On Saturday Blyth Spartans new manager Tommy Cassidy didn’t know if he was coming or going.
He’d been down to be a Guest of Honour at Newcastle United’s home tie with Swansea but having been appointed by Blyth late in the previous week he had to rearrange things as the Spartans were due to take on Altrincham on the same afternoon. But in the morning the game at Croft Park was called off due to a frozen pitch and the 61 year old Northern Ireland international then needed to make tracks to a hastily arranged training session.
Nevertheless the former Newcastle and Burnley midfielder was only concerned about his new side’s postponed fixture.
“I was dreading the game being off,” he said. “I really wanted it on so I could take a good look at the players. I need time to assess them. Some may say they are not good enough but I want to give them a chance”.
Lying at the foot of the Blue Square North the Spartans faced a perilous future going in to 2012 and the club’s Board reacted to the scenario by parting company with former boss Steve Cuggy and appointing Cassidy who has extensive knowledge of football not just the professional game but at non league level too. The Irishman managed Workington for six successful seasons then Blue Star and latterly, until earlier this season, Whitby.
He intends to use his contacts in the game in his new role.
“I know John Carver at Newcastle well and I used to play with Martin O’Neill for Northern Ireland,” he said.
He is clear about his overriding aim.
“It’s to stay in this league,” he commented. “12 points out of 60 to date is not good enough. It will be a really hard job to escape relegation but I’ve come to Blyth to give it a go. From what I’ve seen after two training sessions we may have the players here to do what we need to do. I’ve noticed a lot of good points but I know, from experience, that some players can be brilliant during the week in training but the opposite on match days. The reverse can also be true – take Malcolm McDonald in my days t St. James’ Park for example, he was rubbish Monday to Friday and then go out and score hatricks!”
With time being of the essence Cassidy has taken a direct approach to getting to the root of Blyth’s problems.
“I’ve pulled five or six of the more senior players to one side and asked them for their opinions on why the club is doing so badly. It’s been a useful exercise and has given me some pointers”.
While time is of the essence pragmatism is too, certainly regarding the style of play that is needed to ensure league survival.
A self deprecating Cassidy commented: “I couldn’t run as a player but I do believe it is important to pass the ball and play good football. While I’m no fan of the Stoke City approach what we need now are points and if we have to play what some might call ‘rubbish football’ to get those points then so be it”.
The new boss is well versed in the history of Blyth Spartans and what it means to the fans and the north east of England.
“Over the years the club has been one of the biggest in the area both in terms of national success and profile and, at the non league level, in attracting healthy crowds,” he said. “Blyth played Wrexham at St. James’ in the fifth round replay in the FA Cup when I was a player there in 1978.
“I went to the players parking area that evening after negotiating the traffic – I thought there must have been an accident – only for the regular attendant to tell it was full, as was the ground with a 42.000 crowd! I was also at the FA cup game at home to Blackburn Rovers a couple of yours ago. The Spartans are a big name and I know that if we were in the top six of the Blue Square North never mind a league above then we would be getting gates of around 1000”.
Ironically Cassidy’s first two games at Blyth will be against Workington who he managed from 2001 till 2007. However the first of the two – on Boxing Day in Cumbria, will see him sitting in the stands as he must serve a touchline ban carried over from his time with Whitby”.
“I did not agree with referee in a game there,” he smiled. One senses there is more to the story.
“I still have a lot of friends at Workington,” he continued. “I have a great relationship with so many of them at the club. Leaving them to join Blue Star was the worst decision I ever made. So I’m looking forward to Boxing Day and will be hoping to secure a win for Blyth. In my time there we always beat the Spartans so now I need to turn things around the other way!”
In the meantime Cassidy is moving to bring through further changes: the Croft Park pitch which he describes as ‘terrible ‘ and needing significant work doing being one while he also believes that the time spent on the training ground needs to be longer.
“Two hours a week is not enough,” he said. “We need more like three or four hours and we need to work more outdoors. Training is obviously important and I like to make sessions varied and enjoyable. I don’t want players shrugging their shoulders and rolling their eyes after training. They need to look forward to it and a good session helps team spirit”.
Cassidy intends to work with the club’s Sports Scientist Anna Wilkie this week on fitness monitoring.
Coach Gavin Fell and goalkeeping coach Carl King are still at the club after Cuggy’s departure.
The home Workington fixture is on January 2nd at 3.00pm.