Blyth Spartans A.F.C.
|Full name||Blyth Spartans Association Football Club|
|Nickname(s)||The Spartans |
|Ground||Croft Park, Blyth|
|Capacity||4,435 (556 seated)|
|League||National League North|
|2018–19||National League North, 6th of 22|
Blyth Spartans Association Football Club is a football club based in Blyth, Northumberland. They are currently members of the National League North, the sixth tier of English football, and play at Croft Park.
They were founded in September 1899 by Fred Stoker, who was the club's first secretary before forming a practice as a distinguished physician in London's Harley Street. He thought it appropriate to name the team after the Greek Spartan army in the hope that the players would give their all as they went into 'battle' on the field of play. The club is most notable for its 1977–78 FA Cup campaign, in which they went all the way to the 5th round only to be beaten by Wrexham in a replay at St James' Park.
In the beginning, the club played only friendly matches before joining the East Northumberland League in 1901. The first recorded honour was a league success in 1901 followed by further victories in 1905–06 and 1906–07. The club then joined the Northern Alliance, remaining there for six seasons winning the league in 1908–09 and 1912–13.
In 1913 the club moved upward joining the ranks of the semi professionals in the North Eastern League and remained there until this league folded in 1958. The fierce competition meant that honours were few and far between. However they won the league in the 1936–37 season and the league cup in 1950 and again in 1955. After the demise of the North Eastern League the club tried their luck in the Midland League and Northern Counties League, both ending when the leagues folded. The early 1960s saw the revival of the North Eastern League with the club doing quite well. However the league suffered many problems and eventually folded for good.
The club was now at a loss for a suitable semi-professional league and in 1964 decided to turn amateur and join the ranks of the Northern League. During the 29 years the club were members their record was second to none, winning the Championship on 10 occasions and being runners up 5 times. However, a new regime at the club were keen to progress up the league pyramid and a successful push ended with promotion to the Northern Premier League in the 1993–94 season.
Rise up the pyramid
The club's first season in the Northern Premier League was memorable, winning the First Division Championship and the Unifilla First Division League Cup. Since gaining promotion the club has held its own in the Premier division, finishing 6th and 7th in its first two seasons as well as lifting the President's Cup defeating former Conference side Runcorn in the final.
Following this success the executive looked firstly to John Charlton (son of Jack Charlton) followed by Paul Baker as team managers but they were unable to continue this success, disappointing fans.
Harry Dunn's success and the Conference North
Harry Dunn was appointed as manager for the second time in October 2004. In 2005–06 Dunn and his assistant Graham Fenton led the Spartans to win the Northern Premier League Premier Division as well as the Northern Premier League Chairman's Cup and the Peter Swailes Memorial Shield, and with it promotion to the Conference North.
In their first season in the Conference North, Blyth cemented themselves in the top half of the table whilst even enjoying a brief stint in 1st place. The season ended with Blyth narrowly missing out on a playoff position on the final day finishing 7th.
However the next season, Blyth found themselves at the opposite end of the table although some wins towards the end of the season (including a 2–0 win against future Champions, Kettering Town) saw Blyth preserve their Conference North status. The third season was a similar story with Blyth struggling for much of the season but wins towards the end of the season again avoided relegation. A relatively comfortable 15th-place finish did not reflect the battle against relegation which had preceded it.
After two successful campaigns to preserve Conference North status, the 2008–09 season saw the end of Harry Dunn's second spell at Croft Park. No time was wasted in appointing his successor and on 9 May former Hartlepool United, Darlington & Sheffield United Reserves Manager Mick Tait took up the post for his second spell in charge at Croft Park.
Relegation and decline
It was announced in May 2011 that then Whitley Bay assistant manager Steve Cuggy would take over as manager. He along with his assistant Gavin Fell made a complete overhaul of the squad that summer, letting popular players such as Robbie Dale leave. After initial excitement following a good pre-season, the performances on the pitch were extremely poor. However Blyth just got into the FA Cup 1st round after beating Droylsden 2–1 at home in the 4th qualifying round replay before losing 2–0 to rivals Gateshead. Following defeat by Halifax Town Steve Cuggy left the club in December. Later that month, former Newcastle United player Tommy Cassidy took charge but the poor performances continued. Finally, on 24 March 2012, Blyth Spartans had their first ever relegation confirmed after a 1–0 home defeat to Gloucester City.
The following pre-season saw Blyth lose quality players who were not replaced. The season started with mixed results and after very early exits from the FA Cup & the FA Trophy, Cassidy was sacked. In October under caretaker manager Paddy Atkinson poor performance continued including an 8–1 away defeat to Worksop Town. On 8 March Paddy Atkinson resigned.
