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 cl

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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First ever history book launched…

kenAfter almost 8 years in its creation  Thursday 14th November saw the official launch of Ken Sproat’s long-awaited
“We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans”.

The hours, days, weeks, months & years of painstaking research and then the writing & rewriting finally came to fruition, the Social Club was full of Spartans supporters and the book was selling quickly from the moment the doors opened, Ken summed up the night saying:
“It’s great to see some many people here, in the build up I was worrying that it would just be my wife and a handful of others that would turn up. Over the years a lot of individual work has gone into producing the book but I’ve also had huge amounts of help along the way. I’m so proud that its now out there and hope everyone loves it as much as I loved putting it together”

It is the first ever book about the clubs completer history but it is notPicture 2
just a must read for Spartans fans,  but for anybody with an interest in the town, it is a the story of a football club that made the town famous.
Documenting football in the town from before Blyth Spartans were even founded to the current day it also provides unique insight into local Non League football in the region.

You can buy
“We’re the famous Blyth Spartans”
for only £15 by visiting the Supporters Club stand inside the social club on match days, alternately you can purchase via PayPal:

If you require multiple copies you can do by emailing your requirements to:

…Once you read it you’ll soon see why they are ‘The Famous Blyth Spartans’.

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Green & White Cult Heroes – Jackie Marks

Jackie MarksJackie Marks may be described by some as ‘a real character of the game’ but that would be doing him a great disservice.

Jackie is known as being forthright and certainly not shy of voicing his opinion, but his opinion rightly holds more authority because of its grounding in his hard work to gain the knowledge & his experiences in the North East’s Non League game.

In the 70’s he was the most sort after coach & managed many of the North East’s top Non League clubs, his achievements are second to none and the list of players he’s worked with reads like a who’s who of the regions Non League greats.

A famous part of Blyth Spartans history is irrevocably linked to him but Jackie’s involvement with the club began some 10 years earlier in the summer of 1967 when he didn’t get the manager’s job having being personally asked by the Spartans Chairman to apply for the post !, those events summed up his sometimes-turbulent love affair with the club.

Born in 1932 Jackie’s involvement in the game had started at an early age, he was a 16-year-old free scoring inside forward playing for Dudley in the old Miners Welfare League, he later joined Seaton Burn Juniors:
“I was a skilful player, but in those days we could all trap a ball and pass a ball.
Now if they can do those things they are internationals.”

 Jackie’s early success caught the eye of Newcastle United, who were running 5 sides back then and were always looking out for local talent:
“I was 19 and I went along on a Tuesday and Thursday nights but there were loads there and it was a bit chaotic. I did play a couple of games for the Reserves and a few for the 3rd Team but there wasn’t a lot of interest showed and I signed for Shankhouse”.

 National Service halted to his football career as Jackie was called up to serve in the army, and it was an experience that had a maturing effect on the Burradon lad:
“It was like a comedy film at first. You got the train, reported to the camp, went through a door into a hut and had your hair cut, then through another door where they stuck six needles in you!, but once it settled down it was the making of me.

I was posted overseas and I captained the British Army team in Japan when I was on leave, not that I was the best in the army: the best players didn’t get posted!.
I also spent a fortnight at battle school where all the ammunition was live, and I visited Hiroshima. They were tough experiences and by the time I got back to England I’d had enough of the army. I said I wouldn’t salute another officer, so they sent me on an exercise to Salisbury Plain for the last three weeks of my time to keep me out-of-the-way.
I was always honest and the army made me a strong character.”

After the army it was back to Burradon for the 23-year-old, and just one week after his demobilisation in 1955 Jack married his childhood sweetheart, Hazel Smale:
“We met when I was 15 at High Pit pictures and we were engaged before I joined up.
I came out of the army with £10, got married, found a job then looked around for somewhere to play football.”

 That place was Newburn FC who were a top side in the strong Northern Alliance.
The Newburn side included Tommy Bolam the captain, who was a former professional, as well as Eddie Watts, a tough tackling fullback, and Jimmy Rankin who had played for Grimsby Town:
“We played Blyth once in the Northumberland Senior Cup and they had the ex-Middlesbrough winger Billy Linacre playing for them. Tommy Bolam told us to put him in the stand as soon as he got the ball, so Eddie Watts clipped him a couple of times and I hit him with a hard tackle, then he didn’t want to know.”

Local football attracted good crowds at the time, and in 1957 25,000 turned out to watch Jack and his brother Albert play for Newburn against Ashington in the Senior Cup Final at St James’ Park:
“I had a bit of an injury so I went to see this bloke in Lemington and he said I had a twisted hamstring. I didn’t know what he meant; I thought it was a sandwich-filling.”

Newburn, who also had Peter Feenan’s father in their ranks, lost the game 2-1 but the following week they gained revenge by beating them 3-1 in the Final of the Northern Alliance Challenge Cup, which was a notable achievement as Ashington was a professional club at the time.

During that spell with Newburn Jack turned down opportunities to join Stockport County and Workington, and after a short spell elsewhere he returned to combine Saturday football with Newburn and Sunday games for the Red Lion pub in Shieldfield:
“The Red Lion team was managed by John Henderson and run from a pub managed by Ginger Roberts, the ex-boxer. Dickie Robson played for West Brom Reserves on Saturdays and the Red Lion on Sundays. I was their leading goalscorer one season from centre-half; I scored a load from free-kicks and penalties.”

Jack had a spell at Whitley Bay where he played in their very first Northern League game against Durham City in 1958, now in his late thirties and beginning to turn his attention away from the playing side of the game towards coaching. His final fling as a player came when he went with a friend who was having a trial for Ponteland United. Bobby Cowell, who won three FA Cup winners’ medals with Newcastle United in the 1950’s, managed the team and Jack turned out because they were short of players.
He stayed for the whole season, scoring 34 goals as a centre forward before hanging up his boots and taking his coaching badges.


Jackie, back row 4th from left, at the FA Coaching course.

Alan Brown and Stan Calvert, coaching gurus at Newcastle University, took him through his preliminary badges before he completed his full badge at Houghall College in Durham.

He began by coaching for the Northumberland FA before accepting his first team-coaching appointment with Gosforth and Coxlodge in the Northern Alliance:
“They were a decent side with players like Tommy Handysides, Harry Powell, Graham Sanderson and Alan Wilson, and it was there that the first seeds were sown.”

It was while managing Gosforth and Coxlodge that Blyth Spartans entered Jackie’s life, Blyth had found life in the Northern League tough finishing bottom in their first season in 1964/65, but had gradually improved season on season and in 1966/67 finished a respectable 9th place finish.
Jim Turney decided to end his 10 year spell as manager and Chairman Bob Middleton ‘invited’ Jack to be interviewed for the position. Jack was interviewed by the committee members, who then appointed Tony Knox as manager!,
However within 6 months Knox quit and the club turned their attentions back to Jackie:
“I was working at Winthrop Laboratories and one day Jimmy Turney, who virtually ran Blyth Spartans, came to see me at work. Tony Knox had quit after six months in charge and they asked me to take over, which I did.”


This rare 1967 team photo show Jackie shortly after taken charge.
It features future Manager Peter Feenan, (front row centre) and the late great Ronnie Scott (back row 5th from left).

Jackie steadied the ship and the Spartans finished 1967-68 season 8th in the league.
The basis of a good side was there and Jack built upon it, things progressed well for the next two seasons as Blyth finished 5th in 1968/69 and the following season came within 5 points of winning the league finishing 3rd .

However there was a falling out between Jack and Jimmy Turney:
“When I took the job in the first place I did so on the basis that I didn’t want any money until I had proved myself, and I accepted ten shillings a week. After a couple of seasons I felt justified in asking if it could be reviewed; I was out-of-pocket, what with scouting and traveling, and we were top of the league with four games to play.
Turney said I might as well leave straight away because I had done nowt for the club!
I made him come into the dressing room and repeat what he had told me in front of the players. They were in revolt and Turney tried all ways to make amends but I stuck to my guns. My pride was involved”.

Jackie was replaced in the Croft Park hot seat by another young coach in the form of Allan Jones but he wasn’t out of the game long next club as high-flying Northern League club Tow Law Town came calling. Having finished 3rd in 67/68 & 68/69 the Lawyers had fallen to 9th the following season and were looking to get back up with the title chasing sides, Jackie was recruited by Chairman Harry Hodgson and Secretary Bernard Fairbairn to do just that.

Picture 2In his first season his Lawyers side that included established players such as Tommy Pickford, Dickie Longstaff, Jimmy Leach and Terry Hunt. The high point of the campaign was taken eventual FA Amateur Cup winners Skelmersdale United to a repaly, the Lancashire side included Steve Heighway, who went on to stardom with Liverpool, and Micky Burns whose career included a very successful spell at Newcastle United.
Jackie’s side were the only club to give Skelmersdale a fright that season in the Amateur Cup drawing at the Ironworks to a 1-1 draw before losing the replay 0-1 to a side who then easily beat Wycombe Wanders 3-0 in the Quarter Finals and Leatherhead 3-0 in the Semi Final on their way to winning the trophy by beating Dagenham 4-1 at Wembley.
The rest of their season didn’t quite match that level once again finishing 9th and crashing out of the FA Cup 0-3 at local rivals and eventual league champions Evenwood, (they were managed by Billy Bell who having guided Evenwood to 2 successive titles would become the Blyth manager August 1972).

Jack was not entirely convinced that Tow Law’s could to push on and challenge for the title, Spennymoor United were looking for a new manager and had identified him as the man they wanted. The Moors supremo’s John Smith & Stan Bradley offered Jack the job, but in the meantime his friend Ken Prior was appointed at Ashington’s and wanted Jack as his coach:
“I thought it might be a bit too cosy at Spennymoor as they were a very successful side while Ashington were struggling, so I decided to go there.
Things went badly at first and I thought I might have to leave, but towards the end of the season Ken Prior gave up and I was put in charge, and that was when the fun started.”

Within a season-and-a-half Jackie had Ashington back on their feet, having joined tPicture 1he Northern League in 1970/71 and finished 11th they then struggled and finished 3rd bottom the following season, a 9th place finish was achieved in 1972/73 and 1973/74 was there best so far in the Northern League. He took the Colliers to the Final of the League Cup (losing to his former club Tow Law 1-2 in the Final) guided them to 8th in the league and more impressively to the Semi Finals of the Amateur Cup,  losing a replay to eventual winners Bishop’s Stortford 0-3 at Griffin Park Brentford having drawn the first game 0-0 at Roker Park.

Picture 4

Jackie helps the inured Billy Wright from the Portland Park pitch.

Jackie built a team at Portland Park with experience & youth: Michael Ritchie, Billy Scott, Billy Blair, Les Mutrie, Tommy Dixon, Vin Pearson. He brought in club legend Brian Pringle from Hartlepool United and the old warhorse from Whitley Bay, Billy Wright:
“Billy was the icing on the cake. Things weren’t going well for him at Whitley and I told him if he signed for me he would never be out of the team.

He was the leader and in my second season we reached the Semi-Final of the Amateur Cup.”

Picture 3

Jackie Colliers side pictured before kick off at Roker Park includes future Spartans Tommy Dixon (far right front row) & Les Mutrie (4th right back row).

Jackie has found memories of that epic cup run:
“We had two great games against Slough. They had been in the Final the previous year and they thought they were going to win it. The manager of the Holiday Inn down there invited us for free food and drink as a gesture of goodwill, but the players were so greedy he had to close the bar and stop the food after 20 minutes!
We drew down there and when we found out that the bookies has us at  7-1 to win the replay we sent this kid to the bookies with the money to bet on ourselves. We won 1-0 and the Slough players didn’t like it.
They were starting to work themselves up in the clubhouse afterwards but that soon stopped when Billy Wright stepped in! Billy was great for me in every way; I’d extended his career and he repaid me handsomely.”

 Aside from his coaching skills Jack was becoming increasingly interested in the motivational aspect of the game, and chants, songs and whistle-blowing were playing an increasing part in his pre-match preparations:
“After the Semi-Final we played North Shields in the Senior Cup. We drew the first game 2-2 even though George Courtney the referee played nine minutes over and I threatened to report him!.
In the replay at their place Billy Scott was sent off after 15 minutes but we still beat them 2-0. Ray Wilkie was their manager and he said he thought there was a herd of elephants in our dressing-room we, made so much racket.
One of my stars was Les Mutrie. I used to pick him up for training outside Burradon club at 6:30 but sometimes I would turn up a six o’clock and catch him having a swift half, then I would work him until he threw up. He never learned but he was a great player.”

Despite the good times things turned sour for Jackie at Portland Park and he fell out with certain members of the Colliers board and he quit but he wasn’t out of the game long North Shields were in need of a new manager after the departure of Ray Wilkie and they persuaded him to take charge at Appleby Park in June 1974.
Once again Jackie saw taking charge at North Shields his kind of challenge and with the Robins Amateur Cup winner Ronnie Tatum as his assistant they went about rebuilding the side.

However his relationship with new Chairman Len Murphy, who was only appointed in October was not a smooth one.  Murphy wanted an improvement after Jackie achieved an 8th placed finish in his first season, 2 places lower than before he took over but Jackie was building for the future.

Jackie's North Shields side. Featuring Spartans Keith Houghton front row 2nd left  & Rob Carney front row far right.

