A novel tribute to a late great Spartan.

Writer & Newcastle United fan Howard Linskey has paid a ‘novel’ tribute to the late great Steve Carney, in his landmark new novel ‘No Name Lane’.

howard-linskeyFerryhill born Howard had written 3 hugely successful crime thrillers about gangland Newcastle for his previous publishers No Exit Press, before being snapped up by publishing giants Penguin.

Following Newcastle United through the 80’s one of Howard’s favourite players was defender Steve Carney, his whole-hearted committed approach to the game was exactly what he demanded from those who wore the famous black & white.

When Steve sadly passed away in May 2013 acclaimed Newcastle United website nufc.com got in touch for details on Steve’s career pre St James and linked this blog’s tribute to Steve to their own tribute.
Howard’s novels had been promoted by nufc.com and he read the article about Steve’s tragic passing and he got in touch after reading the blog, with a new novel in the early stages of planning he hatched a plot to pay his own tribute to his Steve.

Howard was then snapped up by Penguin Books to write a 3 book series
and  having5005931 already planned his tribute to Steve he hoped he would be able to keep it in the new novel.
Despite working with new editors, who may have had their own ideas about characters in the new book Howard managed to keep his secret tribute in his brand new novel No Name Lane features disgraced Journalist Tom Carney!.

While writing his first 3 novels Howard had often used the names of former Newcastle players for major characters in his books, another former Spartan Peter Cartwright gets a name check in Howard’s superb debut novel The Drop.
The first of the David Blake trilogy, The Drop features Geordie Cartwright who has vanished along with a very large sum of money belonging to gangster Bobby Mahoney.
(Bobby Mahoney named after former United keeper Mick Mahoney).

523309944896715642607If you like crime thrillers especially North East based crime thrillers,
these are 4 of the best novels you’ll read.


Howard Linskey’s first novel, The Drop, was voted one of the Top Five Thrillers of 2011 by The Times Newspaper.
His second, The Damage, was a Top 12 Best Summer Read in the same newspaper.
Both books reached the top five in the Amazon Kindle charts and the David Blake trilogy has been optioned for film by Harry Potter producer, David Barron.


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The managerial history of Blyth Spartans AFC

Always a much sort after job the Croft Park ‘hot-seat’ has surprisingly seen less than 40 occupants in clubs history stretching back well over a century.
The club’s longest-serving manager has been Jim Turney, taken charge in April 1957 he served for 10 years. Jim would go on to complete a unique hat trick serving the club with great distinction as a player a manager and then Chairman, he is the only person to serve the club in those 3 roles.
The honour of the shortest spell as manager goes to Alan Shoulder who quit the post in October 1998 after only 14 games in charge!.
He was 1 of 5 players who featured in the famous 1977/78 FA Cup run that went on to have periods of varying lengths in charge of the club;
Mick Dagless, Dave Clarke, Tommy Dixon, Alan Shoulder & Steve Carney.
23 managers have either played for the club or acted as Player Manager, Joe Wilson was the 1st Player Manager in 1948.
6 managers have returned for 2nd spells in charge;
Mark Lawton, Jackie Marks, Peter Feenan, Harry Dunn, Mick Tait.
The average ‘life span’ of a Blyth manager works out at just over 2 years in charge!.

With the club coming into existence in 1899 the first ‘manager’ wasn’t appointed until 1933, before that the team had been selected by the committee.EH
The first ‘manager’ was former England Amateur International Ernie Hoffman, appointed in May 1933 Yorkshire born to German parents although officially Secretary he was classed at the 1st manager of the club.
Although his appointment didn’t go down well with town’s folk due to him living outside the town, Hoffman’s 4 years in charge were highly successful culminating in the historic North Eastern League title in 1935/36 when his side scored 104 goals in 38 games to become the first non Reserve team to win the league, Hoffman resigned in May 1937 to take up the post at Birmingham City.

Billy HoggHis replacement was Ashington FC Secretary Billy Hogg, however his reign only lasted until December 1938 when his policy of experienced signings proved too costly, poor results and low crowds didn’t help his cause.
To everyone’s approval Hogg’s replacement was a Blyth lad, living in the avenue’s Mark Lawton was the first Blyth born manager of the club as well as the first former player to manage the club.
His family had a long tradition with the club, his uncle Billy Lawton had played for the club and was Ernie Hoffman’s right hand man and Hilda Lawton played for the famous Blyth Spartans Munitionettes.
Lawton initially got off to a poor start but turned things around in the second half of the season, however his 2nd season was brought to an abrupt end with the outbreak of World War I.

  • Mark ‘Marky’ Lawton (1896-1981) was born in Phoenix Row Newsham and joined the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1914. image(1)
    He was transferred to the King’s Liverpool Regiment at some point and received two ‘Blighty’ wounds at Arras and Passchendaele.
    A ‘Blighty’ was a wound bad enough for a soldier to be sent back to England during the war, Mark was patched up and sent back to the front both times.
    Back home he was a miner at Crofton Pit but eventually got a job at the Blyth Labour Exchange.
    He married Barbara Allon (the Allons had a hat shop in Blyth) and they had three children: Dorothy (who married Cdr John Davis the commander of Blyth Submarine base in WW2), Ken Lawton (1924-2013) and Alan who is still alive.
Joe Wilson 1st PM

Joe Wilson on the right was the club’s 1st Player/Manager and captain!.

The club shut up shop during the war and when the club started up again Lawton was asked reprise his role as the club looked to get back to where they had been.
Lawton had been aided by player coach Joe Wilson, in April 1948 the County Durham born former Brentford, Reading & Barnsley centre half became the clubs 1st ever Player/Manager.
However come April 1950 the club was experiencing financial worries and could no longer justify employing Wilson so ‘for the foreseeable future the board would select the team’.

149 - Tom Blenkinsop

Tom Blenkinsopp in action at Croft Park.

After 3 good years for the club things had improved and a new manager was appointed in the summer of 1953.
It was a rather high-profile appointment, another Player/Manager came in the form of former Middlesbrough centre half Tom Blenkinsopp.
Born 13th May 1920 in Bishop Auckland, Blenkinsopp started off playing for West Auckland before playing for Grimsby Town, Middlesborough & Barnsley. Being paid £8 per week he was even bought a house in Kimberley Terrace by the Supporters club!. Blenkinsopp used his contacts and brought in expensive former League players, however it was a rather disastrous appointment and the club made a heavy loss on the season leaving the club in debt so he was given a month’s notice to quit his home and duly sacked.

166 - duggie wright at practice Aug 56

Dougie Wright (far left) watches a practise match at Croft Park in August 1956

Yet again the board took over the running of the team until they finally managed to appoint former Lincoln City player Dougie Wright as Player Manager in December 1954 after drawn out negotiations.
Blyth officials had been in talks to appoint the former Newcastle United player for over a month before Lincoln finally agreed to release Wright who had looked to retire from professional football due to injury. Wright eventually stopped playing and concentrated on managing the side, he was in the charge until the end of the 1956/1957 season the club had announced in the February that Wright’s contract wouldn’t be extended at the end of the season.

  • Had it not been for the fact that he was wounded in the leg at Dunkirk during the Second World War, it was more than likely Dougie Wright would spent the majority of his post-war career in the top flight of English football.Dougie wright pic
    He proved many wrong that the injury he suffered would prevent him from playing and battled on to forge a career in the game making 336 appearances for 3 clubs despite the events of Dunkirk. An England international at the age of 21, winning one cap in friendly against Norway in November 1938 playing along with the likes of Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Stan Cullis.
    Born on 29/04/1917 in Rochford, Southend John Douglas Wright played for Chelmsford City before joining his who home town team in 1936. After 2 years making a name for himself as a wing half he joined Newcastle United in 1938 for £3,250, the injury he suffered at Dunkirk effected his career at St James Park but Jackie Milburn rated him as “the best half back he played with in a Newcastle shirt!”.
    In 1947 Lincoln City boss Bill Anderson paid £650 for Dougie, it turned out to be an inspirational signing as he captained the Imps from his second game – against Chesterfield at Sincil Bank on Christmas Day 1948 – until his departure 245 League and Cup games later in December 1954.
    An ever-present in the Imps’ Division Three North championship winning campaign of 1951/52 Doug was in his 38th year when he parted company with the Imps by mutual consent; he had never been booked throughout his City career and received a benefit of £750 when he left to join the Spartans.
    After he retired from playing he worked at Blyth Power Station, Dougie Wright died in December 1992 at the age of 75.

April 19141 - Jimmy Turney 157 saw Jim Turney appointed, he had come to the end of a long-playing career with the club and was seen as highly ambitious. After 10 years in the hot seat that had seen the club play in 4 different leagues Turney stepped down as manager and within a year became the Chairman and as they say ‘the rest is history’.
Turney’s replacement was former Whitley Bay defender Tony Knox, Knox had a successful career for Hendon & Wycombe Wanderers and represented England at Amateur level before returning to play for his home town club in 1965 when he become a PE teacher in Newcastle.
He played 2Tony Knox seasons for Bay and scored the penalty in their Amateur Cup Semi Final 1-2 defeat to his old club Hendon at Roker Park in 1966. The full back gained more International & FA XI honours while playing for Whitley before he became Blyth’s Player/Manager in 1967. He only lasted 6 months resigning immediately after a 6-0 FA Amateur Cup win at Hearts of Liddlesdale in October citing family & work commitments, he returned to play for Whitley Bay before retiring at the end of the 69/70 season, he also had a brief spell as Bay manager in the 70’s.

Billy Fenwick took temporary charge until March before another
former player, JM 1stPeter Flaherty took over as caretaker boss until the end of the season, once the campaign ended Jim Turney set about appointing Jackie Marks. Having been over looked in preference to Knox, Turney had to personally go and visit Marks at his place of work to tempt him to Croft Park. Jackie Marks reign as manager lasted 2 years before he fell out with Jim Turney after a ‘discussion’ over a pay rise and he announced he would be leaving at the end of the
season to join Tow Law.

326 - Allan JonesFormer Bristol City coach Allan Jones was appointed, and it was announced that the PE teacher would ‘work with’ the Chairman!.
Jones methods suited the board and for 2 years it worked well the club reached the FA Cup 3rd Round for the 1st time ever beating League side Crewe & Stockport before losing to reading after a draw at Croft Park.
In April 1972 Jones confirmed he would take up the role as full-time manager at Fourth Division Darlington.
*Allan only lasted 6 months at Feethams and then managed Bermuda National team before moving to New Zealand in 1979 to managed their national side for 4 years and even he managed the New Zealand Womens team at the Olympics.

BBThe board acted quickly in appointing highly experienced Northern League manager Billy Bell, he had won the title with Evenwood & Spennymoor in previous seasons.
Bell achieved the aim and sealed his 4th title in 4 years with 3 different teams, however despite bringing the club their 1st ever Northern League title his reign was over before the season ended after disagreements with the board, Bell claimed promises made pre season had not been meet, claims the board refuted.
Eddie Alder & Billy Fenwick were put in charge for the League Cup Final victory over  Spennymoor to seal the clubs 1st ever Northern League Cup.

After a board meeting it was unanimously agreed that Alder & Fenwick should be
appointO'Neilled for the coming 73/74 season, after a season in which Blyth lost out on the NL title when a Play Off game was needed to separate the Spartans & Spennymoor the board felt a change was needed and in June 36-year-old former South Shields manager Alan O’Neill was appointed.
The appointment of the former Sunderland player proved inspired and he achieved great success with a free-flowing style of football winning the Northern League without losing a single game!.
Despite a very successful 2 seasons winning back to back titles in February 1977 O’Neill, who had a strained relationship with sections of the Croft Park crowd, resigned.

264 - Marks and Slane 77-78 training

Slane & Marks over see training (Marks still wearing his former club North Shields training top).

The club wasn’t short of applicants for the vacant job but the appointment was to be a historic one.
Brian Slane was brought back to the club as Player/Manager, and he in turn brought Eddie Alder back as his player coach. Alder proved his fitness to play every week so come the start of 77/78 Slane needed a new coach and appointed the man who had signed him for Blyth,
Jackie Marks.

The 1977/78 season is possibly the most famous in the club’s long history but come December 1978 Slane had announced he would be stepping down to spend more time with his family and concentrate on his teaching career.
Continuity saw Jackie Marks return to the hot seat for his 2nd spell, Marks reigned for 3 more highly successful seasons before discussions with Jim Turney & the board in May 1981 led to him leaving the job.

In June 1981 former player Bob Elwell was appointed, he had extensive BE
management experience with like of Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor & North Shields. After landing the clubs 3rd successive title, Elwell was rather harshly sacked in November 1982 following what the board decided was an unacceptable FA Cup defeat at Alliance Premier League side Northwich Victoria. Despite landed a trophy treble winning the league & League Cup and JR Cleator Cup all in his 1st season such was the standards demanded losing to an established Alliance Premier side was seen as unacceptable!.

JConnollyHis replacement was former Everton, Birmingham City & Newcastle winger John Connolly who had played in the Alliance Premier League with Gateshead. Connolly brought the 4th successive NL title to the Croft Park trophy cabinet with an attacking brand of football that also saw the club reach the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy but within a year he decided he wanted to return to a higher level of the game and went back to play for Gateshead. He played another year before returning to management with Whitley Bay in 1984.

Former Croft Park favourite Mick Dagless, who had been No.2 to Connolly, was appointed and he carried on the success landing a record 5th successive NL title.
However there was the now customary upheaval and the club ended the 1983/84 campaign losing services of yet another manager, the 5 successive league titles had been won by 4 different managers !.

The board turned to another former player when they appointed PF
Peter Feenan, he had great success as manager of Blue Star & Brandon United but he wasn’t able to keep title as the Spartans finished runners-up in 1984/85 to Bishop Auckland.
In October 1985 once again the boards action left the supporters stunned when the hugely popular manager was sensationally sacked just before the kick off an FA Cup tie after a row over team selection, making it 5 managers in 5 years.

JPFinally some stability was achieved with the appointment of former Everton & Newcaslte United forward Jim Pearson, however it took some rare patience from the board to see the club return to its Northern League dominance. A 4th place finish wasn’t what either party had anticipated but the patience paid dividends in 86/87 when Pearson’s rebuilt side swept to a 9th title with a handsome 14 points over the runners-up and he made it won back to back titles retaining the trophy 87/88.

Despite the success Pearson joined the ever-growing list to fall foul of
Chairman JiDCm Turney and was sacked shortly before the beginning of the 88/89 campaign, in August Dave Clarke was appointed the new manager he brought former striker Geoff Hart in as his No.2.
Clarke’s reign was shorted lived and the legendary goalkeeper resigned in November after poor run of results, his replacement was another ’78 Cup run legend Tommy Dixon, he brought in another former Spartans player Ronnie Walton as his assistant.

TDDixon’s near 2 year reign saw the club struggle a 9th place finish put pressure on Dixon who struggled to attract the quality of player he wanted and key players left for clubs trying their hand in the pyramid. In March 1990 Dixon eventually quit the club and Steve Carney saw out the season as caretaker manager.

Ronnie WaltonRW was the next appointed to manage the ailing club he had to work with an ever decreasing budget but his emphasis on youth worked as the club came through some tough times. In his first full season he achieved a 3rd place finish in the league however come February 1992 he felt he could no longer continue and left the club and midfielder Nigel Walker was appointed as caretaker. In a typical Blyth managerial twist Walton was to return to his post with a month of leaving!. In March 92 Ronnie left the job for good when he moved away from the North East for business. Walton was in charge during some difficult times at the club as financial worries mounted but showed his calibre as a manager developing a good mix of youth & experience and was rewarded with 3 trophies in 1 season; Northumberland Senior Cup, Northern League Cup and the JR Cleator Cup a feat no manager had achieved since the early 80’s.

  • Born on 12th October 1945 in Plymouth, Ronnie started his career as an apprentice with Rotherham United. Without making an appearance he joined Northampton for 1964/65 season but after only 1 game that season he joined Crewe, playing only twice he joined Carlisle until end of the campaign.
    Walton AFCIn Summer of 66 he signed for Aldershot where he would goon to make 193 appearances in next 6 seasons scoring 41 goals.

    Walton CUFC Promo

    Cambridge players celebrate promotion with Ronnie bare-chested in the centre.

    He then signed for Cambridge United in 1971 and was a vital apart of their 72/73 4th Division promotion side, scoring twice in the win over Mansfield that clinched promotion.
    Shots manager Tom MacAnearney took him back to the Recreation Ground and he would go on to play another 117 times taking into the top 10 of the clubs all time appearances with 310 in total and his 55 goals put him in their top 10 all time goal scorers. At the end of the 1976/77 season he left to join Southern Premier League club Dartford, after 2 season’s he relocated to the North East to open a car parts accessory business and was snapped up by  Spartans manager Brian Slane.
    Ronnie made his debut in a pre season friendly at Croft Park against Dutch 2nd Division side Den Bosch, Blyth ran out comfortable 4-1 winners on the night and Slane describe the signing of the impressive debutant as a “real discovery”.
    *It was also the game when Newcastle United & West Ham scouted Alan Shoulder, Magpies boss Bill McGarry was clearly impressed by the hat trick scorer and Alan moved to St James Park for £5,000 months later.
    Running his car accessory business was taking up more time and with a niggling knee injury Ronnie almost stopped playing in November 1978, but he carried on making the odd appearance before calling it time in March 1979. By the time he had returned to Croft Park as Tommy Dixon’s assistant in 1988 he had added one of Tyneside’s 1st KFC franchises to his business empire.

Peter Feenan made a return to the club some 7 years PF 2after being controversially sacked, it was a historic one for the club as he became the clubs 18th and last Northern League manager as the club made it known they would accept the place in the Northern Premier League on offer to the league winners.
Feenan’s side lead the table until the turn of the year before losing top spot to eventual champions Durham City, Peter resigned in the March after a run of 1 win in 7 games had dealt a fatal blow to the club’s hope of the title and subsequent promotion to the NPL.
Dave Robertson took charge as Caretaker and guided the club to the Northern League Cup Final (which they lost 0-2 to Northallerton) however by then there had been a huge twist in the automatic promotion place. It had become clear that Champions Durham’s new ground was not going to be ready on time and the NPL offered the promotion to the runners-up; Blyth Spartans.

HD 1The appointment of former midfielder Harry Dunn who had been manager of NPL Bishop Auckland was an ideal and popular choice for the club’s long-awaited venture into the pyramid. The club’s fortunes were on the up and Harry Dunn gained promotion as First Division Champions at the first attempt, however just when everything appeared to be going well Chairman Jim Telford proved he was just as ruthless as his predecessor. With 3 wins & 3 defeats in the first 6 games in the Premier Division Harry Dunn was sacked amid rumours of disagreements over playing certain players against the Chairman’s strict instructions.
Coach Tony Lowery took over from his former boss and for the 1st and only time in the club’s history a Director of Football was appointed. Former Manchester United & Newcastle United midfielder David McCreery was brought in to work with Lowery.
The new management team guided the club to its first FA Cup victory over a League club since the 1978 win over Stoke City when they beat Bury 2-0 at Gigg Lane however Chairman Jim Telford once again proved he was the boss. Entering the dressing room during the after match celebrations he introduced the new manager.
Peter Harrison was announced as the new manager with the intention of PH
Lowery being his coach and staying McCreery as a ‘consultant’!.
Needless to say it didn’t work out and within weeks Lowery left to join Bedlington after McCreery had taken a coaching job in America, Harrison brought in his own man as No.2 with his former Gateshead teammate Derek Bell coming to Croft Park as Player/Assistant.
After initial success guiding the club to an excellent 6th place finish in 95/96 his second season didn’t go to plan despite a handsome playing budget and after 1 win in 10 games he handed in his resignation after a 0-4 defeat at Leek Town, the board accepted it and keeper John Burridge stepped into the breach.
Taking caretaker charge for a league game at Witton and an abandoned Presidents Cup tie at Worksop Budgie was soon installed Player Manager on a permanent basis.
JBUnsurprisingly Budgie’s time in charge was eventful with a famous FA Cup game at Blackpool but it’s end was just as eventful but for less auspicious reason. Form hit a low and Budgie seemed unable to turn things around 2 wins in 14 home games was one of the worse home records the club had for many years and then just as it seemed it couldn’t get any worse it did. The club was handed a 10 point reduction from the NPL for playing a player without getting International Clearance then to make matters worse it turned out a player was used when he was supposed to be suspended!.
Budgie was sacked after a Senior Cup Final defeat at St James Park, popular tale has it he was in the bath when he was asked to step down, refusing he was then being sacked!.

ASNext into the hot seat was another hero from the 77/78 Cup run,
Alan Shoulder however in one of the shortest reigns ever for Blyth manager Shoulder was gone. After 14 games Alan had managed only 4 wins and his short spell ended after an FA Cup defeat charge Chairman Ernie O’Keefe reluctantly accepted his resignation, Shoulder’s Assistant John Gamble stepped up to become Player/Manager.

JGThe hugely popular defender’s reign in charge lasted just under a year, the club Centenary season didn’t go to plan and John resigned in the September after a very poor start which saw his side win 1 in 13 games and score in only 4 of the first 11 league games in which 5 players were sent off in the opening 9 games!.

Right back Michael Farrey & physio Glen Martin took charge for 1 game before the board appointed former Hartlepool manager Mick Tait, it was an impressive appointment landing Tait and it worked as he steered the side away from the relegation zone and achieved a decent 14th place finish. However financial problems caught up with the club once again leading to Tait and his assistant Tony Harrison quitting in July 2000 citing funds promised to build and side for a ‘promotion challenge’ weren’t forthcoming.

John Charlton was brought in as manager, it was his first experience as a manager but had coaching experience working under his father Jack while in charge of the Republic of Ireland team. Charlton set about his brief of building a team as cheaply as possible to keep the club in the NPL. Despite achieving this crowds were falling and money problems kept on growing. Money problems almost brought an end to the club in summer of 2001 as the club only just managed to stave off a winding up order. Charlton continued his policy of bringing on young players but come October 2002 the board’s faith in his approach was waning and yet again the FA Cup put pay to another manager, Charlton’s side lost at home to Runcorn Halton FC and he was sacked. The decision didn’t go down well with him and there was a bit of a ‘war of words’ with reports of threats made to players who continued to play for the club, a misunderstanding over player bonuses seemed to be the cause.

The club’s Football Development Officer Tom Wade took temporary charge and had the difficult task of sorting out the ‘issues’ left by a bitter Charlton. After 2 impressive victories things looked to have been sorted but heavy home defeat followed by a Monday night game at Drolysden brought things to a head, all of a sudden several players became ‘unavailable, injured or ill’ on the morning of the game!.
Only 7 players were available for the trip and Wade had to use his contacts in local football to draft in fours 17 years olds from Blyth Town just to be able to field a side, and with no subs Blyth lost a player injured after 25 minutes with the game at a 0-0 stalemate. In the end the 10 men lost 0-7 but given the circumstances the players deserved the utmost credit for playing the consequences of not fulfilling the fixture far worse than losing 3 points!.

PBA fortnight after sacking Charon the club appointed his replacement in former Hartlepool legend and UEFA ‘B’ coach Paul Baker who had played for the club 4 times under Charlton.
Although not primarily a Player/Manager Baker would continued to be registered as a player and used himself on another 9 occasions over his near 2 year spell in charge.
Wade stayed on as assistant until he was replaced by forward Graham Fenton for the 2003/04 season. Despite the much-needed overhaul of the playing squad Baker’s team struggled badly in the league there was a 10 game win less run as the club finished 3rd bottom 2 points from safety!.
*Fortunately for the club there was a very lucky escape because for once a bottom 3 place didn’t lead to relegation, the season had been played in the knowledge that the Northern Premier, Southern Premier & Isthmian League would provide their top 13 teams to create the new Conference North & South feeder leagues to the Conference Premier.
The new 2004/05 season brought hope with the new assistant in place but after another raft of new signings things hadn’t improved much 2 wins in 7 games and a surprise home FA Cup defeat at hands of North West Counties league side Skelmersdale United put severe pressure on Baker, despite calls to quit he stood firm only to quit 4 days later after another league defeat at Whitby.

