The initial idea of the Green & White Cult Heroes series that started in the official matchday programme a couple of years ago was to honour those players who fans loved and had an affinity with, hence the lead in of:
Many former players have been popular but few reach the iconic status of becoming cult heroes with the supporters.
These players will always be remembered for their efforts & commitment while playing for the club.
However the words ‘remembered for their efforts & commitment’ can and should be applied to other servants of the club.
One such person has recently stepped down from a post with Blyth Spartans AFC that he held for 2 decades, years clocking up over 1,000 games !.
To honour this staggering achievement the latest Green & White Cult Hero is none other than everyone’s favourite kitman:
While Premier League, Championship & Football League clubs (and increasingly clubs in the Conference National) employ and pay staff to work in a multitude of jobs in and around the club on matchdays and during the week Non League clubs at our level rely on volunteers who give their time purely because they love their club.
Most Non League clubs would not exist if it weren’t for these people giving almost every spare minute to the club, people commonly know as ‘club men’ in Non League football circles, Tony is very much one of these men.
Having taken on the post as kitman in 1991 Tony stepped down from the position he held with great pride at the end of last season.
Often the joker in the dressing room and on the countless hours spent on the team coach for the many miles the club has to cover each season he was also the brunt of the supporter’s jokes & jibes about his height.
However his value to the team & players over the years was immeasurable but funnily enough it was a position he rather given and not applied for.
Having assisted in the running of several local Sunday morning team for years Tony attended a club meeting held in 1991, with the club struggling off the field to make ends meet they were looking for helpers and Manager Ronnie Walton announced to Tony: “You’re the kitman!”.
Tony’s first game as kitman was a 4-1 away victory at West Auckland on 12th October, however his abiding memory was seeing the First World Cup Trophy in the clubhouse afterwards. The trophy famously won by West Auckland FC in 1908, the tale featured in a well-known Eighties drama starring Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy called ‘A Captain’s Tale’.
Tony’s own story would probably be called
‘A Kitman’s Tale’ as the years progressed the players changed, as did the managers and did the clubs fortunes often from one extreme to the other.
There have been the highs, like the 2 title winning seasons (Unibond First Division & Premier Division) and the recent FA Cup run to the 3rd Round however there have been just as many lows such as the club almost folding 10 years ago and of course last seasons relegation.
Thinking back to the events of 2001 Tony said:
“I couldn’t imagine football without Blyth Spartans. I remember it being swept under the carpet at the time and you thinking It’s never going to happen. However, it so nearly did but we turned it around and are still here. There are clubs that have not been able to do the same. So, what ever happened to the club on the pitch, at least there’s still as Blyth Spartans for people to be associated with”.
Despite events that summer Tony thought last seasons relegation was the lowest point in his 21 years service:
“I don’t think we’ve ever been that low, in terms of wins to games played. We’ve had been down the bottom before, but we had always got out of it.
In an interview for the official match day programme last season Tony was asked if it had thought of stepping down:
“Well my health is pretty good, so that’s not a problem. I had thought of stepping down at the end of this season: “I really am thinking of retiring at the end of the season, but I’ve not made my mind up yet.”
When asked if the team’s current form had been a reason he replied:
“With all due respect, it has. You don’t enjoy it as much when you’re down there. Nobody does. We all work hard and when you’re not picking up results, it takes the shine off it.
As I say, I love the club and I always will. Whenever I decide to leave, it will be with a heavy heart, but I’ll walk away with mu head held high and a lot of great memories”.
Tony served a staggering 13 different management teams in his tenure at the club and often seemed the only constant for season to season, his bosses were:
Ronnie Walton 1991-1993, Peter Feenan 1993-994, Harry Dunn 1994-1995 & 2004-2009, Tony Lowery & David McGreery 1995, Peter Harrison 1995-1997,
John Burridge 1997-1998, Alan Shoulder 1998, John Gamble 1998-1999,
Mick Tait 1999-2000 & 2009-2011, John Charlton 2000-2002, Paul Baker 2002-2004, Steve Cuggy 2001 and finally Tommy Cassidy.
Of all of those managers (and bear in mind there were at least 4 caretaker managers as well) Tony’s 2 favourites were Harry Dunn and Mick Tait both of who had 2 tenures in the Croft Park hot seat during Tony’s 20 year service.
