From Andrew & Nixon Thompson and Davy & Billy Fairhurst of the early 1900’s
to George & Josh Pyke and Jack & George Prior of the 1920’s right through to
Rob & Steve Carney of the late 70’s and finally the Gildea’s, Alex & Liam in 2005
brothers playing for the Spartans have been an important part of the club’s history.
Mention the name Mutrie however and people instantly think of striker Les, yet that is doing a great injustice to his younger brother.
Ian Mutrie was one of the most highly regarded strikers of the 70’s & 80’s, yet never received the supporters acclaim given his older brother despite serving the Spartans longer & arguably playing a more pivotal role in bringing success to the club.
Born in Newcastle, Les & Ian honed their talents in the back streets and on the playing fields of North Tyneside before making names for themselves in Sunday League, Les was attracting attention from an early age going to Blackpool for a trial aged only 15.
Nothing came of that and he continued to develop playing Sunday League before signing for Ashington at the beginning of the 1972/73, the Colliers had finished 3rd bottom when renowned coach Jackie Marks took charge. Marks developed a team of talented youngsters bringing through the likes of Tommy Dixon & Jimmy Harmison, along with the experienced players they achieved a respectable 9th place finish.
Les scored on his debut giving the Collier the lead in a 1-2 defeat at Champions Spennymoor, an early injury curtailed his second season. Once fit again the tall 20-year-old forged a great partnership with legendary Northern League striker Billy Wright as Marks famously guided the Colliers to the Semi Finals of the FA Amateur Cup, Cup games were to play a prominent part in Les’s career.
Despite success Marks moved on to manage North Shields, where he would bring through Les’s younger brother. Les was snapped up by Ray Wilkie for the ‘new’ Northern Premier League side; Gateshead United in 1974 in what Les made what he described as:
“A huge step up”.
He played 3 seasons in the NPL enjoying more Cup success in the FA Cup against League opposition; in 74/75 Wilkie’s side beat Crewe Alexandra after a replay before going out to Altrincham, in 75/76 they knocked out Grimsby Town before losing to Rochdale in a replay. Along with keeper Dave Clarke, Les was part of the Gateshead side that beat Blyth 3-0 in the 1976/77 FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round at Croft Park, their reward was a tie away at Wrexham but they were thumped 6-0.
Les’s form earned him Representative Honours; he even played at Croft Park in March 77’ as part of an NPL Representative XI. However after only 3 seasons Gateshead United folded at the end of 1976/77 despite finishing 8th while future Premier League side Wigan Athletic finished 14th.
It worked out for Les though as Carlisle United manager Bobby Moncur stepped in to sign him, the former Newcastle United captain had monitored the 23 year olds progress for sometime Les revealed:
“I joined Carlisle from Gateshead though I believe Moncur had even been watching me in playing Sunday League.”
Unfortunately the move into full-time football literally ended in tears all to quickly:
“In my very first league game I broke my leg – except that I didn’t know it.
I trained and played four more matches before I was diagnosed. I’d had X-rays and the lot but they could find nothing even though I was in constant pain. I was ribbed by my team-mates for being a soft Geordie but I knew something was wrong. Eventually they found the problem and I returned to the Carlisle ground on crutches with my leg in plaster from top to bottom. I was met by assistant manager Martin Harvey and was in tears. Carlisle eventually let me go, I was expecting it and I went back to Gateshead.”
Released at the end of the season he joined the reformed Gateshead FC, having regained full fitness he made his debut on 2nd September 1978 in a 0-2 defeat at Altrincham. It took him 8 games to find the back of the net, his first goal came in a 1-2 defeat at Worksop Town on 27th September, he then scored in 5 consecutive games including a hat trick in a 5-2 FA Trophy at Prestwick Heys playing a total 32 times scoring 12 goals before his former mentor came calling.
Jackie Marks was now manager of Blyth Spartans having taken over after the shock resignation of Brian Slane in December 1978, by then Ian or Archie as he was more commonly known, had already wrote his name in Spartans folklore.
In August 1977 Marks was appointed coach to Player/Manager Brian Slane, rebuilding the side they signed Archie from North Shields in September, making a scoring debut in the 5-0 hammering of Ashington on 27th September.
