Blyth Spartans supporters have always had an affinity with local players, believing they better understand the club and its supporters.
This proved to be the case in December 2004, when they took the club’s new forward to their hearts. That developed into a mutual respect, which continues to show its worth more than five years after the player left the club.
“My dad started taking me to Blyth games when I was 12. So, for me as a kid, Blyth Spartans was the biggest club you could play for.”
As a youngster on the terraces of Croft Park, Scott Bell often dreamed about pulling on the famous green and white stripes and following in the footsteps of one of Blyth Spartans’ most-loved players.
“I can’t remember much about the games or anything like that, but I do remember that Richie Bond was playing for them at the time,” Scott reveals.
“He’s an absolute legend at this club and ‘Bondie’ was one player that I always wanted to emulate. Because of all that, once I knew Blyth were interested, there was no doubt in my mind about joining. It was a dream come true.”
However, Scott almost didn’t realise his dream – after falling out of love with the game and quitting.
Scott started out playing for Newcastle Blue Star at 16 and – after five years moved on to West Allotment Celtic, before moving on to Newcastle Benfield three seasons late.
However, his striking prowess was still to be discovered – having been deployed on the wing up until this point.
“I always wanted to play up front!” Scott explains.
“But, because of my pace and lack of height, I was always seen as more of a winger.
“After years of asking to play up front, Blue Star manager Rob Atkin told me that I would never be a striker and to get on with being a winger!
“When I was at Benfield, I really started to fall out of love with the game and told the manager I didn’t want to play anymore. Then I quit.
“A week later, I had a call from Kenny Lindoe at Brandon telling me that Benfield had agreed a player swap and had received a Brandon forward, in exchange for me! I told Kenny that this couldn’t be the case, as I no longer played for Benfield.
“After a long discussion, Kenny persuaded me to give it a go – and promised that I would play as a centre-forward. I then went on to help save Brandon from relegation that season and started the next season with new manager Vince Kirkup, where I’d scored 28 goals by December.”
Scott’s dream move to Blyth almost didn’t happen a second time, when Brandon tried to keep hold of their star player. But, there was no way he was going to be denied his move to Croft Park.
“Having scored those goals for Brandon early in the season, I remember Vince calling me into his office to advise that Blyth had put seven days in for me,” Scott remembers.
“He asked how I would feel about staying at Brandon to help them until the end of the season, but there was no way this was ever going to happen.
“I used to watch Blyth play as a kid and spent many a Saturday afternoon on the terraces, freezing my little toes off!
“It had always been a dream of mine – once I realised Manchester United was never a realistic target – to play for Blyth. When I told this to Vince, he had no problem letting me go. Signing for Blyth was a really proud moment for me. My whole family is from Blyth, which made it feel even better.”
Scott signed for Spartans in December 2004 and went straight into the team for an away trip to Marine on 4th December.
“I knew Blyth needed a forward, because they couldn’t score goals,” Scott explains.
“I’ll always remember that, as I was thinking about it while we were travelling down on the bus.
“Harry had told me that we had been struggling for goals and that was why I was there.”
During the game, he was desperate to impress – but it didn’t take long for him to realise how much of a step up it was playing for Spartans.
“This was the biggest club I’d ever played for and I was desperate to make a great first impression,” Scott remembers.
“I was clean through against the keeper, one-on-one. I tried to chip him and he saved it no bother. I just thought ‘What have I done? I used to score them all the time when I was at Brandon’.”
While he was denied a debut goal at Marine, his home debut on 11th December against Radcliffle Borough was capped with a very special moment for the then-26-year-old.
“It was quite a good goal, if I remember correctly. It kind of came out to me at the edge of the box and I hit it first time – on the volley – and it went in the top corner,” he explains.
“It was amazing to score my first goal, especially at Croft Park. I just remember the crowd going mental and I think they showed more of an appreciation for that the goal, as it was from someone new.
“The fans here are unbelievable and there was just this feeling of euphoria erupted around the ground. It made me feel even better, knowing that I had caused it.”
Bell would go on to score another 12 goals that season – as Blyth escaped the threat of relegation with relative ease.
However, it was in the following season where he – and the rest of the squad – really excelled.
