As 2012 drew to a close the sad news broke that one of Blyth Spartans AFC’s true greats had passed away.
To many current Blyth fans the name Arthur Sowden is probably just that of a former player they may have heard of but to an older generation of Blyth fans the name takes them back to the 1950’s and to a player truly deserving of his place in the history of our great club.
A native of Cramlington Arthur, who was a blacksmith in Shankhouse by trade began playing Junior football in Shankhouse before playing for Middlesborough Colts. Arthur was offered the opportunity to sign professional but choose to sign for Blackhall Colliery Welfare in the North Eastern League as a semi professional. His performances earned him caps as an amateur for the Northumberland County side and brought him to the attentions of the Croft Park club.
In the summer of 1950, aged 24 and already an experienced North Eastern League player, he signed for Blyth and went on to amass over 250 appearances for the club between August 1950 and April 1958 and was giving the honour of captaining the side for many years.
Arthur made his debut on 19th August 1950 in a 4-1 hammering of Gateshead Reserves at Croft Park, the game marked the return debut of Jim Turney having played for the war-time club, Jim bagged all 4 goals that day. The Blyth side that day was: Bean, Reay, Leonard, Penrose, Arthur Sowden, Ramsey, Oakley, Price, J A Turney, White, Gair.
A 25-year-old Arthur (back row 2nd from right) in a team photo taken in August 1951.
Back row (l-r): N. Penrose, K. Hirst, T. McGarry, T. McLaghlan, A. Sowden, G. Sharpe
Front row (l-r): J.A. Turney, B. Fenwick, N. Middleton, N. West, T.Clough
Arthur’s final appearance for the club came on 12th April 1958 in a 3-1 win at Spennymoor United, the Blyth team that day was: Orr, Raffo, Ovington, G Bell, Arthur Sowden, Reay, Anderson, Crombie, F. Turney, Kelly, Haley.
The closest Arthur got to league honours was in 1952/53 when Blyth finished 4th in the North Eastern League. Blyth did win the League Cup in 1954/55 beating Spennymoor United 4-1 in a 2-legged Final but Arthur didn’t play in either of the games.
By November 1956, 30-year-old Arthur (back row 3rd from the left) was the established captain in a side that contained some very experienced former league players, such as the free scoring former Chesterfield & Hartlepool forward John Langlands and also the vastly experienced right-winger Billy Linarce, who had made 230 Football League appearances for the likes of Chesterfield, Man City, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool & Mansfield.
Back row (l-r): J. Lynn, E. Ramsey, A. Sowden, J. Inglis, D. Ovington, T. Reay
Front Row (l-r) B.Linarce, J. Langlands, M. Emerson, J. McHail, B.Haley
Arthur did win the Northumberland Senior Cup twice, in season 1951/1952 he played in the Final at St James Park against Newburn, the game ended 2-2 after extra time (1-1 at 90 minutes) Blyth’s goals came from a Penrose a penalty & Milner.
*The cup was actually shared because both clubs found it ‘impossible’ to set a date for the replay.
In 1554/55 he lifted the trophy as captain of the Blyth side that beat Whitley Bay Athletic 2-1 in a replay after the 1st game ended in a 2-2 draw.
He also collected a winner’s medal in his 1st season, 1950/51, from the Northumberland Aged Miners Homes Cup Final when Blyth beat a Newcastle United side 4-1 on the 28th August 1951 (the Final was held over from the previous season). Blyth’s goals came from McGarry 2, Fenwick & J. Turney.
Blyth team: Middleton, Arthur Sowden, Sharp, Penrose, Hirst, McLachlan, J A Turney, Fenwick, McGarry, West, Clough.
Being the mainstay of the Spartans defence for 8 years, he only managed to score 2 goals, both coming in the same season.
His 1st was on 3rd November 1956 in a 3-0 FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round home win against Annfield Plain.
His only other goal being on 2nd March 1957 when his goal earned a replay in a 1-1 Northumberland Senior Cup Quarter Final against Newburn at Croft Park (a game that attracted a crowd of 2,710 !).
Blyth League record during Arthur’s career at Croft Park:
1950-51 NEL 38 15 9 14 67 76 39 10/20
1951-52 NEL 34 11 10 13 53 68 32 10/18
1952-53 NEL 34 20 5 9 93 61 45 4/18
1953-54 NEL 34 11 6 17 48 82 28 14/18
1954-55 NEL 34 13 7 14 64 78 33 9/18
1955-56 NEL 34 17 3 14 68 80 37 7/18
1956-57 NEL 34 17 5 12 90 71 39 8/18
1957-58 NEL 34 14 7 13 65 66 35 9/18
- However unsurprisingly, as with many well-known & famed Blyth players, it was the FA Cup that saw Arthur lead the way as Blyth grabbed the headlines.
His 1st FA Cup experience with the club was rather understated compared to what was to come. Having beaten South Shields 2-0 in the 1st Qualifying Round at Croft Park despite having initially been drawn away to South Shields, Blyth were given a local derby being drawn away to Arthur’s hometown club Cramlington Welfare in the 2nd Qualifying Round, surprisingly the home side pulled off a major upset winning 2-0.
