Ahead of the Bulls’ first ever Vanarama National League fixture at Edgar Street next Saturday, here is our Talking Bull preview as we look ahead to our opponents – Blyth Spartans who visit Edgar Street on 4th August.
Our first opposition are Blyth Spartans, who are getting their longest away trip of the season out of the way first. And good for them. They’ve got lots of daylight for travelling and a decent chance of good weather. The return game is the back end of January which isn’t very sensible. Indeed, 3 of our 4 longest away games are in December or January. Thanks for that.
I’ve always considered Blyth Spartans as a proud old club, with passionate support. They’ll need to be passionate on the opening day… and by the way I do hope they bring a translator with them. I can just about recall the year Blyth Spartans reached the FA Cup Fifth Round in 1978, back in the day when big clubs took the competition very seriously. Wrexham eventually beat them.
Like ourselves, Blyth have difficulty with the amount of travelling at Step 2. They’ve just lost their record signing Dale Hopson who couldn’t hack the travelling any more. The fact that he’s signed for Whitby gives you an idea how far he’s travelling. It is remarkable how far some players will go. I read that Darlington’s main striker Reece Styche lives in Birmingham. He only travels once a week for training but that’s 300 miles round trip after work at night. That is keen.
My first memory of seeing the Spartans play was in an invitation only 7 a side football tournament, held at the Alexandra Stadium in Birmingham. I think 8 or 10 well known Non-league sides entered a squad They were competing for a prize of a new set of floodlights, donated by Thorn Lighting. Blyth Spartans reached the Final and played Halesowen Town. At that time, Halesowen were an excellent side and well supported. They didn’t have floodlights so this really mattered to them. Halesowen won narrowly and I so remember the chants of “We won the lights”. Sadly the new lights were quite limited in power and were replaced two years later.
If you’re still reading I’ll just say something about Blyth’s history. They were founded in 1899 but didn’t really get noticed in their first 60 years. Other than winning the Northumberland Aged Miners Homes Cup Winners five times. I kid you not. This honour is on their website. Together with being 2 times winners of the Tynemouth Infirmary Cup. Shades of Alvechurch whose list of honours filled two full pages in every home programme. Spartans also won the South Tyneside Football Benevolent Fund Gazette Cup. I bet you won’t find such gems in the away coverage in Bulls News.
Spartans joined the Northern League in the 60’s and went on to win that League ten times in 30 years before starting their climb up the pyramid in the 1990’s. They’ve only been relegated once – in 2012, when they dropped out of Step 2 after 11 straight seasons. The Green Army needed five years to get back. Last season was their first year back in the National League North and they finished a decent 10th. Given their isolation, I wonder whether they can climb much higher.
Their manager is Alun Armstrong, in his first managerial role and is doing OK as he’s starting his third season. He had a decent professional career as a striker mainly with Stockport and Ipswich. He scored for Ipswich in both legs of an UEFA Cup match against Inter Milan. Armstrong’s last ever goal was for Darlington was against Hereford United in the 2006/07 season. By day, he’s the managing director of a football activity centre in County Durham. Interestingly, the centre directs all profits into the local community.
Blyth’s first team squad includes a number of home grown players and – not surprisingly – most hail from the North East. A mature bunch, at least half a dozen are in their 30’s. Their two best known names are:
Winger Jarrett Rivers who’s picked up a lot of awards for his play. He was released by Middlesbrough Academy. He tried the real world for one day in a factory and decided to find a way back into football. He was picked up by Blackpool on a one-year deal. He played 10 games and then went home to Blyth.
Striker Robbie Dale is Blyth’s answer to Greener. Robbiedineo has played for 14 seasons for the Green Army. Golden Boot, Player of the Season you name it, he’s won it. He’s even been voted #2 on the all-time list of Northern Premier League players behind a certain Jamie Vardy. Dale works in his mothers pub and he’s perfectly content with his life. He’s been offered trials and contracts by pro clubs and said no every time. He’s Club Captain and part of Spartans last 5 FA Cup runs.