The 2005/06 season saw Blyth Spartans complete a famous treble, by winning the Unibond Premier League, the Unibond Chairman’s Cup and the Peter Swailes Memorial Shield.
Not many would have predicted that at the start of the season, but Scott had an inkling that this Spartans side might just go on to achieve greatness.
“It was during the away game at Guiseley, which I think was the sixth or seventh game of the season. We’d made a great start to the season and we had some good players,” Scott recalls.
“We weren’t world beaters by any stretch, but I felt we had a good enough side for that league.
“It was a Tuesday night and I turned to the lads after the game and said ‘We’re going to win the league this season’ and Assistant Manager Graham Fenton said ‘Shut up man, you idiot. Don’t you ever say that again. We’ve still got a full season ahead of us’ etc.
“We’d just won away from home in mid-week and I just knew we were going to do it – as we had an amazing set of lads. We were just unbeatable.”
And every now and then, he likes to remind the rest of the squad of his prediction.
“It’s funny as we still talk about it now, when all of the lads get together. It’s one of those ‘I told you so’ moments,” Scott reveals.
“Even when we got presented with the trophy, I didn’t mention it to Graham. Although, I have reminded him quite a bit about it since then and even send him a cheeky text about it every now and then.”
One game that stands out from that season for Scott was the 5-1 win at home to Witton Albion, in January 2006.
Scott scored three on his way to back-to-back hat-tricks, but it isn’t just that Scott remembers from the game.
“I’m a Manchester United fan and there were a couple of their players who had played a couple of first-team games for them. I still tell people now about the time I scored a hat-trick against Man United,” Scott jokes.
“Then in the next game – away at Ashton – I got another one. The third one went in off my bum, which I got some stick for in the dressing room.”
Unbeknown to Scott, he then had the chance to cement his own place in Spartans’ history.
“After the game, I remember the Chairman coming over to me and saying that, if I got another hat-trick in the next game, I’d be the first player to get three in a row in the club’s history,” he explains.
“So Harry said he’d play me against Ossett and I only scored one – which was the only goal of the game, so I wasn’t too upset about missing out on the record.”
As well as the three trophies they collected that season, Blyth also made it through to the Final of the Northumberland Senior Cup, but finished as runners-up. That didn’t spoil the celebrations for the squad though.
“That would have just been a bonus really. It’s a good cup and you get the chance to play at St. James’ Park, but we had already won three trophies,”
“We played Newcastle United Reserves in the Final, so we went into the game as complete underdogs. In the end, considering the amount of games we had played, we did well to only go down 2-1.”
When asked – from a player’s point of view – how Harry Dunn turned a relegation-threatened side one season into champions the next, Scott said: “I think, now more than ever, we can see how good a job Harry did for Blyth. When you look at the managers since Harry and how they have struggled, it shows just how hard it really is to build a competitive team at this level.
“He was a very shrewd manager. He always focussed on the other team and knew what their weak points were and what we could do to counter them.
“Harry was also lucky that he managed to find the right players at the right time.
We had such a great dressing room and everybody got on really well.
“There really weren’t any rogue groups and whenever there was, Harry got rid of them (I won’t name anyone, but they were brothers).”
Scott also believed it was the spirit in the dressing room that was a major factor in the team’s success.
“The team spirit was by far the best I have ever been involved with, either before or after playing at Blyth.
“We just had the right blend of characters in the group: from the weirdness of Andy Leeson, the humour of Anth Lowther (RIP, absolute legend) and the passion of Pete Snowdon, to the crazy characters like ‘Fozzy’ (Richard Forster) and Michael Hedley.
“I think there were many teams that were better than us, but none that were more togetherness. We had a bond and it was that togetherness and never say die attitude which won us a lot of games.
“We all really wanted to play for Blyth and it meant a lot to us. I’m not sure we see that as much now.”
Three trophies and a Final would be a fantastic season for any team and Scott believes it would not have been possible without his partnership with Robert Dale.
“It was great playing with Robbie, but it was hard – as I had to do all of the running,” Scott jokes.
“He’s one of those players who can do things that no other player can do. Because of that, he’s such a valuable player.