In 1951-52 Blyth did much better, having battled through 4 qualifying rounds and then beat Bishop Auckland 2-1 at Croft Park in front of 7,500, the 2nd Round draw give Blyth an away tie with Football League Division 3 North club Tranmere Rovers.
Arthur was to captain the side in what was to become a marathon tie that had a draw, an abandoned game, a re-staged game and 2 neutral grounds !.
The tie captured the local media’s attention and they photographed the players on Blyth’s promenade before the game and getting a team talk off manager Charlie Ferguson:
Pictured are (left to right):
N. Penrose, W. Fenwick, F. Turney, .Sharp,
J. Turney, G. Gair, A. Sowden, I McLaughlin,
J. Allison, H. Middleton
The tie, on 15th December saw Penrose getting Blyth’s goal to earn a replay in a superb 1-1 draw at Prenton Park. Blyth side: Middleton, Arthur Sowden, Sharp, Penrose, Allison, McLachlan, Scott, J A Turney, Fenwick, F. Turney & Gair.
The replay on the 19th December went to extra time when it finished 1-1 at 90 minutes with Scott getting Blyth’s goal. However only 15 minutes of the extra time was managed before the game was abandoned due to the weather conditions. The Blyth team was Middleton, Arthur Sowden, Sharp, Penrose, Allison, McLachlan, Scott, Fenwick, Herman, F Turney, Gair.
The re-staged replay was played at a neutral ground on 3rd January 1952. Played at Brunton Park home of Carlisle United, a crowd of 3,032 created gate receipts of £240.
With a 3rd Round away tie at Division One Huddersfield awaiting the winners, Blyth held their own against the Division Three North opponents with Fenwick & Scott scoring Blyth’s goals in a 2-2 draw after extra time, the Blyth team that day was Middleton, Arthur Sowden, Gair, Penrose, Allison, Lloyd, Scott, J A Turney, Fenwick, F Turney, Barras.
Unfortunately the 2nd Replay on 7th January 1952, once again played at a neutral ground, Everton’s Goodison Park, wasn’t as close. Rovers ran out 5-1 winners, Arthur didn’t play in that decisive game so maybe that could have been the reason what had previously been such a closely fought series of games ended so one-sided !.
Blyth team that night: Middleton, Sharp, Gair, Penrose, Allison, Lloyd, Scott, J A Turney, Fenwick, F Turney, Barras.
The following season, 1952/53, Arthur played right back in the Blyth side that crashed out in the 4th Qualifying Round 1-2 defeat at Horden Colliery Welfare in-game that attracted a crowd of a 4,000 crowd to the Welfare Ground.
Blyth side that day: Middleton, Arthur Sowden, Sharp, Penrose, Hirst, Gair, Scott, Milner, J A Turney, Fenwick, J Kerr.
In 1953/54 injury denied Arthur another 1st Round appearance and a game against a League club missing both games as Blyth beat local rivals North Shields 4-2 at home on 4th Qualifying Round before losing 0-1 to 3rd Division North club Accrington Stanley at Croft Park, in doing so missing out on a chance of gaining revenge over Tranmere Rovers in the 2nd Round.
However a year on (1954/55) after beating Annfield Plain away 2-1 in the 4th Qualifying Round tie, Blyth were drawn at away to Midland League side Boston United.
Arthur was back in his familiar centre half role as Jackie Hogg scored Blyth’s goal in a 1-1 draw at York Street, a crowd of nearly 6,000 just about managed to see the game which was played in thick fog on 20th November.
Blyth team that day was: Inglis, Ramsey, Sharp, Reay, Arthur Sowden, Ovington, Scott, Feenan, Weatherspoon, E Turney, Hogg.
4 days later the replay, played on a Wednesday afternoon in front of a 5,300 crowd, proved to be one of Croft Park’s all time classic games as Arthur lead his team to an amazing victory.
With 10 minutes remaining Boston lead 4-2, despite Blyth having been 2-0 up before being pegged back to 2-2 at half time. An amazing 3 goal blitz saw Gavin Gair pull it back to 4-4 before Weatherspoon dramatically won it with a 89th minute header.
Blyth team that night: Inglis, Ramsey, Sharp, Reay, Arthur Sowden, Ovington, Scott, J A Turney, Weatherspoon, Hogg, Gair.
The 2nd Round on 11th December 1954 brought Torquay United all the way up to Northumberland in what was back then, the FA Cup’s longest journey for an away team since the war.
However, despite the much sought after Jackie Hogg scoring again for Blyth the South Coast side ran out 1-3 winners and Blyth missed out on an away tie at Leeds United !.
*Portsmouth’s Vice Chairman Dr I. McLachlan, who had played alongside Arthur for Blyth, watched forward Jackie Hogg that day.
Pompey were at Newcastle that day and within a matter of days Hogg signed for the First Division club.
*Torquay’s strip that day was their new gold shirts & blue shorts to reflect the resorts ‘sun, sand & sea image’, colours they still wear to this day, which replaced the previous seasons Black & White stripes.