Jackie’s North Shields side.
Including future Spartans Keith Houghton (front row 2nd left) & Rob Carney (front row far right).

Younger players such as future Spartans Keith Houghton & Rob Carney along with experienced players such as Amateur Cup winner John Rutherford and Mickey Joyce, Albert Storey, Joe Graham and Jackie had pulled of a coup bringing Dave Rutherford back to Appleby Park  from Gateshead United after a season in the Northern Premier League, stating he now felt he had at side at North Shields that ‘was the best team he had ever had control of and if the lads keep together the team had great potential’, but once again things came to a head with Murphy:
“I reached the stage where I told him I would take them up the league then tell him to stick his team; I got them higher then put my notice in.”

Jackie was out of the game only for a short while before Spartans Chairman Jim Turney paid Jackie yet another visit at work trying to finally smooth the waters following their fall out some 7 years earlier, Jim had a proposition for him:
“Jimmy came to see me at work and said he wanted me to be coach at Blyth and I had to take the job because he had already given the manager’s job to someone but what he didn’t know as that it depended on me being his coach!”.

 After 2½ years in charge winning the League title in both seasons Alan O’Neill quit in February 1977 and after a fortnight of discussions Turney had formulated a plan that was to transform the clubs history, the manager that had been appointed was none other than Jackie’s shrewd signing from South Shields back in 1969, a striker who had gone on to become one of the clubs all time leading goal scorers and crowd favourite: Brian Slane.

“I had a lot of respect for Jimmy. He knew footballers but he wanted to run everything as chairman so we fell out, but we both had ambition. I was officially the coach at Blyth and I got the players and the manager managed the team. George Watson was the Secretary and his signature was on the registration forms. George Watson was an exceptional secretary. Brian Slane was the Manager and we worked together; I was happy with that.”

Slane & Marks saw out the season as Blyth finished 5th their lowest finish in 6 seasons, the first task Jackie identified that summer was to improve the team’s fitness levels and Jack was a hard taskmaster, but his methods paid off.

They set about rebuilding the Blyth side and pulled off some key signings in the form of goalkeeper Dave Clarke from Gateshead, and added significant Football League experience with signings of 1973 FA Cup winner Ron Guthrie & Terry Johnson.
Both had become disenchanted with League football, surprisingly Guthrie had been allowed to leave Sunderland by Bob Stokoe then played briefly for Ashington & Gateshead before a spell in Petoria, South Africa with Arcadia Shepherds. Upon returning to the North East Jackie swooped for the left back’s services, Terry Johnson likewise had returned ‘home’ having become home sick at Brentford.

Johnson had joined Southend United in January 1971 from Newcastle United having never figured for his hometown club and went on to make 157 appearances scoring 35 goals and won the Shrimpers 1972/73 Player of the Year award, Brentford swooped to sign Johnson for £10,000 in 1975. 101 games and 27 goals later Terry had become homesick and wanted a return to his native North East but a wage dispute with the Griffin Park club led to him being unable to play League Football, once again Jackie shrewdly signed up Johnson to play for the Spartans and it proved a masterstroke.

Not only had he the contacts and ability to pull off the coup’s like Guthrie & Johnson he also showed his knowledge of the local football by signing up Blyth lad Steve Jones after watching him playing Sunday football in Blyth for the Golden Eagle Pub and being impressed with his blistering pace.

Jack was a hard task master in training but his proven motivational methods soon paid off as they set off on an epic FA Cup run that was to immortalise the Jackie Marks and Blyth Spartans, local rivals Shildon, Crook Town Consett  & Bishop Auckland were dispatched in the qualifying rounds to reach the 1st Round with player manager Brian Slane featuring Jackie was the ‘voice’ in the dugout. Cheshire League side Burscough were drawn as the opposition at Croft Park:
“I went to watch them at Morecambe and they were a tough side, I certainly didn’t fancy going to their place so I was relieved to beat them 1-0 at Croft Park.”

The second round brought Arthur Cox’s Chesterfield to the Northumberland coast and Slane & Mark’s philosophy of attacking football surprised the league side and they more than matched Cox’s league side for fitness allied with the experience in the Blyth side a 1-0 victory wasn’t seen as an upset by anybody within the club. The club was one a roll and Chairman Jim Turney backed his management team as they further improved the squad with the signing of Bishop Auckland striker Alan Shoulder and midfielder Keith Houghton from Jackie’s former club North Shields.

The 3rd Round and another home tie against Isthmian Premier League Enfield, one of those strange coincidences which abound in football the Enfield manager was Ted Hardy, who had been in charge of Bishops Stortford when they denied Jack a place in the Amateur Cup Final with Ashington, Jackie recalls the game:
“We beat them 1-0 and Alan Shoulder scored. He stood five feet four and jumped ten feet high; he was the hardest little man I’ve met in my life”.

By now Blyth had really attracted the media’s attention, Jackie fondly remembers the Fourth Round draw as the excitement that was sweeping the town briefly caught up with them:
“We were listening to the fourth-round draw on the radio and we thought we’d been drawn away to Spurs, so the players were looking forward to a night out in London, but we had miss heard and in fact we were away to Stoke City.”

Being as methodical as ever Jackie was determined to be more ready than ever for the biggest game of all of their lives and with the help of Tyne Tees Television, who made available video footage of Stoke in action, the Spartans were well prepared.

However the first game scheduled for 28th January was called off an hour before kick-off because of flooding, the pitch was still unfit for the re-arranged tie on the following Monday night.
The game eventually went ahead on horrible wet & windy Monday, 6th February, on a very heavy & muddy pitch Blyth famously came back from 2-1 down to beat a Stoke side 3-2 that included the likes of Garth Crooks & Howard Kendall the 18,765 inside the Victoria Ground gave the Blyth players a standing ovation not only at full-time but also when they all boarded the team bus for the journey home, as Jackie recalled:
“When we came out to get on the coach there were thousands of fans waiting. I thought they were going to set about us but they gave us a standing ovation to send us on our way. We got home at four o’clock in the morning and I was at work by seven.”

 Jack’s motivational skills had again played a major role in Blyth’s preparation, not the least a secret ingredient they called ‘speed oil’:
“I carried a bottle of whisky and I made everybody have a small nip before they went out. We called it speedoil, I and when people heard about it I got bottles of whisky from all over; some people even gave me gallon bottles.”

The due to the 2 postponements Blyth had known who their opponents would be if they overcame Stoke but were denied the chance of playing Newcastle United, when on the same night Wrexham beat Newcastle United 4-1 in there 4th Round replay:
“When I heard the result I thought ‘Let’s gan and beat them — I honestly thought we were going to Wembley.
We travelled to Wrexham on the Friday night and it was so frosty we trained on the hotel car park; Barry Davies the BBC commentator joined in the five-a-side.
As usual we sang on the bus on the way to the ground led by Rob Carney and Dave Clarke. Then we sang in the dressing room and it went around the world on ‘Match of the Day’.  Then it was a nip of ‘speedoil’ and out we went.”

The game was played on a rock hard frosty pitch, which at least justified the car park training session it was claimed had it not been for the BBC Match of the Day camera’s being present and the distances traveled by the amount of Blyth fans the game wouldn’t have gone ahead !.
Famously, all wearing trainers, Blyth led 1-0 through a Terry Johnson goal until a controversial corner kick in the dying minutes of the game allowed Wrexham to score their infamous equalizer, only after the corner was taken 3 times due to a corner flag fallen over!.

Jackie was disappointed to concede the late goal but proud but happy to have earned the draw which brought the Welshmen back to the North-East. Barry Davies interviewed Jackie after the game for Match of the Day, and when the team called at a pub in Chester on the journey home the interview was going out on TV the landlady recognised Jack and they had a lock-in until two o’clock in the morning!

As the history now tells the replay was famously staged at St James Park, Jackie famously remembers that night:
“There were 42,000 in the ground and another 10,000 locked out, so it was probably for the best. We left from Blyth and when we reached the outskirts of Newcastle the traffic was gridlocked. We got stuck in a traffic jam approaching the ground, everybody was getting a bit wound up because we’d been stuck a for while. A police officer on a motorbike pulled up beside the front of the bus so I asked him if there had been an accident, he told me that it was just the traffic heading for the ground and we were going to have to be escorted!.”

Once at the ground and having been out to check the pitch, the conditions forced changed Marks & Slane to change their intended game plan:
“It bucketed down with rain — which meant it was a very difficult decision to leave out Eddie Alder, who was carrying an injury, and play Dave Varty. As it happened Varty had a very good game.”

SJP CryingThe fairytale end on a rain-soaked night at a packed St James Park, come the final whistle it proved too much for Jackie Picture 1who broke down in tears as the team did a well-earned lap of honour.
When interviewed after the game it prompted him to make his famous statement that: ‘it was only the 2nd time in his life that he’d cried’ (the other being after Ashington’s Semi Final defeat in the Amateur Cup).
The tears were captured on camera and the sound bite immortalized on the commemorative ‘Blyth Spirit’ LP that was released by BBC Newcastle after the cup run.

SJP Drinks

Glum faces as they toast their historic achievement in changing room at St James Park.

Thinking back to those historic times Jack recalls:
“I was gutted, but proud that a bunch of local lads had given people something to enjoy. One bloke I know once told me the two most memorable events in his life were his wedding day and seeing Blyth play Wrexham.
People know me and know Blyth Spartans everywhere because of what happened.
After the game we went back to the Blyth clubhouse and had a good drink, and we went to work as usual the next day.”

A footnote to those events showed how ‘tight’ a ship Jackie maintained when it came to light that the Carney brothers, who both played at St James Park that night, weren’t paid for their efforts. Steve and Rob had turned up for final training session before the game still drunk from Steve’s bachelor party the previous night, and apparently even appeals from the Wrexham players failed to persuade Jack to change the rules!.

Jackie talks about those famous days back in 1978:

Blyth ended the 1977/78 winning the Northumberland Senior Cup, the League Cup and the Debenhams Cup, by October 1978 manager Brian Slane stepped down and Jackie had no hesitation taken over the manager’s job.

Jackie stayed on as manager for another highly successful 3 years, winning back-to-back Northern League titles in 1979/80 & 1980/81 and landing the Northumberland Senior Cup and of course his cup pedigree brought more famous cup runs.

Showing the standards Jackie had set and the levels of expectations from his sides an FA Trophy Quarter Final defeat to eventual winners Mossley after a replay in 1979/80 was a major set back because the club really thought Wembley was within reach.

Hull AET

Jackie & coach Gary Moore rally the players during the break before extra time at Elland Road.

The FA Cup brought league sides Mansfield & Walsall to Croft Park and likewise respective 0-2 and 0-1 defeats were also seen as big disappointments, but 1980/81 saw Jackie’s side were more than a match for Division Three side Hull City. It took to 3 games to separate the sides with Blyth losing 1-2 at Elland Road after extra time.


Jackie and his player proudly show off their awards in the social club.
Left to right: Dave Clarke, Alan Walker, Mick Dagless, Paul Ross, Les Mutrie, Terry Johnson, Peter Davies, John Waterson, Dave Varty, Steve Carney

Jackie continued to bring some top quality footballers to Croft Park during his 3 years in charge, the likes of Paul Walker, Dave Mitchinson, Alan Walker & Geoff Hart.
It was Jackie who brought midfielder Harry Dunn to Croft Park in August 1981 and we all know what he went on to do for the club!, but of all the top quality players he brought in during his years with the club it was the 1979 signing Les Mutrie from Gateshead he classes as his best.
Having worked with Les since bringing him through as a 21-year-old at Ashington and watched his development he knew what he was getting but old foe Jim Turney initially didn’t agree:
“When I signed Les Mutrie from Gateshead Jimmy Tumey saw him once and wanted to call an emergency board meeting.
He claimed Les was the worst player ever to sign for Blyth, yet 18 months later he sold him to Hull City for £30,000!”.

 Jackie stepped down as team manager in May 1981 and was replaced by former North Shields manager Bobby Elwell but stayed on at the club as General Manager for another 4 years.

JMIt was probably no surprise the way Jack’s official ties with the club were finally cut, in November 1985 his tempestuous relationship with Chairman Jim Turney brought his association with ‘his’ club to an end.

During a meeting Jim Turney informed Jack that the supporters were against him and a certain player stating:
“Jack we’ve been friends for many years and I’m trying to help you and advise you”.

Jack interrupted:
“It was at that point I stopped the Chairman in his tracks and said that the solution would be for me to resign and for the club to transfer the player. I found it incredible to be told that the fans at Blyth were against me and the way after the chairman’s comments, I informed him there is no way I would come back to Croft Park in an official capacity – unless it was as a manager of another team!”.
However he added:
“I will return, as spectator. I’ll watch Blyth Spartans because I love the club”.

As to be expected he was true to his word and to this day now aged 82, he can be still found standing among the Croft Park faithful on the terraces at every Spartans home game.

bill & friends

Jackie enjoys meeting up with his old players & friends at Blyth games (LtoR – George Watson, Johnny Evans, Billy Fenwick, Mickey Lister, Ronnie Phillipson, Eddie Alder, Gordon Atkinson).

Approachable as ever Jackie is more than happy to chat about the ‘beautiful game’ and recount his eventful career, and especially talk about all things green & white he will of course offer his appraisal of Blyth’s current players…
he’s not a footballer….he’s a decent player….it’s not in his nature to not have an opinion.