“He set up a lot of my goals, but I also had to run around for him. So, it was a bit of a double-edged sword.”
“Robbiedinho” and “Scotty Bellveccio” worked so well together that they scored an impressive 54 goals between them – with Scott grabbing 16 in all competitions – The 33-year-old believes their partnership worked because of basic footballing nous.
“It was the big and small combination, which always works wherever you see it,”
“He would hold the ball up well and would look for me to score and I would try to set him up when I could, so we played for each other in that sense.
“We always worked well together as we were two very different players. When you get players that can score, assist and form a solid partnership, you’re always going to be on to a good thing.
And the legacy of that partnership was never made apparent to Scott until after he left Blyth.
“We never really thought we were anything special at the time. I remember Harry Dunn and Graham Fenton saying that – in those years – other teams would phone around saying how worried they were about playing against Robbie and me.
“Managers would phone managers of the team we’d played the week before and ask them how they’d try to deal with us, which is quite a compliment when you hear that.”
After seeing Dale claim the Golden Boot award in 2007/08, Scott etched his own name on the trophy a year later – with 19 goals.
“It was amazing, as it was our first season in the Conference North. As a forward, you just want to score goals,” Scott explains.
“So, if you can become top scorer, it’s fantastic. If you can do it at the biggest club you’ve ever played for in your life – in the highest level they’ve ever been – then that’s even better.”
Scott also had the honour of scoring the goal that sent Blyth to the top of the Conference North after eight games, when he scored the winner in a 2-1 victory at Harrogate.
He then topped off his season by winning the Conference North Player of the Month award in October 2006.
Despite his personal success, Spartans unfortunately missed out on the Conference North Playoffs by one point – in what turned out to be Scott’s last full season with the club.
In September 2007, Manager Harry Dunn told Scott was he was no longer needed.
Scott remembers.“It was really just that Harry was looking for another type of forward to what I was. He was looking for change and he said just go out and play, because you’re not in my plans,”
“Harry had plans to bring in someone else, so you’ve got to respect that. It’s the manager’s team and no one player is bigger than that team.”
“I was absolutely devastated, because I loved playing for Blyth, but – on the flip side – I appreciated his honesty for telling me.
“I remember turning up for a home game against Vauxhall Motors and being left out of the squad.
“Then, during the pre-game warm-up, Harry pulled me aside and said that he wanted me to ‘Go on loan’ to Blue Star to get some match practice.
“I knew what the old ‘Go on loan’ line meant when it came from Harry, he had done it to so many other players that half of the Northern League were probably wondering when Harry was going to cal them back from their loan spells!
“To be honest, I knew it was coming. Harry had been complaining a lot, because I didn’t hold the ball up well enough. That was something that I was always aware of and that was true enough.
“But I came to Blyth with the same qualities that I left with. Nothing had changed, except for Harry’s expectations.
Scott also told of how Harry also helped the forward to make his decision to move to Blue Star. “I didn’t choose Blue Star, Harry did,” Bell recalls.
“He rang and said they’d been on the phone and he thought it would be a good move for me.”
Leaving the club also meant leaving behind the fans who had made such an impression on him.
“The Blyth fans were always amazing, both home and away,” Scott said.
“They are the kind of fans that really appreciate players who work hard for the club and if you can score goals, that’s a bonus.
“The fans were really loud and, even during away games, we would have such huge support. Many of them dressed as Vikings (or Spartans) and they were definitely worth a few points in our promotion season.
“It was also great to see so many kids at the games and, hopefully, we inspired a few of them to play for Blyth in the future.”
Looking back at his time with the club, Scott commented: “I can honestly say that I enjoyed my time at Blyth more than I have enjoyed any other period in my life I played with so many great characters and now have some real friends as a result.
“It was also great to be part of a club with such strong values, which is run by some of the most genuinely kind people you are likely to meet – like Ian Evans for example.
He has green and white blood (with a hint of red) and is the backbone of the club and an all-round great guy.
“I could probably tell you loads of stories from my time at Blyth. Like the time we bought some mouse traps on an away trip to Workington or the time Pete “Snowman” (Snowdon) reacted badly to a carefully placed Prawn sandwich.