Ian had a very successful youth career before staring for Newton Park Hotel in the Whitley Bay & District League Sunday League. After 2 years he moved to Nelson Village at the age of 18, a free scoring striker for the hugely successful Nelson Village side before joining North Shields in March 1975.
It took some convincing by then Shields manager, Jackie Marks, to get Archie to make the step up to the Northern League from his beloved Sunday League and even when he managed it, it wasn’t straightforward. Ian played 6 games at the end of 75/76 season then decided it wasn’t for him and returned to play for Nelson Village, but they weren’t your typical end of season games.
Shields played Whitley Bay in a Senior Cup Semi Final, ending 0-0 the replay saw Shields race into a 3-0 lead courtesy of future Spartans Steve Carney and a Keith Houghton brace. Bay pegged them back to 3-3 only for Archie to come off the bench and score the winner in the dying seconds!. Unknowingly he’d broken his toe in that ‘super sub’ appearance so had to settle for a place on the bench for the Final at St James Park against Blyth. Micky Pink give Spartans the lead only for an injured Archie to come off the bench to equaliser with 2 minutes remaining sending the tie to a replay. An Ian Hopkinson goal won the trophy for Shields in the replay, but the injury meant Archie didn’t even make the bench, disillusioned he decided to leave:
“The trouble was I didn’t realise I had stepped up a class and I went back to Nelson Village after the season. It was a big mistake, I should have been playing at Northern League level but I was daft as a brush and thought it was just a game”
Soon releasing he’d made a mistake he returned to Appleby Park, enjoying his football under manager Geoff Allen:
“I was glad to be back and I was playing to my strength’s. I worked my socks off for the team, I was brave and I could score goals, the manager told me to just do what I was good at, which was laying the ball off and going to the far post and I scored goals”.
It was no surprise when the Blyth management team snapped up the striker, his impact was immediate scoring vital goals. None more so than on 5th November 77’ when he made it 4 goals in 3 games heading home a 75th winner away to Bishop Auckland in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round.
He repeated the feat in the next Round, collecting a Dagless pass before stabbing home the crucial winner to beat Burscough, it was during the after match celebrations he first donned his ‘lucky cap’ swearing to wear it until they were knocked out of the cup!.
Come the 2nd Round injuries were mounting, both Archie & Terry Johnson played against 3rd Division Chesterfield with knocks. Ian didn’t finish the game won by Steve ‘Jos’ Jones 31st minute strike (it was Jones 16th goal for the club in only his 21 appearance!).
He recovered in time to face Enfield in the 3rd Round but was replaced by Steve Carney before Alan Shoulder headed home the 77th minute winner.
He missed out on the famous win at Stoke City with Johnson & Shoulder the preferred strikers for the twice-postponed 4th Round tie. Despite playing and scoring in the game before the Wrexham 5th Round tie he missed out again, but was named sub for the sell out St James Park replay which provided his biggest disappointment in football:
“I was sub for that game; there was only one sub allowed in them days. It was my biggest disappointment that I didn’t get on. It was a fantastic night and we came within a whisker of a Quarter Final with Arsenal. They should have put me on when we were 0-2 down with 20 minutes to go – they might as well have had a goalkeeper on the bench!”.
He missed out on playing at St James again later that season not making the team for the Senior Cup Final win over Blue Star but a week later started in the League Cup Final on his old stomping ground Appleby Park. Blyth hammered Willington 6-1 with Archie scoring a hat trick; he kept his place 4 days later when Blyth took on Wrexham in the Debenhams Cup at the Racecourse Ground. Blyth claimed a superb 2-1 victory over the now Third Division Champions, 5 days later Archie came on as a sub in the 1-1 draw at Croft Park that saw Blyth claim the Debenhams Cup 3-2 on aggregate.
The following season he scored in 5 successive games and bagged another 5 goals before Spartans set off on the FA Cup trail again. A 4th Qualifying Round game at Billingham Synthonia saw Archie get the winner when his cross-eluded the keeper. He lost his place for the 1st Round tie at York City which ended in a 1-1 draw, but injury to Terry Johnson saw him back in the side for the epic 3-5 defeat on a snow-covered Croft Park.