Jackie, now an Honorary Life Member of the club, rightly deserves of his place in Blyth Spartans folklore.

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

Jackie Marks himself for helping with this article.

Chris Sanderson who provided images and info on Jackies’ early career.
Chris is now living in Paisley and reports on Scottish football but was born in Ashington and grew up watching Jackie’s Ashington sides.

Ashington AFC website for allowing use of photo’s from Jackie’s time at the club.
Images taken from the superb collection of old photo’s taken by then club photographer Mel Morpeth.

Ken Sproat the oracle on Blyth Spartans history pointed out & helped ironing out some factual errors.

We Love Football, a book about local Non League Football by Barry Hindson.
It featured a section on Jackie from which some info & images were used.

Alisdair Gibbs-Barton, for all his genealogy research & help confirming dates.
If you’re wanting to trace your family history check out his website:

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RIP Scott Bell

Scott proudly shows off the Northern Premier League Trophy

Sunday 6th October brought the terrible news that former player Scott Bell had tragically lost his fight against Motor Neurone Disease that morning.

The news came as a shock to everyone who knew Scott, at the young age of 35 he had battled MND since being diagnosed in May 2011.

Our thoughts go out to his wife Louise, young son Elliot and his family.

Rest in peace Bellveccio

… tragically taken from us but certainly never to be forgotten, thanks for the goals & the memories.

Below as a link to the Green & White Cult Hero blog Scott helped us with back in November 2012:

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Act now to be part of Blyth Spartans history…

Picture 2

The cover of the forthcoming book

Pre-sale orders are now being taken for Blyth Spartans 1st ever history book:
We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans…

Supporters have offered a unique chance to be part of the book by placing a personalised message within the publication.

Spaces are limited and going quickly the relevant information for this can be found here:

This limited offer closes on October 5th, so act now if you want to be part of history.

Author Ken Sproat recently spoke to clubs TV channel about his ‘labour of love’:

The book was also promoted during the recent ‘Non League Day’ where the design of the book cover was released:

The book will be available for Christmas and will make the perfect present, from initial feedback the book is high demand and it will sell quickly so don’t miss out order yours today.

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We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans…

book advertAfter many years of pain-staking research, author Ken Sproat has produced the authoritative official history of Blyth Spartans AFC.

With the humour, absurdity and endurance of the Non-League experience described alongside stirring tales of Spartans’ ability to shake the football establishment, this is no mere football book.
This is a social history, containing tales of terrible individual tragedy, remarkable collective triumphs, supporters’ loyalty in the face of adversity and of players reaching heights beyond their wildest dreams.
From floundering then thriving in the chaotic conditions of Edwardian football, being a vital hotbed of player development and emerging from despair to become
“The most famous Non-League football club in the world” –
as well as the unforgettable resurgence of the Blyth Spirit, which saw Premiership opposition at Croft Park – We’re the Famous Blyth Spartans brings to life the characters and events that have shaped the club throughout history.

This is an essential purchase not only for Blyth Spartans supporters, but for everyone curious about the development of the game in the North East.
Those interested in the long-standing rivalries with Ashington, Bedlington, Whitley Bay, North Shields, South Shields, Gateshead and many other clubs will get a lot from the history of the game in those towns and how it has produced countless memorable clashes with Spartans over the decades.


The blog has been quieter than planned or hoped for of late but that is partly due to having been asked to help with the book and the final push to ‘put it to bed’.
I have to say from what I’ve seen and read the research that has gone into the book is simply astounding and it doesn’t surprise me that it has taken so many years to produce.
The work and especially the time put in by author Ken Sproat deserves high praise especially for his dedication to create the clubs first official history and what he has produced is a must read for everybody from Blyth.

The team is an integral part of the town’s history and will rightly sit alongside the other books about the town’s history, Spartans fans both young and old will be enthralled it will bring back some specially memories for all.

  • The cover we have produced is being kept under wraps until the books release but is one that encompasses the clubs long & proud history, the above image & text is from the advert currently running in the official matchday programme.


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Green & White Cult Heroes – Dave Clarke

DC CartoonThe phrase ‘right move at the right time’ could have been invented for Dave Clarke.
The hugely popular ‘keeper signed for Spartans from Gateshead United in the summer of 1977 and his heroics during the cup run and league that season earned him the Non League Player of the Year award.

‘Clarkie’ must have felt at home at Croft Park as he spent 11 years at the club which included a brief spell as manager.
He endeared himself to the Spartans faithful for his whole-hearted and often sensational performances in the number one jersey and received a much deserved testimonial against former club Newcastle United.

Lambasted in defeat and often ignored in victory, the question is; who would be a goalkeeper?
Dave Clarke gave an honest assessment on how he ended up between the sticks:
“I went for school trials as an outfield player but in the first practice match I didn’t
make the team.
In the second match our team didn’t have a goalkeeper so I went in nets and I suppose I never looked back after that.”

Dave’s goalkeeping idol was the legendary World Cup winner Gordon Banks and his style was similar to that of the Leicester and England stopper. Although Clarkie wasn’t the tallest he showed tremendous athleticism and bravery which more than compensated for his lack of height. He won the high jump championship when at school and admitted his agility was one of his key strengths:
“It was like I had springs in my feet, I could get to shots that maybe others couldn’t and unlike a lot of goalkeepers today I could command my area which was
something we were taught as youngsters.”

Born on 24th July 1949 in Newcastle General Hospital, David Leslie Clarke represented Montague and Fenham Boys Clubs when he got a trial at Newcastle United thanks to his father Les, who contacted manager Joe Harvey about his son being promising young ‘keeper.
The Newcastle boss was obviously impressed with what he had seen as he offered Dave a contract at the Magpies and he coincidentally signed for the club on the same day as his future Blyth team-mate Terry Johnson.
A few years later Clarke was Willie McFaul’s understudy in Newcastle’s last major trophy success; the UEFA Fairs Cup triumph of 1969. Although he never made a first team appearance for the black and whites the experience he gained from playing against such quality in training was invaluable:
“Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson was a different class, he’s probably the best player I’ve seen in training. There was also Wyn Davies and Bobby Moncur who were both full international players.”

DC youngHe was released by Newcastle United at the end of the 1969 season and was signed by then Doncaster Rovers manager Lawrie McMenemy as cover for 1st choice keeper John Ogston.
Clarke made his debut on 13th September 1969 in a 2-1 victory over Tranmere Rovers however having made just three appearances for Donny and went on loan to Darlington making 11 appearances before returning to Belle Vue to be told he didn’t have a future at the club.
It was a tough time for the young ‘keeper trying to make his way in the professional game and he summed up his feelings by stating:
“I thought the world had come to an end.”
After spells at Gainsborough Trinity and South Shields he moved on to Gateshead United and was in the team that beat Spartans 3-0 in the F.A. Cup 4th Qualifying Round on the 6th November 1976, ironically Gateshead went on to face Wrexham in the next round that year only to get hammered 6-0 by the Welsh outfit.

DC 78When Gateshead United folded in the summer of 1977,
Blyth’s Player/Manager Brian Slane and Coach Jackie Marks made the surprise move to replace Mick Morgan with Dave Clarke.
Morgan had been a virtual ever-present since joining from North Shields in 1974 making well over 100 appearances and he was far from happy to lose his No.1 spot and fell out with Slane, however they knew Dave Clarke was another vital piece of their rebuilding.
Dave’s Gateshead teammate, midfielder Keith Houghton was also snapped up at the same time.

Dave made his club debut on 20th August in a 3-0 victory at Willington on the opening day of the season and never imagined what was to come in the next 6 months.
Clarkie would then prove a vital part in a sustained period of success for Blyth over the next decade and would later describe his time at Croft Park as his
‘happiest days in football.’
One of Clarkie’s most memorable performances came in his first season at Blyth against Enfield in the 3rd Round of the F.A. Cup at Croft Park. One particular save with his fingertips defied belief and was crucial in ensuring his team marched on to the next round of the competition. Dave was typically modest in describing his heroics:
“I had a clear sight of the ball and the striker was unchallenged. I watched him lean back so I could tell from his body shape where he was going to hit the ball and I just reacted.”

Dave Clarke was a popular figure within the squad and manager Brian Slane viewed his character and playing credentials as a huge bonus:
“He enjoyed his game and was always good for a laugh. He was a great lad to have
in the dressing room to keep the spirits up.
It was said he wasn’t the tallest but he didn’t miss many crosses and he would make amazing saves.”

In the 4th Round of the F.A Cup Blyth faced a strong Second Division side in the form of Stoke City at the Victoria Ground. Clarkie gave a charming and funny account of one particular incident during the game:
“Against Stoke we were 3-2 up and after clearing away a corner I was shouting at my players to get out the area but Ronnie Scott was still standing on the six yard box.
was screaming at him to get out, to which he replied: ‘I’m staying here Clarkie, they’re not getting past me’ and to be fair to him they didn’t!”

DC at Wrexham

The ball in safe hands at the Racecourse Ground as Dixie McNeil closed in.

Clarke regarded Brian Slane and Jackie Marks as the best motivators he played
under and they certainly had the players up for the next round when the
Spartans travelled to the Racecourse Ground to face Wrexham. It’s a game that still gives Clarke nightmare’s having been at the centre of a bizarre refereeing decision.
Right at the death, with Blyth winning 1-0 Wrexham were awarded a corner that Match of the Day camera’s proved should never have been awarded in the first place and Dave remembers what happened next vividly: Wrexham scored.
Having safely collected the Les Cartwright’s corner it was then ordered to be retaken because the corner flag wasn’t in place!.
Clarkie had his own theory about why this incident occurred:
“I think we were a total embarrassment to the F.A. because we were getting that much nationwide publicity and a Non League club were making such an impact in the most famous cup competition in the world.”

The journey to St James Park for the replay was a surreal experience for the whole squad as Clarkie explains:
“We were stuck in traffic and a police officer on a motorbike pulled up beside the front of the bus and Jackie Marks wound the window down and asked him if there had been an accident.
The lads were anxiously waiting to hear what the situation was because we’d been stuck for quite a while. Jackie turned around and told us that it was just the traffic heading for the ground and we were going to have to be escorted. Nobody would believe him until the blue lights started flashing and we made our way to the ground.”

Spartans lost gallantly in that replay at St James Park but Clarke and his team mates got their own back on the Welsh side by beating them over two legs in the Final of
the Debenhams Cup played at the end of the historic 77/78 season.
The cup run was just the beginning of an extremely successful career for Dave at Croft Park. Spartans were crowned Northern League Champions in his 3rd season and they
went on to dominate the league during the 1980’s.
Clarkie even managed to score a goal in his time as Blyth’s goalkeeper, at Tow Law the day Spartans won the Northern League title there in 1982/1983 winning 9-1, he scored a

DC England

Dave played alongside several of his Spartans teammates for the England Semi Pro XI, including Les Mutrie.

On a personal level there were many accolades and recognition of his quality is clear in his record number of caps for a goalkeeper (16) in the England Non League XI.
For Dave, representing his country was his proudest moment in football:
“Competition for places was really strong and I was delighted just to get in the squad never mind the team. Playing for your country at any level is special and I never thought I would be called up that many times.”

In 1984 Newcastle United seriously considered re-signing him as cover when they were having a goalkeeper crisis knowing that if called upon he could step up from the Northern League to the Football League and perform.
DC tktsClarkie received a testimonial On Monday 19th October 1987 when Blyth played against Newcastle United in front of an all ticket crowd of 4,650.
Blyth won 3-0 with goals from Gary Nicholson, Phil Lever, Steve Carney who were all ex Newcastle United players.

DC testimonialFormer team-mate Willie McFaul was Newcastle manager and sent a full strength Newcastle United side that featured the likes of John Anderson, Neil McDonald, Glen Roeder, Kenny Wharton, Darren Jackson, Paul Kelly, Brian Tinnion, Ian Bogie and star signing Brazilian Mirandinha, the side also featured a young Paul Gascoigne!.
Prior to the main game a side made up of Dave’s team mates from the 1977/78 Cup squad beat an All-Star XI 1-0 with Ian Mutrie scoring.

DC manager

Dave seated with his assistant Geoff Hart (far left)

Having made his debut August 1977, Dave made his final appearance as a player in October 1987.
Clarke was appointed manager in June 1988, after the sacking of Jim Pearson in May. Clarke had been Pearson’s assistant before being appointed manager of the newly crowned Northern League Division One Champions.
“I am relishing the challenge” stated Clarke upon being awarded a 1 year contract, he appointed former teammate Geoff Hart as his assistant.

However things didn’t go to plan and Dave resigned as manager in November 1988 having seen his side win only 6 of their 20 games so far that season. Dave sent a letter of resignation to the board, they held an emergency meeting to discuss and ultimately accept his resignation and eventually Dave’s former team-mate Tommy Dixon replaced him as manager. When he left Blyth he signed for Alnwick Town as a player and also had a spell as manager and later became goalkeeper coach at his former club Gateshead.

Clarkie made over 400 appearances and in a period of 11 years which included a staggering 110 consecutive appearances from August 1979 till April 1981.
A staggering show of Dave’s service to the club & longevity is that from his debut until his retirement 11 years later, only 12 other goalkeepers played for the club in that period and between them only managed to make less than 20 appearances !.

Clarkie represented the club as a player, coach & manager his enthusiasm and passion for the game was an inspiration to everyone at Croft Park during this time.