The nextHarry Dunn appointment changed the fortunes of the club in ways nobody could have imagined after seasons of struggling in the NPL. After 9 years service Harry Duun had been sacked by Whitby shortly before Baker had quit the Croft Park hot seat and to many it was the perfect fit, the deal was done and Harry Dunn was tasked with reviving the floundering team who sat bottom of the NPL. It initially took time to turn things around but Dunn and his assistant Graham Fenton achieved a respectable 12th place finish.
Harry Dunn’s legendary status with Blyth fans was enhanced even more in the following 2 season’s. Having won the First Division title at the 1st attempt back in 1994/95, he then went one better in his first full season back at the club guiding the side to the NPL Premier League title despite a crazy fixture backlog. Dunn then saw his side adjust to the Conference North with ease topping the league in September and come April they only just missed out on the Play off’s by 3 points!. The next season Dunn’s team found it tougher and finished 18th, but in 2008/09 Harry Dunn guided the club to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup for the 1st time in 31 years. The league campaign took a severe hit as they concentrated on the cup and it took a sterling effort to salvage the league season fight off the threat of relegation and achieve a 15th place finish.
With Harry’s contract up at the end of the season the board decided not to extend it and there was a parting of the ways for arguably one of the greatest managers the club had ever had.

MTThere was a return for a former manager when the board acted quickly to appoint Mick Tait as new manager in the May, since 2000 he had an eventful year at Darlington acting as Caretaker Manager, Full time manager & Reserve Team Coach and a spell as manager of the ill-fated Newcastle Blue Star. His 2 year spell back at Croft Park saw the Spartans play an exciting brand of free-flowing football which lead to an FA Trophy Quarter Final appearance for 1st time in 28 years. However after a 9th place finish in 2010/11 Tait left the club at the end of the season

Once again the board acted very quickly and within days had a new SCmanagement team in place, former Spartan Steve Cuggy was appointed manager having been coach at Whitley Bay. However despite confidence it was a fresh start with the appointment of an up and coming young manager it was anything but and lead to a turbulent time for the club which was to see 3 managers in a single season!. Despite an FA Cup 1st Round appearance the league results were far from the expected level and the club found itself in a relegation battle!, Cuggy resigned in the December.

TCThe highly experienced former Workington & Whitby manager Tommy Cassidy was seen as the perfect appointment to try to save the club from relegation.
However the task looked to be a daunting one for Cassidy as it took him 9 games to record his 1st victory by then the damaged looked to have been done and after only 5 wins in his 20 games it was not enough and it was a bitter blow for the club to lose the Conference North status it valued so highly it was the 1st time the club had ever been relegated in its 113 years. Cassidy failed to turn the clubs fortunes around and despite 5 wins in the opening 12 games pf the season the board terminated his contract after a FA Cup defeat at his former club Workington.

PAFormer Blyth player & Cassidy’s assistant Paddy Atkinson was caretaker for a month before being appointed permanently, he in turn appointed Tom Wade as his No.2.
Atkinson’s spell didn’t go well and only lasted 4 months and 25 games, with only 7 wins recorded and the club’s heaviest defeat since 1953 in a 1-8 mauling at Worksop he handed in his resignation in early March 2013 citing ‘increasing work commitments’.

Once again ToTWm Wade had stepped into the breach taking charge for an away game at Kendal when Atkinson hadn’t been ‘available’ for the game only days before handing in his resignation!.
Wade recorded the club’s 1st away victory of the season at Kendal and the board ‘offered’ him the role until the end of the campaign. Within a month Wade had accepted the offer of managing the club for the following 2013/14 season.

In typical Spartans managerial style Wade’s 100th game in charge came in the competition that had cost so many managers their job. He joined Allan Jones, Brian Slane & Harry Dunn taking the club into the 3rd Round of the FA Cup dramatically beating Hartlepool United 2-1 away watched by millions live on the BBC.
Not a bad way to celebrate 100 games in charge!.

In September 2016 Wade decided to step down, his final game in charge was his 200th as manager (add in those as assistant and its 315 games).
Having been appointed in March 2013 he transformed a struggling side finishing in a higher league position in each of his 3 season’s in charge. His final season saw the club achieve a record 99 points only to finish 2nd and then miss out on promotion in the NPL Play Off’s.

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-13-35-05The club acted quickly appointing former Middlesbrough & Ipswich striker Alun Armstrong.
Alun who runs his own Soccer School business, had been working in a coaching capacity at Middlebrough FC after discussions with the Blyth board he decided to resign his post and take up the managers job offer.


  • The managers of Blyth Spartans AFC in reverse order:

Alun Armstrong September 2016 >
Assistant Manager/Player – Neal Hooks – August 2016 > current
Joint Assistant Manager – Darren Holloway – October 2015 > current

Tom Wade March 2013 > September 2016
Assistant Manager/Player – Neal Hooks – August 2016 > current
Assistant Manager John Cornforth – June 2016 > July 2016

Coach Lee Picton – February 2015 > May 2016
Assistant Colin Myers – June 2013 > February 2015

Coach John Cornforth – March 2013 > May 2013

Paddy Atkinson November 2012 > March 2013
Assistant Tom Wade – October 2012 > March 2013

  • Paddy Atkinson Caretaker Manager October 2012 – November 2012

Tommy Cassidy December 2011 > October 2012
Team Coach Paddy Atkinson – June 2012 > October 2012
Assistant Gavin Fell – May 2011 > May 2012

Steve CuggyMay 2011 > December 2011
Assistant Gavin Fell

Mick TaitMay 2009 > May 2011
Player/Assistant Manager Chris Swailes June 2010 – May 2011.
Assistant Adam Sadler June 2009 – January 2010

Harry Dunn October 2004 > April 2009
Assistant Graham Fenton

  • Graham Fenton & Paddy Atkinson – Caretaker Managers September 2004

Paul Baker November 2002 > September 2004
Player/Assistant Graham Fenton Summer 2004September 2004
Assistant Tom Wade November 2002 – Summer 2004

  • Tom Wade – Caretaker Manager October/November 2002

John Charlton July 2000 > October 2002
Assistant Graeme Clark

Mick Tait September 1999 > July 2000
Assistant Tony Harrison

  • Michael Farrey – Caretaker Manager (1 game) September 1999

John Gamble October 1998 > September 1999
Assistant Lawrie Pearson

Alan Shoulder May 1998 > October 1998
Assistant John Gamble

John Burridge – Player Manager – March 1997 > May 1998

Peter Harrison November 1995 > March 1997
Assistant Derek Bell – November 1995 > March 1997
Coach Tony Lowery – November 1995
Director of Football David McCreery – November 1995

Tony Lowery Coach
David McCreery Director of Football
September 1995 > November 1995

Harry Dunn May 1994 > September 1995
Coach Tony Lowery

  • Dave Robertson Caretaker Manager March – May 1994

Peter Feenan March 1993 > March 1994

Ronnie Walton –  April 1990 > March 1993
(Nigel Walker Caretaker Manager February – March 1992)

  • Steve Carney Caretaker Manager March – April 1990

Tommy Dixon – November 1988 – March 1990
Assistant Ronnie Walton

Dave Clarke – August 1988 – November 1988
Assistant Geoff Hart

Jim Pearson – November 1985 – August 1988
Assistant Fred Turnbull, Coach Dave Clarke

Peter Feenan – May 1984 – October 1985
2nd – Derek Middleton
1st – Alan York

Mick Dagless –  November 1983 – May 1984
Assistant/Coach Brian Main

John Connolly Player Manager
November 1982 – November 1983
Coach Mick Dagless

Bob Elwell – June 1981 – November 1982
Coach Tony (Anthony) Britt

Jackie Marks – December 1978 – May 1981
Coach Peter Flaherty
Coach Gary Moore

Brian Slane Player Manager
February 1977 – December 1978
Coach Jackie Marks
Player Coach Eddie Alder

Alan O’NeillAugust 1974 – February 1977
Coach A.Cruddance
Trainer Pat Smith

Eddie Alder & Billy Fenwick Joint Managers
May 1973 – August 1974

Billy Bell – June 1972 – May 1973

Allan JonesMay 1970 – April 1972
Trainer Billy Fenwick

Jackie MarksMay 1968 – May 1970
Trainer Billy Fenwick

  • Peter Flaherty Caretaker Manager March 1968 – May 1968
  • Billy Fenwick Caretaker Manager October 1967- March 1968

Tony KnoxPlayer Manager
August 1967 – October 1967
Trainer Billy Fenwick

Jim Turney – April 1957 – Summer 1967
Trainer Billy Fenwick

Dougie Wright – Player Manager
December 1954 – April 1957
Contract as manager not extended but Wright stayed on as Secretary.

*Team was picked by the committee until Wright appointed.

Tom Blenkinsopp Player Manager
Summer  1953 Summer 1954

*Team was picked by the committee until Blenkinsopp appointed.

Joe Wilson Player Manager
April 1948 – April 1950
* Wilson became first player manager.

Mark Lawton – July 1946 April 1948
Joe Wilson Player Coach

  • November 1939 Blyth Spartans ceased due to the outbreak of the war.

Mark Lawton – December 1938 November 1939
Trainer Billy Lawton

Billy Hogg – May 1937  December 1938

Ernie Hoffman Secretary/Manager
May 1933  May 1937
Trainer Billy Lawton
* Hoffman was appointed as a Full Time Secretary but also worked as team manager.

  • Before Ernie Hoffman the team was picked by the committee.



  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Dan Jackson for providing excellent information & images on his great-grandfather Mark Lawton.

Ken Sproat for images and information and of course his superb book ‘The History of Blyth Spartans’  was a crucial source of info.

Kevin Tilmouth for providing information & images on former managers.

The following excellent football websites were used for reference & info:







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Classic Matches – Blackpool FA Cup 1997/1998

Blackpool 4 Blyth Spartans 3

Saturday 16th November 1997programme
Littlewoods FA Cup 1st Round
Bloomfield Road, Blackpool.
Attendance: 4,814
Preece 4th
Henderson 11th
Di Lella 44th
Linighan 60th
Clarkson 69th
Atkinson 84th
Clarkson 89th

Referee: M.Dean.
Linesmen: S.J Griffiths & A.N. Smith.
Blackpool team:
Banks, Lydiate, Dixon, Butler, Linighan, Philpott, Bonner, Clarkson, Bent, Ellis, Preece.
Subs: Omerod for Ellis 76th minute, Longworth for Bent 90th min.
Unused: Brabin, Barnes, Reed.
Blyth team:
Burridge, Farrey, Pike, Todd, Gamble, McGarrigle, Renforth, Hislop, Henderson, Fletcher, Di Lella.
Subs: Jon Atkinson for Fletcher 76th min, Jason Ainsley for Di Lella 76th min,
Willie Moat for Henderson 81st min.
Unsused: Cole, Tinkler.

The clubs history means that FA Cup ties always attract a degree of media attention, that degree of attention depends on certain factors such as what round of the cup it is, who the opposition are etc but in October 1997 the media attention went into an absolute frenzy.

Amid a very mediocre beginning to the 1996/97 Unibond Premier season Blyth had reached the 4th Qualifying Round defeating Spennymoor United (1-0 in replay after a 1-1 draw), Garforth Town (1-0), Worksop Town (4-0), Conference side Kidderminster Harriers provided the opposition for what was a difficult hurdle to overcome to reach the promised land of the FA Cup 1st Round.

Blyth’s form could be best described as ‘ropey’ following the opening day 3-1 win at Chorley, only 1 more league victory had been registered, (another away victory at Marine). The home form was worse with only 6 goals scored in 7 league home games and 3 draws had yielded 3 points, the pressure was mounting on the manager.
Having ground out a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Accrington Stanley a week before the Kidderminster tie things seemed on the up, however only 4 days before the tie local rivals Bishop Auckland inflicted a 4-1 home defeat on the Spartans and the fans frustration grew even more at the inconsistency of the vastly experienced players.

The manager however remained totally unfazed by the pressure and even more unflappable in his belief that he was right and things would come good, confidence was one thing that John Burridge had never lacked in his football career.

Having been brought to the club as a player in September 1996 by then manager and now infamous Football Agent Peter Harrison, Budgie had taken over as Player Manager in March 1997 as a the Spartans finisheda  respectable 7th place in the Unibond Premier League.Man city
Budgie had made his Spartans playing debut against Hyde United in the Unibond Premier League on 7th September 1996 only 15 months after he became the oldest player to play in the Premier League played for Manchester City v. QPR on 14th May 1995 aged 43 years and 163 days. In those 15 months Budgie had become ‘gloves for hire’, signing for clubs as emergency cover signing for 8 clubs in those 15 months (Notts County, Witton Albion, Darlington, Grimsby Town, Gateshead, Northampton, Queeen of the South & Purfleet).

Hopes had been high for the new campaign and the supremely confidant Burridge who had no previous managerial experience prior being appointed but had spent many years coaching top flight goalkeepers was expected to use his contacts within the game to build on what he had inherited. However things hadn’t quite gone to plan so to get within touching distance of the FA Cup 1st Round was seen by many as having kept Budgie in the job.
The 4th Qualifying Round opponents weren’t in great form themselves, the Harriers had won just 4 of their opening 14 games so hopes were high of an upset and reaching  the 1st Round. In keeping with Blyth’s cup traditions the Conference club were sent packing thanks to goals from Damien Henderson & Willie Moat in a 2-1 victory in front of the local news camera’s.
The draw for the 1st Round was straight after the 4th Qualifying Round games so almost all the 643 crowd crammed into the Spartans social club to watch the draw live on TV.
Needless to say the reactions when the draw was made where euphoric, people were up on the seats tables celebrating & already plotting their weekend away in Blackpool.
For Budgie it was all too much and he broke down in tears at the news of a return to the club that set him off on his rather illustrious career, one that would see him play for 29 different clubs clocking up 771 league appearances in England & Scotland in a career that lasted nearly 30 years.
The media soon picked up the relevance of the tie with some mistakenly claiming it was a return to his 1st League club, however that was wrong because he had played for Workington in 3rd Division North from 3 years before signing permanently for the Seasiders after a loan spell at Bloomfield Road.

Blyth’s form picked up approaching the Blackpool game with a 5 game unbeaten run and foundations of a story that stole some of Budgie’s limelight on that brisk November day where cast during that run.
On Tuesday 27th October, Blyth beat local rivals Whitley Bay 1-0 in a dour Northern Premier League Cup 1st Round tie, with the impending cup tie looming Budgie juggled his squad giving 2 Yorkshire based players (striker Damian Henderson & midfielder Mark Todd) the night off and in typical Budgie fashion handed a debut to an unknown striker, it was a rather unspectacular debut to say the least.

GUSBorn on 6th October 1973 in Buenos Aires, Gustavo di Lella had arrived at the club after unsuccessful trials at Tranmere Rovers & Darlington, Budgie had put him up in his in Durham city home. With Italian ancestry, he was able to get round Work Permit restrictions and arrived in the UK to try to make his name as a professional footballer. ‘Gus’ had been playing for Club Deportivo Móstoles, a Spanish team from Móstoles, a city in the southern metropolitan area of Madrid so a cold October night in Northumberland was a culture shock for the player who didn’t speak a word of English and unsurprisingly became the clubs 1st ever Argentinean player.

Blyth fans were rather surprised when ‘Gus’ kept his place for the next game 4 days later at the cost of their ‘cult hero’ Willie Moat & young striker Jon Atkinson, thinking Budgie had seen something in him they hadn’t. Unknown to them the team Budgie fielded in the 3-1 win over Colwyn Bay was the same side he planned to put out against the 2nd Division side the following week.

The week before the big game the media frenzy intensified and news broke that the team would be filmed on their weekend in Blackpool for a documentary about Budgie returning to ‘his’ club, the result being a rather strange documentary that also featured the Spartans social clubs barmaids on there weekender in Blackpool !.
budge blackpoolThe papers were full of stories recounting Budgie’s youth and early days at Blackpool following his £10,000 move into the ‘big time’, such as the tale of his Blackpool debut in April 1971 away at Goodison Park with classic quotes such as:
“I was just a teenager fresh from playing for Workington and I looked a real country hick !.
I was wearing a ridiculous suit-the only one I had-and all the Blackpool players were taking the mick out of me. I couldn’t get off the coach quick enough, raced into raced into Goodison and get my gear off. I felt humiliated. We were a poor family and my dad had died so mam was looking after us. I often wondered when I was a kid going to school why others laughed at me just because I was dressed as a Japanese Admiral !”.
“There I was ranged against all the top stars-Alan Ball was wearing his white boots and shouting in that squeaky voice, I could see the likes of Howard Kendall, Joe Royal & Colin Harvey. Mind you, I was ruddy marvellous. I had a blinder and we drew 0-0!”.


Kona (left) and his bother Shaka.

The Evening Chronicle picked up on the goalkeeper theme but from a different angle with an article on Blyth’s midfielder Kona Hislop and his brother Newcastle United’s £1.75 million keeper Shaka.
The FA Cup is very special the biggest cup tournament in the world where dreams come true” said Shaka.
“I only hope they do for Kona & Blyth. I may be the brother who has played in the big time but I’ve never enjoyed Cup glory. At Reading we always seemed to fall at the first hurdle, even when we were doing well in the league and it hasn’t been much different for me personally at Newcastle.
However on Saturday, Kona can grab my thunder and I wish him well”.

Kona, who had joined Blyth in the summer having made 30 appearances for Hartlepool before being released, born in London he was only 2 months old when the family moved back to the West Indies, Shaka who had been 2 years old laughed:
“He seems to have followed me around. He went to the same American University as me on a soccer scholarship and then came over to reading a few months before my transfer to Newcastle.
When I came to the North East, Kona followed me up and played for Hartlepool last season. I watched him a few times at Victoria Park but I haven’t seen him play for Blyth. It’s his big day on Saturday-we haven’t got a match and he has the spotlight as all little clubs do on the first round day. It could turn out a headline event”.

The Evening Chronicle even sought an opinion on Blyth’s chances of a Cup upset from Blackpool’s most recent opponents Burnley!.
The Seasiders had beaten Burnley 2-1 at Bloomfield Road the week before the Cup tie and the Burnley Player/Manager was none other than Chris Waddle.
“They are capable of beating Blackpool, you can never rule out the chances of a non league club winning, especially in the first round”.
“There have been plenty of shocks at this stage in the past and there could well be at least one on Saturday. However I must warn Blyth that Blackpool looked a powerful unit last Saturday. They played in a 4-4-2 formation against us and they played at a high tempo from star to finish”.

Waddle who had played against Blyth as a 19-year-old in his Tow Law days recalled:
“They were happy days, but its more than a few years since the. I remember Blyth as a competitive team – and that’s just what they will have to be at Bloomfield Road. If they work hard and match that high Blackpool tempo, then I would not be greatly surprised if there was not at least one upset on Saturday”.

Waddle’s warning to be ready wasn’t lost on Burridge, two things Budgie could never be accused of was not being ready or lacking confidence which showed in his appraisal of the opposition:
“I saw nothing to make us afraid. We are a bunch of proud men and we are well aware of our mission. We will play with skill, flair and courage. That is a promise to our fans and the rest of the North East.”

The team, accompanied by a TV crew, travelled down on the Friday morning in preparation for the game, interviewed in the team’s hotel Budgie stated:
We will go into the game as the best prepared Non League side there has been.
But some of my lads will be close to tears when we leave our hotel because they will know they are not in the starting line-up. Tomorrow is not a day for sentiment. I will go with a team that I think is best for the occasion and if that means breaking a few hearts, then so be it. The important thing is to make sure we break a few when the games is on.”

When pressed by the interviewer on his side he firmly replied:
The players concerned will be the first to know”.

Both sides had fully fit squads to pick from although Blackpool defender Phil King was cup tied giving Player/Manager Nigel Worthington a straight choice of playing himself or giving youngster Bill Dixon his senior debut.
Blackpool were more than aware of the dangers Non League sides can cause and the potential of an upset, it was the 3rd season in a row they had hosted a Non League side in the cup and they keen to avoid a repeat of the previous season when Conference side Hednesford reached the 3rd Round for the 1st time in their history winning 1-0 at Bloomfield Road.

The team ran out Bloomfield Road acknowledging the 1,000+ travelling Blyth fans housed in the corner of uncovered Spion Kop and a small adjoining section of the East Paddock Stand, little did they know the dramatic 90 minutes that awaited.
Despite having played his starting XI in the previous fixture Blyth’s team selection surprised a few with new boy Di Lella starting and Jon Atkinson & Willie Moat having to settle for a place on the bench, however the naming of former Barrow & Gateshead midfielder John Ainsley as a sub proved the biggest surprise. Blyth had signed the highly rated midfielder following his return to the UK after another spell playing professionally in Singapore, Burridge acted quickly to beat other clubs to his signature having being tipped off about his return by a friend of Jason’s who just happened to be club captain John Gamble!.

Spion Kop

The Spion Kop East which housed the Blyth fans seen with the famous tower behind it.

Blyth started the game defending the Kop end that housed their boisterous support, and as warned Blackpool started the stronger, Blyth were instantly on the back foot and as early as the 3rd minute the home side had the lead.
Di Lella conceded a free kick on the left hand touchline Lee Philpott curled the free kick into the Blyth penalty area, as the defenders hesitated Andy Preece held of his marker to calmly head past a stranded Burridge, the player manager raged at his defenders who seemingly realised the wasn’t intending on coming for crosses, the spat didn’t help matters as minutes later the home side were also gifted a 2nd. .
Despite Budgie’s pledge of being ready Blyth’s defence was rocking and the omens didn’t look good when 5 minutes later the veteran keeper launched an attempted clearance straight into captain John Gamble’s back, it fell nicely to scorer Preece but fortunately when it seemed easier to score he lifted his attempted chip wide of the post. It was a massive let off for the Non League side and it served as a warning and appeared to have the required effect as Mark Todd & Kona Hislop started to get a grip of the midfield battle and Blyth steadied the ship with some neat midfield ball possession.


Damian Henderson is rather pleased with his equaliser.

Blyth equalised with almost their first effort on goal in the 10th minute, Todd’s clever diagonal pass played in Di Lella he worked space behind debuting Pool left back Dixon to reach the byline, before pulling the ball back towards the penalty spot for the on rushing Damien Henderson to calmly slot underneath the keeper from 8 yards out for a superbly worked goal.

Blackpool were surprised by the goal but came back strongly and the Blyth defence came under pressure, sensing Burridge’s failure to come for crosses earlier they bombardment the penalty area, but captain John Gamble dealt with them with some towering clearing headers and Budgie showed all his experience to make 2 excellent saves.
Junior Bent’s cross-picked out Lee Philpott but the midfielders free header Budgie & Hislopwas parried by the keeper then hacked clear by Kona Hislop.
Minutes later he was called into action again when another deep cross picked out the unmarked Tony Butler, but his 6 yard header was superbly blocked by Burridge. Blyth gradually weathered the storm and fought back with winger Glen Renforth testing Banks from 25 yards out. However as speculative as Renforth’s effort was it was nothing compared to what happened in the 44th minute, after a neat passage of play from Pike, Henderson & Farrey, Gustavo di Lella collected the ball on the right hand touch-line.
There appeared little danger as he took a pass from Renforth, di Lella cut inside and glided past 2 defenders with ease then when closed down by a 3rd defender looked up and sized up the distance before launching a stunning 30 yard shot high into the top left hand corner of Steve Banks goal, it was a staggering goal that Blackpool boss Nigel Worthington summed up by saying:
“If Zola had scored that in a World Cup Final, he would be a hero for life”.

gus goal

Kevin McGarrigle grabs Di Lella as John Gamble salutes the fans after the wonder goal.

The Blyth players mobbed the little Argentine as the ecstatic Blyth fans could barely believe the goal they had just saw from their new hero, the Spartans ended the half better than they started it taken an unexpected 2-1 lead into the break.
The home fans were not at all happy and a chorus of boo’s rained down from the South Stand as the players approached the tunnel to the dressing rooms which was situated within the South Stand.

Despite leading at the break the TV crew which had followed the team all weekend captured a rather tense half time dressing room. Burridge flaty refused to take any responsibilty for failing to deal with crosses into the box that caused problems. When midfielder Mark Todd spoke up against Budgie’s ‘nothing to do with me’ attitude and pointed out that the agreed pre match game plan needed to change the cameras caught a glimse of Burridge’s somewhat bombastic management. Clealry aggrieved that a player dare question him or his tatics he shouted down and belittled Todd in a somewhat bullying way.

The expected second half onslaught from the stunned home side came and Bonner went close curling a shot wide of the post before Tony Ellis forced a good save from Burridge.
The home side were back on level terms in the 59th minute when Hartlepool born Andy Linighan rose unchallenged at the back post to head home a Philpott corner. It was all hands to the pump for Blyth who had to work hard to stem the aerial bombardment as the home side attacked the South Stand which contained the majority of the home support now roaring them on from behind Budgie’s goal.
In the 71st minute Blyth fell behind in controversial circumstances, defender Kevin McGarrigle was clearly fouled by Junior Bent as a cross came in, the forward held McGarrigle back as he attempted to reach the ball. The ref allowed play to continue and Bent retrieved the loose ball to cross for Andy Preece who cushioned a header down for Phil Clarkson to hook a volley across Burridge to make it 3-2, the Blyth players were incensed at the referee allowing play to carry on despite foul and the lack of advantage to Blyth.
The Spartans settled after the disappointment as top scorer Keith Fletcher, who had been well marshaled by defender Linighan for most of the game managed to wriggle free to blast an effort over the bar.

