Being a lifelong supporter of a football club can often mean its becomes part of your family. Events are arranged, even rescheduled around the dates of matches.
For some fans certain games can be missed however others wouldn’t ever think of missing a game.
How about not missing a single game your club has played for 32 years !.
The first game of the 2019/20 season was the 1,753rd consecutive Spartans game he has watched since he last missed a game.
Jeff can’t exactly recall his very first Spartans game but can vividly remember when his run started; Saturday 31st January 1987.
The date and game, North Shields at home in a Northumberland Senior Cup Quarter Final tie, is easy for him to recall.
It came 4 days after the club had made an epic 640 mile round trip to play at Bath City in a midweek FA Trophy 2nd Round replay.
The reason he can pin point it so easily is down to the fact he wasn’t at Twerton Park, Bath that night but he could and should have been.
All these years later its still annoys him he wasn’t at that game.
Back in January 1987 there was no mobile phones or internet so contacting your friends wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.
He had been unable to find a lift to the game so resorted to following the match the only way possible back then, the black and green twilight world of Ceefax:
“I remember sitting in front of the television, waiting for the page to update, watching and waiting for the score to appear.”
In the late 80’s Ceefax was the main way football scores appeared to the mass public after the final whistle, but it was a slow process:
“I don’t think the score came through until half an hour after full-time. There was no instant communication in those days. Eventually I saw it – we won 1-0 after extra time”.
The following Saturday at the home game with North Shields he found out that some friends had driven down to the match. They were very surprised he had not made it down to Bath.
He recalled how they had wrongly assumed he was making his own way there:
“When I saw my mates at the North Shields game one asked, why didn’t you come to Bath?.”
Informing them he had no way of getting there, the reply wasn’t what he wanted to hear:
“You could have got a lift with us – there was space in the car!’
“Now you tell me, I thought. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry – or hit him!”.
That is why the game against North Shields on Saturday 31st January 1987 is one he’ll never forget, it was the start of his extraordinary 32 year unbroken run.
I must be pointed out that despite wrongly assuming and causing him to miss that game at Bath we are all still good friends. We have enjoyed many great moments together since, such as beating Shrewsbury Town 3-1 at home in the FA Cup in November 2008.
As the years and season’s ticked by his unbeaten run somewhat crept up on him, it wasn’t until April 2005 that he even started to keep a record.
He recalled that it took another supporter reaching 1,000 consecutive games for him to realise just how many he had seen:
“I didn’t have a clue how many games I’d done – I didn’t keep count.
Then our former secretary, Anne Donnelly, did her 1,000th game in a row and received a lot of publicity. I spoke to her, said I hadn’t missed a match since Bath, and asked how many I was on. Anne was very much the statistician. She came back a week or two later and said:
‘My 1000th game was your 700th game in a row’.
“After that, I lost track again. Then at the end of one season, I came in from work one day, and there was a card on the doorstep.
It said: ‘That game at Bamber Bridge was your 1,004th consecutive game. I’m glad there’s someone as crazy as me. The card was from Anne, and since then I’ve kept a record.”
Jeff, who grew up in from Stakeford but now lives in Blyth, was in opposing camps to his other school friends who supported Newcastle United, he supported his local team.
The draw of Newcastle United just never really appealed to him:
“When I was younger and Blyth didn’t have a home game, like other youngsters I was drawn to St. James’ Park.
But it was so impersonal I just don’t feel connected like I did when watching Blyth.
It just didn’t grab me the way watching Blyth Spartans had”.
Having started watching the Spartans in the 70’s he became hooked by the famous 1977/78 FA Cup run:
“I was a young lad, growing up, and to see those games was amazing,”
“It just kicked on from there. It’s difficult to sum up getting the bug. I simply got on the bandwagon and didn’t get off”.
Jeff has not just been a supporter all these years, he is one of the army of volunteers that keep the club going.
He has served in an several official capacities:
“It’s just great to be involved with the club.
It takes up all my spare time but I enjoy it – I wouldn’t do the jobs I do if I didn’t.
I’m first and foremost a supporter and if I can help in any way on top of that I will”.
After serving on the Supporters Club committee for 10 years the club asked him to become their match secretary.
In August 2012 when the clubs legendary kit man Tony Kennedy retired they approached him about taking over the role. For several years he combined the role of kit man and fixture secretary. A perk of holding those positions is that they have afforded him the benefit of travelling to matches on the team bus.
A little side hobby over the years from being the kit man has seen him accumulated the biggest known collection of Spartans shirts, including many rare match worn shirts.
The opening league game of the 2019/20 season also brought the 9th manager he has worked with during his years as a volunteer.
When Jeff first volunteered at the club in 2002 Paul Baker was the manager.
Since then he has seen Graham Fenton (caretaker), Harry Dunn, Mick Tait, Steve Cuggy, Tommy Cassidy, Paddy Atkinson, Tom Wade, Alun Armstrong and now Lee Clark all in the Croft Park hot seat.
Many past managers have acknowledged Jeff’s dedication and work for the club. They have also benefited from his encyclopedic knowledge of past games and opponents Spartans faced over the years.
He has seen the clubs fortunes change considerably in his 32 year run.
From being the dominating force in the Northern League in the late 70’s and early 80’s to stagnating and almost folding in 1991.
In 1994 under new a regime the club finally took the long overdue step up onto the then named ‘Non League Pyramid’ and joined the Northern Premier League.
