Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Blyth Spartans

Blyth Spartans, who were founded in 1899 are a non league football club from Northumberland, around thirteen miles north east of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The town of Blyth is highly industrial with trade in coal mining, fishing and shipbuilding most predominaent in its past. The port still provides for the town.

The club were formed by Mr Fred Stoker who named them after the Greek Spartan Army, in the hope it would inspire the team. The first couple of years were spent playing friendly games, before they moved into the Northumberland League. They won three league titles before progressing to the Northern Alliance as well as moving into their Croft Park home in 1909. They went on to win that league twice.

In 1913 Spartans turned semi professional and joined the North Eastern League where they remained until it folded in 1958. They were crowned champions of the strong league in 1937. They had spells in the Midland League and Northern Counties League and a reformed North Eastern League until joining the Northern League in 1964.

Blyth had previously reached the FA Cup First Round on several occasions, but they were about to embark on establishing a famous name as cup giant killers as well as a top side in the league. They lifted the Northern League ten times and finished as runners up on a further five times until they departed in 1993. However, it was the FA Cup that brought them the greatest acolations.

In 1971-72 they reached the third round after defeating Football League sides Crewe Alexandra and Stockport County, before gpoing down 6-1 at Reading. In the 1977-78 season they went on a remarkable run defeating Shildon, Crook Town, Consett and Bishop Auckland to reach the First Round. Burscough, Chesterfield and Enfield were seen off at Croft Park for Spartans to go into the hat for the Fourth Round draw. They were rewarded with a daunting trip to The Victoria Ground to take on First Division Stoke City. Blyth remarkably won 3-2 and were drawn away to Wrexham in the Fifth Round.

Spartans came within a minute of reaching the last eight. Terry Johnson had given them the lead to send the travelling masses into ecstacy. Time was nearly up when Wrexham were awarded a corner which was collected by Dave Clarke. However, the referee ordered a retake as the corner flag had fallen over before the ball was delivered. From the resulting second attempt Dixie McNeil scored a heartbreaking equaliser. Blyth moved the replay to St James' Park where a remarkable attendance of 42,167 saw the Welshmen go through 2-1. Despite the outcome, manager Brian Slane and his coach Jackie Marks plus all the players had done the club and the area proud.

To see extended highlights of both half's of the away game at Wrexham from Match of the Day, click on the two links below:



Three seasons later Hull City managed to see off Spartans at Elland Road after two replays in the Second Round.

In 1993 the club took the promotion on offer to join the Northern Premier League. They won the First Division title at the first attempt to move to the Premier Division. Another FA Cup run in 1996 ended after a victory over Bury, but then a deat to Stockport County.

In 2004 experienced boss Harry Dunn (better known to Scarborough supporters as Harry 'A' Dunn) took over and two years later led the club to a league and league cup double, resulting in promotion to the Conference North. The league proved to be difficult but relief was found in 2008 in the way of another fine FA Cup run.

Promotion hunting Shrewsbury Town were defeated 3-1 at Croft Park in front of the live TV cameras. They followed that up by drawing away to AFC Bournemouth before seeing them off in the replay through a solitary Ged Dalton goal again in front of a live TV audience. Blackburn Rovers attracted more live TV coverage to Croft Park and left with a narrow 1-0 win.

Dunn left soon after, to be replaced by Mick Tate. He didn't find the league any easier and nor did his replacement Steve Cuggy. It was somewhat inevitable that the struggles would eventually end in relegation, and so it came to pass at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Blyth Spartans will compete in the Northern Premier League Premier Division in the 2013-14 season.

My visit

Friday 2nd October 2008

My club, Scarborough Athletic had been drawn away to Esh Winning in the FA Vase and with me having a long weekend off work I was not going to turn down the opportunity to have a good look around the clubs of the North East.

I travelled up to Newcastle by train the previous day straight after work and stayed at the rather run down resort of Whitley Bay. What it lacked in elegance, it certainly made up with cheap bars full of drinks promotions. I decided it would have been rude not to join in, so I was rather delicate the following morning when I first ventured to bay's Hillheads Park home and then awaited a bus up the coast.

It was a cold and gloomy morning but I loved the adventure of going to new places. I was particularly happy when the bus went within a couple of hundred metres of Croft Park on its way into the town. I was even more impressed when the gates were open giving me a good photo opportunity.

Croft Park was a venue I liked immediately. It had the feel of a proper ground with plenty of good old fashioned terracing and covers. Both ends had similar full length roofs. The Main Stand was once a raised seating deck above some terracing, but it was now all seated to comply with ground requirements. There was flat standing at either side where different buildings housed facilities. Opposite the centre section had a roof over the terracing, with banking at either side of it.

I finished my task and walked to the town centre through many streets lined by terraced houses, That no doubt once housed the hard workers from the coalfields and the port. I found the people in the department store most friendly when I called in for a cuppa before catching a small bus for the interesting ride to my next port of call, Bedlington.

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