Willie Moat celebrates in front of the fans as Jon Atkinson turns away after scoring.

Willie Moat celebrates in front of the fans as Jon Atkinson turns away after scoring.

Blyth then made 2 changes as Jon Atkinson replaced Fletcher and Jason Ainsley replaced Di Lella in the 76th minute as Burridge attempted to freshen up the side, but it wasn’t until the 81st minute introduction of Willie Moat that Blyth showed they were still in the game.
With only 6 minutes remaining the beauty & sheer cruelty of the FA Cup was clear for all to see.
Mark Todd chipped a pass for Willie Moat to run on to, he forced his way past the Blackpool right back Dixon to reach the by-line. Right in front of the Blyth fans, Moat managed to hook a cross in the penalty box for on rushing fellow sub Jon Atkinson to crash home a diving header to square the game up at 3-3 in truly dramatic fashion.

The Blyth fans celebrated with a mini pitch invasion as their heroes looked on course for a well-earned replay. A replay loomed as both teams clearly tired from an epic afternoon, however with barely a minute left on the clock there was yet another twist, a long throw from the right was flicked on into the 6 yard box by Linighan. Tony Ellis managed to get a touch as the ball bobbed around in a mass of bodies in the Blyth penalty box, it broke to Phil Clarkson who volleyed home the loose ball giving Burridge no chance whatsoever to send the home side into the Second Round with 15 seconds left to play.


Mark Todd leads the players in acknowledging the fans after the final whistle.

The Blyth players and supporters were left shattered and heartbroken, the home supporters paid respect to the effort they had witnessed giving the team a standing ovation and even applauding the traveling Spartans fans, not surprisingly Burridge was last off the field taken the adulation of the Bloomfield Road crowd.
Burridge and team captain John Gamble were interviewed on the pitch for Match of the Day and the devastation at getting so close to a replay was clearly evident as they paid tribute to the fans who were still in the ground singing there praises.

Gustavo Di Lella’s goal received high praise on that nights Match of the Day FA Cup highlights programme and even made it into the November goal of the month competition!.

Speaking about his goal scoring hero attracting attention from League clubs following his wonder goal Budgie stated:
“We want good money for him. I have had to alter the whole structure of the team to accommodate him. But if Gustavo can score goals like that, then we have to make room for him because he could have won the game for us”.

Typically Budgie was a bullish as ever after the game:
“If I wasn’t managing, I could be playing in the Premiership – no doubt about it”.
Having stated this could be his last game as a player as was struggling to:
“do justice to both keeping goal and managing the team” after the game he started the search for his replacement making only 13 more appearances before handing over the gloves to Steve Jones.

  • In a footnote to the publicity storm that surrounded the tie, the man who was once quoted as saying “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” eventually paid the price for publicity.
    When his sports business was chargedand found guilty of selling counterfeit goods, Magistrates ordered him to pay £16,000.
    He maintained he was an innocent pawn claiming:
    “I didn’t know the goods were fake. I bought them from a warehouse in Manchester and had no reason to believe they were not the real deal.
    I got them cheaply because they had minor imperfections and sold what I believed to be good quality clothes”.
    Part of the evidence used in the prosecution was footage of his players wearing the suspect sportswear on the team coach travelling to the Blackpool FA Cup tie !.D&K

…That weekend in November 1997 still lives on in the memories of many Blyth fans who made the most of what then was probably the best draw possible for an FA Cup 1st Round tie, a great weekend was certainly had by all. 

  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Kevin Tilmouth, who provided vital information and items of Blyth Spartans memorabilia.

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Green & White Cult Heroes – Mick Dagless

daglessAn extremely gifted footballer with the ability to produce the unexpected quickly made Mick Dagless a firm crowd favourite at Croft Park throughout the 70’s.

Dago as he was known to his teammates, was a regular name on the score-sheet and eventually ended his 8 year trophy laden Spartans career with an impressive 93 goals from midfield.
A free scoring midfielder with an eye for a spectacular goal, he was the creative lynch-pin of the team who was attributed with the hardest shot in the Northern League.

Born in Norfolk, Mick’s family moved to Peterborough when he was aged 11 and his performances for his school impressed scouts from Peterborough United.
He was soon representing ‘The Posh’ in youth sides and later played a couple of games for the Reserves as well as being capped by England Schoolboys.
However his academic interests put pay to his time at ‘The Posh’ when Mick moved to the North East at the age of 18 to study Chemistry at Newcastle University.
It was while playing for the University’s first team in the Northern Combination League he first came to the attention of Blyth Spartans, in November 1968 the students came to Croft Park in the 1st Round of the Northumberland Senior Cup and caused a major upset. Belaying their lowly league placing Mick starred as they dumped the manager less Spartans out of the cup with a shock 2-0 win.
Mick continued to attract attention with his performances and it was no surprise when he was snapped up by FA Amateur Cup winners & Northern League champions North Shields in summer of 1969.


A youthful Mick (front row 2nd right) with his North Shields teammates.
Future Blyth keeper Mick Morgan is back row centre and the prolific former Spartan Tommy Orrick is on Mick’s right.

His continued to impress and attracted the scouts of several league clubs to Appleby Park, most notably the best team in the land; Liverpool.
He turned down a chance to sign for Hartlepool United and regrets not giving the professional game a go:
“Looking back I wish I’d signed just to see how far the full-time training and the extra fitness would have taken me in the game.”
For a player who possessed guile, vision and technical ability in abundance, the step up to a higher level would surely not have troubled Dagless.

Mike became an established member of the North Shields side and over the next 3 seasons made 147 appearances scoring 42 goals, his performances had caught the eye of acclaimed Northern League manager Billy Bell, who had been appointed to the Croft Park hot seat in the summer of 1972.
Mike didn’t hesitate to move to the Spartans, his wish to play for the Spartans could be attributed in part to the Croft Park groundsman:
“I was always impressed with the condition of the pitch at Blyth.
It was nice and wide and excellent for players who liked to pass the ball.
I felt I could express myself better on a good playing surface”.
When Mick came to Croft Park in September 1972, he arrived with a unique honour already in his trophy cabinet.
Many footballers have played for the club having had extensive League experience and many honours from time as professionals, however Mick’s arrival brought a 1st for the club: a player who had a European Winners medal!.
Mick had played in and won the European Amateur Cup for North Shields in his very first season!.

  • In beating Sutton United at Wembley the Robins qualified as England’s representatives for the Coppa Ottrino Barassi – the European Amateur Cup.
    Shields took on Alamas Rome, the first leg on 25th September 1969 at Appleby Park in front of a 3,100 crowd who saw Jon Rutherford put the Robins 1-0 up.Alamas prog
    Teeside ref Kevin Howley then awarded them a hotly disputed penalty that sub Tommy Orrick put away for a 2-0 lead to take to Rome. The Robins side that night included 10 of the 13 players who had played at Wembley:
    Jim Goundry, Alan Driver, John Twaddle, Ritchie Hall,
    Ron Tatum, George Thompson, Mick Dagless, Bobby Wake,
    Ray Wrightson, Tony Cassidy (Tommy Orrick), John Rutherford.

    The 2nd leg was played in the Stadio Flaminio, which had staged the football Final of the 1960 Summer Olympics. The Robins fielded the same side from the 1st leg but the Italians, who played in the 7th tier of Italian league system, reversed the score line and ran out 2-0 winners. The aggregate score was 2-2 so with both teams having no away goals the tie was classed as drawn with both team sharing the trophy, however it wasn’t an outcome that had been thought of and their was only 1 set of winners medals!.
    FA Secretary Denis Follows, who had helped organise the tie and the trip to Rome for North Shields, got together with his Italian counterpart and both clubs Secretaries  decided it would come down to a ‘toss of the coin!. Shields captain Ron Tatum called correctly and the Robins players came home with the winners medals and they got to hold the trophy 1st before it was returned to Almas for their turn.
  • Euro Amateur CupIn 1968 the Football Associations of England and Italy established a European competition – known also as the Coppa Ottorino Barassi –
    to be contested solely by the winners of their respective countries’ domestic amateur knock-out tournaments the FA Amateur Cup and the Italian Coppa Italia Dilettanti, the tie was played over 2 legs. Leytonstone F.C. were the first champions of the competition in 1968, winning on the away goals rule having drawn 1-1 at home they drew 2-2 away to Stefer Roma.
    1970 – Enfield won the trophy beating Ponte San Pietro 3-0 at home, losing the away leg 1-2 to win 4-2 on aggregate.
    1971 – Skelmersdale United won 2-1 on aggregate after a 2-0 home win followed by a 0-1 defeat to Montebelluna.
    1972 – Hendon claim the trophy beating Unione Valdinievole 2-0 at home then drawing 1-1 away to win 3-1 on aggregate.
    1973 – Walton & Hersham beat Jesolo 4-0 at hoem then 2-0 away to claim a 6-0 victory.
    1974 – Bishop Stortford were due to play Miranese but the tie didn’t take place due to organisational problems.

    • Following the abolishon of the FA Amateur Cup in 1974 the English representatives became the champions of the Second Division of the Isthmian League.
      In 1975 Staines Town beat 1-0 2-0 Banco di Roma 1-0 at home and 2-1 away, then in 1976 Tilbury & Unione Sportiva Sorinese drew 1-1 in both ties and the Italian won 5-3 penalties to become the 1st ever Italian club to win the trophy. Simultaneous to this change in 1975 another competition was created, the Anglo-Italian Semi professional Cup, which had the Italian Semi-professional Cup winners play the champions of the Isthmian League Division 1 (in 1975) and the FA Trophy winners (in 1976).
      In 1975 Wycombe Wanderers beat Monza 2-1 on aggregate and in 1976 Scarborough beat Lecce 4-1 on aggregate.
      Both these tournaments disappeared when the Gigi Peronace Memorial (more commonly know as the Anglo Italian Cup) continued as a competition between Semi-Professional teams from both countries in 1976.

Mike had completed his studies by the time he joined the Spartans and began teaching Chemistry at King Edward Grammar school in Morpeth, he forged a successful teaching career and remained at King Edwards’s until his retirement in 2008.
Hugely popular with his students it was during those years he was to forge a football coaching career that would eventually see him turn a highly successful playing career into an equally successful coaching career.

Mick instantly established himself as a vital part of Billy Bell’s Spartans side, and his 1st season couldn’t have gone much better with a League & Cup double. Bell proved his undouted Northern League pedigree guiding the Spartans to their 1st ever Northern League title and guided the club to the Northern League Cup Final.
Mick scored his 1st goal of many goals for the club on 27th September when he scored the 4th in a 4-1 home win over Stanley United, it was a sign he had found his range as he then scored in the next 3 games, ending his successful first season with 8 goals, he also played a vital role in Blyth reaching the 4th Round of the FA Amateur Cup.
Despite the success Billy Bell’s methods wasn’t to the board’s liking and they brought to an end his reign, Mick thought highly of the manager who brought him to Croft Park:
“Billy Bell was very tactical. In training we worked on our positional play a lot and where we should be on the pitch when we lost the ball. It was very structured and it was an effective way of playing and we done a lot of fitness training. Billy had a successful record over a long period with many clubs.

Mick’s fellow midfielder Eddie Alder was installed to ‘run’ the team along with club legend Billy Fenwick for the 1973/74 season, under the new management team Mick found the back of the net a remarkable 33 times to finish top scorer.
His haul included 2 hat tricks and 1 penalty, but the events of Saturday 27th April 74′ was his finest of the campaign when he hit 5 in the 6-1 home win over Willington.
Mick shared the penalty taking duties with Mick Lister, but he had the dubious honour of missing the first penalty awarded that season in the 1-0 home victory over Bishop Auckland on 8th September. Two weeks later Spartans stretched their run to 9 straight league victories with a 5-2 hammering of Crook Town at Croft Park however despite scoring twice Mick failed to record his 1st hat trick for the club when he missed another penalty!.
Mick did eventually get his hat trick on the 2nd February in the 3-1 Northumberland Senior Cup victory over Wallsend side Marine Park. The turn of the year saw Mick find the back of the next with regularity and on 27th April he scored 5 (including a penalty) in the 6-1 demolition of Willington at Croft Park. However despite Mick’s goals Blyth lost their Northern League title to rivals Spennymoor United, after finishing level on 64 points a Play Off game was held at Portland Park, Ashington which the Spartans lost 1-2.
Mick added another medal to his ever-growing collection four days layer when Blyth beat local rivals Ashington 3-0 in a replay to win the Northumberland Senior Cup.
One of Mick’s 33 goals give him the honour of being the club’s last ever goalscorer in the FA Amateur Cup when he scored in the 1-3 defeat to eventual winners Bishop Stortford.
That season also give Mick his first real taste of FA Cup football as a Spartan, having crashed out on the 4th Qualifying round the year earlier Blyth reached the 2nd Round. Victories over Netherfield and Alfreton Town (after a replay) saw the club drawn away to Grimsby Town and the Mick starred in his midfield role as Spartans were more than a match for the League side bringing the Mariners back to Croft Park for a replay, which the League side ran out 0-2 winners.

Back Row (LtoR): Dave Burowski, Alan Cruddace, John Lang, Ronnie Phillipson, Micky Pink, Mick Third, Ronnie Scott, Alan O'Neill. Front Row (Lto R): Mickey Pink, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Ian Nixon. Inset Gerry Donoghue.

Allan O’Neill’s side line at the beginning of a remarkable season. Back Row (LtoR):
Dave Burowski, Alan Cruddace, John Lang, Ronnie Phillipson, Micky Pink, Mick Third, Ronnie Scott, Alan O’Neill.
Front Row (Lto R):
Mickey Pink, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Ian Nixon.
Inset Gerry Donoghue.

A new manager was installed for the 74/75 campaign, into the hot seat came former South Shields manager Alan O’Neill, he made a few changes in the team including bringing in Mick’s former North Shields teammate Mick Morgan. O’Neill’s experience and shrewd acquisitions soon became clear as the Spartans set off on an extraordinary season that saw them regain the Northern League title without losing a single league game. Mick scored 19 goals from his midfield birth however 1 of them stands out in the club’s history.
That historic season saw Blyth draw Preston North End at home in an FA Cup 2nd Round tie, what made the tie even more special was that the North End player manager was World Cup winner Bobby Charlton and fellow 1966 hero Nobby Stiles also played for PNE.
The game was played in front of an all ticket 8,500 crowd packed into Croft Park and it was barely 3 minutes old when Blyth were awarded a free kick for a Nobby Stiles foul, Mick stepped up to lash a 25 yard rocket past North End keeper Ray Trunks –

Dagless v PNEMick recalled that famous goal:
“It was a low hard shot into the corner, it wasn’t the best goal I scored but one I remember fondly due to the occasion.”

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Preston equalised through Mel Holden and went on to win the replay 5-1, however Blyth recovered from the defeat (which denied them a 3rd round meeting with Arsenal) to the win the league wihtout losing a single game all season and retaining the Northumberland Senior Cup.
Mick’s superb form was rewarded with selection to the Middlesex Wanderers squad for the summer tour of Malaysia.

Comparing the 2 managers that brought him 2 League Winners medals:
From a personal point of view I felt I played better in Alan O’Neill’s team. He basically just let me play and I really enjoyed that time. He was more laid back than Billy and the team fared less well by Blyth’s standards but O’Neil’s style of management really suited me.”

1975/76 season saw Blyth retained the Northern League title with Mick scoring 14 times including 4 in the 5-1 Senior Cup win at Alnwick Town and he scored the final league goal in the 4-0 win over Durham at Croft Park that retained the title.
It was a season in which Mick learned even more of just how cup competitions are an important part of the club’s traditions, despite cashing out of the FA Cup in a replay at Rossendale United the new Rothmans Challenge Cup brought brand new opposition for the club with away ties at Forest Green Rovers & Clanfield, Blyth played 15 cup ties of which 5 went to extra time!.
By the standards he had previously set 1976/77 started poorly for O’Neill, a draw with 2 defeats in the first 3 games but the ship was steadied with a 7 game unbeaten run in which Mick scored 2 in the 4-1 win over Shildon. Mick was denied another winners medal to add to his collection when Spartans took on holders Whitby Town in the Rothmans Challenge Cup Final that had been held over for the previous season. The game played at Brewery Field Spennymoor saw Brain Slane score twice but Whitby ran out 3-2 winners.
The team results continued to be patchy as Mick scored 4 more goals before hitting 2 in Blyth’s 4-2 win over a Rest of League side at Croft Park in December.
A 1-5 at Wearside League Blue Star in the Senior Cup Semi Final really set alarm bells ringing, only 2 more wins came before Alan O’Neill quit in February, his replacement was a teammate of Mick’s: Brian Slane.

Free scoring Dagless scores against Bishop Auckland

Free scoring Dagless scores against Bishop Auckland

Slane’s 13 games in charge that season fared little better with only 5 victories, Mick’s final goal of the season came in a friendly on 7th April when Norweigan side OS Turnforening came to Croft Park, Dagless & Hartley Maddison scored in the 2-1 victory.
MD ColourThe season did however bring Mick another winners medal to add to his unique collection but this one wasn’t with the Spartans, although it was with many of his Blyth team mates.
Mick had been playing in the Durham and District Sunday League for a side that Brian Slane ran in Langley Park.
Slane had built a truly formidable side which included well-known Blyth stars like John Waterson, Alan Shoulder, Tommy Dixon & Mick Morgan plus experienced Football League players who had recently dropped down into the Northern League such as Allan Gauden & John Tones.
When the Rams Head won the FA Sunday Cup it was seen as a shock to many outside the North East but certianly not to those who knew Slane and his players, they beat 2 times winners Newtown Unity FC from Birmingham 2-1 at the Brewery Field, Spennymoor.

  • Slane’s Rams Head side were hugely successful in the mid 70’s winning the Alan Smith Memorial Trophy in seasons 1975, 1977, 1978 and the League Cup in Season 1977.
    In 1983 they became Langley Park Welfare and brought Northern League football back to the village for the 1st time since 1929. The original Langley Park had joined the Northern League in 1920/21 and played until 1929/30 season before quitting after only 7 games.
    In 1990 they dropped the ‘Welfare’ from their name reverting back to the original name but only for history to repeat itself in 1995 when they left the Northern League and folded, a Langley Park Rams Head side reformed and still to this day play in the Durham Sunday League.
  • Mick then played Sunday League football closer to his home along with some former teamates when he played with Ronnie Scott & Eddie Alder for Bedlington Station SC in the Blyth & Wansbeck League, in fact his final playing days was in Sunday League football was with Morpeth St Georges.

Brian Slane and his new coach Jackie Marks rebuilt the faltering side and as history shows it was truly fairy tale season for the club, from early on Mick sensed something special was in the making:
“Brian had brought in some real quality during the summer.
The likes of Terry Johnson, Dave Clarke and then later on Alan Shoulder were key players during that run.  Brian had a good eye for a player and Jackie Marks was the best possible motivator so it was a good combination.”

Enfield injury

An anxious looking Mick watches the Enfield victory form the bench.

changing room

Mick watches Jackie Marks cracking open the bubbly in the St James Park dressing room.

However for Mick it was to prove frustrating season, now the established lynchpin in the Spartans midfield he had scored in the 4-1 FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round win at Consett and then 3 days later bagged a brace in the 8-2 hammering of Whitby Town at Croft Park.
However the events 10th December 1977 were to cruelly ended Mick’s his participation in the historic FA Cup run, during the 1-0 win over Durham City Mick picked up an injury which was to keep him out for 2 months.
The injury ruled Mick out of the victories over Chesterfield, Enfield & Stoke City but he made his comeback on 11th February in Senior Cup Semi Final 2-2 draw with Whitley Bay.
Having rarely suffered from injuries during his career it was a massive blow for Mick:
“It was devastating really.
I hadn’t been out through injury before that season and it
obviously happened at the worst possible time.
I was probably fit by the time we faced
Wrexham again in the replay but the team was settled and playing brilliantly so there wasn’t a chance I could get back in.
I remember walking out onto the pitch at St James and seeing the huge crowd, from a personal point of view it was sickening to miss the chance to play in such a match”.

Mick quickly forced his way back into his accustomed midfield birth and on 2nd May he got to grace St James Park when the Spartans beat North Shields 2-1 in the Northumberland Senior Cup Final, although it wasn’t the same as that famous February night there was a lot few than the 42,000+ inside the ground to see Steve Carney & Terry Johnson score. Mick added another winners medal to his ever-growing collection on 6 days later when Blyth won the Northern League Cup thrashing Willington 5-1 at Appleby Park, North Shields.


Mick collects the Debenhams Cup with teammates John Waterson & Ronnie Scott.

Mick may have been ‘sickened’ to miss the Wrexham FA Cup ties but did get to face them in the final 2 games of that long 62 game season.
Come May 1978 Wrexham had been crowned Third Division Champions and both clubs epic cup runs had qualified them to contest the Debenhams Cup. Mick played in both leg’s of the tie, Blyth won 2-1 at the Racecourse Ground and the 1-1 at Croft Park 5 days later which saw Blyth take the trophy 3-2 on aggregate to give the club some small reward for the injustice they suffered at the Racecourse Ground back in February.

Despite only losing 1 game since the New Year the Spartans missed out on the League title by 6 points to winners Spennymoor who retained their title despite a 6-1 hammering by the Spartans in the final game of the season as the Croft Park side took their league goal tally to 107!.

The following season saw Mick play a more deep-lying role in midfield as the Spartans found themselves up against Football League opposition once again in the FA Cup. However this time there was no giant killing, being drawn away to York City the Spartans were denied a place in the 2nd Round as the Ministermen snatched a 1-1 to earn a replay at Croft Park. On a snow covered pitch the game went to extra time before the Third Division side finally ran out 3-5 winners.

dago at york

Peter Davies & Mick Dagless watch on as York captain Roy Kay is about to bring down Alan Shoulder for a penalty that Terry Johnson scored to bring Blyth level at Bootham Crescent.

Mick was to end the campaign playing under his 4th manager at the club when his long time friend Brian Slane stepped down in December 78′, Mick had played with Brian since he joined the club in 1972 and continuity was kept when coach Jackie Marks stepped up into the managers roll.
Marks started bringing in new players but Mick was the central part of his midfield rebuild and the FA Cup brought another League team for Mick to pit his skills against, Mansfield came to Croft Park to face an unbeaten Blyth side who despite being hit by injuries were expected to claim another cup upset. With Mick’s midfield partner Keith Houghton forced to fill as an emergency centre half Blyth never got to grips with the League side who had won an away game all season and they ran out 0-2 winners in front of a 4,433 crowd.

Mick Dagless shootsMarks continued to strengthen the side and the Spartans went on to reach the 4th Round of the FA Trophy taking eventual winners Mossley to a replay and sealed their 1st Northern League title for 3 years, it was to prove to be the 1st of a remarkable 5 successive League titles.
It also proved to be Mick’s last season with the club, his last game came on 29th April in the final game of the season 2-1 victory over West Auckland (his last goal had been in the 2-4 defeat at Spennymoor on 15th December).
During the summer of 1980 Mick decided it was time to move on and brought to an end a trophy laden 8 year career at Croft Park, it was a shock to the supporters who had idolised the gifted midfielder and thought the club would struggle to replace a of his style.

Mick hadn’t just been using his teaching skills in the class room he was running the football teams at the King Edward’s School and was in charge of the Northumberland Schools FA  County Under 18/19’s teams so it was a natural progression into coaching for him and in the summer of 1980 he accepted an offer from the newly formed Bedlington Terriers manager Billy Ward to be player/coach for their first season in the Northern Alliance.
Mick was joined by his former teammate Eddie Adler who had been coaxed out of his 2 year retirement for one final swan song at the Terriers.
Mick & Eddie helped Bedlington to a 3rd place finish but he only played the single season at the Terriers before he was approached by Whitley Bay manager Micky Clifford to become player/coach at Hillheads in summer the of 1981.
It was a struggle at Whitley as they finished the 2nd bottom in his first season however fortunes improved slightly in 82/83 as they finished 13th but in June 83′ there was boardroom upheaval at the Bay with the Chairman Ted Fuller stepping down and Clifford ended his 7 year spell as Manager, with Micky having brought Dago to the club he decided to leave Hillheads.

