This 1935/36 team photo is extremely rare in that it comes from a 1936 cigarette card, the team is the North Eastern League title-winning side.
It is believed that this is the only time a Blyth Spartans team or player featured on a cigarette football card, the cards were hugely popular back in the 1930’s and are now collectible with rare cards fetching hundreds of pounds.
This card (purchased off eBay by life long Blyth supporter Colin Brown) is thought to have only appeared for sale the once despite there having been several thousands being produced back in 1936.
Cigarette manufacturers began inserting pieces of card to protect the contents, quickly realising that these would be useful for advertising their products. Soon these were followed by pictorial sequences, which would build up in to sets.
The object was to encourage repeat purchases and set up brand loyalty, and the subjects chosen were those most likely to appeal to the predominantly male customer base.
Beautiful young women, sportsmen and soldiers dominated the earliest series, followed by ever more diverse topics in the early 20th century as companies competed for trade by offering something new.
This rare Blyth Spartans card was produced by the Ardath Tobacco Company, established in London by tobacco merchant Sir Albert Levy in 1896 it was almost 20 years later in 1914 when it first started issuing cigarette cards.
The first set was photogravure reproductions of famous paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael and Valasquez.
It was further 20 years before its first set of football cards, in 1934, theses were painted portraits of ‘football stars’, these looked so realistic that they appeared to be painted photographs. The set of famous footballers included portraits of Raich Carter, Hughie Gallacher, Stanley Matthews, & Cliff Bastin.
Ardath only produced the one set of cigarette cards featuring individual players and instead in 1936 began issuing ‘photocards’ of football clubs.
The first series (A) featured 110 clubs in the North West.
This was followed by Series B, which featured 110 North East clubs, 110 Yorkshire clubs, 165 Scotland clubs, 110 Midlands clubs and 110 from London and Southern Counties.
With these numbers there were some unusual teams featured: Metrogas Distributions FC, Dumbarton Harp, Stoic FC, Coltness United, Hayes Wharf, Newton Solney, Huntley Gordon and Arbroath Victoria were clubs that got their place in cigarette card fame.
After the football clubs series A&B Ardath ignored the subject of football completely and concentrated on producing cards on Film, Stage and Radio Stars in the cigarette card market thus making their football card rare.
When they tired of producing cards related to stars of various kinds, Ardath switched to cards illustrating idioms and proverb with an explanation at the back.
The company was created in the late 19th century in London, England, and was originally called Albert Levy & Thomas.
In 1893, Sir Albert Levy was visiting the United States. While in New York State, Levy was a passenger on the Empiro State Express train, which broke speed records as locomotive #999 sped its way to Buffalo, New York at a peak of 112 1/2 miles an hour (180 km/h).
It was the first train to break the 100 m.p.h. (160 km/h) mark.
When Sir Albert returned to England, he registered the State Express name as a trademark, along with the series of triple numbers from 111 to 999. All of these numbers were used as different brands, each with a different blend or mix of tobacco.
The most popular of these was the Virginia tobacco State Express 555, introduced in 1895.
The name of the company was changed in 1901 to the Ardath Tobacco Company, and was split in 1925 when it was sold; British American Tobacco acquired the overseas rights of Ardath, while the Imperial Tobacco Group retained the rights of sale within the United Kingdom and Ireland. The State Express brand proved to be a boon for B.A.T., where it was a huge success in China until the rise of communism there (though it has since been re-introduced). In the United Kingdom, Ardath’s brands also endured, to the point where they were granted a Royal Warrant by King George VI in 1946.
In 1961, British American Tobacco bought out Imperial Tobacco’s share of Ardath, thus gaining full control of Ardath’s trademarks.
*The B on the back of the Blyth cards relates to the series it was issued in and the No. 17 is the cards number within the series.
The information about the club on the back of the card is slightly misleading stating the club was formed in 1901 and not 1899, although 1901 was the year the club actually joined it’s first league, the Northumberland League having previously played friendlies.