Despite all his heroics performances in the FA Cup, it also brought bad days for Arthur, one such being on 5th November 1955. Blyth suffered a ‘giant killing’ crashing out in the 4th Qualifying Round losing 2-4 at home to Northern League side Shildon.
But the day was even worse for Arthur when he suffered broke his collarbone, an injury that was to keep him out until the New Year.
Blyth team that day: Tubman, Ramsey, Ovington, Reay, Arthur Sowden, Wright, Clark, Emmerson, J A Turney, E Turney, Haley.
A year later Arthur’s former team-mate Dougie Wright was now coach and Arthur was back as the team captain as Blyth were drawn away to Central Alliance First Division South club Ilkeston Town in a 1st Round tie played on 17th November. A crowd of 6,102 were silenced as Blyth proved too strong for the Derbyshire club trashing the home side 5-1.
Blyth side that day: Inglis, Ramsey, Ovington, Lynn, Arthur Sowden, Reay, Linacre, Langland, F Turney, McHale, Haley.
The reward was a 2nd Round home tie was against in form 3rd Division North side Hartlepools United on 8thDecember. Arthur once again captained the side in a game that attracted the biggest gate ever to Croft Park, 10,168.
However it was the League side that sealed a narrow 0-1 victory and claim thee plum 3rd draw of all, a home tie with Manchester United !.
Blyth side that day: Inglis, Ramsey, Ovington, Lynn, Arthur Sowden, Reay, Linacre, Langland, F.Turney, McHale, Haley.
However despite coming so close to what would arguably been his great moment, captaining his side to an FA Cup tie with Manchester United, a year later Arthur’s final Cup game for the club was at the slightly less auspicious surroundings of the Mill Field Ground, the home of Northern League Crook Town.
On 2nd November 1957 Blyth again suffered a ‘giant killing’ of sorts surprisingly crashing out 0-3.
Blyth side that day: Mills, Ramsey, Ovington, Lynn, Arthur Sowden, Reay, Bell, F.Turney, Langland, Kelly, Haley.
It wasn’t quite the FA Cup swan song Arthur’s deserved.
Within 5 months Arthur had played his last ever game for the club, as the North Eastern League collapsed in summer of 1958, Blyth moved on the try their hand in the Midland League but sadly Arthur never played again.
Having suffered from a cartilage problem in the last few years, cruelly it was to prove the too much and regrettably Arthur was forced to retire due to those cartilage problems he was suffering, it was an untimely end to an illustrious 8 years with the club and undoubtedly had it not been for those injury problems Arthur would have gone on to play for many more years with the club. Arthur went on to scout for the club and serve on the board of directors.
Having played in a Benefit game for his long serving team mate Gavin Gair in September 1952 against local rivals Ashington, Arthur was to be given the honour of a Benefit game.
2 years after retiring, on 25th April 1960 a Blyth side made up of Mills, Davis, Ovington, Reay, Brown, Stamper, Clark, Turney, Willis, Kelly & Hogg faced a Select XI from the Football League.
(unfortunately the result & gate from the game is unknown)
For a local lad, who captained sides that featured such great Blyth players as the Turney brothers, Harry Mills, Gavin Gair, Billy Linarce, John Langland, Billy Fenwick, Jackie Hogg it just goes to show how good a player Arthur was and it also shows highly regarded he was at the club that to this day there have still only been 3 other benefit/testimonial games awarded by the club (Eddie Alder & Ronnie Scott joint, Tommy Dixon & Dave Clarke).
In August 1957 the Supporters Club started a new feature in the match day programmes they produced for the club, a series of ‘pen sketches’ and not surprisingly Arthur was
honoured with the 1st feature.
His esteem within the club was clear from the article:
‘Arthur Sowden, who is now to be regarded as an “Old Faithful” by virtue of having already completed seven seasons of grand service’.
‘Besides having made a reputation as a centre-half, he has proved his versatility by also doing well at right back and right half-back. Moreover, in the long period he has served as team captain he has always set an example in team spirit’.
Playing & especially captaining the club was an honour Arthur and his family were rightly proud of.
On the walls of his Cramlington home, he still displayed the pictures of himself shaking hands with the opposition captains prior to those Tranmere, Torquay & Hartlepools FA Cup ties and the acknowledgment of his sad passing in the local papers proudly started with:
“Arthur (former Captain of Blyth Spartans) dearly beloved…..”.
A true Spartan great….
Arthur Sowden 1926-2012 RIP
Gone but certainly not forgotten…..
*As a mark of respect & to honour to their late former captain, Blyth Spartans held an immaculately observed minutes silence prior to their home game on Saturday 5th January 2013.
- Credits & Thank you’s:
2 lifelong Blyth fans helped providing memories, information & images and once again without their help this article would not have been possible or as thorough:
Colin Brown, whose childhood memories of Arthur initiated this article and provided important information.
KT, who provided vital info & images. He was brought up on the name of Arthur Sowden because he was his fathers favorite player.