Friday, 25 April 2014

Blyth Spartans - Croft Park


Blyth Spartans FC
Croft Park
Plessey Road
Blyth
Northumberland
NE24 3JE






Ground Number: 363
Monday 21st April 2014
Blyth Spartans 0-7 Whitby Town
NPL Premier


When looking at the Northern League Groundhop, I noted that I had already been to one of the grounds at Spennymoor. Luckily it was the 3PM kick off, so I would have a decent amount of choice. In the end, there were about 4 candidates and chose to take a brief break from the Northern League and head up to Blyth Spartans. They played 2 levels higher and had bags of history, a lot of which I learned from the book '2 wins from Wembley' about their FA Cup run to the 5th Round in 1978.

Blyth Spartans were formed in 1899 but their most famous hour came in the 1977-78 season when they reached the FA Cup 5th Round. They had to battle all the way from the 1st Qualifying Round, beating Shildon, Crook Town, Consett & Bishop Auckland before meeting football league opponents Chesterfield in the 2nd Round. They triumphed 1-0 before beating Enfield by the same scoreline. Then they beat Stoke City who the previous season had been in the top tier of English football. Wrexham were the opponents in the 5th Round and the Welsh side were given a damn good fight, only winning in a replay, played at St James Park, Newcastle, in front of a crowd of over 30,000. They were in the Northern League at the time and a few years earlier had their best ever season in that league. In the 1974-75 season they went the entire year unbeaten, winning 30 out of their 36 games. They made the step up to the NPL in 1994 and won the 1st Division at the first attempt, gaining promotion to the Premier in the process. In 2006 they went a step further, up to the Conference North, where they stayed until 2012, finishing a best ever 7th in 2007. In their first season back in the NPL, they finished 16th, but a vast improvement on that saw them just outside the playoffs at start of play.

Whitby Town were in mid table at the time of kick off and looked to be having a solid if unremarkable season. Like Blyth, they originally played in the Northern League before being promoted in 1997. They too win the NPL Division 1 at the first attempt. Since then they have been in the NPL Premier, finishing a record 4th in 2005. FA Cup wise, they have reached the 2nd Round twice, both in the mid 80's, losing to Wigan Athletic and York City. They got to the final of the FA Amateur Cup in 1965, losing to Hendon, but they did win the FA Vase in 1997, beating North Ferriby United 3-0 at Wembley.


After the Billingham game, I made the 90 minute journey to Blyth. There was around a 15 minute delay around the Tyne Tunnel for some reason. But I was soon on my way and got to Blyth Spartans just before 2. First stop was something to eat. I had seen a chippy when driving up to the ground and so I made my way there. I had Haggis and Chips for £2.70 and it turned out delicious, so I was well pleased with that.

After that, I went into the ground and visited the club shop. They had a sale on so I bought a pack of 4 air fresheners, a pen and a drawstring bag for £3. I then went to the bar for a pint of Strongbow before going and taking some pictures of the ground.


The Whitby fans were in great voice, but the miserable Blyth stewards poked their nose in where they could, confiscating the away fans megaphone. Apart from that though, everyone at the club was great and it was a really decent ground, certainly good enough for the Conference Premier and nicer than some in the league. Blyth were dire and it was hard to believe that they were so close to the playoffs, such was the mid table visitors dominance. One Blyth fan was not such a good loser, telling the Whitby manager to f**k off until he was confronted and forced to apologise by the said man in charge! Below is a match report from the Blyth Spartans Website....

The curtain was brought down on Spartans home season as an under-strength side were thrashed by a rampant Whitby Town. Prolific finishing from the likes of former Spartans Craig Farrell, Lee Mason and Graeme Armstrong ensured Darren Williams’ side completed the league double after their 2-1 Boxing Day win at the Turnbull Ground.
Ahead of tomorrow night’s Northumberland Senior Cup Final Tom Wade took the chance to rest several players to help deal with the task of playing a second game in two days. Full debuts were handed to goalkeeper Niall Harrison and centre back Ross Phillips whilst midfielder Ryan Hutchinson was given a full debut after appearing as a substitute in the draw at Matlock Town two weeks ago.
Harrison was soon into the action on five minutes as he denied Kevin Burgess from point blank range. From the resulting corner the debutant could do nothing as Tom Portas struck an impressive volley as he met a Lee Mason corner and made a difficult chance look easy. Spartans gradually found their feet and Shane Bland was tested by Paul Robinson and Ash Davis in quick succession but was up to the challenge saving well from both.
Nine minutes before the half time whistle the visitors doubled their lead from the penalty spot. Graeme Armstrong was played in on goal and was adjudged to have been tripped by Harrison. His fellow former Spartans striker Craig Farrell stepped up and produced a clinical finish from the spot crashing into Harrison’s top right hand corner. Two became three on the stroke of half time as Armstrong got in on the act producing a calm finish from ten yards after Ian Watson had blocked his first effort.
Six minutes into the second half and another former Spartan got on the scoresheet. Lee Mason scored the goal of the game as he smashed a twenty yard left footed volley that flew just inside the near post. Ross Phillips almost grabbed a debut goal for Spartans as he met a Paul Robinson corner but could only head over the bar at the far post.
Joe Kendrick came close with twenty minutes left as he linked up with Arran Wearmouth but the left back could only fire into the side netting from a narrow angle. Just a minute later Town has their fifth as Farrell’s neat flick found substitute Adam Rundle and the winger curled an effort from the edge of the box that Harrison got a hand to but couldn’t prevent it sailing into his far corner.
Dan Maguire and Dean Holmes linked up with five minutes on the clock but couldn’t get Spartans on the scoresheet. Holmes was sent in on goal from Maguire but saw his low effort saved well by Bland. Two late goals for the visitors put the seal on a miserable day for Spartans with Farrell and Armstrong both getting their second goals.
A Snaith cross from the left dropped perfectly for Farrell who rolled home from eight yards and then as the game entered injury time Armstrong headed home from around the same distance from a Zak Bogey cross from the left.
I was really surprised at the margin of the score, even taking into account the players being rested, it should not have been that big. In any case, the reason was because of having 2 games in 2 days, which isn't the greatest of ideas by the fixture planners. In that game, they lost 4-0 to Newcastle United U21's, so they did at least improve, even if they lost in the end. It had been the biggest scoreline I had seen since Wycombe had lost by the same scoreline at home to Shrewsbury Town in 2008. After the game, it was off to my final game of my time away, at Newton Aycliffe.

CROFT PARK is a great stadium for the NPL Premier and would most probably be OK for the Conference Premier. The only seated area is elevated above the pitch and has a capacity of just over 500. The other 3 sides are covered terraces, with a total capacity of 4500.

The club shop was excellent with a wide range of items at good prices. The bar was very smart, though only had Strongbow on tap, but it did the job all the same. I didn't use the tea bar, but there is a cracking chippy a few minutes walk away, so I'd recommend going there.


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