Chairman: Tony Platten
Nickname: The Spartans, Green Army
Facebook: Blyth Spartans
Stadium: Croft Park
Capacity: 4,130 (530 Seated)
THE MANAGER: Michael Nelson
Michael Nelson had initially joined Blyth Spartans in February 2020 as a player, becoming player-manager a week later after Lee Clark departed the club. Nelson has gained valuable experience in management during his player career, embracing roles at different clubs whilst acting as a player such as Under-23’s coach at Barnet, Assistant manager at Barnet, player-coach at Gateshead and player-assistant manager at Stevenage. As a player, Nelson has experienced a successful career. Starting his career in the lower reaches of the football pyramid, turning out for Spennymoor Town, Leek Town and Bishop Auckland, before Nelson went on to sign for Bury. He then moved to Hartlepool United making over 250 appearances for the club. The defender sealed a move to Norwich after catching the eye for Pools, where he scored the decisive goal to earn Norwich the chance to move back to the Championship. Nelson also has Scunthorpe United, Kilmarnock, Bradford City, Hibernian, Cambridge United, Barnet, Chesterfield and Gateshead, amongst his CV.
CLUB CAPTAIN: Simon Heslop
The Spartans captain Simon Heslop has been with the club since the beginning of the 2020/21 season. Heslop began his career at Barnsley, progressing through the youth ranks and going to secure his first professional contract with the club in 2005. Whilst on the books at Barnsley, Heslop experienced a series of loans before being released in 2010. Shortly after his release, the midfielder signed for League Two’s Oxford United. He made 102 appearances for the U’s, scoring nine goals. He eventually departed Oxford and made the switch to Stevenage. Heslop went on to represent Mansfield Town, Torquay United and Wrexham before signing for his local club York City prior to 2016/17, where he captained the club as they beat Macclesfield Town at Wembley in 2017 to win the FA Trophy. He was loaned to Eastleigh in 2017, and left York in 2019 to join Boston United in February 2020 which was his last club before signing for Blyth Spartans.
MEET THE OPPOSITION: Blyth Spartans was founded in 1899, and played friendly games only until joining the East Northumberland League in 1901. Their first recorded honour was a league success in 1901 following a league victory, which then followed in 1905/06 and 1906/07. The club then moved to the Northern Alliance for six seasons, before joining the North Eastern League in 1913 where they remained until 1958. The Spartans joined the Northern League in 1964, and they won the championship 10 times, being runners up in 5 different occasions before the club were keen to rise up in the league pyramid ending up gaining promotion to the Northern Premier League in 1993/94. The Green Army won their first season in the NPL First Division, and then earned promotion to the Conference North in 2005/06 under Harry Dunn. The club experienced a setback being relegated back to the Northern Premier League, but they returned to the National League North in 2016/17 under Alun Armstrong where they now remain.
The Spartans have had a less favourable run of results recently having only managed to gain 1 point from 5 fixtures. The Coasters will be The Spartan’s first fixture of 2021, as they have seen their first two games postponed this month. After suffering losses to Kettering Town, Boston United, Brackley Town and Darlington – Blyth will be hoping to turn the tide at Mill Farm.
ONES TO WATCH: Aaron Cunningham
The young defender is currently in his third spell with Blyth Spartans after re-joining on a season long loan this past October from Hartlepool United. Cunningham has been a key player for Blyth in defence, and as a player with a lot of potential who looks up to Hartlepool United legend Michael Nelson, he’s been a valuable member of the Spartans. The 22-year-old exciting defender has come through the ranks at Hartlepool United making his debut for the first team in the 2017/18 season, making a total of 16 National League appearances in that season. He has now accumulated 30 appearances for Blyth over his three spells with the club, scoring twice.
Talented midfielder Liam Agnew was somewhat of a coup signing for Blyth Spartans as the Green Army had to fight off competition to secure his services for the season. Agnew and Nelson had played together for Gateshead, and that played a part in bringing Agnew into the club. The 25-year-old midfielder came through the youth ranks at Sunderland and made his debut for the club as an 87th minute substitute in a 3-1 FA Cup win against Fulham. Agnew was the U21 captain at Sunderland, but was released in 2016 moving to Boston United who he’d previously been on loan with in 2014. He became Boston United’s captain, but suffered a foot injury in his last season that left him out for the rest of the season. In January 2017, Agnew moved on to Harrogate Town, where he was a regular throughout the 2018/19 season. During his time with Harrogate he was also loaned to Boston United once more, as well as York City. He also spent a season with Gateshead making 31 appearances before finally joining Blyth Spartans.
The tricky midfielder has been with Blyth Spartans since joining on loan from Gateshead with the goal of increasing his game time. O’Donnell established himself as a fan favourite at the Heed as he has been with Gateshead for seven seasons having initially joined the club on loan from Luton Town. He is notorious amongst Gateshead fans for his goal against Grimsby Town which sent the Tynesiders to the National League Play-Off Final in 2014 with a 94th minute goal. O’Donnell suffered from a rare foot condition which threatened an early retirement for two seasons, but he made his return in 2017 and with his determination and hard-working attitude the midfielder went on to become Gateshead’s top goal scorer, and Fans’ Player of the Season in 2019/20. The talented midfielder will be one of the Green Army’s main threats.
McKay is a recent addition to Nelson’s squad having only just arrived on a one-month loan deal from Chesterfield, so we are yet to see what impact McKay could have for the Spartans. However, the 24-year-old forward has experienced an interesting career and his physicality and pace will definitely be an addition to the Blyth Spartans team which could be a threat to the Coasters. Glasgow-born McKay started his career at Doncaster Rovers coming through the youth ranks and making his first team debut in 2014. He then went on loan with Ilkeston before leaving Doncaster to join Leeds United for an undisclosed fee. Whilst with Leeds he was loaned out to Scottish League One side Airdrieonians. He then signed for Cardiff City joining Chesterfield on loan, a club he’d end up signing for permanently in 2019. The forward could be playing his first game for the Spartans this Saturday, as Paul Blackett has been recalled by Gateshead, and it could be interesting to witness how the talented forward can benefit the Blyth Spartans squad.