Blyth Spartans have been blessed to have some great goalkeepers throughout the clubs long history and Clarkie is regarded by many as the best, and he was acclaimed nationally as the best goalkeeper outside the professional game.

…. Clarkie is without doubt a genuine Blyth Spartans legend.

  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Andrew Dodds co-writer and interviewer for the original matchday programme article.

Dave Clarke himself for helping with this article.

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Fred Stoker – from naming fame to RHS acclaim.

Fred Stoker, surely it’s a name that should be well-known to all Blyth Spartans fans.

It’s a name that is embedded into the clubs history as much as those of Harry Mills, Arthur Sowden, Jim Turney, Eddie Alder, Billy Fenwick, Terry Johnson & Harry Dunn.

Fred StokerAged only 21 Fred Stoker was the club’s 1st secretary when it was founded in 1899 and he was the person who suggested the iconic name ‘Spartans’, believing it appropriate to name the team after the Greek Spartan army in the hope the players would give their all as they went into battle on the field of play as the ancient Greek army had.


  • Many think the Spartans were the first football club in the town however there had been a team in the town since 1892, when Blyth FC joined the Northern Alliance, which had been formed in July 1890 for the 1890/91 season. The Blyth side that entered in 1892/93 ran for 7 years they finished 3rd in the first season despite having 2 point deducted, in 1893/94 they finished 6th in a 10 team league. In 1894/95 they finished runners-up to Sunderland ‘A’ both clubs finished on 34 points but Blyth lost title on goal average after he clubs tied on 37 goal difference.
    A protest was lodged by Blyth; they claimed that Sunderland had taken an unfair advantage by using more Football League players than permitted under Alliance rules. A meeting of the Northern Alliance committee was held at the Express Hotel, Newcastle, on 14-5-1895.
    Mr Jonathan Ridley, representing Blyth, claimed that Sunderland ‘A’ had fielded three League players for their match against Willington Athletic on Easter Monday. Sunderland repudiated the charge, the matter was put to the vote and the protest was dismissed and Sunderland remained champions on goal average.
    In 1895/96 Blyth finished 3rd as Sunderland ‘A’ once again retained their title, but this season had also seen the introduction of a Division 2 it was a competition for the reserve sides of the non-Football League clubs in the Northern Alliance the Blyth Reserve side finished 4th.
    1896/97 saw the club struggle and finished 6th despite failing to fulfil an away fixture at Dipton the following season the club finished 2nd bottom and by the league rules the bottom four clubs had to retire from the league, they were entitled to re-apply. Along with Leadgate Exiles & Mickley as new clubs Blyth, Rendel & Sunderland A were all re-elected.
    However it was to prove no more than a stay of execution as the club failed to finish the 1898/99 season when with 8 games left of the season the club withdrew from the league and the club folded, a new side was formed in 1899.
  • A little known fact is the club was actually founded as Blyth Spartans Athletic Club!, weather this was to account for incorporating more than just football is unknown.

The new club only played friendlies initially, using the Blagdon Terrace Ground that Blyth FC had played at.
The clubs 1st annual meeting was held at the Cairns Café in September 1900 with the club officials being listed as:
Secretary – Fred Stoker, Treasurer – Mr J.R. Parsons, Captain – Mr .R.H. Henderson, Vice Captain – Mr G.C .Robertson, Committee – W.Davis, W. Lumsden, J. Soulsby.

However by the time the next meeting came around in April 1901 a whole new structure to the club was in place in preparation for joining the Northumberland League in September 1901 the club joined as Blyth Spartans, when the ‘Athletic Club’ was dropped in favour of ‘Football Club’ is unknown.
Alderman J. Dent was elected the club’s President, along with 7 other vice presidents there were 3 honorary members Mr J Archbold had become the secretary and Mr J Soulsby was now the treasurer, Fred Stoker was now one of 6 people on the committee.
His name twice appeared listed among club officials at meetings in 1899 & 1901 but there after Fred Stoker disappeared for the club records all together!.

In Dececroftermber 1955 when renowned Blyth News reporter & club early historyhistorian Robert Thompson aka Crofter, produced a booklet for the Supporters Club on the history of the club from 1899 to 1955, Fred got only scant credit:

“The title was suggested by their secretary, Mr Fred Stoker, of Bath Terrace, Blyth, who afterwards became a Harley Street physician, and died in the South of England about seven years ago.”

The fact he was the club secretary, suggested the name and later became a ‘Harley Street physician’ was almost all that was known about the person credited with founding arguably the most famous Non League football club in the country.

Unsurprisingly it was off the back of an FA Cup run some 68 years after he passed away that it all changed and finally information about Fred surfaced.
November 2011 and Blyth had reached another 1st Round, the club’s 27th appearance in the 1st Round,  and drew local rivals Gateshead in a tie at Croft Park, the usual media frenzy around the FA Cup followed and the ‘Real FA Cup’ website followed up on their excellent article about the famous 1978 cup run entitled ‘Blame it on the corner flag’ from the previous February with an article on the forthcoming cup tie.

The new article written and researched by Co-editor Damon Threadgold, it delved into the intriguing world of Fred Stoker titled – Fred Stoker: Spartan to Garden

The slightly altered version of Damon’s article also appeared on the IBWM website (In Bed with Maradonna) shortly afterwards under the title:
The Founding Father of FA Cup Giantkilling.

The article used public records to try to trace the path that had possibly taken a 21-year-old from Blyth to London, and discover more about the clubs first secretary who had apparently become a Harley Street physician.

One item that was uncovered showed that a the “Harley Street physician’ Dr Fred Stoker had become more well-known in the world of horticulture as he had been as a physician.
Damon’s article cast doubts on whether, due to his acclaim as a horticulturist and later lack of any acknowledgment of his earlier life in Northumberland that Dr Fred Stoker was indeed our Fred Stoker.

As good a read as the article is, it asks as many questions as it seems to have set out to answer but lifelong Blyth fan Alisdair Gibbs Barton was also on the trail of Fred at the same time.

Having turned his interest in genealogy into a business
Alisdair had tracked down concrete information our Fred Stoker that proved the he was indeed the same person as the famed doctor & horticulturist, Alasdair had even question some of the info raised in the article when it was originally posted on

So what do we actually know about Fred Stoker, he was born in 1878 his birth was registered at the Tynemouth Registration District which then covered Blyth, he name is actually registered as Fred and not Frederick.

His parents were Robert Stoker who was a draper born in Blyth c1848 and his mother was Ann who was born in Bothal c1842.
In he 1881 census Robert, Anne and their 3-year-old son Fred were recorded as living at 9 Bath Terrace, Blyth one of the oldest streets in the town.

13 Bath Terrace, Blyth. The Stoker family home and the site of Blyth Spartans 1st ever meeting.

13 Bath Terrace, Blyth.
The Stoker family home and the venue of Blyth Spartans 1st ever meeting.

Ten years later the 1891 census shows them living at 13 Bath Terrace however it is unlikely they moved house because it would seem that the house numbers changed between the two census as the town began to grow, that census also has Robert and his 13-year-old son Fred as being born in Earsdon but once again this is because Blyth was in the Earsdon Parish.

It was at their 13 Bath Terrace home that a 21-year-old Fred held the 1st ever meeting of the new Blyth Spartans Athletic Club that would go on to become the famous Blyth Spartans AFC.
What if any involvement either Fred or his father had with the original Blyth FC is unknown or indeed how he came to be the clubs secretary.

The 1901 census shows the family were still at 13 Bath Terrace and the 23-year-old Fred is recorded as a ’Student of Medicine’, his naming of the club proved he was a learned person and he was studying at Kings College, which is now The University of Newcastle

However one or if not his last involvement with the club was at a Testimonial Presentation to versatile player and captain George C. Robertson on December 5th 1903.
The Morpeth Herald and Reporter ‘which recorder him as one of the original promoters of the new club’, reports on an evening to mark Robertson leaving the club due to taking up the post of Bank Manager of Lambton’s Bank in Rothbury.
The event held at The Travellers rest, Cowpen Quay saw him presented with a commemorative cigarette case and cigarette holders.


  • There is a claim that the name of George Cockburn Robertson should be equally etched into our clubs history not only because he was the teams 1st captain, there is possibility that he, along with Fred, was also responsible for or at least involved in some way with the choice of the name ‘Spartans’, however time has forgotten any involvement he may have had and its Fred who got the accolade.
    George Cockburn Robertson who was born in the second quarter of 1878 in Alnwick, his parent were William and Jane and he was the fifth child having two elder brothers and two sisters.
    In 1901 George was boarding at 160 Portland Road Byker while working at a bank in Newcastle when playing for the Spartans it is though he had an involvement with the original Blyth FC. In his speech at his testimonial evening he stated that he had been captain of for 2 years and “closely connected with the management of the team”.
    He had played in every position apart from goalkeeper and had even turned down several approaches to turn professional because he played for the love of the game.
    By 1911 his father had died and he appears to have taken a demotion from Bank Manager at Rothbury to be a cashier in Alnwick as he was recorded as living with his widowed mother at 8 Clive Terrace Alnwick.
    When War broke our in 1914 he seemingly joined the 6th Durham Light Infantry and had become a 2nd Lieutenant by the time they had reached the Western Front.
    George was killed at the Battle of Armentières on July 21st 1915, there is a pGC Robertson plaquelaque in commemoration of him on the wall of
    The United Reform Church in Pottergate, Alnwick.
    George is understood to be the 1st Blyth Spartans player to serve his country and sadly is also believed to be the first Spartan to fall in the Great War! ———————————————

Fred continued his studies and quickly achieved recognition for his work in 1904 he was listed in the General Medical Register as MB Bac Surgeon at Durham University from were he graduated that year.

He then moved up to Edinburgh taken up a position at the Royal College of Surgeons, while studying Fred meets his wife Mary Wilkie Smith they were married in 1906, Mary who was from Ryton was 4 years younger than her husband they lived in Park Road, Wallsend.
The following year 1907 aged only 27 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh quite an achievement for someone so young!.

It was while living in Wallsend that Mary & Fred became their love affair with gardening, having achieved his Fellowship they began to think about moving to the south of England for Fred’s work opportunities and made several trips to London looking for properties which offered both gardens and practices.

The exact date of their move south is unknown but believed to be around 1909, they took up a house in Acton, West London which they called they named ‘Ackling’ (which Fred named after the suburbs of Acton & Ealing) they had viewed the property and been suitably impressed with it due to its gardens & ability to be a medical practice, but the gardening was becoming a bigger part of their lives.

Fred’s first medical practice didn’t go well there were few patients and medical directories from the time show the Stoker’s lived in 3 addresses in Acton and 1 in Ealing in the next 10 years!.

After spending 14 years in general practice Fred decided to try a venture as a consultant in Harley Street. He gave up his practice in Ealing, sold the house and took up a consulting room in the Harley Street area, during the week Fred & Mary lived in a flat and spent weekends at a farm they had bought in Sussex.
In 1918 Fred had been elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, which is the world’s oldest active biological society, he applied his scientific mind to gardening and the problems of cultivating.

However, Fred & Mary found ‘flat-dwelling’ in the centre of London intolerable and later commented on it stating:
“The towny air, the nightly rumble of traffic, the church clocks chiming every quarter, the amorousness and pugnacity of West End cats, the rattle of the milk carts before winter’s dawn, were too much!”

Within a year the flat was given up, the farm in Sussex sold and a house was bought in Essex just outside the suburban area, but still within easy reach of town, but it didn’t go down well with some questioning whether a surgical consulting practice could be maintained without Fred being on site. Fred took the view that he could reach a night emergency in town within 40 minutes or less after receiving a “tinkle of the telephone!”.
While Fred may have been confident of reaching his practice it wasn’t without its pit falls as he found out in 1923 when the Epping Court fined him £5 for dangerous driving !.

So in around 1924 the Stokers moved to live in Loughton in the centre of Epping Forest, buying Oak Lodge on Baldwins Hill, which had the much sought after acre of garden and faced Epping Forest.

It was here that Fred & Mary really embraced their love of horticulture, a year after arriving at Oak Lodge they bought a five acre plot on which a previous owner had planted a belt of conifers, to create a boundary to screen it from neighbouring Goldings Manor.
They continued to live at Oak Lodge developing their extensive new garden digging & clearing operations went on continuously for 6 years.
In 1926 Fred looked to add another string to his bow when he sought the election to Loughton Council but where as he had been a success in everything else he turned his hand to a career in politics wasn’t to be when he came 8th of 8 candidates for the 4 seats up for election and so ending any political ambitions he may have had.

In 1927 the Stokers decided to build a house on the north-eastern side of the five acre plot they had acquired, Fred attributed this to Mary’s lifelong interest in houses which explained why they had moved so many times since their arrival down south.

The summitThe house was called The Summit and contrary to usual procedure but in keeping with their love of gardening the house was designed to match their garden!.
Below it to the north and west were heather beds covering about an acre. To tone with these, the half-timbered walls were bricked in colours ranging from grey through red to orange and had a red-tiled roof though it was soon became covered in lichen.
Among his creations at The Summit were a sandstone rock garden and a plot created from 20 tons of Westmorland limestone especially brought down to the site by lorry.
He created six allotment beds each allocated a certain type of soil for growing plants from various parts of the world and also filled in a nearby bog with “several hundred cartloads of soil”.
A network of greenhouses was set up to house rare specimens and a gardener’s cottage built to house a permanent member of staff to tend the plants.

