Hereford FC’s longest away trip ever into the frozen wastes beyond Hadrians Wall. Surely also true for any Hereford United league game. And that bizarrely is a reason to go. A “I was there when..” Just a reminder if one is needed that Blyth and back from the Shire is 585 miles.
The town of Blyth is in Northumberland. It is a port with a 37,000 population and is alarmingly close to Morpeth. There is a Marina with new developments and sculptures yet let’s not pretend it is an ideal place for a tourist in January. Blyth is mainly a dormitory town and the name of the Spartans. As the club Chairman says “Blyth hasn’t got anything else.” Average temperature in the town in January is 5 degrees C with a 70% chance of rain and 20% of fog.
The club was founded in 1899. The first club secretary and the inventor of the Spartans name was Ken Stoker. He was just 20 and a medical student at the time. There’s now a blue plaque on the side of the house when Stoker used to live. And that says much about how Important the club is locally.
Blyth’s Chairman Tony Platten is an interesting guy. When he retired, he sold his engineering business for lots of money, far more than he needed and thus has spent much energy finding worthy causes to support.
We covered Blyth’s manager Alum Armstrong before the Spartans visited us on the opening day. Pretty sure Armstrong is the only manager in our Division who has played and scored in the UEFA Cup. And doesn’t the Opening Day feel a long time ago? Just a reminder that Blyth travelled on matchday and not surprisingly lost 3-0. They had gaps in their squad and started the season at the bottom but my, have they improved. They are currently on an unbeaten 14 match run in all competitions. They’ve beaten Chorley, Stockport, Altrincham and Telford this season but they have lost 3 home games, including a strange 3-0 defeat to FC United, which was their last loss back on the 3rd of November.
Blyth’s squad features Robbiedinio. Robbie Dale scored his 200th Spartans goal in early January. Joined the club in 2004 and has turned down many offers to transfer or turn pro. preferring to stay local and work in his parents pub. He’s 34 and played well over 600 times for Blyth, scoring a hat trick on his debut. Imagine the mileage that guy has racked up. Apparently, he doesn’t like being recognised and rarely goes out in his home town. Players tend to stick with Blyth. 13 of their squad have played at least 80 games each. Several are into the 100’s.
A few pointers about the ground:
Croft Park has one stand with 500 seats which covers approximately 40% the length of the pitch with uncovered standing areas to either side. There is a supplement of £2 payable to sit (in addition to £12 at the turnstile). The other three sides are covered terraces, with 8 steps on each. For obvious reasons, segregation is rarely enforced. Car parking is side streets only and lots of it.
The club bar is outside the ground and has very much the feel of a working mens` club and is divided into two sections. The most interesting feature of the clubhouse is the Spartan Helmet on the bar. Refreshment is limited to Carling, Fosters & John Smiths plus some bottled beers. I settled for a pint of Spartan Smooth, at 3.6% no better than a session ale, not dissimilar to J Smiths. At £2.55 per pint, I endured. A selection of rolls and pies are available from the clubhouse.
A catering van is situated within the ground, near the main stand and the chip shop by the away turnstiles comes recommended. There is a pub called the Masons Arms approximately 300 yards along Plessey Road. Widely reported as being welcoming but no real ale is served here. There is a Wetherspoons called The Wallaw. This is a former cinema based in Union Street serving 3 house beers plus two guests but do bear in mind, there’s a 10-15 minute walk to Croft Park from here.
Overnight accommodation is limited in the town. There just aren’t many choices and nothing mid-range. Booking rooms in the nearby seaside town of Whitley Bay or in the City of Newcastle may tempt. The best deals I’ve seen is for the Holiday Inn at Gosforth Park who are heavily discounting or at Windsor Park, a 3 star hotel at Morpeth coming in at £64 for 2 nights. But its Morpeth.. One more tip. There is a Blyth in Nottinghamshire which confuses all the search engines so take care when booking.
By Train: Can’t be done from the Shire in one day. Tis a mere 4 hours from London to Newcastle and then another hour by bus to Blyth.
By Coach: Reg’s minibus was filled weeks ago.
By Ian Sandford