Archie and Rob Carney returned to Appleby Park at the turn of 1979 as Marks went about rebuilding his side, despite stating his frustration at the fee’s being asked for some of the players he wanted. After signing Archie & Rob, Marks received little sympathy from Robins boss Geoff Allen:
“Spartans were not afraid to quote high fee’s for their players, I should know because I’ve bought two!.
Having returned to North Shields he reflected on his 2 great years at Blyth:
“I had some great times at Croft Park but some of the people in the crowd just wouldn’t get off my back. It got to the stage where I was thinking I couldn’t do anything to please them so the only thing to do was find a new club”.
And it was not just the fans that had it in for him:
“Jackie Marks loved me because I worked until I dropped, but the hierarchy weren’t keen on my style.”
Archie scored 13 goals in 20 appearances as Shields finished 7th in the Northern League but the 79/80 didn’t go to plan, after a 6-1 victory on the opening day things fell apart. In September John Tudor replaced Geoff Allen and they didn’t see eye to eye:
“John Tudor came in and he said anyone who didn’t want to play could leave, he made it clear he didn’t fancy my style of play so I went to play for Chick Charlton at Ashington”.
The move to Portland Park proved a great one; Charlton had guided the Colliers to a superb 3rd place finish and saw Archie as the last piece of the jigsaw. Within weeks of the move John Tudor took ‘his’ Shields side to Portland Park and were hammered 6-1 with Archie bagging 5!. Reaching the FA Trophy 2nd Round brought old Amateur Cup foes Woking back to Portland Park but they avenged Ashington’s famous Quarter Final victory in 1974 by winning 0-2. 1980/81 continued in the same vein as the goals flowed, on the 25th October they recorded their biggest victory since joining the league 10 years earlier hammering Willington 9-2 with Archie scoring 6!. The Colliers recorded 6-1 homes win over Horden & West Auckland and scored 5 on their travels at Billingham & Whitley Bay as they finished the League’s top scorers with 95, Archie finished the League’s top scorer with a superb tally of 47!.
His goals earned him £300 from league sponsor Drybroughs, only £100 less that the club received for being the league’s top scorers!.
Bizarrely the FA Trophy success almost lead to Archie moving to the Midlands!, a tough 1st Round draw at Alliance Premier Nuneaton Borough saw Charlton’s side pull off a shock with Archie & former Blyth team-mate Ronnie Scott scoring in a superb 2-0 victory:
“Nuneaton Player Manager was ex Arsenal player John Sammells and after we beat them he enquired about signing myself & Dave Brown straight after the game but nothing came of it”.
The season ended with a medal, the Colliers capped off a wonderful season winning their 1st Northumberland Senior Cup in 12 years beating Wearside League Heaton Stannington 2-1 in a replay at Whitley Bay following a 0-0 draw at St James Park 10 days earlier.
While Archie was starring for a resurgent Ashington his 18 month older brother was doing likewise 18 miles down the road!.
Spartans boss Jackie Marks had convinced Chairman Jim Turney to strengthen the side using some of the fee from Alan Shoulder’s move to Newcastle United. He finally replaced legendary centre half Ronnie Scott with the signing of Dave Mitchenson from Gateshead and a week later swooped for Les.
The continuing turmoil at Gateshead had provided Spartans with some rich pickings, Dave Clarke signed in summer 1977 when Gateshead United folded and Keith Houghton joined in the November 77′ citing his commitment’s to the Police force making travelling difficult, Mutrie & Mitchenson were only to willing to come to Croft Park.
While it was a move back down the leagues for Les it proved an inspired one, transforming his career catapulting him back into the professional game.
Les scored on his debut in a 1-1 draw home with Bishop Auckland on 31st March 79’, a fortnight after joining he faced his younger brother when North Shields came to Croft Park on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. The clubs had met 3 days earlier in a League Cup Quarter Final at Appleby Park, Les scored in Blyth’s 2-1 win but Ian hadn’t played due to being cup-tied from an earlier round with the Spartans. The Bank Holiday meeting also saw brothers Rob & Steve Carney up against each other, Les made it 3 goals in 3 games scoring in the comfortable 4-1 victory.
