Fan Q&A | Craig Nicholson | July 2024

For our latest Fan Q&A, we speak to longtime Spartans Juniors coach and wine enthusiast Craig Nicholson about wine (surprisingly), Robbie Dale and coaching in the local community.

Craig, it’s been a rough season. How would you sum up the last 12 months or so?

Buxton at home probably sums the season up for me…. We got a great win which was massively thanks to a player on loan, Siziba, scoring twice and starting to look like he would be really effective for us and the atmosphere was buzzing and we looked good.

The following game at Peterborough Sports (which I drove to) Siziba is back from his loan, Gardiner looks the best ive ever seen him in that match and he goes off injured. Then Peterborough score in the 98th minute with a punt from miles out to get a draw when they were down to 10 men! Just when we thought we were improving we got smacked back down…..

What would you say your favourite moments of the season were, and which parts made you neck copious amounts of wine to get over it?

Ill start with the worst….. Darlo at home. Seeing a crowd favourite like Cedric playing against us was rubbish and Matty Cornish scoring a long range stunner just tipped the atmosphere into something canny toxic but I understand the fans frustration.

Highlight on the season is difficult as there have been so many lows so id have to say Scunthorpe away BEFORE we got to the ground! Quickly went down hill when we got there! The fact that the “pub was nice” before the game being one of the highlights of the season probably best sums up the season!

What would you say you love most about a Spartans matchday, and what keeps you coming back? 

It’s a cliché but matchday is when the community comes together. I love traditions and a matchday is a wonderful tradition. I used to come to matches when I was a kid but then had a gap when I had a season ticket at Newcastle for 20 odd years but my boys got me coming back down to Croft Park and this has become our family tradition.

Most folks know my Mam and Dad (Linda and Bob), who also come every game and its become a wider family tradition. Ive lived in Blyth all my life and I love seeing folks down at the game, many of which ive known for 30 or more years. I just love it when folks get together.

I know sometimes having mascots from Juniors is a pain when they are shaking their buckets and asking for spare change but I see the flipside first hand. Ive loved seeing so many young Spartans Juniors kids coming to Croft Park. For the vast majority its their first time there. For loads they will only have been there when we hold our annual club presentation there so it’s their first experience of a matchday.

I get the feedback form the coaches and I know how much they love it. Soaking up the atmosphere, walking out with players, getting their photos taken, having a kick about on the pitch, getting chase off by Peter with his pitchfork….. ha ha. We really appreciate everyone making the kids feel welcome. Ive seen loads of them come back for matches after being mascots. I like to think it’s a small part of us helping to grow a new generation of families who come down and build their own new traditions as part of the Green Army.

You’ve obviously been involved with the Juniors for some time now, can you tell us a bit about what you do and what your proudest achievements are so far? 

First and foremost I coach both my boys teams. Alec is in u14 Whites and Lucas is in u16 Stripes. Both canny players in canny teams. Helping run both teams takes up a fair bit of my time but its worth every moment. Im in my 11th year coaching kids and hope to be doing it long after my boys finish. My other role is on the Committee. That’s probably got two roles, firstly its to try to liaise and link with as much of the community as I can. We try to be a part of things going on in the community and if we can use our assets and social media reach to help in any way we will.

Raising a grand for Blyth Community Food Bank or donating Easter eggs to Engage in the Community are typical of what we try to do. The other bit of my roll is chief bid writer. The biggest one was helping to get the funding for our 3G. I wasn’t the main player on that, by far, but it was great to play a part in getting that funding and seeing it become a reality. I was really proud of that but I know we are only scratching the surface of the greater good we can do in the future. We are always trying to link with folks who need help. Whether that’s individuals or groups. We know there is so much more we can do and we will try our best to do it.

In the coming years, what are you looking to accomplish with the Juniors? 

Juniors isn’t just a football club for me. It’s a community asset. We come into contact with hundreds of young people every week but the same number of siblings, parents, grandparents, guardians, uncles, aunties and everyone else. Yes we have ambitions to produce the best young footballers and I try to do my bit alongside all of the other coaches but I want the Club to be a power for good in the community.

We have grown massively in a pretty short space of time and we now have tonnes of girls playing for us now that we didn’t have previously. If we are providing opportunities for kids at all abilities to enjoy playing football but also producing players with enough quality to make good progress in adult football then that would be the goal for me.  

Who would say was your top 3 favourite Spartans and why? 

I wont say Sir Robert as he STILL hasn’t accepted my facebook friend request! When I watched Spartans as a kid we had Pyler and Bondy up front so ill have to go for Steve Pyle. Great goal scorer and cracking player. Second one would be Nippa. Loved the way two giant centre backs couldn’t get the ball off him! For my third one im gona pick a non-player….. Peter Henderson! People like Peter are the heartbeat of the Club. Im not sure how to define what a “Spartan” is but im pretty sure hes it!

Greatest match you ever attended and why? 

Hereford at home end of 22/23 season when we hammered them, stayed up and partied in the Clubhouse afterwards. I remember taking a video of everyone celebrating and I love watching it back. It’s a hint of what we could have if this club can get it right…. Imagine proper good times…. On a regular basis!!! Oh my days!!!

What is your favourite wine by the way?

Ah that would be a sparkling rose pinot grigio. It’s a flexible wine, suitable for any occasion and a perfect partner to an overly stacked plate of Chinese takeway. Alas currently unavailable at the Clubhouse…

Lastly, we obviously have a new ownership group in and chairman. What are your hopes for the season and what would be one bit of advice you would like to give them?

Make the most of your community around the Club! That’s my advice. Owners come and go. Club culture, history, traditions, heritage remain. All of these things are created by the community around the Club. The community is made up of volunteers, paid staff, supporters.

Do your best to get these people on board. Take them on the journey with you. I had years of Newcastle under Ashley and its torture when everyone isn’t in it together. Lets get people engaged. Build something with the community. If you can do that it will be bigger and better than you dared to dream it could be.