RHS LogoBy 1932 Dr Stoker was described as the most successful amateur at The Royal Horticultural Society’s Annual Show, and in 1933 he gave a series of talks for the BBC, the council of the RHS recognised the value of his work by posthumously awarding him the Victoria Medal of honor in 1973.

He would continue to write about his passion for gardening throughout his life and had articles published in various papers including The Times and in 1938 his first book:
‘A Gardener’s Progess’ which was published by Putnam, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons was a major United States book publisher which in 1966 became part of the Penguin Group).

During the war in 1940 The Summit was damaged by a landmine which severely damaged the house and its blast destroyed several of the Stokers prized beds of shrubs, undaunted Fred & Mary carried on their tireless work at The Summit.

Fred Stoker died on 20th July 1943 aged only 65, his will described him as:
“A retired surgeon and horticulturist/botanist” he left an estate valued at £17,297.

Despite dying at such a young age Fred had certainly packed a lot into his 65 years of life from such humble beginnings in Bath Terrace Blyth to an award-winning estate in the Epping Forest, many obituaries written about him all spoke of Fred as a kind man whose enthusiasm was infectious to all who came in contact with him and his garden at The Summit had become a centre for all keen gardeners both amateur & professional.

Following his death Mary continued to live at The Summit and looked after the garden for another 20 years, she died in 1964 and under the terms of her will she left her late husband’s vast library of botanical & horticultural books to the Royal Horticultural Society.
Fred had spent over 30 years collecting 394 works comprising 700 volumes, including many rare early books. The collection in now part of the RHS Lindley Library at Vincent Square, the Stoker bequest forms a lasting memorial to a great gardener and his wife.

What became of pride & joy after her death, Mary left their gardens to the National Trust but they declined the offer and after lying empty and over grown for 7 years The Summit was sold to a developer in 1971.
The developer had obtained planning permission to build 41 detached houses on the five acre plot and to demolish the old house.
map of areaHowever, the local planning authority, Chigwell Urban District Council, included a Tree Preservation Order, as part of the planning approval and the estate agent’s brochure offering the plot for sale included a plan showing these trees in the garden that were to be retained and those that were to be removed, the new houses that now form The Summit Estate houses are of no great architectural distinction, the land was also split by the A121 as well but it is still possible to identify some of the trees that remain from the old estate.

The Baldwins Hills area of Loughton is now a conservation area with many several listed buildings are therefore protected although the Summit house is long gone there are still 2 buildings left from the estate further down Baldwins Hill on the junction with Whitakers Way.
Oak Cottage & Oak Lodge was originally the lodge house and stable block for The Summit.oak lodgeoak cottage

Loughton now has an active historical society that protects the heritage of the area and it’s clear to see why so many distinguished people choose to live in that part of Epping Forest.

In 1997 Loughton inaugurated the now national scheme to mark the famed residence with blue heritage plaques.

plaque houseSure enouPlaquegh our Dr Fred Stoker deservedly achieved a place in the programme with his blue heritage plaque fittingly being placed at the highest point of Baldwins Hills, i.e. The Summit, the plaque can be clearly seen on No. 83 Baldwins Hill.

Dr Fred Stolost gardensker received further praise when 2 members of the Loughton & District Historical Society, the Chairman Dr Christopher Charles Pond and the Secretary Richard Sidney Morris who had produced other books on Loughton, wrote a 32 page book about Fred and his famous Loughton garden:
‘Dr Fred Stoker and the Lost Garden of Loughton’
was published on 11th September 2008 and is still available today.

In the south of England the name Dr Fred Stoker leads you to a famed horticulturist however in the North East the name Fred Stoker leads you to a 21-year-old who named a towns famous football club then went on to become a ‘Harley Street Physician’, as proven they are one and the same person.

So the lad from Blyth, did indeed become a Doctor in London and he also went onto a far greater acclaim as a Horticulturist …….. has to be said the boy did good.

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  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Alisdair Gibbs-Barton, for all his help with this article and allowing use of his research into Fred Stoker & George Cockburn Robertson.

If you’re wanting to trace your family history check out his website:

Damon Threadgold, for his help and for allowing use of information he had researched for his original articles, you can follow him on Twitter: @damon_th for use of their article, check out it’s a great read.    for use of their article, check out it’s another great football website.  Has some excellent information on Fred Stoker especially the Newsletter 176 from January/February 2008.

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Classic Team Photo’s – April 1975…The 1974/75 Invincibles !.

7475 TEAM PICBack Row LtoR:
Alan Cruddace (Assistant Manager), Ronnie Phillipson, Tony Smith, Gordon Smith, Mick Morgan, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Dixon. Alan O’Neill (Manager).

Front Row LtoR:
Pat Smith (trainer/physio), Mickey Lister, Gerry Donoghue, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Micky Pink.

The extremely rare photograph shows the Spartans in their Umbro away kit of all yellow with green trim, it’s actually the 2nd of 3 team photo’s that exist from that truly remarkable 1974/1975 season.

This team photograph only ever appeared in the Rothmans Football News magazine.
It was taken at Willington’s Hall Lane ground before the kick off on Easter Saturday, it was taken by County Durham based Galdon Photographers who supplied many images to the magazine.

74 team

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.

This well know team photo from earlier in the season featured in the Preston North End FA Cup replay programme, another extremely rare colour photo has recently resurfaced courtesy of the old 70’s Non League magazine, Rothmans Football News.

The magazine was produced in  conjunction with Rothmans, the new Northern League sponsors. Rothmans were pioneers in Non League football sponsorship putting their name to the Isthmian, Western, Northern, Hellenic Leagues (as well as Guernsey and Jersey), and in 1974/75 these were the first leagues to award 3 points for a win and not 2!.

  • AnnualThe excellent magazines were edited by the oracle of Non League football Tony Williams, the magazine ran from 1974 until 1977.
    1974/75 season 5 bi monthly issues were produced.
    1975/76 season 7 monthly issues plus an end of season annual were produced.
    1976/77 season only 1 mid-season annual was produced.
  • Rothmans also ran a national Challenge Cup competition for 3 seasons (1975/76, 1976/77 & 1977/78) clubs from each division were entered into a series of straight knock out ties, in 3 years it ran a Northern League club won it every time, Whitby Town 75/76, Tow Law 76/77 & Whitby again in 77/78.
    Rothmans would meet any losses incurred and any profits made by clubs would go in to the “pool” to offset the losses, however the competition was besieged with problems by the 3rd season due to the sheer distances involved, several ties never got played as teams struggled to arrange suitable dates and many games were awarded as walkovers as teams just pulled out of the tie and in the last season the Isthmian league didn’t enter any clubs. Blyth only played in the competition once in the inaugural 1975/76 season, when the Northern League entered all 20 clubs and in that one season the competition’s problems were clear to see as Blyth were drawn against teams from Oxfordshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire & Greater London!.
    The Spartans only involvement was certainly eventful to say the least, they played out a 5-5 draw in Gloucestershire winning the tie on penalties!, needed extra time to beat a team from Oxfordshire at Croft Park and when drawn away in Great London despite offering available dates to play the tie the London club couldn’t agree to the arrangements.
    Being drawn away to Ilford in the Semi Final, Blyth were eventually awarded the tie, as a ‘walkover’ when Ilford couldn’t agree to any suitable dates that Blyth were able to offer.
    And to sum it all up when the club reached the Final thanks to that ‘walkover’ it ended up having to be played in the following season!.
    Blyth’s 1975/76 Rothmans Challenge Cup record:
    1st Round – 11/10/1975 Forest Green Rovers away, drew 5-5 won 3-1 on penalties. (Alder Pink, Donoghue 2, G. Smith – penalties Donoghue, Waterson & Dixon)
    *Blyth were 4-1 with 15 minutes left
    2nd Round – 13/12/1975 Clanfield away, won 5-3 AET
    (Slane 2, Elliot, Donoghue, Tones)
    3rd Round – 28/02/1976 Ashington away won 3-2 AET
    (Slane 2, Scott)
    4th Round – 27/03/1976 Frome home won 2-1
    (Slane & Pink)
    Semi Final – Ilford Away Blyth awarded tie (no date could be arranged by Ilford)
    Final – 25/09/1976 Whitby Town at Brewery Field, Spennymoor lost 2-3
    (Slane 2)

The 1974/75 Rothmans Northern League season needed to be very special to go one better than the club managed the previous campaign, having won the title in 1972/73 by scoring 102 goals to pip Bishop Auckland to the title by 2 points, the club looked on course for retaining the league until the 11 game unbeaten run ended with two surprise midweek results that derailed the title charge.

A 0-1 defeat at Shildon on Wednesday 24th April 1974 handed the initiative to rivals Spennymoor United and despite a 6-1 hammering of fellow title chasers Willington at Croft Park 3 days later the 1-1 home draw with Penrith on Wednesday 1st May ended Blyth’s hopes of retaining the title, Spennymoor made up ground and both team finished level on 64 points after 38 games.

The Championship was decided on a Play Off game staged at Portland Park, Ashington on Tuesday 7th May, Des Jardine got Blyth’s goal in a disappointing 1-2 defeat.

It had been an excellent season for Eddie Alder & Billy Fenwick ‘running’ the team but Chairman Jim Turney and his board felt  appointment of a new manager was needed, they acted quickly appointing the experienced former South Shields manager Alan O’Neill in June 1974.

O'NeillLeadgate born O’Neill had lost his job as South Shields manager when history repeated itself in the summer of 74’ when they became Gateshead United, he had been manager of the founder members of the Northern Premier League club since returning to England in December 1972.
Alan had made full Sunderland debut in November 1956 at the age of 18 as an inside forward having played for Sunderland Boys & the Durham County side.

He made 74 appearances for the Black Cats scoring 27 goals before moving onto Aston Villa, Plymouth Argyle & Bournemouth amassing 174 Football League appearances, after his playing career ended he took up coaching appointments in South Africa, Dublin and the USA before coaching the Canadian National team until his return to the North East in the December 72’.


South Shields 1973/74 Northern Premier League squad.
O’Neill, pictured back row far left along with Cruddace (back row 5th from left). Burowski sat next to Pat Smith far right of front row.

His 2 years at Shields had been quite successful steering them to 6th in a NPL that contained Wigan Athletic and taking them to the Semi Finals of the FA Trophy in 1973/74.
With him in June 1974 came his trusty trainer Pat Smith, Pat was to stay on at Croft Park for many years serving as trainer & physio.

With him from The Mariners playing staff came right back Alan Cruddace & central defender/midfielder Dave Bukowski, however most of Billy Bell’s 73/74 side stayed on with only a few exceptions.

Out went 3 long servants to the club in Bobby Varvill, Gordon Atkinson & Des Jardine all 3 making well over 150 appearances for the club, right back Atkinson joined 1969 while striker Jardine had been at Croft Park since 1968. Goalkeeper Bobby Varvill who had been at the club for the past 3 seasons had shared the goalkeeping duties with Peter Ewart in 1973/74.

O’Neill showed his credentials as a manager with some astute signings he brought in 2 goalkeepers, one highly experienced and one promising youngster.
Mick Morgan was signed from North Shields having been a FA Amateur Cup winners in 1969 and ever-present the Robins side and 18-year-old John Lang was signed from Hylton Colliery Welfare Juniors !.

LNG v PNEIt was tall wiry Lang that caught the eye and got the nod as first choice over the experienced Mick Morgan, Lang impressed so much that he instantly attracted League scouts including Newcastle United manager Joe Harvey. Lang played 18 games before joining Newcastle United on a month-long trial on 15th January, his spell at St James wasn’t successful and he returned to Croft Park, however Morgan was established first choice and Lang couldn’t dislodge him and was released signed for West Auckland.

It was O’Neill’s ability to bring in key players during the season that really cemented his pedigree as a manager; all 3 arrivals in particular caught the eye.
018Former South Shields midfielder Gerry Donoghue had joined Scarborough in 1972 and gone on to become one of their most important players, captaining the side to a Northern Premier League Runners Up the spot in 1972/73 and winning the winning the FA Trophy at Wembley in the same season, so it was a major coup when O’Neill brought him to Croft Park.
Donoghue made an instant impact scoring on his debut in a 6-1 win at West Auckland on 9th November 1974, he would go on to score 9 times playing in all 28 games following his arrival and Gerry showed his versatility as a footballer by covering as a right back & left back in several occasions.

The 2 other key arrivals came as a result of losing the services of 2 players who came with him for South Shields, Allan Cruddace had been an ever-present at right back until an injury in January 1975 ended his playing career (he officially became O’Neill’s assistant in July 75′), his replacement was another player from NPL club Scarborough Tony Smith, who went on to make 22 appearances at right back.

Tommy Dixon AshingtonThe 3rd arrival was young 24-year-old from local rivals Ashington by the name of Tommy Dixon! he was brought to Croft Park to replace Dave Bukowski who emigrated.
Tommy had joined the Colliers from Gateshead in 1972 and become a key player in Jackie Marks Ashington side that reached the FA Amateur Cup Semi Final.
Tommy signed in January and made his debut on 18th January in a 3-2 victory over Penrith, Tom initially played as a defensive midfielder as long serving Ronnie Phillipson partnered Ronnie Scott at the centre of the defence.