Unsurprisingly Mick wasn’t sort of offers and after 2 years away made a return to Croft Park when Spartans Player/Manager John Connolly moved quickly to appoint Dago as his coach, it was a shrewd move by Connolly allowing him to concentrate on playing with Mick experience on the bench.
The Connolly & Dagless management team went down a storm with the supporters thanks to the free-flowing style of football partnership instilled, it saw Blyth reach a Quarter Final of the FA Trophy and won a record equalling 4th successive Northern League title.
However come the November ’83 season Connolly has expressed a wish to return to playing at a higher level and within weeks resigned his post, only 2 weeks earlier Mick had turned down an offer to become manager of Whitley Bay choosing to stay on as Connolly’s assistant and it proved a wise decision when Chairman Jim Turney appointed 36-year-old Mick temporary manager of the Spartans, MD Jobit was long before Mick was appointed permanent manager some 11 years after first joining the club, becoming the 7th former player to manage the club.
Instilling into his team the flair & style Mick had shown as a player the Spartans went on to win a record 5th successive Northern League title by 9 points and Mick was quick to praise backroom staff:
“I have to thank assistant Brian Main, who has created great moral among the players and to Secretary George Watson and Treasurer David Lees for their invaluable help.”
Mick never lost a single league game since he took charge in fact his only defeat as Blyth manager came in an FA Trophy Replay with Whitby Town and even that went down to a last-minute penalty!.

However despite completing the league campaign with that record 5th successive title and also guiding the club to their 11th League Cup Final & 4th consecutive Senior Cup Final things had built up behind the scenes. Blyth drew 0-0 with Blue Star in the Senior Cup Final at St James Park then played their last league game at Gretna winning 2-1 to end the season unbeaten in 22 games, but 4 days later they lost 0-2 in the League Cup Final to a Paul Walker inspired Horden CW at Appleby Park, North Shields.
MD Quit 1It proved to be the final straw for Mick and on Sunday 6th May he dropped the bombshell that he & his assistant Brian Main were resigning with immediate effect!.
Coming on the eve of the Northumberland Senior Cup Final, unsurprisingly it didn’t go down well with a ‘shattered and stunned’ Jim Turney who called the timing as ‘dreadful’:MD Quit 2
“We at Blyth give him his big chance to be a manager only last November.  All I can say is that this is one hell of a way to repay us for that favour.

Mick was adamant about his decision though:
“I resigned because I was disappointed with the attitude and open criticism of myself and my players I have brought to the side from certain members of the board. This reached an unacceptable level and it made my job extremely difficult.
I know I will be criticised over the timing of my decision there has been so much unwarranted hassle from within the club that there was no point carrying on as manager. I want to very much remain dignified in this matter, but I will say that there are people at Blyth Spartans with whom it has become impossible to work with.
The supporters  have been excellent in their attitude towards the team since last November and I would like to thank them for that.
But I don’t have any regrets about resigning, I am in fact relieved!”.

Summing up his first experience as a manager:
If managing is like this at every club, I would drop out of the game!. I certainly in no hurry to get back into football, but if a reasonable offer came along some time in the future I would consider it”.

Alnwick celebrattions

Mick and his players celebrate after clinching promotion.

Alnwick celebrations 2

End of season celebrations for Mick’s Alnwick side, former Spartans Mark Cameron, Ian Mutrie & Gary Middleton watch future Spartan hero Richie Bond take centre stage.

Mick did make a return to management with reigning Northern Alliance Champions Morpeth Town but left before Christmas feeling they didn’t quite match his ambitions as a manager. Struggling Northern League 2nd Division side Alnwick Town acted quickly offering him their vacant managers job.
He and Brian Main saw a project took up the offer and turned around the clubs fortunes, they were rock bottom and looking doomed with a single victory when he took over and he guided them to 5th bottom and safety in his first season.
Building on that they finished 10th in 85/86, and really started to challenge from there one finishing 6th in 86/87 and again in 87/88.
But it was in 1988/89 that Mick’s hard work paid off when they achieved a 2nd place finish on goal difference, to gain promotion alongside 2nd Division Champions Consett & 3rd place Whickham.
Mick built side using all his contacts and experience bringing players such as his former team-mates Ian Mutrie & Dave Clarke mixing experience with good young local talent such as youngsters Gary Middleton & Mark Cameron who he took from Croft Park (although both would later return to Croft Park) and the main star of the side a young fleet-footed forward by the name…..Richie Bond!
Mick’s side had a superb first ever season in the Northern League First Division making their highest ever finish to a season since they 111 year history finishing 8th, 1 place higher that the Spartans!.
The curse of the returning former manager saw Mick twice bring his side to Croft Park and win, in October they beat the Spartans  2-0 in the league meeting and they repeated the feat in January winning a Northumberland Senior Cup Quarter Final tie 2-1 and the main architect of those 2 defeats was Richie Bond!.
(The Spartans and Alnwick Town have only ever meet 3 times in league competitions 1946/47 in Northern Alliance, 1989/90 & 1990/91 in Northern League).
However the next season wasn’t as good they struggled badly without the services of their star player Richie Bond who had been snapped up by the Spartans in the summer, Mick’s side finished 2nd bottom and were relegated back to the Second Division and Mick parted company with the St James Park club.

Mick then accepted an offer to help out his friend Brian Penfold who was manager at Northern Alliance Morpeth Town (Brian was one of his former players while Mick was Blyth manager). Brian & Mick guided Morpeth to the Northern Alliance title in 1993/94 but they both walked away from Criak Park the following season after a fall out with Chairman Ken Beattie.
It was to be his last involvement with club management and he then devoted his free Saturdays to watching Newcastle United.

NSFA County Team ManagerIt wasn’t just in the world of football that Mick’s talent’s were so highly thought of, he was extremely popular teacher with all his students, his style of teaching left an impression on many of his student an example of which was recently shown by Professor Alfred William Rutherford.
In May 2014 ‘Bill’ Rutherford was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his ground breaking work in solar energy,
Prof Rutherford first showed academic prowess at the age of 12 at King Edward VI Grammar School and one of people he credits with setting him off on his academic path was Mick:
My chemistry teacher called was Mick Dagless and his teaching was hugely exciting to me. I hated chemistry, but this guy taught me to love it and my whole career has been on the edge of chemistry and physics.”

Mike’s performances in a green and white shirt are still remembered fondly by those who saw his exquisite skills.
It wasn’t just on the terraces where Dagless was so greatly revered either be it his teammates or his student he is recognised as a class act and the mark of the man that he is so highly spoken of.



  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Andrew Dodds co-writer and interviewer for the original match day programme version of this article.

Mick Dagless himself for helping with this article.

Chris Sanderson for his memory and knowledge of the local game.

Neil Pont & Alan Head of the Northumberland County Schools FA for their help.

Alan Matthews Chairman of  North Shields FC for this help with information & images of Mick’s time at North Sheilds.

Michael Cook for this help with information & images of Alnwick Town FC.

Martin Hunter for his records of Blyth Spartans goalscorers.

Ken Sproat who’s superb history book  ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans‘ is a great source of reference.

The following website was used as a source of information:





Posted in FA Amateur Cup, FA Cup, Green & White Cult Heroes, Players | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

For club and country

2014 saw the 125th Anniversary of the world’s second oldest football league:
The Northern League.

125 logoA commemorative book was launched there was exhibitions, a celebratory dinner, but to mark 125 years to the exact day that the league was formed in the Brown’s Hotel in Durham City, a team consisting of the league’s best current crop of players took on an FA Representative XI.

While Blyth Spartans may left the Northern League some 20 years ago seeking new challenges, having been members of the league for 30 seasons winning the title 10 times in the process (still to this day Blyth remain the last unbeaten Champions) and having hosted the league’s Centenary game back in May 1989 the fact the club played some part in the celebrations was only fitting.

However the part the club pphoto(26)layed was to supply 7 players for the FA Representative XI, which in itself was a huge credit to the club.
The Spartans 7: Left to Right:
Lewis Horner, Nathan Buddle, Danny Parker, Connor Grant, Daniel Maguire, Matthew Wade, Arran Wearmouth.
Far right is Paul Fairclough manager of the England C side who managed the FA side on the night.
To receive FA recognition was great reward for the players but being against the Northern League XI in that celebration game it took the club full circle back to being the only Northern League club that supplied players to the very first England Semi Professional team.

2 years after the abolition of the amateur status in 1974 the FA set up an Ad Hoc Committee upon the request of the Emergency Committee of the FA to organise the re-introduction of certain FA XI Representative games against the Services, Universities and other organisations that had played in some of the many games against the old FA Amateur XI sides. The 1st oJohn Watersonf these games took place in January 1976 against a Royal Air Force XI at Wealdstone which the FA XI won 2-1, the next game in March 76’ took place at York City’s Bootham Cresent against a Universities Athletic Union XI and Spartans right back John Waterson played in the 1-0 victory.

But it was the make up of that FA XI that was far more interesting the starting eleven included 2 players who within a couple of years became John’s teammates in that famous cup run side, North Shields midfielder Keith Houghton and Bishop Auckland forward Alan Shoulder.
However 3 other names stand out, the Boston United player manager Howard Wilkinson, who would later go on to manager the England C side, Under 21 & have 2 spells as caretaker of the England full side. The 2 other are very notable and all together stranger for their inclusion in a FA XI side that was supposedly for Non League footballers, they were World Cup winners Nobby Stiles & Bobby Charlton. Neither were still playing at the time having been Manager & Assistant at Preston North End earlier that season. Stiles returned to Preston NE as manager having initially resigned in support of Charlton when he quit over the John Bird transfer to Newcastle United saga.
John was again called into the FA XI side for the following years York fixture against Universities Athletic Union and once again lined up along side Bobby Charlton in the 2-2 draw, although this time ‘R.Charlton’ was officially as ‘guest’ player.

The FA XI representative fixtures continued up and down the country just as they had for the original FA XI Amateur side before 1974 but with no international recognition available for the top Non League players the games carried little importance other than giving the players recognition for the performances, unlike the old FA XI Amateur team that represented the county at the Olympics !.
In the 70’s the FA XI team’s weren’t the only Representative games a player could get selected for, Rothmans groundbreaking sponsorship deal with Non League football had led to sponsored leagues, an Inter-League Challenge competition and in 1978 they organised a Rothmans Tour, taken a nationally selected squad to the Canary Islands.
No Blyth players featured in the first tour but the party did include 3 Northern League players Spennymoor’s Dave Curry, Tow Law’s Fred Hissett and Bishop Auckland’s Alan Shoulder who played in all 4 games and scored twice in the 6-3 win over a Las Palmas Under 23 side.
The following year a Spartan did make the squad when Dave Clarke was called up along with Brandon United’s Colin Hammond & Tommy Holden as well as Derek Hampton from Whitby, Clarke played in the 2-1 victory over Tenerife and the 0-1 defeat to Las Palmas.

While Clarke’s performances for the Spartans earned him a somewhat exotic reward to play for a representative side his trip to the Canaries is somewhat local compared to the reward bestowed upon midfielder Mick Dagless for his efforts in the clubs historic 1973/74 season. Mick was selected in the Middlesex Wanderers squad for their summer tour of Malaysia!.

  • mwThe Middlesex Wanderers were formed in 1905 by brothers Bob and Horace Alaway to provide recognition to those players deserving of such,
    whom, through differing circumstances, may well not have been given national recognition, tours to more than forty countries with the vision of establishing a touring football club to promote goodwill through the “beautiful game” to some countries in Europe.
  • As standards improved in Europe the Wanderers looked further afield and toured in the Caribbean and Africa in the 60s and 70s. WANDERERS More recently they have visited Vietnam, Burma and The Gambia, the players are selected from senior non-league clubs and it’s viewed as a considerable honour to tour the far-flung corners of the world playing for the Wanderers.
    8 Blyth Spartans players have been selected to tour with Middlesex Wanderers: –
    – Mick Dagless toured Malaysia in May/June 1975. –
    – John Waterson captained the touring party for South Korea in the September 1977.
    – Dave Clarke went to Malaysia and Singapore in May 1979.
    – Tommy Dixon was on the August/September 1983 tour to Bangladesh.
    – Bobby Scaife traveled to Indonesia in May 1984.
    – Peter Cartwright went to Indonesia in April 1985 and the Netherlands in May 1986.
    – Paul Walker was on the tour to Indonesia in May/June 1988
    and as recently as 2007 Robbie Dale was selected for the tour of Tanzania.

By 1978 the countless FA XI fixtures had began to lose their appeal and without a purpose clubs weren’t keen on sending players to take part in extra games which many considered of little importance, so by the summer of 1978 plans were already in place for an International Tournament for which an England Semi Professional team was required and give the FA XI’s some importance.
The news pleased many important figures who worked hard to keep the Non league game going strong, the FA Non League Football Annual edited by the influential Non League figure Tony Williams stated:
“The gap between the glamorous but at times rather unreal ‘amateur’ days has been bridged, and hopefully we can look forward to a new and exciting English International squad representing their country with distinction at Semi Professional level for years to come”
Howard Wilkinson was now part of Ron Greenwood’s backroom team and he was appointed manager of the Semi Pro team and aided by his assistant Keith Wright they tasked regional coaches to ‘produce a team worthy of representing it’s country’.

The selection process for the inaugural Semi Pro squad was aided by the new
O.C.S Inter-League Cup (Office Cleaning Services), the Cup saw the Northern League play the Northern Premier League at the Brewery Field, Spennymoor on Monday 23rd April,
the NPL won 2-1 after extra time having come from 0-1 down.
The Spartans had 3 players in the side, Dave Clarke, Tommy Dixon & Les Mutrie.
The Southern League beat the Berger Isthmian League 3-0 in the other game to set up a Final at Huish, Yeovil on 13th May which the Southern League won 1-0.
When the final squad selection came around it was a genuine surprise that neither Dave Clarke nor Tommy Dixon made it into the final 18 man squad, Clarke especially was a shock omission he was widely regarded as the ‘finest’ keeper outside the professional game and had already been awarded Player of the Year for his part in the famous 1977/78 season.
Tommy Dixon could count himself extremely unfortunate to never get the call up as a lynchpin in the highly successful Blyth side of the 70’s he featured in every single FA XI game against the Northern League but surprisingly never call the cap he deserved. Forward Les Mutrie did make the squad and there was a surprise inclusion for Spartans midfielder Keith Houghton who hadn’t featured in any of the selection games. The squad had training games victories over Barton Rovers, Moor Green & Telford United before their opening game of the tournament on 31st May against Scotland at Stafford Rangers.


The 1st ever England Semi Pro squad featuring Les Mutrie & Keith Houghton.

The first Four National Semi Professional Tournament was staged from May 31st – June 2nd at Northwich and Stafford and featured Italy Serie C
U-21, Netherlands Amateurs and Scotland Semi-Pro. England’s first game was on 31st May when they beat the old enemy Scotland 5-1, Les Mutrie & Keith Houghton both started. Mutrie had the honour of scoring on his debut for England after a poor clearance from the Scottish keeper was swifted dispatched.
The England team for that historic game was: Jim Armold (Stafford Rangers), Brian Thompson (Yeovil Town), John Davidson (Altrincham), Dave Adamson (Boston United), Trevor Peake (Nuneaton Borough), Tony Jennings (Enfield), Eamon O’Keefe (Mossley), Brendan Phillips (Nuneaton Borough), Les Mutrie (Blyth Spartans), Keith Houghton (Blyth Spartans), Barry Whitbread (Runcorn).
Subs: Gordon Simmonite (Boston United) on for Thompson, John Watson (Wealdsone) on for Houghton.
1st cupThe Final played Stafford Rangers on 3rd June and pitted England against Holland’s all Amateur team who had beaten a volatile Italy Under 21 team 3-0 in the other Semi Final which saw 2 Italians sent off.
In a close Final England won 1-0 thanks to a Eamonn O’Keefe header from a corner in the 75th minute sealed the trophy which was presented by the Chairman of the FA Representative Match Committee Barney Mulrenan to captain Tony Jennings, with all the players having exchanged shirts at the end of the Final Jennings lifted England’s 1st Semi Pro trophy in a Holland shirt!.

Keith Houghton didn’t play in the Final losing his place to John Watson who had replaced him in the Semi Final, that was the only change between the 2 sides Howard Wilkinson fielded. The whole fortnight had been a roaring success and FA’s Administor in charge Adrian Titchcombe had proved that football at this level could be organised and played to a very high standard.

Those events of May and June weren’t the only major change to the Semi Professional game in 1979, in late April plans had been finalised for the creation of a new Alliance Premier League creating a 2 tier where the Alliance Premier was feed by the Northern Premier League and the Southern Premier League effectively pushing the Northern League a step further down the pyramid ladder.

Blyth Spartans were offered a place in the Alliance Premier League but the board decided to turn down the offer due to the extra travelling & cost involved, this in turn meant that any future Blyth players to make the Semi Professional team would be from the lower level of the game that players they were competing against for a place in the squad. FA XI at CP prog

In February 1980 Croft Park staged it’s first FA XI fixture when a Dryborough Northern League side took on a FA XI selected from Alliance & Northern Premier League club’s in the North such as Scarborough, Gateshead, Barrow, Workington & Gateshead. 5 Spartans were selected for the squad; Dave Clarke, John Waterson, Alan Walker, Tommy Dixon & Les Mutrie along with many of the stalwarts of the Northern League such as Kevin Reilly, Jackie Foster David Curry & Maurice Gormley.
The real interest on the night was the selection of a young 20-year-old winger who had earned weekly rave reviews in the Northern League.
Despite having a good game he didn’t get the call for the England Semi Pro squad but 4 years later gained an Under-21 cap and a year after that his first senior cap on 24th March in England’s 2-1 victory over Republic of Ireland, that winger was:
Chris Waddle.

Come the 1980 Tournament 4 members England’s had to secured moves to League clubs, Jim Arnold (Blackburn Rovers), Keith Houghton (Carlisle United), Eamon O’Keefe (Everton) and Trevor Peake (Coventry City) so were no longer available to England manager Keith Wright. Arnold’s move opened the door for Dave Clarke who was finally rewarded with selection along with Les Mutrie for the Tournament in Zeist, Holland.DC England
Clarke & Mutrie played in all 3 games during the tournament held from June
3rd – 7th, both started the 2-0 win over Italy then Clarke came off the bench to replace the injured Brian Parker in the 2-4 defeat by Scotland in which Les Mutrie scored. England beat Holland 2-1 in their final game to finish 2nd in the table to Tournament winners Scotland.
A sign of how much more importance the Scottish FA put on the Tournament they were far better prepared and manager Jock Stein selected a far more experience squad with some talented youngsters including an up & coming striker from St Johnstone by the name of Alastair McCoist!.

In 1981 Les Mutrie was playing for Hull City so ended his Semi Pro career with 5 caps & 2 goals, it was Italy’s turn to host the Tournament which was staged in Lucca, Empoli and Montecatini Terme between 9th – 13th June.
By now Dave Clarke was rightfully the first choice goalkeeper for England and played in all 3 games, a 2-0 win over Holland then a 0-0 draw with Scotland and the 1-1 draw with Italy to give England the trophy thanks to goal difference over the Tournament host’s.

In 1982 an extra warm-up game had been arranged in Gibraltar at the end of April was added to the full programme of FA XI representative matches to give the managers the opportunity to test promising players. There wsmithas a new face in the squad for the game at The Victoria Stadium on Tuesday April 27th, a young striker from West Midlands club Alvechurch by the name of Alan Smith had attracted plenty of attention. Smith made his debut in the 3-2 win that saw Dave Clarke watch from the bench as an unused sub.
Dave Clarke however did play in all 3 games of the Tournament held in Aberdeen, Scotland from June 1st – June 5th, which saw England draw 0-0 with Italy then beat Holland 1-0 before holding the host’s to a 1-1 draw which this year saw England lose the trophy to the hosts on goal difference!. Alan Smith played in the first 2 games but his pending move to Leicester City saw him miss out on the game against Scotland.

83 programmeThe 1983 Tournament was staged in Scarborough from May 31- June 4th and saw Blyth’s experienced defender Peter Robinson called into the squad. The Newbiggin born defender started his career as a 16 year robinsondebuting at Burnley, then in July 1980 signed for Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam in a £30,000 transfer.
He returned to the North East after a 3 year spell playing in Holland. The classy defender made his debut in the 2-0 victory over Italy but Clarke didn’t feature in the game.
Both did play in the 6-0 hammering of Holland and the 2-1 win over Scotland that sealed their 3rd Four Nation’s Trophy.

It was Italy’s turn to stage the 1984 Tournament and it was staged from June 5th – 9th in Parma, Modena and Reggio nell’Emilia.
Both Dave Clarke & Peter Robinson were included once again, the host’s finally won the Tournament at the 6th attempt, becoming the 4th country to win the Tournament they had staged. England finished Runners Up after a 3-3 draw with Holland a 2-0 victory over Scotland set up a winners takes all last game with Italy which the hosts won the 1-0.
Dave Clarke played in all 3 games while Peter Robinson was to only feature in the crucial Italy game. That game was to prove to be Dave Clarke last game for the England semi Professional side ending a wonderful period of his career with a record 14 caps all gained with selection ahead to goalkeepers from 3 leagues higher than he played at and, it also turned out to be Peter Robinson’s final cap as he moved back into full-time football with Rochdale in 1985.

The 1985 squad for the Tournament, which was won by Scotland and staged in Holland, saw no Blyth players selected for the 1st time since it’s inception.

The 1986 Tournament which was due to be staged in Scotland but was cancelled so the FA staged a series of International instead which once again Blyth players involved with midfielder Paul Walker & forward Dave Buchanan selected. Paul Walker started in England’s 1-3 defeat to Wales in Merthyr on 26th March, once the domestic season had finished England played a Republic of Ireland team in a double-header staged over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

Paul Walker v Eire Paul Walker evades a challenge at Kidderminster while Dave Buchanan is denied by the keeper at Nuneaton.

Dave Buchanan v Eire

The 2-1 victory at Kidderminster on Saturday May 24th saw Paul Walker start and
Dave Buchanan come off the bench to make his International debut.
2 days later England played Eire again at Nuneaton. England won 2-1 again and this time Dave Buchanan started while Paul Walker came off the bench this time.

  • Dave Buchanan had returned home to the North East having been released by Peterborough United in 1984 and was snapped up by the Spartans and his performances were soon attracting attention from League clubs hitting 31 goals in his first season at Croft Park. imagesDave came through as an apprentice at Filbert Street and made his league debut in the same game as Gary Lineker on News Years Day 1979 at Oldham Athletic and he was initially seen as a better prospect than Lineker. After 5 seasons at Leicester Dave signed for Peterborough United and made his debut in a Posh side featuring another future England player;
    David Seaman.

It was no surprise with a pedigree like that he was soon called up to the England SemBuchanan Sunderlandi Pro team but a return to the professional game limited his England appearances to only 2 games when Lawrie McMeneny snapped Dave up. He made his Sunderland debut in August 1986 in a 2-0 win at Huddersfield, going on to make 34 appearances scoring 8 goals. Dave had a spell on loan at York City in 87/88 season before being released and returning to Croft Park for a season then moving to Blue Star for 2 years before ending his playing career at Whitley Bay.

In 1987 the Tournament returned and was staged in Scotland this time with Italy recording the 2nd triumph but that was to be the last Four Nations for some time it disappearing from the Non League calendar for one reason or another until 2002. NL 100 PROG

In May 1989 Tottenham Hotspur’s Chris Waddle made a return to Croft Park as part of Football League XI that included Manchester United & England captain Bryan Robson that played a Representative XI including Blyth’s Neil Howie & Nigel Walker to mark the Northern League’s Centenary. Another Spartan involved in the Northern League Centenary celebrations was David Scope. The 22-year-old winger was signed from Killingworth Juniors in the summer and had made such an impact in the 7 games he played for Blyth before a Northampton Town manager Graham Carr snapped him up. One of the last games Scope played as a Spartans was to represent the club in a game at St James Park. The game in September 1989 was against a Combined Juventus & Liverpool Under 21 side.

Bartlett EnglandBy 2002 the Non League game had changed dramatically with most players of Conference clubs now being full-time professionals so it was probably no surprise that no Blyth player was selected, however that all changed in May 2007 when goalkeeper Adam Bartlett was selected for the now named England C side for his debut against Finland in Helsinki.
It was just reward for the much sought after keeper who had been released by Newcastle United as a youth player and then within a year of being the 1st Blyth player to play for his country in 21 years he went on to play in the Football League.

