A Spartan time for Blyth
Simon Wright previews the visit from the Hadrians wall climbers.
When Hereford FC take to the field against Blyth Spartans, the game will feature “the most famous non-league club in the world.” According to the 76-year-old club who nudge the Scottish border, that’s definitely them not us. Is that the old maxim that if you shout the same message often enough, people will believe it?
Since their chairman decreed in 2019 that his club would no longer chase dreams they could not afford, Spartans have become perennial bottom four candidates. A 21st position in the incomplete 19/20 season, was followed by rock bottom when the next season was abandoned and a sweaty 19th last term. Once again, they are frantically trapdoor dodging in 22/23… and it’s a bigger door this time. Must be a hard watch for their faithful.
Given their poor results, support has held up well, but the club is struggling to reduce their debt mountain. Their last accounts in 2021 had them owing £530,000, albeit a slight improvement on the previous year. Their existence continues to rely on the health and willingness of one or two people.
Both player and managerial turnover is very high, a sure sign of a struggling club. The remarkable ever Blyth record-holding Robbie Dale, now 38, didn’t retire in the summer. Instead, he chose to move to Ashington FC, where he didn’t have to spend every weekend on the motorway network. Only one current player was signed prior to July 2021. Their recruitment area is larger than I imagined with one recruit living as far away as Harrogate. The turnover continues with the latest hot-seat occupier adding new players in mid-September. These include former loan Bull Jack Bodenham, more latterly of South Shields FC, again now playing his football on a temporary basis.
The latest manager is Graham Fenton, a man with both an impressive playing and managing CV. He played over 80 times in the Premier League and won significant trophies as a Gaffer or both North Shields and South Shields. I’m old enough to remember admiring a raw, short but talented Graham Fenton playing in the Championship back in 1994. Fenton is the fifth club manager in three years. With so many other clubs with bigger budgets nearby, you wonder how Blyth’s fortunes will ever improve even with Fenton’s know-how. As hosts, they are genuinely welcoming so there is always that degree of empathy around their Spartan existence. Even if you can only pick up one word in two from their rich accents.
Another reason we have no antipathy towards the extreme North -East club is our outstanding record against them. Even including 4 away trips, our record is played 6, won 6. Scored 16 conceded 3. Just the two home matches. The first was our first ever Step 2 game in 2018, a comfortable 3-0 win. The second was a night match last season with the Bulls fairly comfortable in a 2-0 victory over properly weary visitors. Their vehicle was a top of the range luxury coach but it wasn’t enough. Another manager was sacked shortly after. When their Supporters Coach was asked about transport to Hereford, the reply was clear “nay chance of a coach to Hereford. Most of us are still scarred from that trip in 2018.”
Their results on the road are slightly above average for Blyth
Kings Lynn 0-2
Buxton won 2-1
Peterborough Sports 0-4 (this defeat prompted an apology from the manager who admitted his players were not fit enough, a shortcoming they must address themselves.)
Blyth are not regular goal scorers. Their top net finder is striker Lewis McNall with 4.
Hereford v Blyth September 24. 3pm at Edgar Street.