Les would go on to score another 8 goals as Blyth finished 5th in the league ending the campaign with a 15 game unbeaten run in all competitions, Spartans retained the League Cup when Les scored a brace as Blyth beaten Consett 4-3 at Spennymoor.
That summer saw Les & Keith Houghton earn the honour of being the first ever Northern League players to be capped for the England Semi Professional Squad, Les played in both games against Scotland & Holland as the 1st ever England Semi Pro team won the tournament. Les also became the first Blyth player to score for the National Semi Pro team in the 5-1 win over Scotland on 31st May.
He scored 4 in the 1979/80 opening day 7-2 demolition of Crook Town, Jackie Marks side swept to the clubs 1st Northern League title since 75/76 scoring 93 goals (the 4th highest tally since joining the league back in 1964). Blyth disappointingly lost an FA Cup 1st Round home tie 0-2 to Third Division Mansfield Town, Spartans were unbeaten in the league while it was their 1st away win of the season!. It proved to be the only FA Cup Les played for Blyth in which he didn’t score!, and he almost missed the game due to suspension having been sent off a fortnight earlier when the referee heard him ‘tell a team-mate what he thought’!.
Les scored 35 goals in a season that saw Blyth reach the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy before losing 0-2 to eventual runners up Mossley in a replay.
Les again won England Semi Pro caps that summer along with team-mate Dave Clarke, featuring in all 3 games against Ireland, Scotland & Holland as England won the Four Team Tournament.
1980/81 was the season that put Les back where he belonged, scoring 13 goals as Blyth reached the FA Cup 2nd Round, including scoring in 6 consecutive games.
Having scored a hat trick in the 7-o hammering of Horden CW in the 4th Qualifying Round Les then hit the winner in a 2-1 victory over Burton Albion in the 1st Round.
Blyth drew 3rd Division strugglers Hull City away. Spartans were in good form going into the tie, unbeaten in 7 having scoring 25 goals. Despite dominating play Blyth fell behind and despite hitting the woodwork several times it wasn’t until the 80th minute that Les fired home a deserved equaliser.
The replay went down as one of Croft Park’s all time great games, a 5,870 fanatical crowd was hopeful of a victory against the Third Division strugglers who had not won an away game in their last 32 attempts!. Les give Blyth an 18th minute lead with a superb solo goal, cutting in from left riding a challenge before unleashing a vicious 20 yard drive that give the Hull keeper no chance. Craig Norrie equalised in the 39th minute with a header but right back Ray Young topped Les’s effort giving Blyth a deserved 2-1 half time lead with a stunning strike. Les switched play picking out Young with a 40-yard cross-field ball, Young took a touch before unleashing an equally spectacular 18 yards thunder bolt. Spartans suffered heartbreak in the 85th minute when Keith Edwards beat Tommy Dixon to a long ball down field to fire home an equaliser.
Extra time was just as dramatic, Blyth were awarded a penalty Les stepped up confidently but Tony Norman pulled off a remarkable double save parrying the spot kick then reacting to save Paul Ross’s follow up. Blyth were denied another winner 2 minutes later when Paul Ross’s goal was ruled offside sending the tie to a 2nd replay. Elland Road, Leeds staging the 2nd replay the following Monday give Les a problem, he was booked into Newcastle RVI for treatment having played through the pain barrier since breaking his nose in June playing for England Semi Professional XI:
“I’m suffering stomach pains as a throwback to my broken nose which has never recovered. The problem is nobody seems to know what is the matter!. I have waited months for this appointment and I’m not going to cancel it and have to wait again. I want it sorted”.
Les kept his appointment and still made it to the game, once again the sides couldn’t be separated. Hull took a 64th minute lead but the Spartans took the game to extra time with a penalty 4 minutes from time, as in the first replay Les saw his spot kick saved by Norman only for the ref to order it to be retaken. Les made no mistake this time sending the tie into extra time, it took until the dying minutes to separate the sides when future England Manager Steve McClaren crossed for Stuart Croft to put the ball past Dave Clarke with his shoulder for a cruel winner as Hull reached the Third Round, but the drama wasn’t over for the Spartans fans.