The card features the North Eastern League winning side of 1935/36, winning the league was an achievement for the part-time Blyth club, being the first ‘none’ Reserve side to win the league in the 17 years since it had returned after the First World War and it was effectively the clubs first season in that league after the league had contracted to a single league that season.
The North Eastern League was founded in 1906 with team defecting from the Northern Football Alliance to join; the league was very strong featuring Middlesbrough Reserves, Sunderland Reserves, Darlington Reserves, Hartlepools Reserves, Carlisle United Reserves, South Shields Reserves & Gateshead Reserves.
There was also established Non League clubs like Gainsborough Trinity, Workington, North Shields, Crook Town, Ashington, Spennymoor United & and also some sides that now longer exist at the level they did back in 1935/36, such as Walker Celtic, Annfield Plain Newburn, Throckley Welfare, Jarrow, Eden Colliery Welfare, West Stanley & City of Durham.
Playing 38 games in total Blyth won 26, drew 4 and lost 8, scoring 104 goals and conceding 60 amassing a total of 56 points to claim the title.
The high scoring campaign got off to a slow start through drawing 2 & losing 2 of the first 4 games, but the season ended with an 11 game winning run. Despite scoring 104 goals the campaign had some high scoring defeats, losing 3-5 v Sunderland Reserves, 3-6 to Middlesbrough Reserves, 2-5 to Gateshead reserves and a 1-7 hammering by Darlington Reserves. These were offset against some big victories beating Jarrow 7-1, City of Durham 5-0, Annfield Plain 6-0 and on 7 other occasions Blyth scored 4 gaols in winning games. The title-winning game saw Blyth romp home with a 6-0 victory at Annfield Plain with Kennedy hat trick, 2 from Park & 1 from Sharpless.
The Northumberland Senior Cup was also added to the trophy cabinet beating North Shields 2-1 in a replay after a 0-0 draw.
The following season, 1936/37, Blyth finished 5th but still managed to score an impressive 103 goals which included a 10-0 home victory over Jarrow and reached the League Cup Final losing to Workington 1-3 in a replay after a 1-1 draw, however Blyth retained the Senior Cup, once again beating North Shields in the Final 3-2.
In 1937/38 a 4th place was achieved and the goals still flowed scoring 113 ending the campaign with a 9-3 home win over Consett and a 9-0 hammering of Hexham.
In 1938/39 Blyth finished 9th and only managed to score 82 but conceded 97 which included at 1-10 hammering at Workington on 10th December.
The 1939/40 season saw Blyth only to play 4 league games before the league was abandoned due to the out break of the War. The final game was a 4-1 home win over Spennymoor United on 2nd September 1939, played less than 24 hours before Winston Churchill’s immortal words: “consequently this nation is at war with Germany”.
Blyth eventually rejoined the North Eastern league in 1947/48 but never managed to win the title again, so the 1935/36 winning team being immortalised in the only cigarette card the club or it’s players ever appeared on was just reward.
The card is not the only photograph of the 1935/36 title-winning side there are a couple in existence, however they are exactly the same as used on the Adrath Cigarette card, they cropped out the 2 unknown club officials who were probably the manager & trainer.
The image Adrath used was of a much higher quality.
The photo was taken looking towards Plessey Road, the houses on the left that can be seen in the distance are still standing today, however the double roofed building on the right isn’t. The old bus depot built on land the club sold to United Automobile Services 10 years earlier, loomed over the Plessey Road End until it was demolished in the 1970’s.
……. A great & extremely rare piece of Blyth Spartans AFC memorabilia that takes you back to the 1930’s and a great Spartans side who broke the Reserve team dominance to claim a famous title win.
- Credits & Thank you’s:
Colin Brown, a lifelong Blyth Spartans AFC supporter who’s cigarette card inspired this article.
A great site, once again provided information.
The clubs excellent website has a thorough ‘Past Results’ section.