In November 2007, the iconic bible of all things Non League ‘The Non League Directory’ celebrated its 30th Anniversary by recognising those clubs which have achieved outstanding success over that period, editor and leading advocate of Non League football in England Tony Williams presented the club with an award to mark their unique achievements in those 30 years and to mark it’s unique record of providing players for the England Semi Pro team:
“Following on from the great FA Cup run of 1977/78 the Spartans have consistently been successful and have led the way for non league football in the region.”


Tony Williams present Chairman Tony Platten with the award with Dave Clarke & Peter Robinson watching on, along with 2 great Blyth managers Harry Dunn and Jim Pearson.

Now called the England C team home matches are played at various League and Non-League grounds around the country. Friendly matches are played with equal teams from other nations, and compete in the Four Nations Tournament each season, along with Scotland, Wales and the full Gibraltar team.
They have more recently begun playing against Under 23 teams from the likes of Belgium and Turkey, which have included players capped at full international level.

  • Weather any of the ‘Spartans 7’ go on to make the England C squad remains to be seen, either way the players can be proud of their achievement in representing their country and in doing so they now have the honour of joining an exclusive group of famous former Spartans who have earned International or Representative honours while playing for the club.
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Ladies doing it for themselves…

For many years this well known photograph of a Blyth Spartans team has exisited but few knew the intriguing story behind it:

Blyth Spartans with club officials

Even fewer knew the name of one of the town most famous footballers; Bella Reay.

The remarkable story of the Blyth Spartans Munitionettes was shown by BBC North East as part of a series that explored the tales of the British women who kept the UK moving during World War One.
The UK-wide project, World War One At Home, told more than 1400 powerful, fascinating and moving stories  across local, regional and national radio, television and online.

However the real credit for bringing the story of these remarkable ladies back to life goes to local historian Patrick Brennan.
BBC North East reporter Gerry Jackson worked with Patrick to produce the piece:

Patrick had completed atruly  superb piece of research into Blyth Spartans Ladies way back in 2006 and publish the fascinating story on his excellent local history website:

Patrick has now kindly given permission to reproduce his work.


  • Blyth Spartans Ladies 1917-1918

The battlefield carnage during the Great War created an urgent need for women to assist their country by engaging in “munitions work.”

In practical terms this could mean any activity that was directed towards the war effort, and in the case of a group of young women working on the South Docks in Blyth, it involved unloading boxes of empty shell cases which were destined for recycling, and loading ships with fresh ammunition for the front. It was hard physical work, but youth and strength were on their side, and whenever a break in the work permitted they still had enough energy to kick a football around on the nearby sands. Their efforts attracted the attention of the crew of a Royal Navy ship stationed in the harbour, and a friendly acquaintanceship grew up between the two groups, with the sailors giving the women some coaching hints.
This casual encounter was to lead to the formation of the best women’s football team that the North East has ever seen – Blyth Spartans Ladies’ F.C.

The girls take the field –
On 14th July 1917 all roads in Blyth led to Croft Park, the home of Blyth Spartans A.F.C. The ladies of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company and Palmers of Jarrow, the champions of Northumberland and Durham respectively, were to meet in a match to raise funds for the Blyth Military Merit and Homecoming Fund. The Blyth News reported that H.M. Navy would be well represented in the crowd, judging by the sale of tickets, and it is quite possible that the young women from the South Docks would have made up a party with some of their new friends. The match, which Wallsend won by four goals to nil, clearly inspired them, for two weeks later it was announced that Blyth now had its own team of lady footballers, who were “undergoing a thorough initiation into the art of controlling the elusive pigskin.” The training the ladies received was from their Navy friends.
They evidently were good pupils, for on 4th August they themselves took to the field at Croft Park in a match against their mentors. Mr. J. Bates of Bebside acted as referee, assisted by Mr. C. Ellis and Mr. W. Pithkealy.

The game was organised by Petty Officer Baker, who played at centre-forward for the “Jack Tars,” and who livened the proceedings by giving an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin at the kick-off. It was played according to the usual format of the day – that is, the men played with their hands tied behind their backs, and with this encumbrance the winning score of 7-2 to the ladies was hardly surprising. Playing at centre-forward for the women’s team was a 17-year-old girl from Cowpen, Bella Reay, who gave an early indication of her talents by bagging 6 of the goals.

Four days later it was announced that another ladies team had been formed in Blyth – the Blyth United Munitions Ladies.
A showdown between the two teams was arranged for Saturday August 18th, with the Cowpen and Crofton Workmen’s Patriotic Fund as beneficiary. Messrs. Herrons the jewellers, still a feature of the Blyth landscape today, would present a souvenir brooch to each member of the winning side, and a private donor would also present souvenir brooches to the losing side.
The teams lined up as follows:
Spartans: L. James, N. Fairless, H. Malone, A. Sample, M. O’Brien, B. Metcalfe, J. Nuttall, M. Robinson, B. Reay, D. Allen, A. Reed
United: M. Spinks, E. Davison, H. Lawton, M. Foster, J. Watson, F. Thompson, M. Shields, J. Balls, S. Atkinson, H. Harvey, M. Downey

Despite all the hype the match was a no-contest, as Spartans thrashed United by ten goals to one. Bella Reay scored seven, with Bella Metcalfe, Jennie Nuttall and Dolly Allen each getting one. Miss Downey scored a solitary consolation goal for United. The United team were clearly chastened by this experience, and never again played another ladies’ team, confining themselves to friendlies against teams drawn from the forces.

Not everyone in Blyth was pleased with this development, and tongues evidently started to wag. This prompted a letter to the Blyth News which was published on 30th August 1917. The author – “Munitioneer”, did not mince his words in defence of the lady footballers:
I have heard, more than once, some very uncharitable and uncalled-for criticism of the respectability of the young women playing these matches, certain of the “unco guid” asserting that it is not decent for them to appear in public in “knickers!” – pardon my mentioning the article of clothing that has raised their ire.May I say that these girls are doing an excellent work of charity in playing. We cannot all subscribe hard cash to the hundred and one deserving funds now calling for our support. They are doing their bit by work; all honour to them.I should like to suggest that they are more decently dressed in the “unmentionable” garments than their prurient minded critics who are parading the streets in blouses open nearly to the waist and skirts too short for a girl of 12.
I am working with these girls and I am proud of it. Some of them are a bit boisterous, but they all have hearts as big as a lion. If some of the weak-minded and weak-kneed could only have seen them stick in manfully during the recent inclement weather they would feel reassured that there is no possible doubt of our winning the war while we have such women (heroines I call them) as mothers of the race.

It is fairly clear from this letter that the “uncalled-for criticism” was coming from other women.

The Munitionettes’ Cup
Two days after Spartans’ emphatic win against Blyth United, the Newcastle Daily Chronicle carried an article entitled “Munition Girls’ Challenge Cup”. A solid silver trophy had been donated for a knock-out competition to be held between Munition Girls. The competition would be organised along the following lines; charitable organisations would apply for cup-ties to be allocated to them, and they would be expected to make all the necessary arrangements. The teams would turn up on the day and play, and whatever takings were made at the gate would go to charity. It was envisaged that charities such as Soldiers’ Welcome Home Funds, Prisoner of War Funds, Aged Miners’ Homes, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans Funds and such like would be supported in this way. The official title of the trophy was the “Alfred Wood Munition Girls Challenge Cup,” but it was invariably referred to as the “Munitionettes’ Cup.”

The term “Munition Girls” was to be interpreted rather widely; “Ladies’ teams from Tyneside District drawn from any establishment or concern such as works, factories, mills, railways, tramways, collieries, shops etc. will be allowed to compete.” This description clearly covered the work being carried out by the Blyth Spartans, and they were one of the first teams to sign up for the competition.

The cup draw was set for the end of September, and the Spartans used the time intervening to get in some match practice. On 15th September they played once more against the “Jack Tars,” this time at Seghill, and succeeded in beating them 5-3 on this occasion, with goals from Bella Reay (2), Jenny Nuttall (2) and Nellie Fairless. However, playing against men’s teams, and weaker sides such as Blyth United had given the Spartans a false sense of confidence. Their next match brought them down to earth with a bump. Their opponents were Wallsend Slipway, a highly-experienced side, who had been playing since early February. The match, at Croft Park, was in aid of the widow and family of Peter Mackin, a popular local footballer, who had been killed in action on Easter Monday. Used to scoring freely, the Spartans found Slipway a tougher proposition altogether, and the game ended in a tense 0-0 draw.

The Munitionettes’ Cup draw went ahead at Shield’s Cafe in the Bigg Market, Newcastle on 26th September, and Spartans were drawn against Aviation Athletic. This team was based at Armstrong-Whitworth’s aeroplane assembly factory at Grandstand Road, Gosforth. According to the rules of the competition teams were drawn neither home nor away, but played wherever the sponsoring charity asked them to. It was expected however that Spartans’ first round tie would be played at Blyth.

The team’s next match was played at New Hartley on 6th October in aid of the local Military Merit and Homecoming Fund. The visitors were Palmer’s of Jarrow, another strong side. There were two changes from the side which had played Blyth United; Ada Reed and Jennie Nuttall had swapped positions, and Lizzie Lowery replaced M. Robinson at inside right. Spartans’ experience against Wallsend Slipway had taught them not to underestimate their opponents, a lesson they had learned well, as they defeated Palmer’s by three clear goals, two scored by Bella Reay and one by Jennie Nuttall.

On 13th October Spartans played at Burradon, against a team made up of local ladies, in aid of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Comforts Fund. Jennie Nuttall was again picked for the left wing, but on this occasion it was not as Jennie Nuttall that she turned up to play. Instead, it was as the newly-married Jennie Morgan, having hurried from St Cuthbert’s church at Blyth to take part in the game. She celebrated her wedding by getting two goals in Spartans’ 4-1 win, the other two being scored by Bella Reay and Ada Reed.

New Hartley had been fixed for the team’s first round Munitionettes’ Cup tie, and the date was set for October 20th. It had to be postponed, however, as the Sporting Man bluntly commented, “owing to the military authorities refusing to allow the game to proceed, although expense has been incurred.” This was probably due to the local military commander deciding he wanted to use the ground on the day. At the commencement of the war many football grounds had been commandeered by the Army, as they were ideal for practising field gun drills and other such exercises.

For their next outing Spartans travelled to Morpeth, to play a team drawn from the Post Office. The match took place on the Grange House Field in aid of the Rose Cottage Hospital and the local War Heroes’ Fund. Florrie Harris replaced Dolly Allen at inside-left in the Spartans’ line-up, which was otherwise unchanged. It promised to be a baptism of fire for the Post Office girls, as it was their first-ever competitive game, but they did not do too badly, restricting the Blyth girls to a 3-0 scoreline, the goals coming from Bella Reay (2) and Ada Reed.

On 3rd November Spartans faced Wallsend Slipway again. The venue was Seaton Delaval, in aid of the local R.A.O.B. War Memorial Fund. From the start Slipway made clear their determination to prove themselves champions of Northumberland, and were leading by a single goal at half-time. Spartans fought hard on the resumption, but although they kept the play in their opponents’ half, their shooting was off-target. It looked as if Spartans were heading for their first defeat, but then Bella Reay received the ball in an open position, and her first time shot gave the Slipway keeper no chance. The game finished at one goal apiece, leaving the question of who could claim to be “top dogs” still undecided. This was felt to be unsatisfactory by both teams, and a third meeting was arranged for 29th December to try to resolve the issue.

The postponed cup tie with the Gosforth Aviation team finally took place on 17th November at New Delaval, the proceeds being for the St John’s Ambulance Society. Spartans were back to full strength with the return of Dolly Allen at inside-left, and she showed how important she was to the side by getting the first goal within ten minutes. Further goals followed from Bella Reay (2) and Ada Reed, and after half-an-hour Spartans were 4-0 up. Emma Waters, the Gosforth centre-forward, managed to get one back before the interval with a lucky shot which bounced off one of the Spartans’ full-backs. After half-time Spartans eased off, which was the signal for Emma Waters to launch a number of individual assaults on their goal, from one of which she scored a second. As the final whistle neared Spartans got going again, with both Bella Reay and Ada Reed coming close, but there was no further score, and Spartans had secured their passage into the second round. The draw had already taken place, so they knew their opponents would be North East Marine Engineering of Wallsend – another strong team from Tyneside whose captain, Bella Carrott, was a particularly skillful player, and who would later captain the first England Ladies International team.

For their next game, against Sunderland Ladies, Spartans made one change, Annie Allen coming in at inside-right in place of Lizzie Lowery. The Sunderland Echo had difficulty in getting their name right, referring to them as “Blyth Spurs.” The venue was the Sunderland Rovers ground at Hendon, the original home of Sunderland AFC in the 1880’s. The Sunderland team was somewhat unusual in that it was not a works-based side, but had been formed as a result of an advertisement placed in the Daily Echo, seeking ladies to play football to raise funds for Sunderland Hospitals. Whatever their pedigree, the Sunderland team was no match for Blyth Spartans, who returned home with a 5-0 victory.

Coincidentally, 5-0 was also the score two weeks later when Spartans faced a side described as “Newcastle Ladies.” This was something of a misnomer, as the side was not representative of the city of Newcastle, but was in fact the works team of Angus Sanderson’s motor assembly factory. The match, which was in aid of the Red Cross, was staged at the Morpeth Road ground in Blyth, rather than Croft Park, and the visitors were given a tremendous welcome, being met at Blyth station by the band of the 3rd Battalion, Northumberland Volunteers and escorted to the ground. This must have lifted their spirits, for in the first half they held their own against the Spartans, and half-time arrived without any score being recorded. In the second half Spartans’ fitness and match experience began to tell, Bella Reay opening the score, and following up with a further three goals, one of which was a penalty. The fifth and final goal came from a cross from Jennie Morgan to Dollie Allen, who sent in a fierce shot. As was customary on these occasions, both teams were entertained to tea at St John’s Hall by their hosts, and thanked for their services.

This match probably cost Bella Reay an international opportunity; a ladies’ international had been arranged to take place in Belfast on Boxing Day, and Bella had been selected to take part in a trial match at Wallsend, playing for the “Possibles” against the “Probables.” With her goalscoring abilities she would have been a hot favourite for the position of centre-forward, but by electing to turn out instead for Blyth Spartans she passed up this chance. Whether other factors contributed to this unfortunate turn of events is not known.

Christmas Day in the early part of the last century was not a time for relaxing in front of the television and trying to digest the Christmas dinner. There was no television, or radio for that matter. For this reason Christmas Day football matches were both common, and popular. On Christmas Day 1917 the good citizens of Blyth turned out in large numbers to see Spartans play their Munitionette Cup rivals Gosforth Aviation. The match, at Cowpen Square, was in aid of the Duke of Wellington Social Club’s Parcel Fund. Spartans attacked strongly from the kick-off, and took the lead after only a few minutes with a goal from Dolly Allen. Bella Reay quickly added another two, as Gosforth found themselves hemmed in in their own half, unable to break out. Just before the interval Jennie Morgan added a fourth goal. Although helped by a strong breeze in the second half, Gosforth could make little progress, and Bella Reay was able to complete her hat-trick. The final goal, a penalty, was put away by right-half Agnes Sample, to make the final score a convincing 6-0 win for Spartans.

December 29th had now come round, and it was time for Blyth Spartans and Wallsend Slipway to settle some unresolved business. The third meeting between the teams took place at Portland Park, Ashington, in aid of the Ashington Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Christmas Gifts Fund. As expected there was a large crowd in attendance to see the female gladiators battle for the (unofficial) title of the best ladies’ team in Northumberland. The Wallsend team included no less than four members of the England side that had won 4-1 in Belfast three days earlier. One of these, Ethel Jackson, was not even a Slipway player, being the regular centre-forward for the neighbouring North East Marine. Things looked bleak for Spartans when their captain, Bella Metcalfe, had to leave the field with a sprained ankle after only ten minutes’ play. Substitutes were still a thing of the future, and Spartans had to continue with only ten players. They wisely switched one of their forwards to defence, and the weakened forward line hammered away at Slipway’s defence until just before the interval, when Bella Reay made an individual run through and scored the vital first goal.

In the second half Wallsend fought hard for an equaliser, Ethel Jackson in particular making many attempts to get through, but on each occasion being held up by a rock-solid Spartans defence. With two minutes to go Spartans almost added a second; a Bella Reay shot beat the goalkeeper only to hit the upright, and from the rebound Annie Allen fired in a shot which caught a Slipway player and went out for a corner. The final whistle marked the end of the game, and a superb 1-0 win for Spartans against the toughest opponents they had faced so far.

“From the sublime to the ridiculous,” – so it must have seemed for Spartans when they faced their next opponents, Sunderland Ladies, on 2nd January 1918. This was not the Sunderland Ladies team they had beaten 5-0 on 1st December, but the works team of Webster’s rope factory. They were back in action at their favourite Croft Park, though the pitch was in poor condition and the ground very heavy. The game was a complete mismatch; the 5,000 spectators present must have felt nothing but pity for the Sunderland girls as Bella Reay scored six goals before half-time, bringing her personal tally so far to 77. In the second half she left it to her colleagues to extend the lead, and they were more than up to the task, with Ada Reed adding the seventh goal, Annie Allen getting a brace, and a Dollie Allen penalty adding the tenth nail to the Sunderland coffin.

Trouble on the terraces
The Blyth Spartans team had now formed themselves into a well-honed footballing machine. The stability of their team, as well as the individual skills of its members gave them a tremendous advantage over opponents who were scratch sides at best, or lacked the Spartans’ extensive match practice. Their opponents in the second round of the Munitionettes’ Cup, North East Marine, were by no means novices themselves. As mentioned earlier, their captain, Bella Carrot, had captained the England side in Belfast, and two other N.E.M. players, Hilda Weygood and Ethel Jackson had taken part in that game. The two sides met at a most prestigious venue – St James’s Park, Newcastle, on 12th January. The match was in aid of the Joseph and Jane Cowen Training Home at Benwell, and Sir Thomas Oliver performed the customary formal kick-off. The conditions were poor, with the pitch covered with snow, and this favoured the bigger and heavier Spartans side. Play was fairly fast to begin with, and both goals were visited in turn, but Spartans soon got the upper hand. Ada Reed got the first goal, and then Bella Reay opened up firing on all cylinders, adding a further four goals before half-time. She continued in like manner after the interval, but her fifth goal was hotly disputed by the N.E.M. players, who claimed it was offside. When the referee refused to change his decision N.E.M. walked off the field. The pitch was invaded by spectators, and a heated argument ensued. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the organisers were making frantic efforts to persuade N.E.M. to return, fearing a riot if they refused and the crowd demanded their money back. After an anxious fifteen minutes N.E.M. agreed to restart the game, but the farce was not yet over as the referee now refused to take any further part in the proceedings. Fortunately a substitute referee was found, and the game continued, Bella Reay rubbing salt in the wound by notching up a seventh goal. Ethel Wilson managed to get one back for N.E.M., but it was too late, and their cup run was over, in circumstances which they could not have imagined, and certainly would have wished to avoid.

Spartans had now reached the third round of the Munitionettes’ Cup, in which their opponents would be Armstrong’s Naval Yard at Walker. The tie was fixed for 23rd February at Westoe, South Shields, and in the run-up to this game Spartans fitted in an 8-0 thrashing of Morpeth Post Office Girls, in which Bella Reay scored another seven goals, and a 4-2 victory over Jarrow Palmers. Against the Naval Yard they took control from the start and breezed past them into the semi-final by a margin of three goals to nil. (Some newspapers, notably the Newcastle Journal, mistakenly reported this game as the semi-final) They should have scored four, but Bella Reay surprisingly missed an early penalty. She did however score two of Spartans’ goals.

The competition had been organised on a “seeded” basis, with the Tyneside and Northumberland clubs being in one half of the draw, and the Teesside clubs in the other half. This ensured a North-South confrontation in the final, and helped to contain travelling costs in the earlier rounds. It also meant that the semi-final, in which Spartans’ opponents were Armstrong-Whitworth’s 57 Shell Shop would be, in effect, the Northern section championship.

St James’s Park was the venue for the semi-final, and 10,000 spectators made their way there on the afternoon of March 9th 1918. Play was evenly balanced for the first 30 minutes, with each side testing the other, but then Spartans made a breakthrough with a goal from Annie Allen. 57 Shop came back however, and Ethel Wallace equalised just before half-time. Play resumed in the second half much as in the first, with the sides engaged in a ding-dong battle in which the respective defences had the upper hand. With five minutes to go a draw seemed inevitable, but two minutes later Bella Reay eluded her markers, and dashed through to score a fine individual goal. 57 Shop frantically piled on the attacks, and gained a corner, but before it could be taken the referee blew for full time, and Spartans advanced to the final with a 2-1 victory.

The Teesside section semi-final had taken place on the same day at Darlington Forge Albion’s ground, the opposing sides representing Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. of South Bank, and the Rise Carr steel mill at Darlington. It ended in a 1-1 draw, necessitating a replay. This was played the following weekend at South Bank, and Bolckow, Vaughan gained the victory with a single goal from their captain, Winnie McKenna, who had established a goalscoring reputation in the south of the region equal to that of Bella Reay in the north.

The final was fixed for 30th April 1918 at St James’s Park. There was high excitement in Blyth at the prospect, and the band of the 3rd Battalion Northumberland Volunteers was given permission by their commanding officer to travel with the team on the 12:30 train from Blyth. Bob Pailor, the pre-war Newcastle United centre-forward was to referee the game, which would be recorded for posterity for a newsreel company. The team selected to represent Spartans was as follows: Lizzie James, Hannah Malone, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe (capt.), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dollie Allen, Jennie Morgan. The Bolckow, Vaughan team was not published. The game ended in a 0-0 stalemate, which is probably why I have been able to find only one newspaper account of the event.
This appeared in the Shields Daily News, and is reproduced below.

Weather conditions were no better than Friday when the Bolckow-Vaughan’s played the Blyth Spartans for the Tyne, Wear and Tees Munitionettes’ Cup Final at St. James’s Park, Newcastle, on Saturday. But a crowd of about 15,000 persons assembled, and followed the game with the greatest interest.A strong opening was made by Blyth, but the Bolckows proved a good match, and when they had once got going proved themselves no easy opponents. No goals were scored in the first half, but there were some exciting moments. A shot from Reay, the Spartans’ centre, bounced on the crossbar, and then Powell, rushing in, all but scored for the Teessiders. A penalty was granted when, during an exciting moment around the Blyth goal, Malone handled.In the second half Blyth again opened vigorously, but, owing to the smart play of McKenna for the Teessiders, a corner was forced. There followed in quick succession five corners for Bolckow’s. Reay would have scored an easy goal for Blyth, but Kirk thwarted her efforts. There was keen play to the last, but no goals were scored.

Needless to say, no trace of the newsreel film can be found.

The replay was delayed for some time, due to difficulties encountered in arranging a venue. There seemed to be no difficulties in securing suitable grounds for these matches, so the likely scenario is that Bolckow’s were holding out for the South Bank ground, but Spartans would not agree, on the grounds that this was Bolckow’s home pitch. Spartans went ahead with a busy schedule of matches while negotiations continued; on 1st April they travelled to Jarrow to play the women of Palmer’s shipyard. Spartans won the game 4-2, with goals from Ada Reed, Bella Reay and two from Violet Bryant, who had been “borrowed” from the Wallsend Slipway team. The trip was significant for another reason; they would have seen a young inside forward named Mary Lyons for the first time. She was to play an important part in Spartans’ future success. A match against Birtley scheduled for 6th April at Seaton Delaval failed to take place when the Birtley team got on the wrong train, and did not arrive at the ground until 5.30 pm.