- Les finished top scorer in the entire 1980/81 FA Cup season with 7 goals, his prize from the FA ?……………………a magazine!
“I scored seven goals in all Cup ties and the FA gave me a mag with my photo and record in it. I got nowt else officially, though my wife Sandra presented me with a great big cup as a memento”.
- Les played a total of 8 FA Cup games for Blyth scoring 9 goals.
Hull & Welsh National boss Mike Smith impressed at what he had seen convinced Chairman Christopher Needler to try to buy Les.
The first Les knew of it was when Jackie Marks came rushing into the Elland Road dressing-room: “Hurry up, you’re wanted upstairs. There at the top of the stairs stood Mr Needler, he said they wanted to sign me and I should travel down for talks tomorrow!”.
“Jim Turney took me in his Mercedes and I was left twiddling my thumbs outside the boardroom while he and Needler concluded a deal. All I had to do was go in and sign.”
The day after the game the local papers were running the story it was a done deal but Turney denied it and wasn’t giving much away amid reports the fee would be in excess of the £10,000 received from Newcastle United for Alan Shoulder a year earlier:
“We haven’t got around to a fee yet, but the lad is on a contract with us”.
The £30,000 fee Hull paid was their second highest outlay that season, and a record fee paid for a Non League player by a League club.
It was reported at the time that at 28 he would be the oldest Football League player debuting so far, none of it phased him and he was an instant hit with the Tigers fans but he wasn’t able to stop them being relegated to the Fourth Division fourth 1st time in their history, trouble was brewing inside Boothferry Park.
In September 1981 Keith Edwards was sold to eventual Champions Sheffield United and Les became lead striker along with another of Smith’s Non League signings; Billy Whitehurst who cost considerably less, only £2,500 from Mexborough Town in October 1980. Despite receiving £100,000 for Edwards the club was in crisis, in February it became the 1st ever English club to be placed into receivership. Mike Smith & his coach Cyril Lea were sacked in March and players were put on the transfer list.
Les was far from happy revealing in an interview at the time that he along with other players were asked to take pay cut:
“Its ludicrous and a situation I’m not prepared to accept. My contract has a set wage, yet they are asking me to take a massive wage cut. I just can’t do it. If they don’t honour my contract then I become a free agent. I’m already looking for another club at the minute.
I don’t think there is any way that I shall be playing for Hull next season. I appreciate that the club gave me a second chance in league football last years at the age of 28, but I believe I have repaid them in full”.
Les had been close to a dream move to First Division Birmingham City just before the transfer deadline but the deal fell through, Ron Saunders had taken over from Jim Smith in February 82’ as City faced the threat of relegation. Saunders identified Les as the striker to save them from the drop but he also wanted keeper Tony Norman in a joint deal for £150,000. Despite their dire financial straits, Hull were not happy with the amount offered and held out for more. Saunders wasn’t having it and the deal fell through; he then went straight to Third Division Bristol City to signed Mick Harford for £100,000.
*24-year-old Norman would go on to make the record number of consecutive appearances for Hull, playing 226 consecutive games between August 1983 and September 1988 before joining Sunderland for £500,000!.
Les recalls being unhappy about how the deal fell through having a different take on who was to blame:
”I was bitterly disappointed when the Birmingham deal collapsed. We were led to believe that no fees would be involved; yet when Birmingham came in for us, a figure of around £150,000 was being talked about for goalkeeper, Tony Norman and myself. Now it looks as though I’m going to be a free agent anyway”.
Confident in his ability but realistic that age wasn’t on his side:
“At my age it would be no good me going into the first Division and playing three or four games and then ending up in the reserves. It may be a question of signing for any league club where I can be guaranteed first team football because that is all I want. But that is not to say I couldn’t do it in the First Division, from what I’ve seen I’m sure I could do a good job. But First Division clubs worry about the ages of players. They prefer to produce their own kids because it’s obviously cheaper that way.”
Despite the situation he was quick to stress they were committed to the cause:
“There is plenty of spirit in the dressing room because I suppose we are playing to save our League careers.”
Hull legend Chris Chilton & Bobby Brown (a former aide to Mike Smith) took over as a Caretaker double-act and guided City to a respectable 8th place finish.