Tom Wade era
On 12 March 2013 it was announced that a further caretaker manager, Tom Wade, would be in post until the end of the season. After some improved results, in early April Wade was given a contract extension for the 2013–14 season. That summer Wade brought in promising youngsters including Rob Nolan and Dean Holmes from North Shields. In early August Arran Wearmouth signed from Bishop Auckland for a fee of £1500. In the 2014–15 season the Spartans won the Northumberland Senior Cup and played against Championship side Birmingham City in the third round of the FA Cup.
In the 2015–16 season, despite frustrating displays in almost every cup competition, the Spartans proved to be the dominant side in their league. However, even having reached the impressive 99-point mark, they were beaten to the title by Darlington 1883 and lost the play-off semi-final to Workington A.F.C. which ended 4–3 to the away team. Ten days later, Blyth lost 4–3 again, this time to Northern League side North Shields in the Northumberland Senior Cup Final at St. James's Park.
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The club announced on 22 September 2016 that former Ipswich Town striker Alun Armstrong was appointed as manager following Wade's resignation. His first three games as manager weren't pretty but also weren't a preview of what the rest of the season would look like for Blyth, as the Spartans would never again in the 2016–17 play three consecutive games without a win. In fact, they managed two 12-game runs without recording a single defeat. In the first one, which lasted from the beginning of 2017 until the dying days of February, the Spartans won all of their twelve games, scoring 44 goals and conceding a mere 11. The run was ended by fellow title contenders (and ultimately second-place finishers and play-off winners) Spennymoor. They clinched the league title at home against Halesowen Town with three games to spare. Blyth finished in first place with 101 points, two more than the previous season and 14 ahead of the runners-up. The Evo Stik Northern Premier League title was Armstrong's first title was a manager, followed just a few days later by his second, the Northumberland Senior Cup, whose final was a replay of the previous year's, this time ending in a 3–2 win for the Spartans.
The success achieved by the club in the 2016–17 season meant that the Spartans were once again promoted to the National League North, five years after their relegation in 2012.
In late 2018, Blyth Spartans made worldwide news for signing a sponsorship deal with North Korean travel company Visit North Korea, the move attracted controversy from some commentators due to the country's human rights record .
On 1 June 2019, Blyth Spartans announced the appointment of former Newcastle United and Sunderland midfielder Lee Clark as their new manager. Lee has past Football League experience managing the likes of Birmingham City and Huddersfield Town. Under Clark, Spartans lost their first four league matches of the season, before picking up a point at Bradford Park Avenue.
During the First World War women working in factories and on the docks played football, including a team in the Spartans' colours and using their ground, variously known as the Blyth Spartan Ladies FC and the Blyth Spartans Munitionettes, with Bella Raey as the star player. The team was never beaten, playing 30 matches, winning 26 and drawing 4. They continued until 1921 when women's football was banned from its grounds by the FA
In 2001 a Blyth Spartans Ladies team was again formed, but despite considerable success closed in 2009.
FA Cup exploits
Blyth Spartans have reached the first round proper of the FA Cup 31 times; the second round 14 times; the third round 4 times, the fourth and fifth rounds once.
Blyth reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1977–78. Having beaten Chesterfield and another non-league side, Enfield F.C., in the second and third rounds respectively, they managed to beat Stoke City (who had recently been relegated from the top flight) in the fourth round. The club were then drawn to play away at Wrexham (whose victory over Newcastle United denied Spartans a tie against their North East neighbours) where they drew 1–1. The replay took place at Newcastle United's St James' Park where, watched by a crowd of 42,167, Blyth eventually went out, losing 2–1, meaning they missed out on a home tie with Arsenal.
Blyth's next memorable cup run came in their first season as a Northern Premier League Premier Division club in 1995–96, when they travelled to high flying Division Three side Bury and won 2–0. In the second round, Blyth again were on their travels this time to Division Two side Stockport County where they lost 2–0.
It was 11 years before Blyth reached the 1st round again, but finally in 2008–09 Blyth hit the cup trail again. Qualifying round wins against Whitby Town, Buxton and Sheffield FC saw Blyth reach the first round for the first time since 1997. A home tie against League Two promotion chasers Shrewsbury Town saw Croft Park host league opposition for the first time since 1981. The result matched the occasion as Blyth ran out comfortable 3–1 winners.
The second round saw Blyth travel to League Two strugglers AFC Bournemouth, who included Darren Anderton amongst their players. A hard fought 0–0 draw on the South Coast saw Blyth take Bournemouth back to Croft Park, where Ged Dalton put Blyth through to the third round with a last minute winner. Both games were shown live on Setanta Sports.