Spartans were the first team, other than district representative sides, to play outside the North East, when on 20th April they journeyed to Brunton Park, Carlisle to face the Carlisle Munition Ladies. The defence remained unchanged, but the forward line included two new names – Ethel Jackson of Wallsend Slipway and Mary Lyons of Jarrow.
The venture was a success; Spartans returned 3-0 winners with goals from Jennie Morgan and Bella Reay (2)

Carlisle Munitionettes

Carlisle Munitionettes

In common with most Cumbrian sides, they played in skirts, which must have hampered them considerably
(photograph courtesy of Sheila Angus)

On 4th May Armstrong-Whitworth’s 57 Shop visited Blyth, but with a below-strength team, only nine players having made the journey. This almost certainly contributed to their 6-0 defeat. Lyons played again for Spartans, and there was another new name at right-back – S. Rhodes in place of Hannah Malone. The following weekend they were once again at St James’s Park, but this time it was not the famous Newcastle football ground, but the similarly-named park in Alnwick which was the venue. Their opponents were Armstrong-Whitworth’s 60 Shop, who faced a Spartans team which the press described as “weakened,” but without giving any details. Weakened or not, Spartans proved more than a match for 60 Shop, with a 4-2 victory in which Bella Reay bagged another hat-trick.
This was the first time women’s football teams had been seen in Alnwick and District, and the event was a success, raising £43 for the Discharged Soldiers’and Sailors’ Federation

The cup comes to Blyth
On 14th May it was announced that the teams had agreed to replay the Munitionettes’ Cup Final at Ayresome Park on the following Saturday. Spartans made one change from the team they had fielded in the first encounter; Mary Lyons of Jarrow was drafted in at inside-left in place of Dolly Allen. The fact that Mary had already played in the tournament for Palmers did not seem to worry the organisers. Another apparent change, at left-back, was the name of Hannah Weir, but this was, in fact, Hannah Malone playing under her newly-married name. The two teams lined up as follows:

Blyth Spartans: Lizzie James, Hannah Weir, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe (capt.), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Mary Lyons, Jennie Morgan
Bolckow, Vaughan: Greta Kirk, V. Martin, Amelia Farrell, E. Rowell, Emily Milner, Anne Wharton, Mary Mahon, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna (capt.), Gladys Reece, A. Leach

22,000 spectators turned up to witness the showdown. Bolckow’s won the toss, and Spartans had to kick off facing the sun and the wind. It did not disadvantage them however, and within ten minutes they had taken the lead through Jennie Morgan. Bolckow’s made tremendous efforts to equalise, the crowd cheering Winnie McKenna whenever she got the ball, but Martha O’Brien had her well under control and made sure she had no chance to score. The interval came with Spartans still leading by a single goal.

The second half saw Spartans at their very best; their half-back line was solid, not only breaking up the Bolckow attacks but carrying the play forward, making it possible for their own forwards to maintain constant pressure on the Bolckow defence. The Blyth News reported that “Bella Reay and Mary Lyons were in their element, the former completing the hat-trick. The latter was repeatedly cheered to the echo for her work and dribbling, which reached a point of brilliance when, beating four opponents in succession, she dashed through and beat the fifth, the goalkeeper, thus securing the fifth and last goal.” After their lacklustre performance in the first meeting this was a tremendous achievement for Spartans, and they came home to a heroes’, or rather heroines’ welcome. One might have expected the team to have rested on their laurels for a little while; not so the football-mad Spartans. Two days after the final they entertained Armstrong-Whitworth’s 58 Shop at Croft Park. The Munitionettes’ Cup was on display, to the delight of their fans, and Spartans gave them more to be happy about by beating 58 Shop 4-0. Bella Reay scored one goal and Mary Lyons, who had become almost a regular in the side, celebrated with a hat-trick, a remarkable achievement considering she was only 14 years old!

Blyth Spartans with Alfred Wood cupBlyth Spartans Munition Girls – Munitionette Cup Winners 1918
Back Row: Hannah Weir, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless
Centre Row: Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe
Front Row: Dollie Allan, Annie Allan, Bella Reay, Ada Reed(?), Jennie Morgan
(photograph courtesy of Yvonne Crawford)

Bolckow Vaughan ladies FC 1918

Bolckow, Vaughan Ladies – Munitionette Cup Runners-up 1918
Back Row: Emily Milner, Amelia Farrell, Greta Kirk, Violet Sharples
Front Row : Elizabeth Powell, Mary Mohan, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna, Gladys Reece, Olive Percival, Anne Wharton
(photograph courtesy of Peter McNaughton; identifications thanks to John O’Neill, Grangetown in Times Past)

Although the cup had been presented to Spartans immediately after their victory at Ayresome Park, a more formal presentation took place at the Theatre Royal in Blyth on 31st May. Jonathan Ridley, President of the Northumberland Football Association, handed the Cup to Mr. R. Thompson, the Secretary of the Blyth Spartans team. In doing so he said that his audience would agree, “that if ever there was a team that deserved a set of medals these girls deserved them. They had had many good football teams in Blyth, but never one with the record the ladies possessed. They had won the Ladies’ Challenge Cup and had played the whole of their ties away from home. Since August 1917 they had played 30 games, and had won 26, drawn 4 and lost none, and the goal-getter – ‘Wor Bella’ had scored 133 goals. The team had travelled through the principal parts of the three adjoining counties playing for charity, and the sum reached was over £2,000.” Responding, Mr. Thompson thanked both the Chairman, Colonel Christie, and Mr Ridley for their interest in the team, and also Mr. D. Hardy, who had been so confident in the success of the team that he had offered the use of the theatre for this ceremony long before the close of the competition. They were all very proud of the team’s record, which had not been achieved without some sacrifice and self-denial. In closing, he too thanked the public for the support they had shown the team.

Blyth Spartans with club officials

Blyth Spartans with their supporters
front row: Dollie Summers, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dolly Allen, Jennie Morgan
second row: R. Thompson, Agnes Sample, Martha O’ Brien, Bella Metcalfe, Ted Ellis
third row: W. Fairless, G. Bird, Julia Stevens, Mrs Fawcett, M. Carr, Jim McNally, W. Campbell
back row: “Easy” Baker, Hannah Malone, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless, Steve (surname unknown)
(photograph courtesy of Yvonne Crawford)

Jennie Morgan's medal
Munitionettes’ Cup – winner’s medal awarded to Jennie Morgan

(photograph courtesy of John Morgan)

Their season was not yet over; on 25th May a return match against the Carlisle Munition Ladies took place at Croft Park. Spartans fielded the same team that had won the Cup – with one exception, Rhodes coming in for Lyons at inside-left. Carlisle were the first to make a serious attack on goal, their left winger Howson putting in a speculative shot which was saved. Spartans responded by besieging the Carlisle goal, and forced a corner after three minutes. Martha O’Brien connected with the ball as it crossed the penalty area and sent it into the net for Spartans’ first goal. Carlisle continued to mount attacks, being particularly dangerous down the right flank, and from one of these sorties their right winger sent in a shot that James had to go full-length to save. Play was end-to-end, and on Spartans’ next attack Annie Allen managed to put the ball beyond the reach of the Carlisle keeper for the second goal.

Spartans thought they had a third goal a short while later when a Carlisle defender miskicked in front of goal. The keeper failed to stop the ball, and when another defender ran across and cleared it from the goalmouth it was claimed that it had crossed the line. Play stopped, but the referee had not blown for a goal, so the game was restarted with a bounce-up. There was no further score in the first half, but after the interval Spartans stepped up a gear, Bella Reay getting a hat-trick. This brought her personal tally to a remarkable 113.

Spartans had three more games before they took a well-earned summer break. On 15th June they played Walker Naval Yard at Croft Park, winning by 3 goals to nil – another Bella Reay hat-trick.
On June 22nd a large crowd made their way to the Friarage Field, Hartlepool, to see them take on a Hartlepool representative side, but Blyth Spartans were not playing!.
Instead, it was a composite team, with only members drawn from Blyth Spartans, the rest coming from Wallsend Slipway, North East Marine, and Bolckow, Vaughan. It is not clear whether or not this was a deliberate ploy by the organisers to get a bigger attendance, but the crowd were disappointed, although they did see Bella Reay score the only goal of the game.

Their last match of the season was held, fittingly enough, at Croft Park, against a side representing the North of England. The teams lined up as follows:
Blyth Spartans: Lizzie James, S. Rhodes, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O’Brien, Bella Metcalfe, Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Mary Lyons, Jennie Morgan
North of England: Ada Shaw (60 Shop), Maggie Short (Slipway), Amelia Farrell (South Bank), Bella Willis (60 Shop), Ethel Jackson (NEM), Annie Wharton (South Bank),
Ethel Wallace (57 Shop), Minnie Seed (Naval Yard), Winnie McKenna (South Bank),
Violet Bryant (Naval Yard), Lizzie McConnell (Slipway)

The game got off to a sensational start, Bella Reay charging through on her own and scoring within the first few seconds with a well-hit drive. The stunned North of England team rallied, and worked hard through the remainder of the first half to get an equaliser, but several promising runs by Minnie Seed, the Sunderland international, failed due to her holding on to the ball too long.

In the second half Jennie Morgan gave the North of England no end of problems, but it was from the centre that the second goal came. Bella Metcalfe released Reay with a clever pass, and the latter eluded a desperate tackle to stab the ball wide of the keeper. A fitting unbeaten finish to the season for a remarkable team!

The team’s season had closed, but for Bella Reay there remained two more matches before she could hang up her boots. On 6th July she played for a North of England side against the so-called “Tyneside Internationals.” This was the team which had defeated Ireland on Boxing Day. The match took place at St. James’s Park in Newcastle, and attracted a crowd of 4,000 who witnessed a 1-1 draw. Two weeks later, on 20th July, she was at St. James’s Park again, this time as an international herself, playing in her favourite centre-forward position against a Scottish representative side. Also making her debut as an international was Mary Lyons, who had played an important role for Spartans in the latter half of the season. The match was a rough affair, and some of the Scots women had to be cautioned by the referee. It ended in a 3-2 win for England, but Bella for once failed to find the net.

It seems incredible that Bella Reay was the only member of the Spartans side to achieve this recognition, especially when one considers that the Blyth Spartans team itself could probably have beaten any international side of the day. The organisation of Munitionette football was, however, controlled from Tyneside, and one suspects that an element of favouritism may have been at work.

Bella Reay
Bella Reay
The reverse side carries the following inscription in Bella’s own hand:
“Bella Reay age 17 in Blyth Ladies Spartan team
Trained by Navy Lads whose boat was in Blyth Harbour”
(photograph courtesy of Yvonne Crawford)

– Now you see them, now you don’t
When the 1918-19 football season commenced, the supporters and players of Blyth Spartans Ladies’ FC were no doubt looking forward to further success on the field. Sadly, they were to be disappointed. The season began in unremarkable fashion on 31st August, with a visit from the women of Angus Sanderson, Newcastle. It was known in advance that this would be the last match at Croft Park; the Navy and Garrison department had requisitioned the ground and would take possession on September 1st. There were a number of new faces in the Spartans line-up; the Blyth News reported that the team would be selected from the following: M. King (captain), N. Fairless, H. Weir, A. Sample, M. O’Brien, B. Metcalfe, A. Allen, S. Rhodes, B. Reay, J. Morgan, M. Jayne, N. Cocks, N. Scruffin. A detailed account of the game did not appear in the newspapers, but the score was reported in the Daily Chronicle; 3-0 to Spartans, with Bella Reay getting her first hat-trick of the season.

The next scheduled appearance for Spartans was at Burradon on 7th September, but this game was cancelled by the hosts at the last minute.
A return match against Sandersons was arranged to take place at Stakeford on 14th September. The Blyth News announced the team selection in advance:
M. King (captain), N. Fairless, H. Weir, S. Rhodes, A. Sample, M. O’Brien, N. Cocks, A. Allen, B. Reay, J. Morgan, N. Scruffam; reserve, Mary Lane.
Whether the match took place or not is unknown; no report of it appeared in any of the usual newspapers, nor, in the weeks to come, were there any further reports of the team’s matches. It was as if Blyth Spartans had vanished without trace.

The names of some team members were mentioned from time to time; for example on 12th October Nellie Fairless, Martha O’Brien, Bella Reay and Jennie Morgan were all members of the Northumberland side which beat Durham 1-0 at St. James’s Park.
Bella Reay also played for Tyneside against Hartlepool on 14th December, and for Palmer’s of Jarrow in their Munitionettes’ Cup campaign, which culminated in a victory against Brown’s of West Hartlepool on 22nd March 1919. It was a good move by Palmer’s; Bella scored the winning (and only) goal on a snow-covered St. James’s Park.

Blyth Spartans’ name cropped up in three enigmatic press clippings which were published subsequently. On 8th October, the Northern Echo listed the entries for that Munitionettes’ Cup, and Spartans were included in the list. On 25th November the Newcastle Journal, reporting on a first-round tie between 43 Shell Shop and the Newcastle Motor Company, stated that the winners would meet Blyth Spartans in the second round. Finally, on 16th December, the Middlesbrough-based North East Daily Gazette, describing a forthcoming game at Stockton between Teesside and Palmers, stated that Palmers were the only team to have beaten Blyth Spartans.

Simple explanations can be put forward for the first two of these reports. It is probably true that Spartans had entered the Munitionettes’ Cup. As holders, they would have been keen to defend their title. They may well have received a bye in the first round, which was not uncommon – in the previous season 6 teams had received a bye in the first round. The third statement is more problematic; there is no record of Blyth Spartans having been defeated by Palmers. In the absence of any corroborative evidence this statement must remain suspect.

What could have brought about this state of affairs? We can dismiss the loss of Croft Park as their home ground; there were many other venues available in the Blyth area who would have been delighted to have the famous Spartans as residents. Three possibilities come to mind:

Firstly, by October 1918 it was clear that the Allies had won the war. Austria and Turkey were crumbling in the face of determined Allied offensives and Bulgaria had already surrendered. Germany itself was exhausted, and the only question outstanding was the terms on which an Armistice would be signed. Already the Allied requirement for munitions was diminishing, and it was uncertain whether the munitionettes themselves would continue to be employed for much longer. Given the nature of the work carried out by the Blyth Spartans women it is possible that their jobs were among the first to disappear. The loss of a common centre of employment may have led to the team breaking up.

Secondly, a virulent strain of influenza had reached the UK in May 1918 and spread to the whole country during the summer. In all, 228,000 people died before the epidemic ran its course. At least one Munitionettes’ Cup tie was directly affected by it; the second round tie between Armstrong-Whitworths and North East Marine was postponed when N.E.M. could only field two players owing to the ‘flu. Could it be that the Spartans’ team was badly hit by ‘flu in October 1918, and were unable to continue with their commitments?

Finally, we cannot rule out the possibility that the break-up was caused by personal differences between the team members. The announcement of the new squad on 1st September must have caused some raised eyebrows in Blyth. Throughout the successful campaign of 1917-18 Bella Metcalfe had held the team captaincy, and the half-back line had been renowned for its strength and stability. However, for 1918-19 a new captain had been appointed – M. King. This lady had never appeared previously for Blyth, nor indeed for any other munitionettes team. What had qualified her to assume the captaincy of the most successful side in the region? Furthermore, when the team to play Sandersons at Stakeford was announced, Bella Metcalfe had been left out altogether. Could this factor have led to a split in the camp, making it impossible to put a side together?

The true explanation for the disappearance of the team may never be known, unless somewhere, in an attic in Blyth, there is a personal account by one of its members, just waiting to be discovered.

As the munitionettes were laid off, so their football teams were wound up. It is difficult to accurately assess the rate at which munitionette football declined, as the local press lost interest in it after the resumption of the men’s professional game. The last game to be reported in the Newcastle Journal, was billed as Newcastle Ladies versus Sunderland Ladies. It took place at St James’s Park on 31st May 1919 in aid of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, and Newcastle won 4-1. Both Bella Reay and Martha O’Brien were included in the Sunderland squad!

Women’s football continued elsewhere in the country, notably in Lancashire, but as far as the North East was concerned, it either ceased to exist, or went completely underground. It experienced a brief, but interesting resurgence however during the Coal Dispute of 1921.

Following the return of the collieries to private control on 1st April 1921, the Miners’ Federation withdrew their labour. In their opinion they had been locked-out, as the private owners proposed to reduce their wages. In the press the dispute was referred to as a strike. The dispute lasted three months until a settlement was reached on 7th July.

Miners’ families were suffering right from the beginning of the dispute, and soup kitchens were quickly established in pit villages to relieve hardship. Various fund-raising initiatives were started to support them, and some bright soul remembered how successful women’s football matches had been at raising money during the war. Before long women’s football teams were once more taking to the field – this time in support of their own families.

In Northumberland the greatest degree of activity was in the Blyth and Wansbeck valleys. In a remarkable parallel with wartime women’s football, once again a single team emerged which stood head and shoulders above the others. This time it was the ladies of Barrington Colliery, who between May and August played 23 games, winning 22 of them, and in the process scoring 77 goals, for only 10 conceded. They too had a hot-shot centre-forward – Lillian Ritchie, who was responsible for 43 of their goals.

A more detailed account of women’s football in Northumberland and Durham during the dispute can be found here

Bella Reay, now Mrs Bella Henstock, and the mother of a young daughter, had been tempted out of retirement to help the fund-raising efforts, and she turned out for a number of teams, including Cowpen, Cambois, and a team known simply as Blyth.
She could still score goals; in a match between Cowpen and Bebside on 25th May she got all four in Cowpen’s 4-0 win.

It was inevitable that a comparison would be made between the young lass from Barrington and Blyth’s wartime heroine, and equally inevitable that efforts would be made to arrange a show-down. On 29th June 5,000 spectators packed into the Barrington Institute ground to see a reformed Blyth Spartans Ladies take on the local upstarts.
The Spartans’ team, which included many members from their war-time heyday, lined up as follows:
Lizzie James, S. Rhodes, M. Long, Agnes Sample, M. Douglas, M. Snowdon, Ada Reed, M. Reay, Bella Reay, M. Scuffham, Jennie Morgan

Bella Reay kicked off, and for the first half Spartans were the better side, serving up some of the best football witnessed at Barrington. It was not all one-way traffic however, and Ritchie brought a fine save from the Blyth goalkeeper. For a short period at the beginning of the second half Barrington had the upper hand, but Spartans once more established their superiority, and had it not been for a text book display of goalkeeping from the 12-year-old Miss Scott in the Barrington goal their unbeaten record would have been brought to an end. The game was nearly marred by an incident close to time; Spartans took a corner which went straight out of play, but a spectator mischievously tapped it back onto the field, and Spartans forced the ball into the net.
Fortunately for Barrington the referee had a clear view of the incident and the goal was disallowed. The game ended goalless, but honour had been preserved all round; both teams had held on to their unbeaten records, though no doubt the argument as to which was the better side continued to rage for some time to come.

Patrick Brennan.

This is an intruging piece of football history that bears the famous name of Blyth Spartans and it’s an even more important part of the towns history.


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A tribute to Nigel Walker, 1959-2014.

Sunday 2nd February 2014 brought the shock news that former Blyth Spartans player & manager Nigel Walker had sadly passed away.

Nigel had battled cancer for 25 years, his wife Nicki responding to the flood of tributes:
“He died after a long fight with cancer, having had a rare form of lymphoma for 25 years, which he never let get him down and worked through most of the time, then developing secondary malignant melanoma last June. He has fought so hard, with great stoicism, and an undaunted spirit.”

After 10 years as a professional footballer he went back to his studies and eventually became a maths teacher, being such a humble and modest person he would often play down his time as a footballer to the point that when pupils found out he had played for the local heroes, he would often deny it!.
However when pupils took in old match programmes featuring him he would happily regale them with stories of his past career and the pupils loved having an ex Newcastle player in took charge of the school football team.

colourNigel Stephen Walker was born in Gateshead on 7th April 1959, his precocious talent had been spotted as an 18-year-old playing for Wearside League Whickham when Newcastle manager Bill McGarry signed him in July 1977.
He didn’t have to wait long for his debut, making the first team on 5th November 1977 in the 1-1 draw with Bristol City.
Born and raised on Tyneside, Nigel was living every young Geordie’s dream, plucked from local football straight into the Black & White’s first team, showing his undoubted ability he established himself making 14 appearances that season.
However the Magpie’s were relegated to Division Two, finishing 2nd bottom with only 22 points, (11 adrift from safety).
In 1978/79 he made 21 appearances really establishing himself and on 7th October 25,731 were inside St James Park to see Nigel score the winner in the 1-0 victory over Leicester City.
NUFC actionA week later his exquisite left foot was on show again when he lofted a superb free kick in for Peter Withe to score for United in the 1-1 Tyne Wear Derby draw at Roker Park.
Nigel capped a good fortnight for him personally on 21st October when he scored the goal again but it was scant reward in a 1-4 defeat at Charlton Athletic United, recovered to finished 8th in a  season which arguably saw his finest run of form for the club.
1979/80 saw United fared little better, Nigel only made 11 starts & twice came on as a sub as they finished 9th. 1980/81 saw Bill McGarry sacked and eventually replaced by Arthur Cox, Nigel made 21 appearances that season as the Magpies finished 11th.
Nigel scored his only goal of the season in the final day 3-0 home victory over Orient at St James Park on 2nd May (it turned out to be his last for the club).
In 1981/82 he went out on loan to Plymouth Argyle but returned to Tyneside without having played for them. He was to only played 5 times before Arthur Cox released him, his last game for Newcastle came on the 7th November in the 1-2 defeat at Chelsea.

Sockers 82 Home Nigel Walker_small

Nigel in action against Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Nigel, then aged only 23, took the decision to move to America.
He accepted an offer to play for the San Diego Sockers in the North America Soccer League for the 1982 campaign.
When Nigel arrived in America the exodus of international stars had started, losing the services of George Best, John Cruyff, Gerd Muller & Frank Worthington.
(Cruyff had returned to Europe having being ‘totally’
disgusted with the hard artificial turf found in some of the NASL stadium).

However Nigel’s midfield partner had become a movie star
the previous summer,  legendary Polish midfielder Kazimierz Deyna played Paul Wolchek in the cult football film:
‘Escape to Victory’.
*Kaz Deyna became a San Diego Sockers legend playing 269 times in both formats scoring 162 goals for the Sockers and winning 5 titles.Sockers 82 Home Team
Nigel made 19 appearances scoring once in the NASL format when the season finished and moved to an indoors format he also played twice in the Major Indoor Soccer League for San Diego Sockers before returning to the UK in January 1983.
He signed for Crewe Alexandra on a non contract basis he played 20 times and scored 5 times as Crewe just managed to avoid finishing bottom on goal difference over Hereford United but had to apply for re-election.

In July 1983 Alan Durban took Nigel to Roker Park and he made his 1st Black Cats appearance on Friday 5th August when Sunderland played in the Gore Gold Cup Tournament on the Isle of Man. IOM83He scored the opening goal in the 5-0 win over an Isle of Man XI, he was an unused sub in the Final when the Black Cats beat St Mirren 1-0.
Nigel’s next game was on Monday 22nd August in the 3-2 friendly win over Darlington at Feethams coming on as a half time sub to replace Graeme Hedley and scored the winner, having played well pre-season he was to only featured once for the first team once the season started, coming on as an 82nd minute sub to replace Leighton James in the 3-0 victory over Watford at Roker Park on Saturday 12 November 1983.
Towards the end of the season he was loaned out to 4th Division Blackpool, he featured 10 times and made an instant impact scoring a hat trick on his debut for the Tangerines in the 5-1 win away at  Northampton Town on 20th March.

chester picIn the summer of 1984 he joined Fourth Division Chester City and in his 41 appearances established himself as a firm favourite with the fans, he became a City hero in front of the season’s best 3,968 crowd at Sealand Road on Boxing Day.Wrexham cutting
He scored his 1st goal for the club in their Boxing Day Derby with arch rivals Wrexham when his penalty sealed a 2-1 win.
Nigel scored 9 goals that season, 3 from the penalty spot, after a brace on the 20th April in the 2-0 victory over Port Vale he scored his 2nd career hat trick on the 8th May in the 4-4 draw at Swindon.
Nigel’s 9 goals saw him finish 2nd top scorer behind striker Stuart Rimmer.

Nigel’s form prompted Hartlepool United manager Billy Horner to offer him a 2 year contract and he made the move backup North, he made his debut on 17th August 1985 in the 2-4 defeat at Cambridge United (Nigel’s one time Newcastle teammate Alan Shoulder also marked his Pool debut that day with a goal).


Nigel in his Hartlepool days (3rd left back row).

Nigels’ 1st goal for Pool’s came in the 2-1 win over Northampton Town on 18th September, after a shaky start to the season, they climbed into the top 3 by mid-October. They were still in a promotion spot in early March but eventually faded slightly to finish in 7th place. Nigel started 49 times that season for Pool’s and made 1 subs appearance scoring 5 times.
In 1986/87 he had to wait until the 5th October to find the net scoring in the 4-1 home win over Lincoln City, Nigel made 38 starts & 4 sub appearances as Pool’s struggled to an 18th place finish only 5 points off bottom spot.

By the time his contract had expired Nigel had also completed a 4 year Open University study in Technology & Design, he had found it increasingly difficult to leave his home for training every day of the week and decided over the summer to pass up several approaches from professional clubs to enrolled on a 4 year Computing for Industry course at Newcastle Polytechnic, it was no surprise he would eventually gain a first class honours degree in computing.
photoHaving joined Newcastle United with 7 O-levels &
4 A –levels he had harbored thoughts of returning to his academic studies during his Open University course releasing his time as a professional footballer wouldn’t
last for ever:
“If our lucky you’ll be in the game until you’re 35.
I’d been thinking about the course for a while.”