Les embraced the challenge between 13th February and 20th March he scored in 9 consecutive games to set a new club record, a record that still stands to this day!.
His 14-goal tally in that period saw him nicknamed ‘Sir Les’ by the City fans as he ended the campaign with 27 goals.
The financial situation was eventually sorted, a new chairman and manager were appointed, under Colin Appleton a remarkable transformation happened.
The former Scarborough boss piloted City out of the Fourth Division in 1982/83 as runners-up with 90 points – a new club record under the revised points system. Les’s form earned him a place in the PFA Fourth Division Team of the Year along with his Fourth Division Runners Up medal.
The following season he fell down the pecking order, Hull’s former assistant boss Cyril Lea was now manager of 4th Divison Colchester United and in January 84’ he signed Les for £10,000, making his debut on 28th January in a 1-1 home draw with Stockport County.
He made 16 appearance, 11 starts and 5 as a sub scoring twice, his first came on 4th February in a 4-1 win at Chester City.
In March 1984 Doncaster Rover boss Billy Bremner took Les on a month’s loan to cover an injury with Rovers closing in on promotion from the Fourth Division. Bremner had watched the 2 Blyth & Hull cup replays due to Rovers playing the winners so was aware of Les before he joined Hull, Les made his debut away to Aldershot on 24th March in a 1-2 defeat, he went on to play 9 times scoring twice which eventually helped Rovers clinched the Runners up spot.
Despite rumours of Rovers possibly making it a permanent deal nothing happened and Les returned Layer Road after the month. He played his last game for United in 11th May in the last day 1-4 defeat away at Halifax Town, in the summer of 1984 he returned to the North East signing for Hartlepool United.
Les made his Pools debut on 29th August 1984 in a 1-5 League Cup defeat to Derby County at the Baseball Ground, he played another 4 games before opening his account scoring the 2nd in a 3-0 home won over Crewe Alexandra on 29th September, they set off on a 13 game unbeaten which included avenging their earlier League Cup defeat with a 2-1 FA Cup home win over Derby County.
His next goal won the hearts of the Pool fans, grabbing the winner in a 1-0 victory at arch rivals Darlington on 2nd October. Les was to score twice more before injury ended his career, his 22nd and last game for Hartlepool was a 0-1 home defeat to Bury on 2nd January 1985, the niggling injury he’d been carrying finally ended his short but incident packed Football League career.
Les moved back to North Tyneside continuing involvement in the game having a spell as player/manager of Northern Alliance side Dudley Welfare while running a pub in Burradon. Les then became player/manager of North Eastern Amateur League side Rutherford AFC for two season’s. In his first season in charge he coaxed his brother into playing a few times. His last involvement in the game saw him guide Rutherford AFC to the 1990 North Eastern Amateur League Selcray Bowl before settling into retirement in the Northumberland countryside.
Les reflected on his time at Croft Park:
“I loved it there. Blyth had just undergone their fabulous run to the fifth round of the FA Cup which took Shoulder off to Newcastle United. I was signed from Gateshead as his replacement. We had a great team with the likes of Keith Houghton, Ray Young, Tommy Dixon, Dave Clark, and John Waterson and we continued to be very successful”.
And those of Hull City games and those penalties:
“What an almighty struggle those games were, we drew 1-1 at Hull when Keith Edwards put them ahead and I equalised with less than 10 minutes to go. We had paralysed them, hitting the post twice and the bar.
In the replay, I crashed the ball home from 25 yards only for Edwards to score again!.
It was 2-2 after extra time – and I had missed a penalty at the death!.
I was usually lethal from 12 yards and I put the ball in my favourite corner to Tony Norman’s left, but he flung himself full length and saved.
I had been unplayable during the 120 minutes but I left the field with my head hung low.
We went to Leeds for the second replay and blow me if Edwards didn’t net again.
Then we were awarded a penalty once again!.
I had changed my approach after missing my first kick.
From then on I watched the keeper early doors to note what hand he threw the ball out with and what foot he kicked with because that was usually his strong side.
If he favoured his left when clearing I would strike a penalty to his right.
However I lost my head completely and my spot-kick struck a bloke standing at the top of the terrace behind the goal!.