“The truth is that we didn’t really fall out, but we did have a huge disagreement in the dressing room – in front of the whole team and other members of the club – after a mid-week game in the Senior Cup.
“Harry was angry because he felt that I wasn’t playing well enough or scoring and he let me know it. So, I told him to replace me with somebody better, who will score more, if I was so bad.
“He then said that he couldn’t find anyone or he would.
“Once it had all died down and everything was calm, Harry pulled me aside in the car park and we made up but without the kiss.
“Not long after, Harry took my advice and replaced me with somebody better who would score more goals. So, be careful what you ask for.”
Following the loan spell at Blue Star, Scott made the permanent move to Bedlington Terriers.
However, he was already starting to show signs of the disease which would effectively end his footballing career.
“As soon as I started playing, that’s when the problems started, Scott reveals.
“I knew there was something wrong, even then.”
Scott retired from football in April 2009 – after feeling increasingly sore and tired after games.
He was in and out of hospital for more than two years, being passed from one doctor to another before he finally got an answer in May 2011.
What followed were numerous hospital and doctors’ appointments, culminating in a visit to a Motor Neurone Disease (MND) specialist in May 2011, who confirmed the diagnosis.
“I was not as surprised as some people might be, as I knew something was not right. I think it was more of a shock to my wife and family.
But Scott and his family were determined to keep going and they have pledged to work to bring more attention to MND, through a special fund set up in Scott’s honour –
The Scott Bell Fund http://www.scottbellfund.com/
The Scott Bell Fund has been active in fundraising through various streams: with donations such as £5,000 from the local Orange Call Centre in North Tyneside and £10,000 from Scott’s colleagues at Pearson publishing company.
There have been many varied events – from local concerts to golf competitions – and nine of Scott’s family and friends, including his wife Louise, completed the 2011 Great North Run for the MND Association.
One of the bravest even saw Scott himself take part in a fund-raising skydive.
“The parachute was the best thing I’ve ever done. When my mate asked me what it was like, I compared it to scoring a goal for Blyth” Scott reveals.
“I thought that thrill that you get every time you score was irreplaceable, but it wasn’t. I just had to jump out of a plane to rediscover it again.
“The adrenaline rush I got at the end was amazing.”
Parachute jumping wouldn’t be top of the list for most people, but Scott revealed that it helped him to forget about his illness while he was doing it.
He said: “I thought that if I was going to do something, then I had to challenge myself. There’s no point doing it otherwise.
“Because I can’t use my legs, I was quite limited as to what I could do. So I had to work out what I could do without using my legs and that was the natural decision, as scary as it was.”
And, as he sailed through the air, it was just Scott himself that was soaring.
He added: “I can’t remember exactly how much it raised, but I think it was about £3,000. I think people dug that little bit deeper because it was actually me doing it and not someone else.
“That’s what it’s about at the end of the day and, as I say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d definitely do it again.”
Not to be outdone, Spartans supporters stepped up to be counted when the Scott Bell Benefit Game was held at Croft Park in May 2012.
Blyth Spartans XI v Bedlington Terriers XI featured many of Scott’s former teammates and was attended by hundreds of fans, who saw Scott take to the field to kick the game off.
And Scott was keen to acknowledge to efforts of everyone who contributed to the success of that game.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with Blyth Spartans, for their support since my Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis in May 2010,”
Scott said. “The club and the fans have been great and have helped us raise a large amount of money, which really does help everyone involved in fighting the disease.”
Despite the support for the benefit game, it was the events prior and after the game itself that really showed the bond between the supporters and Scott.
A group Irish Spartans fans set off cycling from Dublin a week before the game. Upon arriving at Stranraer – via a ferry – they were met another group of Spartans fans and a couple of Scott’s former teammates. They set off on a two-wheeled tour of various football grounds – including those of Celtic, Rangers, Newcastle United and Sunderland – before a scheduled arrival at Croft Park just before kick-off.
“What they did was phenomenal, especially for someone that the majority of them didn’t even know,” Scott said.
“There was no way for me to show my appreciation for what they did other than say thank you to all of them.
“I don’t think they actually appreciated what they did for us. They spread the word across four different countries and that’s the most important thing for myself, my family and – most importantly – my fund.
