Back Row L to R –
Phil Leaver, Tony Dawson, Ronan Liddane, Dave Clarke, Alan Walker, Kevin Berry, Jimmy Harmison, John Brownlie (pictured wearing tracksuit top).
Front Row L to R –
Steve Baxter, Dave Buchanan, Tony McFadden, Ray Blackhall, Peter Cartwright, Paul Walker.
The team photograph was taken before Blyth’s 3-0 home league win over Crook Town on 8th April 1986, with 2 goals from Tony McFadden & 1 from Dave Buchanan.
Team lined up with Dave Clarke in-goal, right back Ray Blackhall, left back Alan Walker, Centre half’s Jimmy Harmison & Kevin Berry, midfield of Tony Dawson, Peter Cartwright, Paul Walker & Ronan Liddane with Tony McFadden & Dave Buchanan up front.
The kit back in 1986 was the obligatory green & white shirts, green shorts & white socks and featured the sponsors Universal Building Society in red letters but the silky shiny shirts only had 3 green stripes and 2 broad white stripes and of course in keeping with the 80’s football fashion the shorts were rather small !.
The team photo, especially taken by Malcolm Murray was for a feature that was to appear in the April edition of Coal News, a regional paper for the Coal Industry.
The article by Chris Crouch claimed an ‘exclusive’ about the club snubbing promotion and was heavily based around the officials & players being employed in the Coal Industry both past & present and presented that being the reason for the article itself.
The banner on the top of the page claimed: ‘Spartans snub promotion to Fourth..’ but that was a bit of journalistic license because the Fourth Division was not a realistic option and was a play on the words of the secretary George Watson:
“It’s true we rate ourselves good enough to play in the Fourth, but – candidly- we don’t want to go any higher”.
- Weather the club was even thinking of taking or had being offered a promotion around the time of the article back in April 1986 is unclear, but it was a topic the club had been used to dealing with for the past 7 years.
In 1979 the club decided against accepting the offer of a place in the newly formed Alliance League Premier League (now the Conference Premier) based on the travelling involved and this article used the full-page feature to state the case of staying put in the Northern League in 1986 being the same based on the players jobs in the Coal Industry.
The article on the full-page spread claimed:
‘One important factor discourages Spartans, Northern League title holders five years running, from surging ahead full blast with elaborate ides about Fourth Division entry via the powerful Multipart and Gola league: TRAVEL.’
The ‘one time mining engineer’ secretary Watson was quoted saying:
“We play the game as a part-time hobby, If we start travelling to places like Maidstone we will need a different breed of player. In any case, we are too close to Sunderland and Newcastle. Geographically, we are stuck. That’s why clubs like Gateshead are genuinely considering Scottish Second Division football.
They’ve applied because their travelling would be reduced playing over the border.”
The article then stated the farthest Blyth had to travel is to Whitby, just 2 hours away by coach.
“If we went into a different league we’d be tripping into the Midlands, Cheshire and North Wales. What’s the point ?” claimed Watson.
“The work tied men of Blyth would find it an uphill struggle to get day-release from their jobs”.
Writer Chris Crouch claimed he understood this was why several of the then Blyth side had opted for their ‘less-pressurised present league treadmill which permits them to work a full day and still turn out for the club mid-week and at weekends’.
Stating the case of defender Jimmy Harmison (pictured in action against Crook) as proof stating the former Ashington & North Shields player worked shifts at Ellington Combine.
“One nights he finishes work around midnight on Friday- and he can still go home, get some sleep and turn out for us the next day. We never leave for a league match before 11am.
That would change if we had to take in such clubs as Scarborough and Bangor City. We would have to be away much earlier- or travel the previous night. That would mean lads like Jimmy losing shifts at work” said Watson.
The article goes on to mention the 1972 FA Cup 3rd Round Replay defeat by Reading being eclipsed 5 years later by the 5th Round Replay defeat in front of 42,000 but how those ‘dizzy days may have been an isolated case’ as crowds were now averaging less than 200.
However Secretary Watson, in his 18 year with the club, believed “those faithful are getting a better deal with the Spartans staying with the Northern League”.
Writer Crouch went on to state: ’apart from the appeal of fast, flowing football which Spartans are turning in every week, there’s still a special atmosphere at their games’
Watson added “We are not here for the rowdyism- we’re here just for the game”
As part-timers we enjoy the glory of a cup run. That’s football for us. We always go into a Cup tie with a positive approach. It’s pointless feeling inferior the thought of defeat never enters our minds before kick off”.
“Its what part-time sport is all about.”
- The article was slightly misleading as Blyth had not won the Northern League title since 1984/1985, having finished runners-up the previous season and, despite the ‘fast flowing football finished an even lower 4th in 1985/86.
- The following season, 1986/87, Blyth won the title and retained the title in 1987/88.
- That was to be the last & final time Blyth won the Northern League title.
The article named Watson’s other boardroom members who had Coal Industry connections as ex colliery clerk John Atkinson, Director Reggie Bell who was a retired Bates Colliery miner and Commercial Manager Mike Turnbull who’s 5 brothers and grandfather had all worked at various pits.
There was also an underlying theme of testimonial games in 2 other smaller articles on the page, in one George Watson was quoted:
“If a player has been with the club a long time and is given a testimonial he has earned the honour. Its rare in Non League football to find someone who has put in that sort of service”
‘it’s a workshop takeover. Fitter Alan Walker, centre back* successor to rock-like workmate Ronnie Scott gives the nod in defence. Spartans have granted only 2 testimonials before in a lifetime, one to the great Scott – which he shared with midfield stalwart Eddie Alder and the other to Tommy Dixon.’
(*Alan Walker was actually left back and had played left back that day against Crook Town)
The 2nd testimonial article on the page ‘Home banker hint’ read:
Optimistic secretary George Watson is the vital Blyth Spartans’ go-between for a dream testimonial match against pride of the First Division Manchester United, provisionally pencilled in for August 9th, writes Chris Crouch.
His close ties with England semi-professional team manager Kevin Verity could attract a “full-house” with the proceeds going to Spartans’ ex Newcastle United goalkeeper Dave Clarke.
At 35 Clarke is still rated one of the best part-time ‘keepers in the game. He played for Non League England for four seasons after understudying Newcastle boss Willie McFaul when they won the Inter City Fairs Cup 18 years ago.
Secretary Watson mentioned the testimonial match to boss Verity when they met at Bishop Auckland and he promised to speak with United chief Ron Atkinson “to see what he could do”.
Watson’s fear is that even if United are lured to Croft Park it could become an embarrassing one way goal fiasco. “That’s why we would prefer an exhibition match” said George.
‘Around three years ago we were asked to play a David Hamilton Showbiz XI and after 15 minutes we were winning 7-0. It had lost all interest by that time”.
- The game never did materialise, however Dave Clarke did get his testimonial game but it didn’t happen until October the following year.
- On Monday 19th October 1987 when Blyth played against Newcastle United in front of a crowd of 4,650. Blyth won 3-0 with goals from Gary Nicholson, Phil Lever, Steve Carney (who were all ex Newcastle United players).
- Former team-mate Willie McFaul was Newcastle manager and sent a full strength Newcastle United side that featured the likes of John Anderson, Neil McDonald, Glen Roeder, Kenny Wharton, Darren Jackson, Paul Kelly, Brian Tinnion, Ian Bogie and star signing Brazilian Mirandinha., the side also featured a young Paul Gascoigne!.
- Prior to the main game a side made up of Dave’s team mates from the 1977/78 Cup squad beat an All-Star XI 1-0 with Ian Mutrie scoring.
- The Blyth squad back in 1986 was certainly packed with experienced players plying their trade in the ‘less pressurised league’ and is perfectly displayed in the player who was an 8 unused substitute that day, John Brownlie.
- Brownlie had joined Blyth in the February of 1986 from Berwick Rangers having only played 15 times however it was John’s games for his previous clubs that showed the kind of experience in squad. John had played 211 times for Hibernian, 124 times for Newcastle, 12 times for Middlesborough and 19 times for Hartlepool !.
- 2 other players had also played for Newcastle United, Peter Cartwright played 65 times (4 times for Scunthorpe on loan then 50 times for Darlington). Ray Blackhall played 37 times, then he went on to play 115 times for Sheffield Wednesday (15 for Mansfield & once for Carlisle).
- The 2 strikers who scored against Crook that day Tony McFadden & Dave Buchanan were equally experienced in league football, McFadden had played 47 times for Darlington and Buchanan had played 33 times for Leicester City (keeping a certain young striker by the name of Gary Lineker out of the side) then 5 times for Northampton 16 times for Peterborough before joining Blyth upon his return to the North East.
- But the point of experienced proven players playing at less pressurised level, was shown when Buchanan having made a major impact for Blyth, was targeted by First Division Sunderland and landed a dream move back into full-time football where he went on the play 37 times before being loaned to York City then returning to Blyth.
……It’s a great old article that makes fascinating reading, especially the clubs attitude to promotion bearing in mind that 8 seasons later Blyth did indeed take up an offer of promotion to the Northern Premier League First Division.
Also looking at some of those players compared to the players Blyth can attract now !.