Unbelievably the referee blew for the kick to be retaken because of encroachment.
Jackie Marks was yelling for me to get off the ball and our skipper Tommy Dixon came over to ask if I was all right.
I snapped back: ‘Do you want to take it Dicka?’ He was off like a shot and I buried the ball.”
By the time of Les’s retirement, Ian had made a successful return to Croft Park partly due to his brother transfer from Blyth!.
Former player Bob Elwell had been appointed manager in June 1981 after Jackie Marks quit, he rebuilt the squad partly thanks to the balance of Les Mutrie’s transfer fee being paid by Hull.
He pulled of a coup signing midfielder Harry Dunn from NPL side Scarborough, however the biggest surprise was the return of Archie, and no one had expected it after his parting salvo 2 years earlier.
Blyth’s interest in Archie hadn’t gone down well with Ashington’s management, Elwell wanted the league’s top marksman so offered him a wage the Colliers just couldn’t match, they were not willing to part with their star striker despite reports that Archie had threatened to go on strike to force through the move!. The Portland Park board ended the stalemate by deciding to sell, manager Chick Charlton & his assistant Cecil Irwin immediately quit and their successful side started to break up.
Archie instantly proved why Elwell was so desperate to get his man scoring in 10 consecutive games, his 15 goals helped Spartans reach the FA Cup 1st Round. However the home tie with Walsall in November, which Blyth lost 1-2 to a late goal, put Archie’s superb season on hold when he twisted his knee damaging his ligament right on half time putting him out of action for nearly 3 months. He returned to action as Elwell’s side swept to the Northern League title losing only once in 18 games reaching the League Cup Final & Senior Cup Final. The 2nd leg of the treble was completed when Archie’s equaliser took the League Cup Final to extra time and then penalties which Blyth won 2-1, a week later Archie was in the team that beat Westerhope Excelsior 1-0 at St James Park to complete the superb treble.
Elwell’s side kept up their staggering form into the new season going another 17 games unbeaten with Archie starting all bar 1 scoring 8 goals, but a 0-3 FA Cup defeat at Alliance Premier League side Northwich Victoria saw Elwell’s surprisingly sacked!.
Archie thrived under new Player/Manager John Connolly, scoring twice in the 3-2 FA Trophy win at Whitby Town that set Connolly’s side off on a remarkable run, just like the lucky hat he wore throughout the famous 77/78 FA Cup, superstitious Archie decided not to have shave until Blyth went out of the Trophy!.
He then scored the winner against his former side Ashington in a Senior Cup Quarter Final before coming up against Nuneaton Borough in the FA Trophy once again.
This time Archie got the better of the Alliance Premier League high fliers scoring a dramatic late penalty to seal a famous 3-2 victory at Croft Park, in the 3rd Round Archie created the crucial goal that sealed a superb 2-0 victory over Altrincham that took the Spartans to the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy.
A 1-1 draw with Northwich Victoria at Croft Park took the tie to a replay, now sporty in full beard Archie putt the Spartans 1-0 up from the penalty spot, the Vics eventually ran out 3-2 winners. Despite the disappointment of the Trophy defeat Blyth recovered to retain the Northern League title scoring 32 goals in 8 games with Archie bagging 2 consecutive hat tricks.
1983/84 saw Archie sharing the striking duties with Geoff Hart & new signing Tony McFadden in a 3 man attack with him taking up a wider role managing only 4 goal before his former team mates Mick Dagless took over a manager when Connolly left the club.
In January 84’ he decided to move on and return to North Shields after his old Blyth boss Bob Elwell made an approach.
He left the Spartans as the club’s 5th highest Northern League goalscorer and scored against every team he played against in the Northern League for Blyth.
He still holds a club record to this very day!.
From 29th September until 7th November 1981 he scored in a record 8 consecutive games.
He scored 7 goals in his 17 appearance for the Robins as Elwell’s side pushed eventual Champions Spartans all the way finishing 9 points behind Blyth but outscoring them!.
Both Mutrie and Blyth stalwart Tommy Dixon had an opportunity to put one over on their old club in the Senior Cup Final at St James Park but a 2,000 crowd saw Tony McFadden’s extra time winner seal Blyth’s 1st county cup win in 3 years.
