Blyth Spartans 0-1 Blackburn Rovers

HAVING made the trip up north from the Ally Pally following Phil Taylor’s humbling of Raymond van Barneveld, I exchanged the self-proclaimed ‘hottest ticket in world sport’ for quite possibly its coldest last night.

Blyth Spartans haven’t seen anything like it since a last-minute Wrexham equaliser from a thrice-taken corner kick robbed the Northern League side of a quarter final home tie against Arsenal back in 1978.

Fitting, then, that denied my semi-regular spot in the Swamp, I decamped to the Kingsway End where a barrel-bellied Northumbrian in a four-foot wide green sombrero belted out Slade numbers at the top of his voice while another passed around a tartan thermos flask brimming with Brown Ale. If someone had have offered me a Spangle, I would’ve barely flinched.

What Blyth lacked in shirt-sleeve length and white shoe leather, they compensated with mascots (all fourteen of them), hard graft and good, old fashioned luck. But for a Chilean’s free kick on the hour, Spartans manager Harry Dunn’s sagacious cup patience might just have sent Blackburn Rovers the same way as Whitby, Buxton, Sheffield FC, Shrewsbury and Bournemouth.

But just as Lancashire hearts quickened and Croft Park dared to believe, an Andrew Wright shot missed a post by the width of a Phil Taylor opening dart at double sixteen and it was Blyth who were left, in Waddellian terms, as sick as a chip.

Blyth Spartans 1-0 AFC Bournemouth

CROFT Park quivered with a mixture of excitement and hypothermia last night, and there were so many people there, they had to put two burger vans on. It was all a bit too much for one of floodlights, leading to a scene which wouldn’t have been out of place in a Buster Keaton flick, as Blyth’s chairman and assorted club blazers scratched their heads whilst peering into a smoking fusebox.

Two second half substitutions swung it Blyth’s way. Bournemouth’s came on to get himself sent off within seconds, while Spartans’ – a 19-year old blessed with the name of a carnival strongman – scored from their only real chance in three hours of trying.

Ged Dalton’s goal couldn’t have been better timed, as floodlight bulbs were starting to pop with alarming frequency. When a second pylon blew, Bournemouth’s players made a vain attempt to get the game abandonded but it was so dark by then, the ref couldn’t see them.

Quite what the fuck Blackburn Rovers are going to make of all this, I have no idea.

Blyth Spartans 3-1 Shrewsbury Town

SITTING third bottom of the Blue Square Northern Conference North Premier (or whatever it’s called), Blyth Spartans have somehow saved their best this year for the FA Cup. Shrewsbury Town never recovered from going a goal down within 30 seconds and, to quote Clive Dunn, they don’t like it up ’em.

Shaun Reay made a name for himself but centre half Richard Pell nutted every kitchen sink and booted the taps into touch. Blyth capitalised on their possession and spent the rest of the game launching Shrewsbury’s beachwards – hugely infuriating to the visitors, as Blyth have only got two match balls.

The game was apparently being broadcast live in the US, so Croft Park’s announcer didn’t waste an opportunity to plug the rock night during a break in play: “Next up at the social club, from 8pm on the November 28th, just £2 on the door: Shovelmouth.”

Blyth Spartans 5-2 Whitby Town

BELIEVE it or not, Spartans took their first step on the road to Wembley last night. Saturday’s first and last minute goals for Whitby Town brought 408 poor souls out for an FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round Replay on a night most locals would’ve rather spent spitting into the hearth between bouts of kicking the dog and barking at the wife (or the other way round).

As if to remind everyone this was a cup tie and it was still only September, one Whitby fan travelled to Blyth in shirt sleeves and a big blue curly wig. He won’t be doing that again.

Within three minutes, Mark Tinkler (yes, that one) had to reshuffle his Whitby back line after a colleague was not only dismissed from the field for a professional foul, but ejected from the ground for an audible lunge on the dressing room door which separated it from its hinges. An hour later, Tinkler took football’s least private early bath for handling on the line.

Between the two dismissals was a committed show from the Northern League side. While Tony Hackworth (yes, that one) inspired Whitby to pass, shoot, chase, foul and brawl like they meant it, Blyth sought the safety of their own half, awkwardly bobbling the ball amongst themselves as if playing on a surface of upturned egg boxes.

In the end, Whitby’s aggression proved to be their undoing, as they took a lead neither ten nor nine men could maintain before Spartans emerged 5-2 victors purely on the basis that, even though it didn’t look like it, for 87 minutes they had more players.

Blyth Spartans 1-1 Newcastle United

AT THIS evening’s Northumberland Senior Cup Final, one particularly stringent challenge – the sort of tackle that prompts the referee to order a shovel for the victim, never mind a stretcher – put Newcastle United’s home support in an accusatory mood. ‘Same old Spartans, always cheating,’ they cried. Clearly, more attention’s paid round here to the bottom of the Conference North than people like to let on.

As if to distract attention from the sight of 50,000 empty seats – not to mention the fact they only had three ballboys and one matchball – they were soon singing four-wins-in-fourteen Kevin Keegan’s praises, forgetting that if KK had his way, they wouldn’t have even been there to sing it in the first place. He was present to hear it as well, watching the self-same stiffs he himself had disbanded over ten years ago and answering occasional requests for a polite wave. My, how they love him. If one of them saw him eating a bowl of soup with a fucking fork, they’d all follow suit.

But it was Blyth that took the lead. An extra time far-post free kick was well and truly non-leagued into the net from six inches via the braising steak stuffed down Andrew Leeson’s sock. As if to prove a point, the same ball was stroked in from 25 yards at the other end a minute later, from the ostrich-leather slipper of another gentleman who goes by the name LuaLua.

Pegged-back and knackered, Blyth were made to feel like they’d outstayed their welcome too, as the hosts shut the bars and switched off the stadium clocks. Then a penalty shoot-out, to the sound of a groundsman impatiently swinging a huge bunch of keys round his finger, saw Spartans sadly miss when it mattered.

Too close for comfort, a fully-replicad up Geordie fattie was dancing – that’s right, dancing – because some players who’ll spend more time tracksuited than even he ever will had won something, and it became abundantly clear that far from being Blyth’s cup final, this was actually theirs.

Accrington Stanley, who are they?

blyth01Once, when they found themselves fundraising to pay the sort of crippling tax bill a less scrupulous chairman would save for a rainy day, Blyth Spartans proudly dubbed themselves ‘The World’s Most Famous Non-League Football Club’.

A blinding mid-seventies FA Cup run brought to an end by a thrice-taken corner kick alloted themselves this brazen claim, one which may shortly be under challenge from overseas.

Of course, we know all about the threat posed by the best-kept secret in world football, and will join the dissident die-hards of Austria Salzburg on June 9th in celebration of perhaps their greatest achievement yet.

svas044Back-to-back batterings of Seeham and SG SSK/BW Salzburg (or Spielgemeinschaft Salzburger Sport Klub von 1919/Blau Weiss Salzburg, as they’re known to their mothers) left the Violet & Whites requiring a single point from four remaining games to secure the title in Austrian football’s seventh tier.

Up in the Bundesliga, the season ended with fascist Governor Jörg Haider’s FC Kärnten buying a berth in the top division, and Red Bull Salzburg’s fans claiming to have won their fourth league title despite only being in existence for two years.

Remember ‘There’s no tradition. There’s no history?’ Well, there’s apparently no shame there, either.