In the third round, Blyth played Premier League opposition competitively for the first time in their history when they welcomed Blackburn Rovers to Croft Park. In a game again covered live by Setanta Sports, Blyth fell to a 1–0 defeat with the only goal coming via a direct free kick from Chilean player of the year Carlos Villanueva in the 59th minute. A win would have ensured a tie with North East neighbours Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
In 2014, the Spartans once again went all the way from the first qualifying round into the third round proper. In the first qualifying round, Blyth drew 0–0 at Darlington 1883 and won 3–0 at home with a goal from Robbie Dale and a brace from Dan Maguire. Blyth were then drawn to Skelmersdale United away. Despite a poor league record, Blyth went on rampage to win 4–1. The Green Army had to once again travel to watch the Spartans as they were drawn away at Mickleover Sports. After 90 minutes of play during which it seemed there was going to be a replay at Croft Park, Jarrett Rivers scored an injury time goal to send the Spartans into the fourth qualifying round. The draw away at Leek Town meant another long trip for the Blyth supporters. Blyth won 4–3 after a cracking game which included an injury time penalty miss by Leek's Kinsey.
In the first round proper, Blyth were drawn at home to Altrincham. That was their first home draw in the 2014–15 FA Cup. The home crowd of 1,763 saw a performance that at times brought doubts as to which team was two levels above the other. Braces from Dale and Maguire left the fans delighted with a 4–1 win that would take Blyth to the Second Round Proper for the fourteenth time in their history.
In the second round proper, Blyth travelled along the North Coast to Hartlepool United. The League Two side controlled the game in the first half but a magnificent free-kick by Turnbull and yet another ninetieth-minute goal by Jarrett Rivers turned the game around for Blyth. The memorable upset was shown live on the BBC.
Blyth were drawn at home against Birmingham City, which was controversially described by Stephen Turnbull as "a bit of an anti-climax", for him and every Spartans supporter hoped for a Premier League club. After two Nikola Žigić chances for the Blues, Blyth took control of the match and Dale scored twice in the first half. Blyth had a 2–0 lead at the interval and hopes for another Spartans’ FA Cup upset were gigantic. Luis Figo famously started to follow the official Blyth Spartans Twitter feed. However, Birmingham would go on to score three goals in six minutes to end the North East side’s hopes of reaching the fourth round for the second time.
Notable FA Cup games
- 1971–72 Round 1: Crewe Alexandra 0–1 Blyth Spartans
- 1971–72 Round 2: Blyth Spartans 1–0 Stockport County
- 1971–72 Round 3: Blyth Spartans 2–2 Reading
- 1977–78 Round 2: Blyth Spartans 1–0 Chesterfield
- 1977–78 Round 4: Stoke City 2–3 Blyth Spartans
- 1977–78 Round 5: Wrexham 1–1 Blyth Spartans
- 1977–78 Round 5 (replay): Blyth Spartans 1–2 Wrexham
- 1995–96 Round 1: Bury 0–2 Blyth Spartans
- 1997–98 Round 1: Blackpool 4–3 Blyth Spartans
- 2008–09 Round 1: Blyth Spartans 3–1 Shrewsbury Town
- 2008–09 Round 2: AFC Bournemouth 0–0 Blyth Spartans
- 2008–09 Round 2 (replay): Blyth Spartans 1–0 AFC Bournemouth
- 2008–09 Round 3: Blyth Spartans 0–1 Blackburn Rovers
- 2014–15 Round 1: Blyth Spartans 4–1 Altrincham
- 2014–15 Round 2: Hartlepool United 1–2 Blyth Spartans
- 2014–15 Round 3: Blyth Spartans 2–3 Birmingham City
Blyth play their home games at Croft Park, which was opened by Mrs Clarke of Bellister Castle, Haltwhistle on 1 September 1909. The first match was a friendly against Newcastle United which ended in a 4–2 defeat.
In 2003 Croft Park underwent an extensive redevelopment which saw much of the ash terracing levelled and replaced with concrete terracing. New dugouts and a wheelchair enclosure were also added. Further developments have been made to meet full Conference North criteria. These developments include extending the Port of Blyth main stand roof to cover the bottom tier which has had seats installed, building a roof over the Plessey Road terrace, providing cover for 1100, and building three new turnstiles at the Princess Louise Road end.
Following the 2008–09 FA Cup run, some of the money raised was spent on covering the Kingsway Terrace. For the first time Croft Park is now covered on all four sides. The pitch has also been moved by a metre to improve the view from the terraces. And the old goal posts have been taken down and replaced with new modern equipment.
To celebrate Croft Park's centenary Blyth played a Newcastle United side, the team who provided its first opposition. Just like the first game the result finished 4–2 to Newcastle United.
- As of 23 May 2020
Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.
Notable former players
Managers – past & present
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