The following season saw Archie back in the goals for the Robins scoring a superb 33 goals from 47 games, they finished 6th in the league and lost the League Cup Final to Whitby after extra time.
He then joined Peter Feenan at Second Division Champions Brandon United for their 1st ever season in the Northern League First Division helping them to a respectable 8th place finish.
After a couple of season’s at the Welfare Ground he brought his illustrious Northern League career to an end playing for his old team-mate Mick Dagless at Alnwick Town.
Mick wanted Archie to use his experiences to help his young side and it worked a treat. Weighing in with goals as Alnwick finished Runners Up in the 2nd Division scoring 92 goals in the process. While at Alnwick he played with to future Spartans; Richie Bond, Gary Middleton & Mark Cameron before ending his footballing career with a very successful spell as manager of West Moor Social Club in the North East Sunday League.
Known for being the joker in the changing room but there was method in his madness:
“I could dissolve the tension and relax people, but still went out and played in a committed way, you still had to produce the goods. You’ve got to perform and have pride behind the stupidity.
I had some great times and some great laughs in my playing career and I thoroughly enjoyed it”.
There is one massive popular misconception about him and that’s his name!.
Many actually thought his first name was indeed Archie, but it was only a nickname given to him by his best friend:
“As kids we used to wind up my father calling him ‘daft old Archie’ and because I was just as daft it was handed down to me and it just stuck, even now some people still think it’s my name!”.
Archie never compared himself with his older brother:
“Les had so much skill, he should have been a top-notch pro but he went to Blackpool aged 15 and they turned him down! He had loads of approaches from other clubs but because of that rejection he declined them all. The only time I played with him was at Burradon on a Sunday morning. His vision and skill were unbelievable; he was a big game player and he had everything.”
- Les & Ian are 1 of only 2 sets of brothers to have scored hat tricks for the club,
Ian scored 3 hat tricks while Les scored 4 due to scoring 4 goals in the 7-2 win at Crook Town in August 1979.
However the Pyke brothers, George & Josh out did the Mutrie’s on the 11th April 1925 when they both scored 3 in the 9-0 win over Leadgate Park, George actually scored 5 that day
While they only time they ever played together was in their beloved Sunday League for Burradon Social Club, they were actually once named in the same Blyth side.
In November 1984 Les & Ian returned to Croft Park to take part in a Testimonial for their former Ashington & Blyth team-mate Tommy Dixon.
A 2,550 crowd saw Archie start and score as a Spartans side featuring Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Ron Guthrie, Ronnie Scott, Alan Shoulder, Terry Johnson & Eddie Alder beat a Newcastle United XI 3-1.
Les came on as a sub for his brother in the second half, so while they were in the same team that night they still never managed to actually play together for the Spartans!.
When Blyth Spartans fans are recalling former greats, the name Mutrie should rightly bring both Les & Ian to mind.
Both were superb servants to the club, playing equally vital roles in bringing success, both deservedly earned their places as Spartan greats.
- Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank you’s:
Kevin Tilmouth for his continued help and again providing vital information & memorabilia from his vast Blyth Spartans collection.
Alan Matthews Chairman of North Shields FC for this continued help and providing vital information on Ian’s North Shields career.
Michael Harker who provided information on Les’s time with Doncaster Rovers & allowing use of an image from his excellent history website.
Chris Sanderson & Alf Marchetti who provided vital information on Ian’s time at Ashington.
Ken Sproat for allowing use of info & images from his superb history book ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘.
Ashington AFC website for allowing use of photo’s from Les’s time at the club.
Images taken from the superb collection of old photo’s by then club photographer Mel Morpeth.
Alisdair Gibbs-Barton, for his genealogy research & continued help.
If you’re wanting to trace your family history check out his website:
Several books provided reference material:
‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘ The Official history of Blyth Spartans AFC.
We Love Football, a great book about local Non League Football by Barry Hindson.
It featured a section on Ian from which some info & images were used.
Northern Goalfields, The Official Centenary History of the Northern League 1889-1989
Northern Goalfields Revisited, The Millennium History of the Northern League both researched, complied & written by Brian Hunt.
The following football websites were used for reference & info: