Classic Matches – Blackpool FA Cup 1997/1998

Blackpool 4 Blyth Spartans 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kona (left) and his bother Shaka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spion Kop

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

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


Damian Henderson is rather pleased with his equaliser.

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

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

gus goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Credits & Thank you’s:

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

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Green & White Cult Heroes – Mick Dagless

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

Dagless & Smith hold off Nobby Stiles

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

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

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

Free scoring Dagless scores against Bishop Auckland

Free scoring Dagless scores against Bishop Auckland

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

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

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

Enfield injury

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

changing room

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

dago at york

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alnwick celebrattions

Mick and his players celebrate after clinching promotion.

Alnwick celebrations 2

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

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

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

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

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



  • Credits & Thank you’s:

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

Mick Dagless himself for helping with this article.

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

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

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

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

Martin Hunter for his records of Blyth Spartans goalscorers.

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

The following website was used as a source of information:




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

For club and country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Buchanan v Eire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Blyth Spartans with club officials

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

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

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

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

Patrick has now kindly given permission to reproduce his work.


  • Blyth Spartans Ladies 1917-1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlisle Munitionettes

Carlisle Munitionettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolckow Vaughan ladies FC 1918

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

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

Blyth Spartans with club officials

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

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

(photograph courtesy of John Morgan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Brennan.

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


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A tribute to Nigel Walker, 1959-2014.

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

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

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

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

Sockers 82 Home Nigel Walker_small

Nigel in action against Tampa Bay Rowdies.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nigel looks on as teammate Steve Pyle is clattered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

at Whickham

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

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

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

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

RIP Nigel Walker ..

taken from us but certainly never to be forgotten..

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

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

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

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The hat trick heroes

Dan 3

Dan Maguire completes his 16 minute hat trick.

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

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

Dan 3

Hubbard completes his 10 minute hat trick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pyla 1st season action

Prolific Steve Pyle scores another for Blyth.

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

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

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

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

Steve Jones debut hat-trick

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

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

George Pyke

Free scoring George Pyke.

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

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

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

197 - Peter Mackin

Peter Mackin

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

Another goal for Brian Slane

Yet another goal for Brian Slane.

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

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

Langland v North Shields 1958

Langland in action against North Shields in March 1958.

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

George Patton

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

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

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

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris scorer of the 100th hat trick.

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

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

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

Watch Dan Maguire’s stunning 16 minute hat trick:

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

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

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

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

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Brief encounter – The FA Amateur Cup

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

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

Legendary Bishop Auckland player Bob Hardisty shows off the trophy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enfield SJP

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

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

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

last winners

Bishops Stortford celebrate their Wembley victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blyth Spartans Complete FA Amateur Cup record:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Credits, Acknowledgments & Thank you’s:

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

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

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Classic Matches – Stoke City FA Cup 1977/1978

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

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

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

Referee: George Nolan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1-0 up

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

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

1-0 celebrations

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

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

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

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


Steve Carney celebrates his equaliser.

2-2 celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

3-2 celebrations

Johnson celebrates his goal.

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

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

Players salute fans

Brian Slane and his players salute the traveling fans.

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

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

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

Players celebrate in the dressing room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read all about Blyth Spartans and the Debenhams Cup:

The victory also earned the 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 only of only 2 survivors from the Blyth side that had lost to Stoke some 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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