  • Dave Bukowski was an interesting character, born in Newcastle in 1954 to Ukranian descendants he began playing for Wallsend Boys Club and was offered an apprentice with Fourth Division strugglers Northampton in 1971, he went on to make 12 appearances before his release at end of 1972/73 season. He returned home and played for The Mariners in the NPL before following O’Neill to Croft Park.
    Dave made 29 appearances playing either in centre of defence or as a holding midfielder, however in February 1975 Dave immigrated to Pretoria South Africa and had a rather eventful time playing there. He signed for Pretoria Callies, 2 years later he was an established player with ‘The Romans’ when their English manager Trevor McMillan caused up roar one November weekend by signing 5 white players.  This was the first time that a black-owned South African club had significantly ventured into the white market and Callies’ handed starting debuts to Dave Evans, Derick Klugkist, Harold Teague, Kim Sinovich and Rory Jones it made front page headlines in the conservative city of Pretoria. Pik Botha, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs rang McMillan personally to ask him ‘if he knew what he was doing’, but McMillan was fully aware as he ready for the new multi-racial league season that started in 1978. However, sadly there was a faction of Callies’ supporters who didn’t want white players and in 1980, one player was threatened by a knife-wielding man while showering in the change rooms. The club was relegated from the top flight that year and although they returned in 1985, again fell from grace and eventually went out of business.
    Bukowski then moved on to Arcadia Shepherd’s in Pretoria, where he played alongside several famous names such as Republic Ireland manager Eion Hand and Welsh players Ron Davies & Wyn Davies. In 1986, He gained some fame by scoring a spectacular diving header own goal in the Arc’s 3-1 BT Top Eight Cup Final victory over Bidvest Wits, the competition is South Africa’s oldest cup competition.

The pre season that saw all 5 friendlies played at Croft Park with comprehensive victories over Wearside League Wallsend Town & Northern Alliance sides Wallsend Athletic & Belford Blyth lost 1-2 to Fourth Division Hartlepool and then 2-5 to a Sunderland XI.

Roth logoThe Rothmans Northern League season started on 17th August but the league had been thrown into turmoil 3 days before the kick off when Stanley United who had finished bottom of the league in 1973/74) resigned leaving the league with only 19 clubs.

It was in at the deep end with arguably the toughest game possible, away to arch rivals & League Champions Spennymoor United, however in a sign of things to come the steely determination instilled by the new manager saw 2 Blyth born players, Micky Pink & Ian Nixon, score in a superb 2-1 victory at Brewery Field
(Blyth side: John Lang, Alan Cruddace, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Phillipson, Micky Lister, Ian Nixon, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Micky Pink).

August ended with 2 more victories and a 1-1 draw at local rivals Ashington (Mickey Pink scoring), the 2 victories were consecutive wins over South Bank a 8-1 hammering at Croft Park that saw the Spartans 6-0 at half time, the goals came from Alder, Cruddace, Dagless, Nixon and star striker Brian Slane opened his account for the season with 4. The away victory was a much tighter affair due to Mick Dagless missing a penalty in a 4-3 victory.

September saw Blyth pull clear at the top of the table with 6 victories in the 7 games played scoring 21 goals and only conceding 3 goals with Mick Morgan between the sticks for the September games.

Mick Pink & Ian Nixon both scored braces in the 4-0 win at Consett, Nixon Slane & Dagless scored in the narrow 3-2 victory at home to Bishop Auckland. A week later Blyth travelled to West Auckland and hammered them 5-0 (Slane, Dagless, Lister & Pink 2) that was followed by a narrow 1-0 victory at Billingham Synthonia thanks to a Eddie Alder goal. The local derby against Ashington on 21st showed Blyth qualities as Colliers were brushed aside in a 4-1 victory thanks to braces from Mickey Pink & Phil Baines. The 7 game winning run came to an end on Wednesday 25th September when North Shields held Blyth to a 2-2 at Croft Park with former Robins midfielder Mick Dagless & Brian Slane scoring. 3 days later Blyth travelled to North Yorkshire and beat Whitby Town 2-0 with Slane scoring his 10th goal in 11 games so far, Mickey Lister got the other. October saw Blyth play 6 games and all of them were home games, Alan O’Neill’s side sweeping to 5 straight league victories, beating Durham City 3-1 (Slane 2, own goal), Whitley Bay 2-1 (Slane, Pink), Consett 3-2 (Scott, Dagless, Alder), Billingham Syntonia 4-1 (Slane, Alder, Dagless 2) & Evenwood 3-0 (Lister, Slane, Pink) the month ended with a League Cup Preliminary Round tie with Bishop Auckland Mickey Lister got Blyth goal in a 1-1 draw that brought to an end a 14 game winning run.

November was big month for the club on and off the field, O’Neill pulled off the major coup of signing the experienced Gerry Donoghue from Scarborough, only for the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round draw bring the high-flying Northern Premier League side Croft Park on Saturday 2nd November. Gerry didn’t play against his former club as a crowd of 1,478 saw Brian Slane, Ian Nixon & Micky Pink score in a superb 3-1 victory to put the club into the First Round for the 2nd season running. (Side that day: John Lang, Alan Cruddace, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Phillipson, Dave Bukowski, Micky Lister, Ian Nixon, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Micky Pink).

In the league the Spartans continued their relentless march thrashing West Auckland at home 6-1 with Mick Dagless scoring the clubs 1st hat trick of the season, Micky Pink got his 10th & 11th of the season and there was a debut goal for Gerry Donoghue. Blyth then beat Penrith 2-1 away (Pink, Dagless) before once again North Shields held the Spartans to a score draw, this time Gerry Donoghue scored his 2nd goal in 3 games & Ian Nixon bagged a brace in an entertaining 3-3 at Appleby Park.

Saturday 23rd November saw a famous day in the history of Blyth Spartans AFC and Croft Park itself when FA Cup 1st Round opponents Preston North End came to Croft Park, a sell out 8,500 crowd crammed into the ground to see the Player Manager Bobby Charlton and fellow 1966 World Cup winner Nobby Stiles.

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Charlton lets fly with one of his trademark thunderbolt shots.

Charlton (2nd left) lets fly with one of his trademark thunderbolt shots.

Blyth stunned their illustrious opponents when Mick Dagless spectacularly fired the Spartans into a 3rd minute lead, however Mike Elwiss levelled for the recently relegated Third Division side as the tie ended 1-1.
(Blyth side: John Lang, Alan Cruddace, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Dave Bukowski, Micky Lister, Gerry Donoghue, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Micky Pink. Sub:Ian Nixon).

The replay, 3 days later in front of a 10,101 crowd at Deepdale proved one game too far for Alan O’Neill’s side when despite Ronnie Scott scoring the league side ran out comfortable 5-1 winners to seal a 2nd Round away tie at fellow Northern League side Bishop Auckland.(Blyth side: John Lang, Alan Cruddace, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder, Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Phillipson, Dave Bukowski, Micky Lister, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Micky Pink. Sub: Ian Nixon)

Blyth’s next 2 games were also cup ties, on 30th November a solitary Brian Slane strike won an FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round tie against Ashington at Portland Park, having played in all 23 games so far it was the Alan Cruddace missed the game through injury (an injury that was to eventually end his playing career!).
On the 7th December Blyth finally managed to fit in the League Cup Preliminary Round replay at Bishop Auckland.  The game once again ended all square as Mick Dagless missed a penalty leaving Blyth needing extra time to find a winner, with another brace from the prolific Brian Slane and a winner from Gerry Donoghue finally sealed a 3-2 victory.
Bad weather meant it was another fortnight before Blyth played again giving the team a much-needed break, Blyth were back in action on 21st December, and game provided Blyth’s 20th unbeaten league game proved to be a defining one when Blyth travelled to Dean Street to play struggling Shildon and it turned out to be a far tougher game that expected Gerry Donoghue took over the penalty duties following Mick Dagless’s recent missed and not surprisingly scored with his 1st penalty for the club but Dago got on the score sheet himself with a brace while Ian Nixon scored his 8th of the season however Blyth’s 4 goals were matched by 4 from the Railwaymen and it was certainly a tale of a penalty scored and one crucially missed that made the headlines as Shildon dramatically missed a last-minute penalty to win the game!.

Boxing Day saw Blyth playing Ashington for a 4th time when they meet in a Northumberland Senior Cup 1st Round game winning 2-1 thanks for goals from Gerry Donoghue (his 5th goal in 9 appearances) and Micky Pink, the saw defender Tony Smith make his debut following his recent signing from Scarborough.

January’s 4 games included 3-2 league victories over Whitby Town & Penrith with the strike force of Mickey Pink scoring 1 in both games & Brian Slane getting a brace in both games, the Penrith game on 18th January saw Tommy Dixon make his club debut having joined from local rivals Ashington and keeper John Lang made his final appearance for the Spartans before signing for Newcastle United on trial.

In-between the league games Blyth crashed out of the FA Trophy losing 1-2 at South Bank with Mickey Lister getting the Blyth goal, it was the Spartans 3rd cup defeat of the season.

Next up was a double-header with Ferryhill Athletic, Gerry Donoghue earned a point in a 1-1 draw before a comfortable 3-0 victory at Croft Park the following Saturday with Brian Slane scoring his 2nd hat-trick of the season taking his tally to 25.
It was a fortnight before Blyth were in action again on 15th February and the goals continued with a superb 4-0 victory at Whitley Bay with goals from Alder, Lister, Dagless & Donoghue.

Mick Morgan is unable to stop Alan Sholuder putting Bishop infront.

Mick Morgan is unable to stop Alan Shoulder putting Bishops infront.

Blyth them won a crunch game at title rivals Bishop Auckland on 22nd March and showed their determination coming from behind after Alan Shoulder has giving Bishops a lead Mick Dagless scored an equaliser and Micky Pink scored the winner as Blyth came from behind to seal 3 impressive points making it 68 points from 26 league game and leaving Bishops 19 points behind Blyth at the top of the table.

Dagless fires Blyth level.

Dagless fires Blyth level.

Bishops away 2

Bishops pile on the pressure for an equaliser, Phillipson, Scott & Dixon look on as Morgan’s save deflects the ball goal ward for Alder to head clear.

While Blyth were winning at Kingsway, Spennymoor won 3-1 at Whitby leaving them 2 points behind the Spartans having played 2 games more. Coming on as a 2nd half sub at Bishops was 21-year-old Dave Bukowski’s final game for the club before his move.

Both Blyth & Spennymoor secretaries were philosophical when asked about another epic title race between the 2 great rivals in the February Rothmans News:
“We are on top and we intend to stay there. We are not worrying about the other clubs, let them worry about us!” stated Blyth secretary George Watson.

While Stan Bradley was aware of the tough task facing his team:HEADER
“The task of catching Blyth will be much harder this season.
They will not be able to relax until they have the title in their grasp.
Despite the fact we have not played well recently we have continued to pick up point.
We showed at Whitby that when we know we have to do well the team can turn it on.
We still have to go to Blyth an
d this game could well be the decider”.

While it was coming down to a 2 horse race it hadn’t been that way until recently with Blyth in a 4 way battle with teams from County Durham Spennymoor, Bishop & Willington, however Willington’s challenging had fallen off the pace having lost only 1 game before February but recent draws had proved costly as the 3 points for a win & 1 for a draw had an effect on their challenge with 11 draws in there 25 games so far.

Spennymoor United came to Croft Park on Saturday 1st March for a game the reigning Champions had to win if they were to attempt to halt Blyth storming to the title, Mick Dagless scored for the 3rd consecutive game but future Spartans striker Geoff Hart equalised for United and the game ended in a 1-1 stalemate the point was no good for United as they failed to close the gap.

Fog then caused the abandonment of a Northumberland Senior Cup Semi Final against Wearside League Wallsend Town, Blyth were 1-0 up on the night through a Gerry Donoghue penalty before the ref called a halt to proceedings 5 minutes into the second half due to heavy fog.
Blyth saw off struggling Crook Town 2-1 with goals from Lister & Dagless on Saturday 8th to move onto 72 points putting the club effectively 9 points away from the title.
Former Spartan Peter Flaherty brought his Wallsend Town side back to Croft Park on the Wednesday night for the rearranged cup tie and 2 goals from Brian Slane in a 2-0 victory put Blyth into their second successive Senior Cup Final.

slane winning at willington

Lister watches on as Slane crashed home the winning goal.

A 2-0 home victory over Shildon on 22nd March, Lister & Pink scoring, then set up Alan O’Neil’s side for the crucial Easter period that was to ultimately decide the title, on Easter Saturday Blyth travelled to play 3rd place Willington.
Brian Slane’s 30th goal of the campaign sealed a tight 1-0 win at Hall Lane that ended Willington’s challenge.
The Easter Monday game was also away at Durham City and goals from Micky Pink & Mickey Lister sealed at 2-1 victory at Ferens Park.

Spennymoor’s run of poor form since their point at Croft Park meant that Blyth would seal the title on Saturday 5th April if they beat Willington at Croft Park, a large crowd saw Blyth run out comfortable 4-1 winners with goal machine Slane opening the scoring and a Mick Dagless brace took his tally to 20 and Gerry Donoghue continued his 100% record from the spot to claim Blyth’s 2nd Northern League title.
(Blyth side: Mick Morgan, Tony Smith, Gordon Smith, Tommy Dixon, Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Phillipson, Micky Lister, Gerry Donoghue, Brian Slane, Mick Dagless, Micky Pink.)