One manager who gained more publicity than others during his time at the club both good and bad was the eccentric John Burridge. Tony was involved in the now infamous counterfeit leisure scandal that eventually saw Budge convicted & fined. Tony was part of a photo shoot Budgie arranged before an away game however despite everything Tony wouldn’t have bad word said against Budgie stating “to be fair he made a lot of money for the club with some high profile friendlies”.
Of the hundreds of players Tony’s has had to prepare kits for he’s had plenty to choose from when picking his all time favourite but after some thought went for Steve Pyle.
“He was a fantastic player to watch and always worked hard when he was on the pitch” and also he was a great help to Tony’s ticket draw he used to run “I used to have ticket draw for the club, which made a lot of money. The players always tried to sell as many as they could and Pyla was the one who went the extra mile to sell the most”.
Of the 100’s of players who Tony has seen pass through the club in his 21 years he has quite a choice for his All Time Blyth Spartans XI and his choice spans his 2 decades:
1- Adam Bartlett
2- Craig Liddle
3- Anth Lowther
4- Keith Mills
5- John Gamble
6- Chris Swailes
7- Robbie Dale
8- Chris McCabe
9- Stve Pyle
10- Steve Harkus
11- Glen Robson
When asked about his all time favourite game Tony had little hesitation in picking one straight away, despite some of the great times and games he’s been involved in the dramatic 3-4 FA Cup defeat at Blackpool in 1997 stands out:
“The single greatest match I’ve been involved with was the Blackpool game. I know we played Blackburn Rovers as well but Blackpool was the better game. We were beaten by the odd goal right at the end. It was a great weekend and one of the best memories of my time. We were very unlucky, but’s still the best game for me. A lot of game shave come close, but that one stands out.
While Tony may have been the official kit ‘man’ and preparing the team for a 90 minutes is a team effort for the backroom staff it was also a family affair, while Tony’s pre match routine consisted of laying out the players kit and clean the boots the post match routine relied on Tony’s wife Sandra.
Tony would wash the kit and clean the dressing rooms, however Sandra insisted on washing the socks !.
And Sandra was there in Tony’s hour of need stepping in the clean the entire kit when Tony broke his arm.
Being kitman is an unseen task with all Tony’s work being done pre & post match and most supporters just seeing him next to the dugout during the game but those 90 minutes were a well earned rest period. In the winter months the pitches often turned into mud bathes making Tony’s job even harder not to mention the away days involved especially for midweek games. In the 2005/2006 Unibond Title winning season the club played a staggering 13 games in 26 days, while supporters wondered how the players coped little thought was given for Tony who had the clean & prepare the teams kit for what was almost a game every 24 hours over the April Bank Holiday.
One thing the club has always been aware of is the time & effort the volunteers put and always acknowledge them in the end of season presentations & awards, as stated if it wasn’t for the likes of Tony & Sandra the club wouldn’t be as well run.
Having reached the 1,000 games as club kit man in an away game at Hinckley United on 19th November 2011 club Chairman Tony Platten made a presentation at the following home game to mark incredible achievement.
When his retirement was announced in August 70 year old Tony said: “It was hard work and a lot was involved but I loved it. However nothing lasts forever and it was time to move on.”
Working under so many different managers, some of who have been on the phone to Tony offering their best wishes.
“I did what I could to make the players happy-over and above washing the strips and laying them out in the dressing room and making sure everything was in order for away fixtures,” he added.
Tony intends to keep busy by spending time with his grandchildren, gardening and fishing. Croft Park, however will also stay on his ‘to do’ list.
“I’ll certainly be getting down for some games,” he said. “I’ll miss the banter but I certainly won’t miss the times I spent, freezing cold in winter, on the touchline!”
Tony Kennedy certainly deserves his Green & White Cult Hero status, the players he’s worked with definitely appreciated his time & effort and to the fans he was as much part of Blyth Spartans AFC as the team itself.
- In September 2013 a short film about Tony’s life as a kitman by Alex Ayre won him the Best Young Filmmaker Award at the 2013 Berwick Film Festival:
- Credits & Thank you’s:
2 friends need thanking for help with this article.
Jeff Young, who having been match secretary is now the new kit man &
Glen Maxwell, who is the match day programme editor.
Like Tony both give their time free of charge to the club they love.