With the PFA’s player education programme very much in it’s infancy in 1987 he was asked for his impression of his fellow professionals during his ten years in the game :
“Footballers are no dimmer than any other group of workers, but people feel happy with stereotypes. One problem is that they can’t choose their spokesmen. There are lots of lads who could do what I’ve done, the main problem was one of lack of opportunity.”

Blyth manager Jim Pearson, fresh from guiding the club to its 9th Northern League title,
knew Nigel from their time together at Newcastle and used his friendship to seal his signature despite interest from other Non League clubs in the region.
Nigel made his Spartans debut on 22nd August in the 3-0 home win over Chester le Street, he scored his 1st goal for the Spartans on 8th September in the 4-2 home win over Ferryhill Athletic. Nigel’s proven quality & class was clear to be seen playing 47 times as Pearson’s side retained the Northern league title with 2 games to spare, Nigel scored 11 goals including a run of scoring in 4 successive games March 1988.

1988/89 began with Nigel adding to his Spartans silverware when he scored the winning penalty in Blyth’s 5-4 Cleator Cup penalty shoot out victory.
It turned out to be much tougher season as Nigel made 35 appearances under 2 managers. Dave Clarke had replaced Pearson in the summer but after a run of poor results saw him quit, another famous ex player for the 78′ cup run Tommy Dixon replaced him.
Nigel scored 3 goals as Dixon’s side finished in a lowly 9th place, the clubs lowest league finish since 1966/67.

The following season, 1989/90, wasn’t much better as Tommy Dixon’s side struggled, Nigel was now the main stay of the team midfield playing 39 times and even covered at right back for 3 games as Blyth limped to another 9th place finish.
Nigel found the net 9 times that season including his 1st ever FA Cup goal in the 3-0 1st Qualifying Round win at Murton, however the goal came courtesy of the Murton goalkeeper when Nigel’s free kick crashed off the cross-bar and went in off back of the keepers head!.


Nigel looks on as teammate Steve Pyle is clattered.

Another manager came and went in the summer with Ronnie Walton stepping up from assistant to replace Tommy Dixon. Along with his former Newcastle team Steve Carney, they were very much the experienced pro’s in the side and spurned offers from elsewhere to stay with the Spartans. Walton’s side fared better finishing 3rd thanks in large to the scoring prowess of Steve Cuggy, although it was Nigel who scored the club’s 1st cup goal of the season in the 5-2 League Cup win at West Auckland, it was his first of 7 he got that season.
The 1991/92 season was probably the most eventful one in Nigel’s 6 years with the club, he had finished his course and began training to become a teacher and taken up the role as assistant/coach but that was all before the campaign had even got under way.
It started with him having to settle for a place on the bench…
went on to see him become manager…
and ended with him scoring a dramatic extra time winner in a Cup Final back where it had all started…
St James Park!

Money was becoming increasingly tight, keys players were lost to clubs who could pay more but Nigel stayed despite offers from elsewhere and became the focal point of a young side. The season didn’t start well and few months in the club were in a serious cash crisis, Ronnie Walton asked the players to take a 30% pay cut for a few weeks to help out.
Prize asset Richie Bond signed for Blackpool and upon leaving thanked people at Croft Park for helping him get his albeit late break into the Football League, Nigel was singled out for special praise with Bond stating he: “was the best player he’d ever played with”.
Just as things began to look up Ronnie Walton surprisingly quit after a surprise home defeat to 5th bottom Seaham Red Star, citing it was nothing to do with the players or the club!.
Nigel was approached by the board about becoming the new manager and he accepted the post, his first game in charge was due to be back Whickham of all places on 1st February but the weather put pay to that. His reign in charge began a 5-2 League Cup vimanagerctory over Dunston Fed on 11th Feb, however it were somewhat of beginners luck.
A 1-2 defeat at Billingham Synthonia made it 6 games without a victory and all but ended any faint hopes of winning the league but Nigel remained upbeat:
“The lads battled well, we need a little luck in front of goal but we will turn the corner”

By the time the Spartans face local rivals Whitley Bay in a Senior Cup Semi Final replay on 17th March Ronnie Walton returned to the club, after brief discussions they both agreed to resume their former roles and Nigel returned to his more familiar midfield birth.
Given events of the season the Spartans made a respectable 6th place finish and the Spartans reachNSCFed the Northumberland Senior Cup Final where they came up against high-flying North Shields. Colin Richardson’s big spending Northern Counties East League Champions were hot favourites to complete a double but the Spartans had other idea’s.
A goal from David Hunter sent the tie to extra time, the 2nd period of which was minutes old when Nigel scored one of his best goal for the club. Hunter played him in to crash home a superb winner on the ground where it had all began for him, the delight was clear as he celebrated scoring 11 years to the day since his last goal on the hallowed turf of St James.
3 days later Nigel added another medal to his Spartans haul when they beat Consett 1-0 in the League Cup Final at Murton.NSCF Prog
*Nigel’s cup final winner is still to this day the last winning goal scored by a Blyth player at St James in a Senior Cup Final, despite the club appearing in 6 more Finals at SJP since that Saturday afternoon in May 1992.

Now fully qualified as a Maths teacher, 1992/93 proved to be his last season at Croft Park. He made 9 starts and 4 appearances as s sub once again covering at right back when need, Nigel marked his last start for the club on 3rd November with 2 goals in the 7-0 hammering of Ferryhill Athletic at Croft Park. His last ever appearance in a Blyth shirt came in the FA Cup 1st Round tie with Southport at Croft Park on 14th November 1992, he came on as a second half sub in the 1-2 defeat.

When Nigel moved to Northern League 2nd Division Dunston Federation Brewery, another medal came his way as they stormed to the 2nd Division title. Nigel scored a penalty on his debut and went on to score 4 goals for the free scoring Fed.Dunston Fed
The following season he managed 2 more goals as the Fed finished their first season the Northern League First Division in a respectable 11th place. Nigel’s 2nd goal was a painful one for his former club, it came on the 27th December in Fed’s superb 3-1 victory over the Spartans at the Federation Ground needless to say being the person he was there was no celebration.
Nigel’s’ final goal for the Fed came on 3rd September 1994 when he scored in the 3-3 draw at West Auckland.

Very much a family man he lived a stones throw from Whickham’s Glebe Ground where Newcastle United spotted him playing, Nigel was a hugely popular not just with football fans who admired & envied his talents but with his fellow players and that carried on into his teaching, many of his pupils were thrilled to have been taught by a professional footballer especially one who played for Newcastle United!.

at Whickham

Nigel keeps his eye on the ball under a strong challenge from Whickham’s Phil Ray.

Nigel played 216 times for Blyth scoring 40 goals (including 1 in a penalty shoot out), he played under 4 managers and had a run of 9 games as caretaker manager from 11th February – 17th March 1992.
His honours while a Spartan includes a Northern League title in 1987/88,
Northern League Cup 1991/92, Northumberland Senior Cup 1992
JR Cleator Cup twice in 1988 & 1992.

He graced Croft Park for 6 seasons with his silky skills, effortless balance and sweet left foot he was adjudged by many as one of the best midfielders to play for the club and the fact he stood by the club through some tough times when many others opted to play elsewhere for more money showed the mark of the man, earning him legendary status with many Spartans fans.

On Saturday 8th February 2014, a minutes applause will be held before Blyth Spartans home game to mark Nigel’s sad passing and to allow everybody connected with the club to pay their respects to a genuine gentlemen and a true Spartan.

RIP Nigel Walker ..

taken from us but certainly never to be forgotten..

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Kevin Tilmouth who once again provided memorabilia from his collection that was used in this article.

The following websites provided information & images from Nigel’s career:









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The hat trick heroes

Dan 3

Dan Maguire completes his 16 minute hat trick.

At 3.16pm on Saturday 11th January 2014 the Blyth fans stood in awe as young striker Dan Maguire was mobbed by his teammates having just rifled home his 1st hat trick for the club, the sheer quickness of the hat trick had the Blyth fans scratching their heads as to whether his 3 in 11 minutes was the fastest hat trick ever for the club.

Showing just how short a memory supporters have, Maguire’s stunning 11 minute hat trick turned out to not even be the quickest by a current player!, team-mate Craig Hubbard beat that by 6 minutes on October 19th 2013, however another team-mate had also bettered Dan’s feat some 8 years earlier.

Dan 3

Hubbard completes his 10 minute hat trick.

Craig Hubbard’s modern-day record of a 10 minute hat trick in the 6-0 FA Trophy victory over Skelmersdale United was even more special in it being a ‘perfect hat trick’, scoring with his left foot, right foot and completing it with a header !.

It was Craig’s 2nd hat trick in a week having scored 3 in the first half’s of Blyth’s see saw 3-4 league defeat at Skelmersdale the previous Saturday.
Craig had even scored in the game in between the Skelmersdale double-header, the midweek victory over Ilkeston but despite scoring hat tricks on consecutive Saturday’s couldn’t match the late great Scott Bell’s feat of hat tricks in consecutive games in 2006.

Scott's fires home the 1st in his hat trick against Witton

Scott’s fires home the 1st in his hat trick against Witton

Scott scored in the 5-1 win over Witton Albion on 28th January then 7 days later in the 3-2 win at Ashton United.

Craig Hubbard’s hat trick was the quickest since Robbie Dale fired 3 in the 6-0 Conference North hammering of Worcester City in  April 2006.
However long serving fans favourite Robbie Dale still holds the record of scoring the quickest hat trick directly from the kick off, beating Dan Maguire’s by 2 minutes when he achieved the feet in 14 minutes as Blyth raced into a 4-0 lead after only 14 minutes.
Robbie now stands on 5 hat trick’s for the club, his 1st famously came on his debut in a 5-2 win against Wakefield-Emley back in Match 2005.

Robbie’s 14 minute hat trick had almost been bettered in March 2011 when Paul Brayson hit a 17 minute hat trick in a 6-2 victory at Vauxhall Motors, a victory all the more astounding as the Spartans came from 0-2 down! to marked the clubs 200th game on the Conference North in style.
Brayson’s other hat trick for the Spartans had come in April 2010 as Blyth beat Harrogate 5-2 at Weatherby Road, he almost set a new record when he scored twice in a minute (18th & 19th) but was forced to wait until the 74th minute to complete the hat trick.
In between Brayson’s 2 hat tricks attacking midfielder Stephen Turnbull scored his 1 and only hat trick for the club in his 102 appearances during the 4-0 victory over North Shields in the Northumberland Senior Cup on 23rd November 2010. Another attacking midfielder, Michael Tait scored his first goal for the club to set up his 3 against Ossett Albion on 26th September 2009 in the 7-1 FA Cup win.

Hat tricks before Robbie’s famous debut had been few and far between, Graham Fenton bagged one on his 2nd appearance for the club in a 5-0 win at Spennymoor United in August 2003, that came 3 years after the previous one by Glen Robson in the 3-5 FA Cup defeat at Leigh RMI in September 1999.
There was a few in the late 90’s, in November 1998 Wayne Edgecumbe scored his only hat trick for the club in a 3-1 win at Marine but that was well over a year since Steph McGargle scored 3 on his loan debut for the club back in February 1997 in the 3-2 win over Runcorn, that season saw 5 hat tricks scored (3 by Stu Young and 1 each for Steve Pyle & Willie Moat).

Pyla 1st season action

Prolific Steve Pyle scores another for Blyth.

Joining the ‘hat trick club’ for the Spartans this season puts Dan Maguire & Craig Hubbard into a group contain some famous old Spartans, the aforementioned Steve Pyle scored a staggering 15 hat tricks between April 1987 and November 1996, (2 of those hat trick which came within a 4 goal haul against Hebburn in February 1994 and a 5 goal tally against Ryhope CA in January 1988, which included 4 in 20 minutes). Steve’s fastest hat trick came on 19th September 1992 when he hit 3 in 11 minutes in the 3-1 win at Easington.
Steve Cuggy scored 4 during his 1 prolific 1990/91 season at Croft Park, which included a 13 minute hat trick on the 7-0 hammering of South Bank on 13th October. His 1st came courtesy of a last minute penalty in the 5-2 League Cup win at West Auckland on 28th August then followed it up with another in the very next game, in the 3-0 win over Stockton Town. That season also saw striker Gary McDonald hit the fastest of the 90’s when he smashed a 9 minute hat trick in the 4-1 League Cup win at home to Ashington.
The fastest recorder hat trick in the 70’s came in the 6-1 thrashing of Annan Athletic in the FA Amateur Cup game at Croft Park on 11th September 1971, when Micky Lister fired a 5 minute hat trick scoring in the 80th, 81st & 85th minutes.

While other famous former Blyth strikers only just made it into the ‘club’ such as Richie Bond who surprisingly only scored 1 hat trick in November 1996 during the 4-0 victory FA trophy over Accrington Stanley back.

A more obscure single hat trick for the Spartans came from former Middlesbrough stBilly Woofriker Billy Woof who only played 5 times in 1982/83 and managed to score 4 goals including a hat trick in a 4-1 win at Ferryhill Athletic.
Woof left Blyth to sign for Cardiff City scoring 88th minute winner against Wigan Athletic on his debut, but then had a disagreement with manager Len Ashurst and signed for Hull City after only 1 appearance.

One surprising omission from the Spartans ‘hat trick club’ is Alan Shoulder, who despite the goal scoring prowess for Bishop Auckland that brought home to Croft Park and then his form as a Spartans earning him the dream move to Newcastle United, he never got a hat trick as Blyth player. Alan did come close on 5 different occasions in which he scored a brace but never got that elusive 3rd goal.

Steve Jones debut hat-trick

Jos Jones caps his stunning debut hat trick with a header.

The list of players who have scored a hat trick for the club reads like a who’s who of great Blyth strikers, it gives up some interesting statistics like Steve ‘Jos’ Jones scoring the 1st of his 3 on his debut in the last game of 1976/77 season.
Jos signed for his hometown club having been playing for the Golden Eagle Pub in the Blyth & Wansbeck Sunday League and marked his arrival with a fine hat trick on the 30th April 1977 in the  4-2 win over Willington.
He then scored his 3rd & final hat trick some 9 years later in January 1986 after returning to the club following spells at Blue Star & Whitley Bay.

George Pyke

Free scoring George Pyke.

2 sets of bother have scored hat tricks, the Mutrie brothers scored 6 for the club with both Ian & Les tying on 3 each although Les did manage to score 4 in the 7-2 win at Crook Town in August 1979.
However the Pyke brothers, George & Josh out did the Mutrie brothers on the 11th April 1925 when they both scored 3 in the 9-0 win over Leadgate Park, George actually scored 5 that day.

The last time 2 players both scored hat tricks in the same game was on the 17th August 1985 when Steve Baxter & Tony McFadden scored in the 6-2 win over Billingham Town

There have been a few occasions when players have scored more than 3 in a game 4 goal hauls are quite common, on Boxing Day 1904 Nicky Thompson scored 5 in a 13-0 win over Seaton Burn. He repeated the feat 2 years later scoring another 5 in a 7-1 win over Percy Rovers in the Cairns Cup in April 1906 but bettered that in the September when he scored 7 in a 10-3 romp at Alnwick St James in an East Northumberland League game. Nicky also hit 6 in a 8-0 hammering of Bothal St Andrews 6 months later.

197 - Peter Mackin

Peter Mackin

The next player to hit 6 in a game was the influential Peter Mackin in a 9-0 win over Kingston Villa in a Northern Alliance game.
Billy Tucker then scored 7 in a 10-0 mauling of Seaton Delaval in a Northumberland Senior Cup 1st Round tie in January 1930, that 7 was equalled by Lew Nainby in the 11-2 hammering of Stockton on 9th December 1961 in a Northern Counties League game.
Nainby’s record stood for 8 years before the famous Brian Slane hit 7 in the 13-0 Northern League hammering of Stanley United on 6th December 1969  and that remains the highest current haul from a Spartan.

Another goal for Brian Slane

Yet another goal for Brian Slane.

The closest a player has come to it surprisingly was a midfielder, when in April 1974 Mick Dagless hit 5 (including 1 penalty) in a 6-1 victory over Willington, Steve Pyle was the next player to score 5 in a 7-1 win at Ryhpoe CA in January 1988.
In February 2016 Wilson Kneeshaw became the 1st Spartan to score 5 at Croft Park in 42 years when he scored all the goals in a 5-0 Northen Premier League win over Skelmersdale United.

Unsurprisingly the leading hat trick scorers list is topped by some of the clubs most prolific scorer:

Langland v North Shields 1958

Langland in action against North Shields in March 1958.

Steve Pyle – 15
Brian Slane  – 14
Tommy Orrick – 12
(includes 3 consecutive hat tricks)
Johnny Langland – 10
(includes 2 consecutive hat tricks)
Billy Readman – 9
Jeff Hunter  – 8
(includes 2 consecutive hat tricks and 
also 3 consecutive 4 goal hauls)
George Pyke – 8
Nicky Thompson – 8
Robbie Dale – 6
Gordon Luke  – 6
Mick Dagless – 5
Dan Maguire – 5

George Patton

Roger Patton, scorer of the 1st recorded hat trick.

The honour of scoring the club’s 1st ever hat trick will have to go to Roger Patton who achieved the feat on 1st March 1902 in Blyth’s 8-0 Northumberland League win over Seaton Deleval, however there are only 8 results in the clubs long history where it hasn’t been possible to find the scorers. 5 of these took place before Patton bagged his hat trick so the honour of the 1st ever hat trick by default will have to go to Roger Patton.

The 1st hat trick scored for the reformed Blyth Spartans AFC was by the prolific Jeff Hunter. He scored 4 in the 8-1 win at Newbiggin Welfare on 11th September 1946, he scored 3 successive hat tricks in a club record run of scoring in 10 successive games, the 3 hat tricks were actually within 3 successive 4 goal hauls.
He also scored 5 in the 11-0 win at Prudhoe East Park and then went 1 better scoring all 6 in the 6-3 win at North Shield on  6th April 1947.
Jeff scored 63 goals in 37 games that season and still remains the highest scorer in 1 single season for the club despite Prudhoe East Park having their record expunged leaving him with 58 goals.

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris scorer of the 100th hat trick.

The first hat trick for the club after it turned amateur in 1964, was scored by Jim Campbell when he bagged all 4 in the 4-1 FA Amateur Cup win over University of Newcastle.

The 100th hat trick was scored by Leslie Harris on 22nd January 1938 in a 6-3 North Eastern League home victory over Workington, the 200th was scored on 23rd October 1971 by Mick Lister in the 8-1 demolition of Consett.

Dan Maguire’s hat trick was the 294th scored by a Blyth player, he was the 128th different Spartan to score a hat trick for the club and as the records clearly show he’s now in the company of some clubs great goal scorers.

Watch Dan Maguire’s stunning 16 minute hat trick:

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat, for his work in collating the records of Blyth Spartans and for the use of images.

Kevin Tilmouth, Jeff Young & Martin Hunter for their help with information of  hat tricks by Blyth players.

Bill Broadley, for the original pictures of Dan Maguire & Craig Hubbard’s goals.

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Brief encounter – The FA Amateur Cup

CupThe collapse of the North Eastern League for a 2nd and last time at the end of the 1963/64 season left Blyth Spartans needing to find a new league. With the lack of a suitable Semi Professional league the club turned amateur and only just managing to gain entry to the Northern League.
As amateurs the club became legible to play in the illustrious FA Amateur Cup for the 1st time.

Bob Hardisty, Bishop Auckland, is proudly holding the trophy that his team had just won. They won the match 2-0

Legendary Bishop Auckland player Bob Hardisty shows off the trophy.

Northern League sides had won the cup 26 times before, with Bishop Auckland the dominating amateur club with 10 victories 1896, 1900, 1914, 1921, 1922, 1935, 1939, 1955, 1956, 1957,
other Northern League winners were:
Crook Town – 1901, 1954, 1959, 1962, 1964
Stockton – 1899, 1903, 1912
Middlesbrough – 1895, 1898
North Shields  – 1969
South Bank  – 1913
West Hartlepool  – 1905
Willington  – 1950

Picture 1Willington’s victory on 22nd April 1950 saw them become the 1st Northern League club to win the Cup at Wembley. They avenged their 1939 Final defeat at the hands of 7 times winners Bishop Auckland causing an upset by hammering their local rivals 4-0 on the hallowed turf.

The first tournament in 1893 featured amateur teams from throughout England and was won by Old Carthusians, the team for former pupils of Charterhouse School, who defeated Casuals.
The old boy teams competed in the Amateur Cup until 1902, when disputes with the FA led to the formation of the Arthur Dunn Cup, a dedicated competition for such teams.

  • The Carthusians had won England’s premier national competition, the FA Cup, in 1881, and thus became the first team to win both cups.
  • The only other club to achieve this feat was Wimbledon, who won the Amateur Cup in 1963 and the FA Cup in 1988.

With the exception of a second win for Carthusians and a victory for Old Malvernians, the competition’s first decade was dominated by teams from the North East.
The competition was not staged during the First or Second World Wars, other than in the 1914–15 season, Southern clubs were the most successful during the inter-war period winning the tournament 15 times in 19 seasons.
Interest in the competition peaked soon after the Second World War and the Final was moved to Wembley Stadium attracting crowds of up to 100,000.
In 1960’s interest in the Amateur Cup had started to decline and crowds for the Final dropped to less than half the level of the early Wembley Finals.

When Blyth Spartans entered in 1964/65 Crook Town were the current holders having beaten Enfield 2-1 at Wembley, but the Northern League’s dominance had waned and aCrook 1964 Northern League club only won it once more, in 1969.
Picture 3That victory was by North Shields in only their 4th season in the competition, it was some achievement because clubs had to play 4 regionalised qualifying rounds just to reach the national 1st Round and in 1967/68 season a Preliminary Round was added meaning it would take 5 games to reach the 1st Round proper and take 10 victories just to reach the Final.

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell, scorer of the clubs 1st ever Amateur Cup goal.

Blyth’s first ever Amateur Cup game was on 10th October 1964 when they played Walker Naval Yard FC in a 1st Qualifying Round tie, the Northern Alliance side were a works team from the Naval shipyard at High Walker on the Tyne, Jim Campbell had the honour of scoring the clubs 1st Amateur Cup goal in a 3-1 victory.

Walker Naval Yard FC were not the only Tyne shipyard team Blyth played in the cup, a year later they drew Marine Park FC winning 4-1 on 23rd October 1965 in a 2nd Qualifying Round tie.
Founded in 1934 the Northern Alliance side were a works team from engine builders George Clark and North East Marine Ltd company in Wallsend, they were a more successful team than the Naval Yard side winning back to back Northern Alliance titles in 1972/73 & 1973/74.

The competition through up an array of different opposition for the club, the Spartans played Newcastle’s University team twice, in 1964 they were ‘University of Newcastle’,
Jim Campbell scored all the goals in the 4-1 victory by the next meeting a 1968 Preliminary Round tie the Northern Alliance side were simply called ‘Newcastle University’, they fared little better as the Spartans ran out comfortable 5-0 winners.
New opponents came in the form of Teesside club Norton CCT who are the founding club for the current Norton & Stockton Ancients club but back in the 1950’s they were a cricket club, the Norton Cricket Club Trust decided to start a football section to give a winter option for its members.
hendonmarineleather headOther new opponents from further a field came in the form of Manchester club Curzon Ashton & Barnsley side Worsbrough Bridge Miners Welfare & Athletic Football Club.
There was a plenty of traveling involved for the club, a journey to Worcestershire to play Alvechurch in January 1972 was made to look a short hop when Blyth had to travel to London twice within a month to play Woking & Leatherhead.
Further long trips south were required for games against Hendon, Slough Town & Bishops Stortford while both Fareham Town & Wycombe Wanders made the long haul north in 1974.

Blyth even endOld Heart crested up playing 2 teams from Scotland!.
In October 1967 the Spartans were drawn against the quaintly named Hearts of Liddesdale FC.
The away tie in the Scottish Borders took the Spartans to Newcastleton, a village in the Liddesdale Valley.
Founded in 1880 as Newcastleton FC they changed their name to Hearts of Liddesdale in 1909. The Carlisle & District League side were no match for the Spartans with the prolific Tommy Orrick scoring 4 as they romped to a 6-0 victory.

  • Due to their geographical location Hearts played most of their football under the control of the Cumberland Football Association, mainly in the Carlisle & District League however the League disbanded in 2003. The Club then joined the Dumfries Amateur League but after 3 seasons rejoined Cumberland County League and now play in the Border Amateur Football League A Division.