The manager & players then set themselves the aim in the remaining 4 league games to keep up the unbeaten run and go the entire League season unbeaten, 4 days after sealing the title Blyth travelled to Crook midweek and scored another 4 goals closing in on the magical 100 goal tally, winning 4-2 at Millfield with a Micky Pink hat-trick and another from Brian Slane.

An away game at Evenwood was won 2-0 with the defenders getting in on the scoring act when Gordon Smith scored his only goal of the season and Ronnie Scott got his 2nd of the campaign and the clubs 100th league goal, it was rather ironic that a defender should score the landmark goal with the free scoring forwards in the side it was the 1st time in 6 games that either striker, Pink or Slane failed to score.

Wednesday 16th April then brought Blyth their 2nd piece of silverware when Mickey Lister & Micky Pink scored in a 2-1 Northumberland Senior Cup Final victory over Wearside League Blue Star under the floodlights at St James Park to keep the cup, Blyth team that night: Mick Morgan, Tony Smith, Gordon Smith, Eddie Alder Gerry Donoghue, Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Phillipson, Mick Dagless, Micky Lister, Brian Slane, Micky Pink. Sub: Ian Nixon.

colour team NEW

This rare colour team photo was taken before the final home game and shows both trophies won that season. It only ever appeared on the cover of the 1st 1975/76 Rothmans magazine.
Back Row (LtoR): Alan O’Neill, Billy Fenwick, Alan Cruddace, Ronnie Phillipson, Tommy Dixon, Mick Morgan, Ronnie Scott, Micky Pink, Ian Nixon, Tony Smith. Path Smith.
Front Row (LtoR): Mickey Pink, Gerry Donoghue, Brian Slane, Eddie Alder, Mick Dagless, Gordon Smith.

Blyth then ended what was to become a truly historic season with a double-header against Tow Law, wining 2-0 at the Ironworks Ground on 19th April with Eddie Alder & Micky Pink scoring and the curtain was brought down on the season with an easy 3-0 home victory on Wednesday 23rd April thanks to goal from Gerry Donoghue, Mick Dagless and the clubs 121st and final goal of the season coming from Ronnie Scott the victory give the Spartans a final points total of 96, ten points clear of runners-up Spennymoor.

It was an impressive haul as Blyth put last season’s disappointment behind them with real style, not surprisingly it was the club’s highest points haul in their 11 seasons since joining the Northern League in 1964/65 and an impressive 37 more points than the achieved to win the title for the 1st time in 1972/74 and that season 38 games were played in a 20 team league.

It was a remarkable achievement and Blyth became the 1st club since Shildon in 1936/37 to win the Northern League without losing a single league game, it was the 4th time in the League’s long history (founded in 1890 the Northern League is the oldest football league in the world) it had been achieved with Middleborough Ironopolis in 1892/93 being the first to do it then in 1898/99 Bishop Auckland achieved it, however they were with significantly smaller leagues the previous times it had happened.

There was only 6 teams in the league in 1892/93 and Ironopolis only played 10 games to win the title (winning 9 & drawing 1) and in 1898/99 the league only had 9 teams when Bishops achieved it by playing only 16 games (winning only 9 & drawing 7) in 1936/37 there was only 14 teams in the league when Shildon played 26 games to win the title (winning 20 & drawing 6) so Blyth’s unbeaten title season is a far greater achievement.
And still to this day some 38 years later it hasn’t been done since, the closest being in 2004/2005 when Dunston Federation Brewery won the title losing only 1 game in a 21 team league.

Final tableAnd what made the achievement even greater was that the unbeaten league campaign was also completed without a single booking or red card in all 36 games a feat that most certainly won’t be repeated these days, earning the club as share of the Sportsmanship Pool of £175.84p, ironically only 1 other team managed to go the season without a booking or red card, also earning £175.84p, and that team was –
the last unbeaten champions Shildon !.

Rothmans had introduced a series of sponsorship incentives when they started their revolutionary sponsorship deal back in August 1974, they included the Sportsmanship Pool where teams lost 4 points if a player was sent off, and 1 point if a player is cautioned if a team lost 8 points or more in the course of a season it would not qualify for a share of the £2,000 ‘Sportsmanship Pool’.

As well as the prize money for winning the league of £1,000, Blyth also claimed £440 from the ‘Match by Match Incentive’ scheme were a team winning a game by 3 clear goals earned £40 and Blyth did it 11 times brining the total sponsorship winnings to £1,615.84p, Blyth finished the league top scorers with 105 goals however runners-up Spennymoor, who scored 100 goals, earned the most with their 13 victories brining in £550.

Blyth played 46 games during the season, 36 league games 10 cup games, and only lost 3 times in FA Cup FA Trophy and Northern League Cup 8 games were drawn, 121 goals were scored and 53 conceded, 16 goals were scored in the cup ties and 15 were conceded.

19 players were used in the 46 games:
Micky Pink 46, Gordon Smith 46, Mick Dagless 42, Brian Slane 41, Mickey Lister 39, Eddie Alder 38, Ronnie Scott 37, Ronnie Phillipson 31, Dave Bukowski 29,
Gerry Donoghue 28, Mick Morgan 28, Ina Nixon 28, Allan Cruddace 27, Tony Smith 22,
John Lang 18, Tommy Dixon 15, Phil Bains 9, Mick Third 2, Alan Wallis 1.

G.Smith&M.PinkMicky Pink & Gordon Smith played in every single game and only 15 substitutes were made in those 46 games.
2 hugely popular players, Micky who lived only 150 yards from Croft Park had joined his hometown club in summer of 1973 after returning home from University in Liverpool, while on Merseyside Micky had played for Marine AFC in the Cheshire League and in 1970/71 had been top scorer with 14 goals, the strong bustling striker had formed a formidable partnership with Brian Slane in the past 2 seasons and had scored 16 goals in his first season.

Gordon Smith had been with the club since 1967 and had become huge crowd favourite, having arrived at Croft Park as flying left winger in 1971 manager Allan Jones converted Gordon to a left back he been tearing down the wing at every opportunity ever since. His cavaliering style of play had made him hugely popular with the fans who had nicknamed him ‘beep beep’ after the Roadrunner cartoon.

The 121 goals was shared between 11 Blyth players and 2 own goals:
Brian Slane 30 (L 25 C 5), Micky Pink 23 (L20 C3), Mick Dagless 22 (L21 C 1), Mickey Lister 10 (L7 C3), Ina Nixon 10 (L9 C1), Gerry Donoghue 9 (L7 C2), Eddie Alder 6 (L6), Ronnie Scott (L3 C1), Phil Baines 2 (L2), Allan Cruddace 2 (L2), Gordon Smith 1 (L1) and 2 own goals.

SlaneClub legend Brian Slane top scored with 30 goals (25 league 5 cup) however he only finished 3rd top scorer in the League beaten by Brian Pringle (Ashington) & Alan Shoulder (Bishop Auckland) who shared the league top scorer accolade with 27 goals.

It was a great season for Slane on Sunday 4th May it ended with a TV appearance, as a school teacher in Consett he was selected to represent ‘Consett, Derwentside’ in the popular TV programme It’s a Knockout.
Filmed at Beamish Park on Sunday 4th May 1975 the Heat 4 which was aired at 8pm on Friday 13th June featured team from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Darlington & Consett, Derwentside.
This was one game Brian did lose that season along with teammates Barry Chucsin, Michael Fleck, Barry Fowler, Rachel Harrison, Christine Ross, Colin White, William Witton & Malcolm Young they finished 3rd with 18 points as Darlington won to qualify for the next stage in Switzerland in July.

Dagless v PNE

PNE keeper Ray Trunks is beaten by Mick’s thunderbolt.

Midfielder Mick Dagless, who scored 20 goals to become the highest scoring midfielder in the league that season and probably the goal of the season with that 3rd minute 30 yard screamer against Preston North End, was rewarded with selection to the Middlesex Wanderers squad for the summer tour of Malaysia.

The mercurial talents of Micky Lister won the club’s Player of the Year award, however it was all good news for the player who had won the FA Amateur Cup with North Shields in 1969 when having picked up a knee injury he spent the summer trying to overcome it but in July the club was rocked with the news that Mickey had to call an ended to his playing career !.

It was probably the only downside to an incredible season and a one manager the manager Alan O’Neill was rightly proud of, he went onto prove it wasn’t beginners luck either when he rebuilt the side over the summer to retain the title again in 1975/76 although it was a lot tighter with Blyth making up the ground to pip Willington to the title by 1 point !.

  • The unbeaten run continued into 1975/76 season winning the first 3 games before drawing 0-0 at home to Spennymoor then winning next 3 games but the 40 game unbeaten run finally ended on  8th September 1975 , masterminded by former manager Jackie Marks his North Shields side won 3-2 at Appleby Park thanks 2 goals from Billy Yates & 1 from Ian Hopkinson in reply to Micky Pink & Gerry Donoghue strikes for the Spartans.
    It could be argued it was a 42 game unbeaten run with the final league 2 games of 1973/74 added because the Title Play Off game defeat to Spennymoor wasn’t an actual league fixture !.
    *Either way it was and still is the clubs longest unbeaten run in any of the 9 different leagues Blyth Spartans AFC have played in.

The 1970’s was a certainly a golden era for the club, 3 Northern League titles in 4 season’s 2 Runners Up spots and A League Cup win in 1971/72 and Runners Up in 1973/74 add into that endeavours nationally reaching the Semi Finals of the FA Amateur Cup in 1971/72 and the FA Cup runs in 1971/72 beating Crewe Alexandra away then Stcokport County at home before losing a 3rd Round Replay to Reading, in 1973/74 taking Grimsby to a 2nd Round Replay and 74/75’s games with the star-studded Preston North End.

Obviously the famous 1977/78 season attracts all the attentions when the 1970’s are mentioned in Blyth’s long & proud history but that great achievement was built on solid foundations in the early 1970’s and should never overshadow a great era in the clubs history that included some great times, great servants and some superb players.

  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Kevin Tilmouth, who as ever provided information & once again provided items from his treasure trove of Blyth Spartans memorabilia.

Chris Sanderson,  who provided images from his collection of Rothmans Non League magazines. Chris is now living in Paisley and reports on Scottish football but was born in Ashington and grew upon on Northern League football.

Ken Teasdale, a lifelong Blyth fan who was a 21-year-old during that famous 74/75 season. Ken provided memories & vital info of that great era, he is now the clubs PA announcer.

Ashington AFC website for allowing use of the Tommy Dixon photo taken from the superb collection of old photo’s taken by then club photographer Mel Morpeth.

The following websites provided information and are superb websites for historical Non League football information:

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Peter Guthrie – The Spartan who earned his Spurs

Blyth Spartans have a long history of producing players who have gone on to a career as a full-time professional but no one had such a meteoric rise to the full-time game as goalkeeper Peter Guthrie.

Back on October 1986, Blyth manager Jim Pearson was on the lookout for a successor to legendary keeper Dave Clarke, Clarkie was looking to retire and had began coaching the side so both Richard Hartiss & Stephen Gray had been given chances between the sticks but had failed to impress so Pearson was still looking for someone.

PG 2To Blyth supporters surprise that person came in the form of an unknown goalkeeper who had been at Middlesbrough. Peter Guthrie had started playing on a Sunday morning for Forest Hall Legion Club, but caught the Boro’s attention while playing for Wearside League Whickham.
Although unknown to Blyth fans his performances had begun to attract attention as he came within 90 minutes of playing at Wembley when Whickham lost an FA Vase Semi Final to Stanstead, Boro signed him but by his own admission that didn’t work out:
“I was too green for League football and needed another couple of years learning”.

Jim Pearson rang him inviting him along to training at Croft Park. Peter impressed in training and signed permanently making his debut in a 2-0 victory at South Bank on 29th October.

Peter benefited from Dave Clarke’s coaching and quickly impressed everyone as he made the No.1 jersey his own as Blyth went on an FA Trophy run that was to see them eventually play Nuneaton Borough in 3 replays !. However it was his performance in the 2nd Round victory at Bath City that laid the foundations to an incredible year in his career.

Peter collects the award from Supporters club Chairman Bill Cook.Steve Baxter (far right) won the Blyth Valley Sports Council Player of the Year award.

Peter collects the award from Supporters club Chairman Bill Cook.
Steve Baxter (far right) won the Blyth Valley Sports Council Player of the Year award.

Following the FA Trophy exit Blyth went on to win the Dryborough’s Northern League title by a handsome 14 points losing only twice in the process, Peter now established as Dave Clarke’s successor clocked up 36 appearances conceding only 34 goals deservedly winning the Joel Sports Player of the Year award.

Blyth fans were surprised when Peter left the club, even more so that it was to move down to Dorset signing for GM Vauxhall Conference club Weymouth !.
Unknown Blyth fans the Terras had been plotting their move since that FA Trophy replay at Bath back in January, Northampton manager Graham Carr, who had previously managed Weymouth had tipped off Weymouth manager Stuart Morgan about Peter’s performances and advised him to travel up to Bath to ‘see for himself’.
Having been impressed they monitored Peter for rest of the season and once the season had finished Morgan himself rang Peter:
“I received a phone call for Weymouth manager Stuart Morgan saying he had seen me play at Bath in the Trophy and was interested in signing me. I wasn’t on a contract at Blyth so decided to make the move South, plus at the time they were a Conference side and it was another step up for me”.
PG 1The move meant Peter giving up his job as an Installation Engineer for a Gaming Company because the Terras were a full-time set up and offered him a £160pw contract:
“We were full-time at Weymouth with the like of Andy Townsend, Steve Claridge, Shaun Teale & Tony Agana going on to become pro’s, so it was a great opportunity”.
Peter had company on the south coast with Blyth’s flying winger Tony Dawson also signing for the ambitious GM Vauxhall Conference club.

