The geography of football can make for a strange landscape. The Blue Square North, for one, reflects this.
Blyth Spartans travel over 8,000 miles each season, across moors and down dales, encountering the sloughs of despair and the high mountains of exuberance which, in fact, all football fans can experience on their football journey.
This weekend the Spartans manager Mick Tait was musing over the physical and population geography in relation to the town of Blyth – which hosts the most northerly Blue Square club and which is located on the Northumberland coast.
Tait’s remit this season was to avoid a relegation scrap. This looks much more probable after a return to form following the enforced winter break. However he is thinking longer term and is seeking to strengthen his squad over the remainder of this campaign and into the next.
But geography is against him.
“The player pool is limited for us at our level. There is nothing to the west, north or east of us so we can only source players in the belt to the south and down as far as Teesside” he said.
It’s true that west is the Tyne Valley and north is rural Northumberland – both boasting more cows and sheep than people. It’s unknown in the annals of the game for livestock to make it on to a manager’s team-sheet , although the occasional ‘donkey’ has done. To the east the North Sea offers almost as few options with Viz comic’s Billy the Fish providing the only possible catch.
On Saturday Blyth’s travel through the geography of these isles took them across the Pennines to the west coast to take on Southport in a League fixture. It resulted in a 3-2 defeat for the Northumbrians as well as a visiting boss seething with rage.
Tait is a benign and gracious character who, after the final whistle, calmly walked on to the pitch to shake his players’ hands after a steely showing, but then displayed his exasperation by forcefully explaining his thoughts to the referee about the latter’s performance and the decisions he gave which, in Tait’s opinion, changed the game adversely in terms of the outcome for Blyth.
“I couldn’t believe some of the things going on out there,” said Tait.
“We took the lead with a good counter attack involving Paul Brayson and Ian Graham with Graham finishing well but Southport’s headed equaliser should never have been allowed as Mark Bell in our goal was clearly blocked when trying to come for the catch allowing Davis a free header. What makes it worse is that I’d already been calling to the ref, as had my players, on several occasions that this had been happening.”
Southport took the lead four minutes before half time with a well-worked goal from Simm but Brayson equalised within three minutes of the restart from close range.
Tait’s fury was rekindled when on 76 minutes Ian Graham burst through and a Southport defender handled the ball with the referee awarding only a freekick.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Tait said. “It was clearly the last man who deliberately handled the ball. It was said later that Graham was too far from goal for it to have been a goal-scoring opportunity if he’d got away. I don’t recall any rule to that effect! Their player should have been off the pitch – plain and simple.”
Tait’s blood pressure was again dangerously high when the home side went ahead once more with nine minutes remaining, Simm scoring again.
“Chris McCabe, cutting out a cross field ball knocked the ball off one of their players and it fell right into the path of Simm who could hardly miss. But it was offside by a mile, their player having put it through. I tried talking to the assistant referee but he would have none of it!”
However Tait was able to take many positives from the game.
“We battled well showing great spirit and playing some decent football at times. The lads were 100% committed and we deserved at least one point if not all three.
“We had some good chances but failed to take them.”
Blyth’s style of play was a little different than of late with the defence often trying to get the ball upfield early to Brayson who was preying on the Southport defenders, waiting to pounce on a ball over the top or being able to spin away.
Tait explained the subtle change of emphasis adroitly.
“Sometimes we have to play scruffy. It’s a balance between keeping the ball and knowing when to release it which we need to be a bit better with but on Saturday it was pretty good. Sometimes we need to play less ‘nice’ football and more ‘dangerous’ football.”
Striker Guy Bates, a former Newcastle United player, who has been playing in Ireland came on for the final 15 minutes replacing Robbie Dale who was suffering from a thigh strain and is doubtful for Tuesday’s home game with Harrogate Town at Croft Park. Tait knows Guy from their time together at Darlington and thinks the 24 year old will be an asset once he returns to match fitness – the Irish season having finished in November.
Although one player has joined Blyth another may be leaving this week with midfielder Mark Doninger having been offered terms by Sligo Rovers.
Although in no hurry to appoint a successor to assistant Adam Saddler Tait will continue to extend his compass in terms of player recruitment despite the adverse geography.
Blyth are at home to Stafford Rangers this Saturday, kick off 3.00pm.