The Spartans were drawn against Scottish opposition again in September 1971 when another Carlisle and District League side, Annan Athletic came to Croft Park.  The Black & Golds did manage to score unlike their fellow countrymen but were sent packing back over the Border on the end of a 6-1 thrashing.

  • Annan may have fared only slightly better than Hearts did by virtue of scoring a goal but their fortunes have fared better. In 1977 Annan  returned to Scottish football in the South of Scotland Football League and in 2008 they were successful in applying to join the Scottish Football League.

020That Preliminary Round victory over Annan set the club off on it’s longest run in the cup and would agonisingly ended in a 0-2 Semi Final defeat to Isthmian League Enfield at St James Park in front of a 18,650 crowd, it was the closest Blyth came to reaching the Final and the Wembley appearance the club craved so much.

Enfield SJP

The tie at St James Park was played with the back drop of the East Stand construction.

Enfield outclassed Blyth that spring day at St James Park but would in turn lose 0-2 in the Final to fellow Isthmian League side Hendon, the following season brought the 3 times winners and reigning holders Hendon to Croft Park.
After being held to a 1-1 draw the Spartans made the long haul to London and a Allan Young goal saw Blyth cause an upset to knock the holders out. Young scored again in the next round as Blyth beat local rivals North Shields 1-0 at Appleby Park in the 3rd Round and he was on the score sheet once again in the 4th Round but his goal wasn’t enough as Blyth lost 1-2 at Athenian League Champions Slough Town.

034The clubs last game in the competition came in a 4th Round defeat at Bishop Stortford on 2nd  March 1974, Mick Dagless got the Spartans last ever Amateur Cup goal in a 1-3 defeat.

last winners

Bishops Stortford celebrate their Wembley victory.

Fittingly in their centenary season, the Bishops would go on to beat Ilford 4-1 in the Final at Wembley on 20th April 1974 in what became the last ever Amateur Cup game, a sign of how the popularity of the competition had dwindled from it’s hey days was shown with a crowd of only 30,000 at Wembley that afternoon.

In 1969 the FA had given Semi-Professional teams an opportunity to compete for the chance to play at Wembley Stadium with the creation of the FA Trophy, fully amateur clubs still took part in the long-standing FA Amateur Cup, but most of the leading Non-League clubs made at least some form of payment to their players and were therefore ineligible to enter the Amateur Cup.

In 1974 the FA abandoned its policy of classifying all clubs as either fully professional or fully amateur and the Amateur Cup was duly abolished.

  • Amateur Cup winners who later turned professional and gained entry to The Football League include Middlesbrough, West Hartlepool (merged to form Hartlepool United), Wimbledon, Wycombe Wanderers and Barnet, thirty-six different clubs won the cup.

It was a case of oh so close in the Spartans attempt to reach Wembley coming within 90 minutes of playing at the famous twin towers, in 1973/74 the club entered the FA Trophy.

Blyth competed in the FA Amateur Cup for 10 seasons playing a total of 42 games winning 30, losing 10 and drawing 2, scoring 100 goals in the process of which 3 were own goals
(also 7 hat tricks were scored and their were 4 four goal hauls and 5 penalties).
Brian Slane was the club’s top scorer in the competition with 17 goals while Tommy Orrick got 11.

Blyth Spartans Complete FA Amateur Cup record:

10 Oct 1964            1Q                        Walker Naval Yard                        A                        3-1            Scorers: Campbell, Dodd, Nixon
24 Oct 1964            2Q                        University of Newcastle               H                        4-1            Scorers: Campbell 4
07 Nov 1964            3Q                        North Shields                                A                        4-1            Scorers: Campbell, Tatum (og), Duffell 2
28 Nov 1964            4Q                        Tow Law                                         A                        0-2

23 Oct 1965            2Q                        Marine Park                                    A                        4-1            Scorers: Hewitt 2, Orrick, Pink
06 Nov 1965            3Q                        North Shields                                A                        1-3
Scorer: Hewitt

08 Oct 1966            1Q                        North Shields                                  H                      2-5
Scorers: Orrick, n/k

23 Sep 1967            Prelim.              Heaton Stannington                        H                     5-2            Scorers: Orrick 2, Feenan, Winskill 2
07 Oct 1967            1Q                        Durham City                                    H                     2-1            Scorers: Orrick (p), Winskill
21 Oct 1967            2Q                        Hearts of Liddesdale                      A                     6-0            Scorers: Orrick 4 (2p), Alder, Pope (og)
04 Nov 1967            3Q                        South Bank                                     H                     3-0            Scorers: Evans, Orrick 2
09 Dec 1967            4Q                        West Auckland                               H                     1-1
Scorer: Flaherty
16 Dec 1967            4Q Replay            West Auckland                              A                     0-4

14 Sep 1968            Prelim.                  Newcastle University                 H                      5-0            Scorers: Watts, Oakley (p), Duffell 3 (1p)
28 Sep 1968            1Q                        Consett                                            H                     1-0            Scorer: Jardine
12 Oct 1968            2Q                        Billingham Synthonia                   A                      3-4            Scorers: Duffell, Scott 2

13 Sep 1969            Prelim.              Heaton Stannington                        H                     5-1            Scorers: Feenan, Slane 3, A Young
27 Sep 1969            1Q                        Stanley United                                H                     3-0            Scorers: Robson, Slane, Evans
11 Oct 1969            2Q                        Willington                                        H                     2-1            Scorers: Alder, Lister
30 Oct 1969            3Q                       Billingham Synthonia                    A                     0-2

12 Sep 1970            Prelim.               Washington                                       A                    5-0            Scorers: Slane 3, Evans, Scott
26 Sep 1970            1Q                        Bishop Auckland                             A                    0-2

11 Sep 1971            Prelim.                   Annan Athletic                              H                    6-1
Scorers: Lister 3, Jardine 2, A Young
25 Sep 1971            1Q                        Curzon Ashton                                A                     2-0
Scorer: Slane 2
16 Oct 1971            2Q                        Norton CCT                                      H                    5-1
Scorers: Alder, Slane 4
30 Oct 1971            3Q                        Worsborough Bridge                      A                    2-0
Scorers: Romaines 2
27 Nov 1971            4Q                       Willington                                        A                    3-0
Scorers: Lister 2, Young
08 Jan 1972            1                          Alvechurch                                       A                    1-0
Scorer: Jardine
29 Jan 1972            2                         Tow Law                                            A                    4-0
Scorers: Smith, Alder, Slane 2
19 Feb 1972            3                         Woking                                              A                     3-0
Scorers: Lister 2, Scott
04 Mar 1972           4                        Leatherhead                                     H                     1-1
Scorer: Scott
11 Mar 1972            4 Replay           Leatherhead                                     A                     1-0
Scorer: Nixon
18 Mar 1972           SF                        Enfield                                           SJP                  0-2

09 Dec 1972            1                        Marine                                              A                     1-0
Scorer: R. Young
06 Jan 1973            2                        Hendon                                            H                     1-1
Scorer: Scott
13 Jan 1973            2 Replay         Hendon                                              A                      1-0
Scorer: A. Young
27 Jan 1973            3                        North Shields                                  A                      1-0
Scorer: A. Young
17 Feb 1973            4                        Slough                                               A                      1-2
Scorer: A. Young

05 Jan 1974            1                        Sutton Coldfield Town                 H                      3-0
Scorers: Slane, Lister, Nixon
26 Jan 1974            2                        Fareham Town                              H                      2-0
Scorer: Slane 2
09 Feb 1974            3                        Wycombe Wanderers                  H                      2-1
Scorers: Slane, Mead (og)
02 Mar 1974            4                        Bishops Stortford                         A                      1-3
Scorer: Dagless

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat the oracle on Blyth Spartans history and of course his superb history book ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans’ provided vital information.

Kevin Tilmouth who once again provided memorabilia from his collection that was used in this article.

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Classic Matches – Stoke City FA Cup 1977/1978

Stoke City 2 Blyth Spartans 3
Monday 6th February 1978
FA Cup 4th Round,
Victoria Ground, Stoke.
Attendance: 18,765 Picture 2

Stoke City: Roger Jones, Jackie Marsh,
Alec Lindsay, Howard Kendall, Alan Dodd,
Alan Bloor, Steve Waddington, Geoff Scott,
Viv Busby, Terry Conroy, Garth Crooks.
Sub: Jeff Cook.

Blyth Spartans: Dave Clarke, John Waterson,
Ron Guthrie, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott,
Tommy Dixon, Rob Carney, Keith Houghton,
Steve Carney, Alan Shoulder, Terry Johnson.
Sub: Dave Varty.

Referee: George Nolan.

The 6th February is a date remembered as one of the darkest days in the British game due to events at Munich Airport in 1958, however fast forward 20 years to 1978 and it brought one of the FA Cup’s biggest ever upsets.

Northern League Blyth Spartans were playing their 9th game in a remarkable cup run that had started on a sunny September day in Shildon, County Durham and had brought them to a damp winter’s night in Stoke upon Trent, Staffordshire.

SCFC 77:78Stoke City were having an indifferent season adjusting to life outside the top division of English football for the 1st time in 15 years following relegation.
After an initial good start they had suffered a slump in form so a Fourth Round draw against the last surviving Non League club was seen as a perfect draw for the Potters.

For famed cup fighters Blyth Spartans it was an indifferent draw having reached the Fourth Round for the 1st time having beaten Isthmian League Enfield in a feisty 3rd Round tie a plum draw had been anticipated, however initial disappointment at not landing a dream draw give way to the realisation that it was a winnable tie for the supremely confident Spartans, Chairman Jim Turney  stated:
“Its going to be tough but it’s not impossible for us to win, Non League Hendon came to Newcastle 2 seasons ago and got a draw. This is the best Blyth team there has ever been and without doubt the best squad the club has ever had. We are slightly disappointed, because we wanted a more glamorous tie”.

It wasn’t the 1st meeting between the 2 clubs though the previous was an FA Cup 1st Round clash on 13th January 1923. Then the Potters had just been Stoke FC it was 8 years before they changed to Stoke City FC (Stoke had been awarded City status in 1925).
That first meeting saw the First Division side run out comfortable 0-3 winners so 55 years on Manager Brian Slane & Coach Jackie Marks were plotting revenge and were given a helping hand by Tyne Tees Television who made a recording of Stoke recent games available to the management pair.
Slane was optimistic as ever about his sides chances:
“Stoke are definitely beatable, we can do it. They have not been scoring a lot of goals and our defence aren’t conceding many, Dave Clarke has kept a clean sheet in our last 3 cup games and our attack will always get a goal or two. We just have to get out there and enjoy every minute, we must make the most of it. We won’t be going there with defeat on our mind”.

Before game was played City Manager George Eastham paid the ultimate price for their poor season when he was sacked after only 10 months in the hot seat.Stoke crest
Eastham had been Tony Waddington’s Assistant and took over when Waddington resigned in March 1977 with the club staring relegation in the face.
Once again the Assistant was promoted and Alan A’Cort became manager, Blyth’s manager Brian Slane drew encouragement from the upheaval:
“A new man might buck them up but as they are promoting their assistant manager, they will probably keep their old style.
It might unsettle them to lose a manager.”

However A’Court saw things very differently:
“There is no way that the departure of George Eastham will affect our players confidence, we are a professional side with a professional attitude.
A Non League draw for us especially at home is a very good fixture for our players and our spectators. It gives us a good chance to get into the last sixteen and once there we would be only three matches away from the Final. My 1st game in charge would have been at home to Millwall but that was frozen off so this cup game is my first as manager and I’m expecting a good result for Stoke City!.

Slane was forthcoming about his side’s tactics going into the game:
“If we contain them for half an hour then they could be frustrated and it could be very an interesting game. They scored 2 in just six minutes against Tilbury but they won’t do that to us. Everyone I speak to says that Howard Kendall is the main man for Stoke, so he’ll be receiving special treatment from our players. We are ready, we are not worried, just excited we have nothing to lose, in a sense we have got to Wembley a far as a Non League club is concerned.
Stoke’s last home game was postponed so Jack and I could not check them out personally but we did receive a file from Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy, being a Geordie he wants us to do well and generously give me a rundown on their side.”

The 4th Round was scheduled for Saturday 28th January, however despite the North East being in the grip of a snow storm 4,000 Blyth fans set off for Staffordshire early on the morning, including a convoy of 52 official coaches many had arrived in the Potteries only for the game the game to be called off an hour before kick off because of flooding!.
Torrential rain overnight and on the morning of the game had put the game in doubt but the Stoke ground staff had worked hard to clear the pitch of gallons of water.
The referee delayed his pitch inspection until 1.00pm, but a further downpour left him with little alternative other than to call the game off.

The game was rearranged for the following Wednesday night, 1st February, and the postponement meant the club was placed in the 5th Round draw automatically and as if yet another incentive to beat Stoke was needed the winners of the rearranged tie would play either Third Division Wrexham or a struggling Newcastle United!.

Once again the weather brought frustration on the
morning of the game 007when at 11am it was called off,
13 official coaches were due to leave for the potteries at 1.30pm.
Chairman Jim Turney accepted the weather had deteriorated on the morning of the games but wasn’t best pleased:
“What puzzles me, is that we were told on Tuesday night that the game would go ahead on Wednesday. All the staff and players were notified and arrangements were made to make the trip the next day. We checked the weather reports at Stoke and they said that overnight conditions hadn’t worsened; yet when they call in the ref on the Wednesday morning, he says ‘game off’. It amazes me how they come to these decisions’. The fans had a rough deal on Saturday so I’m glad they didn’t set off on another wasted journey”.

Picture 2

The match programme sold on the night was the same one from the original tie called off on 28th January.

Yet again the tie was rearranged , this time for the following Monday, 6th February, club secretary George Watson was mindful of the effects the call off’s were having on the fans:
“These people have got to be the best in the land. Many would have taken the day off work to travel down to Stoke and they would have lost a day’s pay.
Anyone who bought a ticket for the match has to use them next Monday – they cannot be refunded!”.

The officials & players traveled down on the Sunday to give the players a rest once they arrived and make sure they were ready for the game, despite the postponements over 1,000 Blyth fans still made the trip.

Unsurprisingly the recent poor weather made the pitch very muddy and heavy under foot, as the first team entered the pitch they were roundly booed by the home fans, however not for the first time that night the Stoke fans were in fact booing their own side, it was the Potters who came out first wearing their away kit of yellow shirts blue socks & blue shorts.

Blyth had planned on avoiding a clash with their own stripes by wearing their newly acquired Bukta away kit of green shirts with white arms. However the new kit featured white shorts & white socks as did Stoke’s home kit and referee George Nolan ensured there was a clear distinction on a dull & dreary night by making City wear their away kit.

Blyth topIt was the 3rd kit worn on the cup run having previously wore the famous green & white stripes and also a white shirt with green trimming on collar & cuffs, while the new Bukta kit appeared new & different to some it was in fact the same style worn by the team back in the 1950’s when the home kit wasn’t stripes but this exact style of green body with white arms.

As the game got under way the slippery surface appeared to give Blyth some problems keeping their footing, Viv Busby got through the Blyth defence for an early chance but Dave Clarke saved well.
The Spartans settled and incredibly took the lead on 12 minutes when a Rob Carney corner

1-0 up

Terry Johnson accepts the gift to put Blyth 1-0 up.

was fumbled by City keeper Roger Jones, unchallenged Jones allowed the ball through his hands and fell at the feet of Terry Johnson and the forward stabbed home his 14th goal of the season.

1-0 celebrations

Steve Carney grabs Johnson as he turns to celebrate his goal.

Terry Conroy missed a good chance to equalise when missed his kick with only Clarke to beat. Naturally the goal lifted the Spartans as they had to soak up the increased City pressure as the half went on, but Blyth held on relatively comfortably until half time although Ron Guthrie had to throw himself across goal to head clear a Howard Kendall pile driver and with their noisy Spartans following on the Stoke End terrace right behind them went into the break leading, it was turning into a difficult night for the home club.

The half time talk clearly galvanised the Potters, Garth Crooks missed a glorious chance 10 minutes after the break collecting a Scott cross he then launched his effort over the bar and minute later Viv Busby was just a guilty skying his effort wide. The pressure finally paid off in 57th minute when they drew level, a free kick was deflected into the path of Viv Busby and he made no mistake find the back of the net with his low drive.
Before Blyth had a chance to compose themselves the home side had the lead, a corner was flicked on and Garth Crooks dived to head home at the far post.

Tempers frayed Terry Johnson & Garth Crooks clashed, both received yellow cards for kicking out at each other. Blyth appeared to tire as they chased the game on the heavy surface but kept their composure continuing to pass the ball and got their just rewards from a free kick.


Steve Carney celebrates his equaliser.

2-2 celebrations

Steve Carney is mobbed by his teammates as the Stoke player appeal for offside.

Ron Guthrie stepped up to take the kick but saw his thunderous effort crash into the wall, the ball spun up over the Stoke keeper and onto his left hand post.
Alan Shoulder reacted the quickest and got to the rebound but his header amazingly hit the opposite post before falling into the path of Steve Carney who hammered it home to level the scores as the Stoke defenders appealed in vain for offside.

While many inside the ground were thinking Blyth had deservedly got a replay the unthinkable happened with only seconds left following another Blyth free kick.
John Waterson’s free kick from the right just reached Keith Houghton on the edge of the penalty box, he headed into the penalty area towards Rob Carney who just managed to get a touch, his flick took it past the defenders and inadvertently into the path of the on rushing Terry Johnson.

3-2 GoalThe former Brentford forward hammered it past Roger Jones to put the Spartans 3-2 in front and seal the club’s greatest giant killing before celebrating behind the goal with the traveling Blyth fans.

The celebrations at the final whistle were fitting of such a historic achievement in reaching the FA Cup 5th Round, goal hero Johnson was delirious afterwards:
“This is the greatest day of my life, I can hardly believe what has happened. I’m really pleased for the supporters, they have followed us so far and this must be great reward for them.

3-2 celebrations

Johnson celebrates his goal.

Describing that winning momentous winning goal Terry said:
“Rob Carney’s ball came out of the blue, nobody was marking me and I just put it in –
I don’t miss chances like that!

Having been so meticulous in the preparation Coach Jackie Marks wasn’t surprised that his team had more than matched the Second Division side:
“We have been training harder and harder. Our outlook is that of a professional team, we can here to win or to be honest not get beat!. We are not going to let the people of the North East down. We’re not in this game for the money but for the pride and self-achievement and we got that tonight. The lads were tremendous, our supporters were fantastic, it makes all the efforts so worth while”

Players salute fans

Brian Slane and his players salute the traveling fans.

A bewildered Brian Slane summed up the night ‘s staggering events:
I might as well retire – what else can I do after this?.
They came back from the dead tonight. This is the supreme moment of my career.
What else can I do now; I’m in only my first season as a manager.
When we got the free kick that led to the equaliser I said to Jack Marks that we would score from it – and we did.
The last gasp goal came out of the blue – it was just fantastic. Terry Johnson is tremendous. He hurt his knee in the first half but he carried on and was there when it mattered.

There was however one blemish on the night for the players when they eventually returned to the changing rooms as Alan Shoulder later explained:

Steve (lying down) celebrates another famous victory with his brother Rob and fellow teamates.

Players celebrate in the dressing room.

“The lads in the dressing room were high as kites after the win, I was in the shower still trying to take in what we had done when the news came through  – Newcastle had lost 4-1 at Wrexham.
For a moment or two it was like a heavy clouds descending my first reaction was anger, we had been let down once again by United. All the lads felt disappointed, we wanted that game so badly, and you know why?.
It wasn’t just because it would have been a fantastic match for the club and the region, it wasn’t that it was because we would have beaten them, we knew we were the best side in the North East and this would have been a chance to prove it, but there was nothing we could do the chance was gone the gloom quickly lifted and almost immediately and the part continued!”.

Stoke’s take on the defeat was a magnanimous one from captain Howard Kendall:
It was a great performance by them tonight, naturally we are sick but we wish them all the best in the next round. They did well tonight, they came for a result and got one.
We relaxed after we went ahead. I thought they had gone a little bit but they pulled it back well.

Stoke fans were devastated and while the majority were gracious in defeat and acknowledged what they had witnessed by applauding the Blyth Spartans players from the pitch, many vented their fury with scarves and season tickets being tossed from the terraces and onto the cinder track.

It was a bitter pill for many to take it with it being in their own back yard, six years after the club had lifted the League Cup at Wembley and just three seasons after we’d almost been crowned League Champions and gone close to knocking Ajax out of the UEFA Cup for many fans it was the lowest point of their decline and many felt the glory days were well and truly over!.

The local papers were all over the story, it NPLeven made the front page of the Daily Mirror the following morning!, that week’s News Post Leader produced a commemorative wraparound cover marking the achievement.

The next morning Labrokes Bookmakers slashed the Spartans odds on winning the FA Cup from 20,000-1 down to 2,000-1 and reported a ‘lot of money was being taken’ in the Blyth & Ashington shops!.
Blyth were priced at 11-2 to beat Wrexham and reach the Quarter Finals.

Heroes returnThere was a victory celebration for the players held in the social club the following night.
The players were joined by hundreds of fans to toast the historic achievement and were festoon with gifts the team were given a brand new set of Bukta strips  (the would wear at Wrexham), all the players received a new pair of boots and were also given £400 worth of free bedroom furniture by a local Blyth company (the players were taken on a tour of the factory to pick what they wanted).

The victory also earned the club the Result of the Round AwardResult of round.
The previous season Debenhams announced a new competition linked to the results in the FA Cup.
Now in the second year of the Debenhams Cup, a new series of awards were announced. They were to be made for each round of the FA Cup where teams from the third and fourth divisions and non-league dubs were competing. They were to be presented to the team which, in the opinion of a ‘distinguished’ adjudicator nominated by the Football Association, put up the best giant-killing performance of the round, that is to say against a team from a higher division, the adjudicator was the recently retired international referee Mr. Jack Taylor.
The ‘splendid’ away win at Stoke, obviously won the club the Result of the Round award.

Read all about Blyth Spartans and the Debenhams Cup:

The victory also earned the clhttp://wp.me/p1NLiC-q

The victory also had a 79-year-old former miner from Ashington jumping out of his arm-chair!.
Jimmy Potts was only 16-year-old when he joined Blyth Spartans and was one of only two survivors from the Blyth side that had lost to Stoke 55 years earlier back in 1923:
“It was a marvelous result, I jumped from my chair when Spartans scored the winner I was overjoyed”
Jimmy had been sat at home listening on the radio when ‘his’ team took their revenge:
“Blyth Spartans have always been a great team and I ‘m truly delighted with the Stoke result. I listened to reports coming over the radio and had visions of a replay until Johnson’s winner it was a great feeling”.

Jimmy Potts

The imposing keeper pictured in the back row with his Leeds team.

  • James Forster Potts was born in Ashington on 25th February 1899, he played at Blyth for 3 years while working as a coal-hewer at Ashington Colliery, it one of the most dangerous jobs down a pit and it helped build his ‘unique physique’ he was known to have hands like ‘shovels’. Jimmy was the main stay of the Spartans side until February 1926, when Leeds United made an approach for his services.
    The club officials meet with Leeds official and a £200 fee was agreed for his signature, Jimmy recalled the move:
    I went to Leeds and the two full backs in front of me were George & Jackie of the famous Ashington football family of the Milburns!. Jack in fact married my sister Bella. George Jack & myself became known in football as the Ashington Defence”.

Potts actionJimmy made his debut within two days of signing, becoming firmly established at Elland Road. In his first two seasons he saw United be relegated and promoted back to Division One. After eight seasons as the accepted first choice keeper and club captain,  he moved to Port Vale for a couple of seasons, during which he hardly missed a game amassing eighty-two League appearances.
He then finished his career at Workington before returning home to Ashington to take up a job back at the Colliery. Jimmy Potts is regarded as Leeds United’s best goalkeeper of the inter-war period, Jimmy passed away in October 1986.

Watch action from the famous night at the Victoria Ground:

fans at stoke 2

The traveling Blyth fans celebrate the famous win.

…..To a generation of Blyth supporters and many of the towns folk utter the name ‘Stoke City’ and it’s their ‘Kennedy moment’ they can instantly recall what they were doing or where they were on Monday 6th February 1978.

It was the clubs greatest giant killing and a never to be forgotten night in the clubs long and illustrious history.

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Ken Sproat the oracle on Blyth Spartans history and of course his superb history book ‘We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans’ provided vital information.

Andrew Griffin who’s superb 2006 book all about the 1977/78 cup run,Two wins from Wembley’ supplied vital information & images:

Fred Joicey formerly of Blyth now living in Weatherby who kindly give his collection of old news paper cuttings.

The following fans run website provided vital information:



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