Peter in flying action for Weymouth.

Peter in full flight for Weymouth.

Peter instantly made a big impression on the south coast winning rave reviews for his performances and began attracting attention of league clubs, his stock grew even further on the evening of Wednesday 21st October 1987 when Weymouth played Manchester United in an Official Opening game of their brand new Wessex Stadium.
A very experienced United team containing the likes of Chris Turner, Arthur Albiston, Kevin Moran, Norman Whiteside, Brian McClair, Remi Moses, Jesper Olsen & Bryan Robson were beaten 1-0 in a packed ground with Peter very much the star performer.

Having kept 13 clean sheets in 18 league games Weymouth knew they would struggle to hold on to their star man, the board had drawn up a plan on how to deal with the attention Peter was attracting and it eventually came down to 2 clubs were chasing his signature.
ManagerWFC manager 26:12:87 Stuart Morgan used his column in the programme for their Boxing Day clash with Bath City to state:
“It seems certain at the time of going to press that we will be losing the talented Peter Guthrie to one of the First Division giants, and today could very well be his last appearance for us at the Wessex Stadium.”

Rumors of the impending move had circulated among Weymouth supporters with the asking fee being the main talking point, aware of the rumors Morgan tried to put the supporters in the picture:
“It is a great tribute to his undoubted ability that today will be only his 19th League appearance for us and if the transfer goes through it is going to break all sorts of records”.
“I hope you all have managed to put yourself in my shoes for the past couple of week, and if you have I’m sure you will understand the turmoil I have gone through in trying to come to terms with the fact that I cannot possibly hold on to Peter when taking everything into consideration.
I’ve said all along that the deal would be as waste of time to all our ambitions if we never received that amount of money that I quoted, a figure that was laughed at originally, but a figure we have finally agreed on with the clubs involved, which again is a big tribute to ‘Guthers’ himself”.

The deal was indeed a record breaker as predicted but despite interest from other clubs it came down to a 2 way battle for his signature. Peter’s hometown club Newcastle United making the 1st serious inquiry they desperate to sign him, manager Willie McFaul traveled to meet the manager & secretary at a local Weymouth hotel and was confident a deal could be done despite not liking the asking price however an inquiry was made by Tottenham Hotspur and they agreed to pay the asking price of £100,000!.

The Weymouth secretary & manager travelled up to London and the deal was agreed at a meeting held at the Spurs training ground with the Spurs secretary and manager Terry Venables.
A move to the capital was Peter preferred choice:
“In the end it was a straight choice between Newcastle and Spurs. It was a difficult choice but in the end I felt I made the right decision.”
The deal was concluded quickly with the fee of £100,000 was indeed being a record paid for a Non League player back in December 1988.

It was a truly phenomenal rise through the ranks by any body’s standards, having only played 36 games for Blyth and 29 for Weymouth suddenly Peter was a full-time professional at Tottenham Hotspur and in doing so became Terry Venables 1st signing as Spurs manager !.
magNaturally the deal caught the media’s attention including interview in 80’s football magazine Shoot, in which Peter spoke of his meteoric rise:
From Blyth I went to Weymouth and after only five months Spurs came in for me. I thought that playing in the Vauxhall Conference would put me back in the shop window, but I never expected to get a League club so soon – and certainly not one as big as Spurs. My hometown club Newcastle also came in for me but, even though I’m a Geordie through and through, I felt there would be too much pressure on me in the North East”.

With the press picking up on Peter’s meteoric rise to fame it led to a scramble for news on him and one of the most popular stories that did the rounds was that he was originally a striker who only went in-goal when the keeper was injured during a game, doing so well he just continued to play there, while it was true the versions of the tale varied wildly as it was used over the years.

It was initially reported that his first experience as a goalkeeper was with the Spartans while some versions stated he was a striker for Blyth when the injured keeper incident happened !.
However they were all wide of the mark, as Peter had last been a striker when playing for a works team in the early 80’s:
I started as a centre forward with Sterling Winthrops on a Saturday but ended up in goal after an injury to our keeper half way through the season. My career as a centre forward was now over as I enjoyed playing between the sticks a lot more.”

After joining Spurs Peter was immediately loaned out to Fourth Division Swansea City to gain some league experience, under the guidance of manager Terry Yorath Peter played 14 times as The Swans won promotion to the Third Division through the inaugural play off’s.

Spurs teamDespite returning to Spurs after the loan and training with the first team even featuring in the clubs official 1989/1990 team photo things didn’t work out for Peter at White Hart Lane and legendary Barnet Chairman Stan Flashman coughed up £60,000 for his services. Working under guidance of manager Barry Fry however despite making 18 appearances back in the Vauxhall Conference but his performances weren’t as good as his previous experience of top flight Non League football and after making a couple of howlers at Underhill he came under pressure from the fans:
The move turned out not so good as I had hoped for, I had a nightmare on the field. Barry Fry was brilliant and he tried everything for me to regain my confidence but eventually I was sold to Bournemouth”.

Playing under Bournemouth manager Harry Redknapp in the 3rd Division Peter made 10 appearances for the Cherries before Republic of Ireland keeper Gerry Peyton regained his fitness and in doing so ending Peter’s time in the first team.
At the end of the 1990/91 season Peter left Bournemouth and with no offers from other clubs he decided to take up an offer he had received from ‘over seas’, while at Bournemouth Peter had been played with and been coached by Tony Pulis who was back then player/coach at Dean Court.
Pulis had played in Hong Kong in 1981 for Happy Valley AA and still had contacts in the Far East.

Tony Pulis lined up a move to Hong Kong First Division League for Sing Tao Sports Club, Peter initially signed on a 3-month probation period and once again made such an impression he ended up playing for the now defunct club for 2 years.
Despite initially struggling with the heat & humidity playing in China Peter enjoyed his spell with Sing Tao and was selected for the League XI in 1992 for the Marlborough Cup , which they won beating Young Boys Berne & Partizan Belgrade both on penalties.

He even took up his former role as a striker in March 1993 for the Viceroy Cup Quarter Final. Once again the Hong Kong press carried the story about his switch from striker to keeper and unsurprisingly ex-pat Hong Kong journalist Jeremy Walker got the details wrong in his article:

  • The last time Guthrie played in the forward line was in 1987 with English non-league side Blyth Spartans. Guthrie played as a striker all of his career in non-league football in the northeast of England and went in-goal during a game for Whickham in 1986 only when the original goalkeeper became injured.
    He was transferred from Blyth to Weymouth as a goalkeeper in the 1987-88 season and became the record transfer for a non-league player going into the professional league when Spurs paid GBP 100,000 for him midway through the 1987-88 season.

Interviewed for the article Peter stated: ”It’s going to be an interesting challenge but very difficult because the last time I played centre-forward, Nelson had two eyes.
”Hopefully, I can add a bit of height and bite to the attack because we are generally quite a small team”.

In the summer of 1993, aged 33, Peter retired from the professional game and returned home to the UK taking up a job as a store supervisor in a local Asda supermarket. GM Vauxhall Conference club Gateshead snapped him up, he made his debut on 21st August in a 2-2 draw at the International Stadium.
Peter went on to make 9 appearances then moved on to play for Whitley Bay before a phone call from an old friend from Hong Kong tempted him back out to the China again, he signed for Hong Kong Rangers.

Speaking upon his return: “I came to Hong Kong in 1991 and played for Sing Tao for two years but it didn’t really work out” .
“Winning the Marlboro Cup was great but I didn’t really know Hong Kong ways and got into a few problems with my club. “I went back to England and got a job at an Asda supermarket back home near Newcastle. I was playing part-time football for Whitley Bay, just for pocket-money really, and I thought my professional football career was over”.

HK Rangers crestThe friend from his spell at Sing Tao, Lam Tai-fai, was now the owner of Rangers and he invited Peter back for the 1994/95 season, and it proved to be a success as they went on to win 2 cups in his 3 season at Hong Kong Rangers, who were founded in 1958 by Scottish ex-pat Ian Petrie who named the team after his favorite team from Glasgow.

Peter reveled in the confidence Lam showed in him and after 3 good years at Rangers he moved onto fellow First Division side Happy Valley AA when Lam took over the Kowloon Bay club:
“I had three good years at Rangers, when we won two cups, Happy Valley crestand now I’ve followed Mr Lam to Happy Valley, where have a very good team,”

Peter with the trophy in the local press after Happy Valley won the title.

Peter with the trophy in the local press after Happy Valley won the title.

Winning the League title qualified them for the Asian Cup Winners Cup, they were drawn against the Maldives, and through financial constraints Happy Valley had to play both legs away in the Maldives !.

It was at Happy Valley where Peter really made name for himself and in 1998 he was almost an automatic choice for the Hong Kong League XI squad for the annual Lunar New Year tournament. The Carlsberg Cup (formerly the Marlborough Cup) had been revamped in 1994, the competition now had National teams invited to take part and not club sides or Under 21 teams. 2 of his teammate in the League XI were former team mates from his days playing in the UK, Tim O’Shea played in the same Spurs Reserve side and former Aston Villa defender Shaun Teale who played with Peter at Weymouth.

However the coaches decisions to use only foreigners didn’t go down well with the locals initially: “Our coach has coached at the highest level and he instilled confidence in us. He got together a group of players who can play well if-they do as asked, we stuck by his game plan, and it worked. The coach might come under some fire for using only foreign players but he knew what he wanted. What he got was 11 foreigners who battled for our lives.”

It provided Peter with his career highlight and the ‘game of his life’ when they beat World Cup qualifiers Chile in front of a full house of 72,000 with Peter rightly winning Man of the Match for his outstanding performance as the Hong Kong outfit pulled off the best result ever in the annual tournament, interviewed in the Hong Kong Standard the following day: “I’d say it has to be the highlight of my career.”
“Being signed for Spurs was a big moment and I was in the League XI which won this tournament in 1992, when it was the Marlboro Cup but beating Chile? .
This was the national side which goes to France in five months to compete in the World Cup.”
“We were up against players who are going all out to impress their coach and get into the World Cup squad, but we won 3-1, and deservedly so.”

And after the first reaction to an all-foreign League XI the locals got behind the team:
“What I enjoyed most was that the Hong Kong people got behind us. Even with no Chinese players in the team, they were all for us, and that gets the adrenaline flowing.It pumped us all up and we would have given anything and everything not to concede another goal. The crowd was magnificent.”

Naturally the Hong Kong Standard carried the now obligatory tale of Peter having played as a striker, this time claiming he had played as a striker for the Spartans for ‘several years’!

  • Guthrie was a centre-forward for England non-League side Blyth Spartans for several years before acting as stand-in goalkeeper one day when the regular goalkeeper was injured.

Having played in China for over 10 years Peter became a well know figure in the football scene that was awash with foreigners he even made 2 adverts for Malborough Cigarettes (which didn’t go down well with his mother !) and was also invited to audition for their version of Match of the Day which showed English League games but by his own admission failed miserably !.

IMGIn 2002 Peter finally returned to the UK for good:
“Playing regular 1st team football and the social life was brilliant in such a vibrant country but I’d had enough.”
“I had the opportunity to stay in China as a coach but having thoroughly enjoyed his life in Hong Kong he decided it was time to come home ”.

Upon returning home he took & passed the PCV driving exam and worked at Newcastle Airport for 10 years.
Peter played at Bedlington Terriers of and on before finally hanging up his gloves in 2006.
Peter moved to Durham in 2011 after getting married and decided to get a job closer to home as a coach driver for Lees of Durham, when time allows still turns out in a local Over 40’s league.

In September 2013 Blyth Spartans AFC were once again back in his safe hands when he became the teams coach driver, with Lees providing the team coach for away games, he was the appointed driver for a midweek away game at Stocksbridge in Sheffield.
With it having been 27 years since he played for the Spartans, Peter was surprised to have been recognised, but admitted it was nice to be remembered after all these years.

Born on 10th October 1961 in Newcastle, making him 27 when he signed for Spurs Peter was certainly a late comer to the professional game and while his career in this country might not have taken off as he’d hoped, but he certainly made up for it on the other side of the world:
“Seeing all of Asia including Japan, Maylasia, Singapore, Cambodia, Brunei, South Korea and Indonesia and getting paid for it, I was very lucky to do all of that. “.

Peter certainly had an eventful and far-flung career, crossing paths with some of the games biggest names such as Terry Venables, Barry Fry, Paul Gascoigne & Chris Waddle but it all started from humble beginnings owing a massive gratitude of debt to an injured works team goalkeeper !.

  • Credits & Thank you’s:

Jeff Young, who back in 1986 was a supporter but in 2013 was the clubs kit man who spotted Peter as the new team coach driver and initiated the interview.

Weymouth FC chairman Chairman Nigel Biddlecombe, who supplied vital information on Peter’s move from Blyth to Weymouth and then onto to Spurs.

The supporters of Weymouth FC who were very helpful with information on one of the favourite former players:

and of course massive thank you Peter himself for being so help with information & images on his career.

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