The move brought him whole new challenge. Away games in once seemingly far flung places such as Lancashire & Nottinghamshire were no longer just possible cup tie destinations, the likes of Fleetwood and Eastwood were now league opponents.
He has witnessed some great successes but life in the now ‘National League System’ hasn’t been without it’s problems.
In 2011 an unpaid tax bill saw the club come with hours of going under.
Since being saved by local businessmen the club has flourish. Jeff has seen the ground that has become his second home transformed into the best Non League ground in the region.
Success on the pitch has also followed another NPL title and two historic FA Cup runs that took the famed cup fighters to the 3rd Round.
Unsurprisingly there is an FA Cup theme running through Jeff’s record.
His 1200th consecutive game was the live 3rd Round cup tie against Blackburn Rovers in 2009.
In September 2014 the BBC’s Radio London’s Non League Show named him as their ‘Fan of the Week’ when they heard he was approaching 1,500 games.
In November 14′ Blyth had battled their way to a 31st appearance in the FA Cup 1st Round.
The national football media picked up on the tie against Altrincham being his 1,500 consecutive game.
A comprehensive 4-1 win set up a 2nd Round tie away at struggling 2nd Division Hartlepool United.
The game was picked by the BBC for live coverage, as kit man he took his place on the bench as the Spartans pulled off a dramatic last gasp win on live TV.
Football isn’t his only hobby Jeff is a serious music fan.
Before taking up the roles that afforded him travel on the team bus, countless away days on the supporters buses were always accompanied by his copy of the iconic magazine the Record Collector.
His other great passion is motor racing, he is massive Formula One fan and recently achieved an ambition when he attended the iconic Monaco Grand Prix.
Despite having witnessed and even been part of some truly famous games in his remarkable run, Jeff’s all time favourite Blyth games isn’t one you would ever imagine.
None of the dramatic tie in the two recent runs to the FA Cup 3rd Round or any from the two recent NPL seasons that saw Blyth amass a remarkable 200 points.
The game is one that sums up what following your club through thick and thin is all about. Your enjoyment of the cup run highs and success is amplified because you unwaveringly stood by your team during the difficult times.
His favourite game ever was nothing at stake Northern League game on a bitterly cold winters day in 1993.
Murton at home on Saturday 13th February.
It also happened to be departing manager Ronnie Walton’s last game in charge before he moved away due to work.
His side were without 3 keys players injured in a 8-3 mauling of Easington four days earlier.
Jeff recalled that bitterly cold February day:
“We had two men sent off and played for over an hour with nine men. It was 1-1 at the time. There was a group of us congregated behind the goal and none of us thought we’d win, but we did. It was incredible really.”
It was a remarkable performance from a Blyth side who showed that never say die attitude the club are known for. They had taken a 4th minute lead only for the visitors to level two minutes later and it soon got worse. In the 15th minute midfielder Steve Plaskett was sent off and then 20 minutes later left back Gary Hays was also shown a red card.
Despite intense pressure Blyth held out until half time and then remarkably took a 65th minute lead when Shaun Dunn fired home. With 10 minutes left the legendary Steve Pyle crash home a penalty after being sent tumbling in the box. Against the odds the 9 men Spartans were worthy of their 3-1 lead, Murton striker Paul Robson pulled a goal back in the 89th minute but Ronnie Walton’s side held on for the most unlikeliest of, but fully deserved victories.
Of the hundreds of players he has seen play for the club over the years picking his favourite XI was not an easy task:
“There have been so many great players. For me the 77/78 cup run side are the greatest Blyth team ever. So for me so to choose my all time XI, I would have to intentionally leave them out and pick other players”.
After much thought Jeff came up with his best XI and went for a 4-3-3 formation –
GK – Adam Bartlett.
Honourable mentions to Craig Turns and Mark Bell.
DEF – Michael Farrey, Alan Walker, Richard Pell, Dave Mitchinson RIP.
Honourable mentions to Gary Hays, Gareth Williams and Anth Lowther RIP.
MID – Paul Walker, Gareth McCabe, Stephen Turnbull.
Honourable mentions to Alex and Liam Gildea
How has he managed to achieve such a long run of attending games you may wonder.
While work commitments stop many others from regularly attending games his working hours have actually helped.
Jeff’s shift work job at an electronics factory has been a big factor in him getting the time off needed. Colleagues willing to swap shifts when games such a cup replays crop up at short notice has also been crucial:
“You have to have flexible shifts if you’re getting in from a midweek away game at 3am”.
Having watched his team play in Scotland and Wales he has clocked up some serious mileage over the years. His furthest travel came in December 2008 when the FA Cup 2nd Round draw put together the two teams geographically furthest apart.
A 727 mile round trip to see Blyth draw 0-0 with AFC Bournemouth.
Jeff is used to putting in the hard miles, his total includes a 500 mile round trip to Worcester for a midweek cup replay.
Then there was a midweek 428 mile round trip to Corby in February 2010, for a game which ended up being abandoned before half time due to fog with the Spartans losing 2-0!. He then did the exact trip again when the rearranged game was also played midweek.
Now in the 33rd season of his epic run he will surpass the 1,800 mark with his sights firmly set on reaching 2,000 games not out.
Pure dedication from a true Spartan.
Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank You’s:
Jeff himself – over the years of writing this blog he has helped enormously.
His memory and knowledge has proved vital, anything I can’t recall then a quick message to him and the reply is instant.
Several of our friends have helped provide some of the images used.
The following websites provided information from articles they’ve ran on Jeff’s achievements over the years –
Also the clubs website & Twitter page has provided info and images used –