“I also have to give a special mention to Fergus Dowd and Tony Parker for organising the Dublin2Blyth cycle event.”
Fergus did not just stop there though. His sterling work meant that there was also an auction of sporting memorabilia – as he had spent months working tirelessly contacting sportsmen and sports clubs, asking for donations.
Regarding Fergus’ outstanding efforts, Scott commented: “Fergus, in my eyes, is an absolute legend. I’d never known him before he approached me, but I now know he’s a Blyth fan from Dublin.
“He got in touch and told me he wanted to do this to help me and if I was happy for him to do it. I told him, without question, I was delighted and was behind him all the way.
“He did an incredible amount of work to get 59 items into an auction, many of which you would never get anywhere and it will probably never be seen again.
“It was unbelievable what he did. When you look at the list of items, it was just crazy.
“He’s a legend really and a lot of this couldn’t have happened without him, so massive credit to Fergus for all of his work.”
Looking back fondly on his time with the Spartans, Scott was hard-pressed to pick out a highlight.
“There were so many. The two hat-tricks in a row are definitely up there but, if you were to ask me tomorrow, I’d probably give a completely different answer,” Scott explains.
“I could pick my debut, my first goal or even scoring against Gateshead. I loved anything like that really.”
“Although, I think the one single highlight for me, personally, would have to be the Witton hat-trick.”
And despite the aforementioned miss – and all of the things he and the club achieved during his time there – when asked for his best memory as a Blyth player, Scott came back to that game.
He recalls: “There were honestly so many of these that it would be hard to pick one.
My biggest memory is my first ever game away to Marine.”
When asked if he had a favourite of the 50 goals he scored for Blyth, Scott picked the equaliser at AFC Telford United in December 2005:
“One of my favourite goals came when we played Telford away, on a Saturday afternoon.
“It had been quite a physical game and I came into it on a bit of a goal drought – I think I hadn’t scored for about five or six games. I had been getting a load of abuse from the crowd, for putting myself about and getting stuck in.
“We were 1-0 down with about two minutes left and the ball fell to me in a crowded box, about eight yards out. The keeper came straight off his line to close the angle.
“So, I pretended to slide the ball past him but – instead – moved it with my right foot to his right and then tapped it in with my left foot.
“I always felt it was a pretty calm finish given how tense I was about my lack of goals!”.
It also took Scott no time at all to name Chris McCabe as the most influential player he played with, in his 127 appearances.
“Tadge could drag the team on his own for 90 minutes at times and he always played well,” Scott explains. “He scored some really valuable goals and gave 100% every game.”
Despite only having three seasons at Blyth Spartans AFC, Scott more than made his mark on the club and it was enough to build a long-lasting & special bond with its supporters.
And, for that, you have to say that the boy’s done good.
Scott’s Blyth playing career:
v Marine away 4 December 2004, Unibond Premier League drew 0-0
v Ashington home, 2 October 2007, Northumberland Senior Cup won 3-1
v Radcliffe Borough home 11 December 2004, Unibond Premier League won 2-0 (home debut)
v Ashington home, 2 October 2007, Northumberland Senior Cup won 3-1
127 Appearances – 17 as sub – (Northern Premier League: 60, Northern Premier League Cup: 5, Peter Swailes Cup: 1, Conference North: 40, FA Cup: 9, FA Trophy: 5, Northumberland Senior Cup:7).
50 Goals – 3 penalties – (Northern Premier League: 25, Conference North: 17, Cups: 8).
Unibond Premier League Winner (2006)
Unibond Chairman’s Cup Winner (2006)
Peter Swailes Memorial Shield Winner (2006)
Northumberland Senior Cup Runner Up (2006 and 2007)
Conference North Player of the Month (Oct 2006)
Port of Blyth Player of the Month (Sept 2006 and Feb 2007)
Blyth Spartans’ Leading Scorer (2007)
Member of Blyth Spartans’ 100 Club
- This article is a collaboration and once again a big thank you goes out to Glen Maxwell for invaluable help. Check out his blog: http://glenmaxwell.wordpress.com/
…..and of course a special thanks to the main man himself, Scott for his time and help in producing this blog.