to play with old teammates and against your idols.”
Pyle added: “I did ask Newcastle at the time for a testimonial and Kevin Keegan had written a letter back saying he would look into arranging something for the season after but obviously I had left by then.”
With the situation between himself and Burridge untenable, Pyle had no option but to look for another club and news had soon reached the local media about his imminent departure from Croft Park.
“The very next day local journalist Bob Morland rang me at work and asked me what was going on.” said Pyle.
He had got John Burridge’s side of the story and I told him I wanted to be made available because I didn’t want to work with him any longer.
It wasn’t long before Pyle was re-united with his old Blyth boss Harry Dunn – this time at Whitby, in what proved to be a short but successful stay on the Yorkshire coast for the veteran striker.
Pyle recalls: “Harry just asked me to come and help them out because we had that many games to catch up on with us getting to the Vase Final.”
Although delighted that he had featured in such a historic day for the club, Pyle couldn’t help thinking that such an experience would have meant even more to him in the green and white of Blyth Spartans.
He said: “It was great to get to Wembley with Whitby but to have that sort of occasion with Blyth would have been even more special for me because I had such an affinity with the Spartans supporters.
“After the game I gave my medal to a lad that had missed out on the final but had played for most of the season because I didn’t think it was right for me as I had only been there for a short period.”
When Whitby joined the Unibond, Pyle moved on and teamed up with another former Blyth manager, Peter Feenan at Northern League Morpeth Town – where he would see out the rest of his career.
A player synonymous with his goal scoring exploits, Pyle picked out a couple of his personal favourite strikes from his time at Blyth.
“I’ve got two favourite goals from my time at Blyth.” said Pyle
“The first was a volley I scored at Hebburn Town away and the other was a goal I scored against Newcastle reserves where I smashed it into the goalkeeper’s right hand corner which got us back to 1-1.”
Steve is widely regarded by many Blyth supporters as there all time favourite player but when asked whom was his he it was without hesitation that he said Paul Walker was the best player he played with at Blyth.
Steve was ardent in his claim that Spartans supporters were in a league of their own in comparison to the fans of other clubs he had been at.
by GU & AD