“On a bright November day in 1977 I was visiting my grandparents along with my Mam, Dad and two brothers. They lived on Broadway in Blyth and you could see Croft Park from their house. At the time I had never been to a Blyth game before, and while the adults chatted in the front room I would sit in the back room listening to my uncle’s old records – Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky and countless Beatles hits were the order of the day. This particular day my Dad and Grandfather were going to a Blyth F.A. Cup game. They asked if I wanted to come along, and I of course jumped at the chance as it was more preferable to listening to the same old records again. The other alternative was the horse racing or wrestling on the TV, neither of which appealed to me. No, this day I said I would go to the match. They were playing a team I had not even heard of, Burscough, in the First Round proper of the Cup”, said Malcolm Stephenson, the columnist behind regular programme favourite View from the Terrace. He continued: “I didn’t know then that day would change my life forever and eventually spread the name of Blyth Spartans nationwide.
“After the game, I too jumped on the bandwagon of success. I watched the next game against Chesterfield and got caught up the excitement of the Cup. Spartans were on a roll. However, I was disappointed when they drew Enfield in the next round instead of a big club. That day against Enfield I instead went to see Carlisle United in their F.A. Cup match with Manchester United. Those of you who know me will recollect I used to live over there and initially grew to first enjoy football watching the Cumbrians.
“I travelled to Stoke for the Fourth Round but the coach had to turn around, when only 20 miles away, as the game was off due to the rain. I was gutted to miss the game on the Monday down there at Stoke, but overjoyed at the same time as we eventually won 3-2 after coming from behind.
“Wrexham were up next and I won’t go through the old story there. Blyth fans were in the firm belief we were going to beat them, such was the growing quality of the team, and it was a grand sight to see a convoy of 80 coaches leave Blyth heading for Wales. It was even better to hear the voice of 5000 Blyth fans cheer the team on!
“To this day I feel that Blyth were cheated out of a win. The referee did not do much better in the replay, when he gave a penalty for practically nothing. The rest, as you say, is history.”
Malcolm was left devastated by Spartans’ elimination from the cup, especially after inadvertently becoming a member of the Green Army. He said: “Like thousands of others I jumped on the bandwagon. But somehow I had forgot to get off and have followed Blyth ever since. When I’m at the likes of Frickley Athletic on a rainy Tuesday night for a Spartans game I sometimes wonder what happened to everyone else from those days.”
Since then he has followed Blyth home and away, on occasion spending hundreds of pounds to watch Spartans up and down the country, always hoping for another cup run and learning that fairytales do not come along often.
On the topic of his favourite players Stephenson observed: “As is the nature of Non League football, many players over the years have come and gone. The magical F.A. Cup side are now Spartans legend. In later years I admired Paul Walker, Nigel Walker, Tony Macfadden and Dave Buchanan. Whereas Steve Pyle and Richie Bond were great players, Steve Cuggy used to rattle in the goals and Mark Todd and Willie “Bus Pass” Moat were cracking players. He used to frighten me just watching his tackles but you could never fault Glen Robson for enthusiasm.”
After a conversation with a ground-hopping Carlisle fan many years ago, Malcolm caught the bug and has since been to every ground in England and Scotland to take in a game. Talking about his achievement, he said: “It took about 10 years to meet my goal, at Watford in 1989. It was a great feeling of self satisfaction to achieve a long-awaited goal. I completed the Scottish grounds in 1994 at Dundee United, the Conference Nationwide at Hednesford in 1996 and the Conference South at Braintree in 2010. The Conference North I had completed with watching Blyth. Every season I keep up to date with any new grounds at these seven steps, plus Scotland. I have completed nearly 500 visits to grounds and I believe I am the first, and only, member of the Green Army to do this.”
Since following Spartans’ cup run Malcolm has developed a real passion not just for Blyth, but for Non League football, and if offered the best seat for a Premier League game or the chance to visit a new ground, it would be the latter option every time.
“For me, Shaw Lane Aquaforce V Appleby Frodingham in the North East Counties League would take precedence over Manchester United V Liverpool any day of the week. I’m not a fan of the Premier League as it is, to me at least, not British football. It’s saturated with foreign players and I think it has to be having an effect on our national side, only time can tell how we will fare at at the World Cup, which is less than 50 days away.
“Anyway, back to Blyth. These past few seasons I have worked in the Sponsors Lounge on match days and to paraphrase John F Kennedy, ‘…ask not what your club can do for you but what you can do for your club’, as after years of watching Blyth I wanted to put something back into the club and this was the job I wanted when it came along.” In addition to his work in the Sponsors Lounge Malcolm has penned a regular column in the club’s official programme, providing his honest views on all things Blyth, and issues from the wider footballing world, in the popular View from the Terrace.
Reflecting on the club’s top half finish, when many had predicted a potential relegation scrap for the new look Spartans side, Malcolm said: “This season I think Tom has done a fantastic job with the team. There’s no doubt we have an exceptionally young side that is full of promise, and most importantly very exciting to watch, that will only get better in the future.
“My personal high points of the season start with our first win of the campaign, just three days after the opening fixture at Marine, when we beat Trafford 2-1 at Croft Park. Both Craig Hubbard and Dan Maguire have scored quick fire hat-tricks during the season and witnessing them was as exciting for the fans as it must have been for the players themselves! Our home for has been exceptional, beating both Chorley and Skelmersdale at Croft Park were massive results for the team. In addition, we put on sterling displays against both FC United of Manchester and AFC Fylde even though the games ended in defeat. Finally, it’s fantastic to see the level of support for the club, the amount of fans that turn up at our matches, and it is special when they make their voices heard.
“Following Blyth Spartans has given me a reason to get up and go to work each day, as I can look forward to the match on the Saturday. Over the years I have made countless friends and acquaintances at the club, but what really makes me proud is to see players wanting to don the green and white strips. Players who have a fierce desire to represent our club. Blyth Spartans, arguably one of the best Non League clubs in the world.”