Fan Q&A – Mark ‘Porky’ Walker

As a younger man, what was it about Spartans that got you hooked?

I started going with my Dad, I have no idea how old I was when I first went and im sure I didn’t pay much attention to the football at first, but I started to watch more and more. I can remember the smells back then too, deep heat and burgers was all you could smell in the ground. I think Stockport away (FA Cup) is when I got really switched on, the whole experience got me hooked. I used to be dragged along and then I wanted to go!! I drifted away in my late teens and moved out of the area, I always used to look out for the results and talk to my Dad about how they were doing would make it to one or two games at Croft Park a year. I used to take in the odd away game in the North West and used to go to the odd Newcastle away game too, even though I never cared about Newcastle I went to meet up with some mates for a day out on the beer. When I moved back to Blyth going back to Croft Park was just a natural thing to do, at the time there was a really welcoming atmosphere and it was also the start of a good spell on the pitch too, from then onwards it became the normal thing to do!!

You’ll obviously be known to many as the former landlord of the Masons Arms (now 10 years free if the place). What’s your favourite Spartans related memories from your time in charge of the place?

There were some good days of banter with teams like Gateshead and Nuneaton, I have mates who follow Nuneaton and those games always got messy, a couple of the lads just didn’t bother getting back on their coach one day and stayed for the rest of the weekend!! But it has to be the whole 08/09 cup run. Starting with the Shrewsbury game it all went a bit crazy for a while, from lockins to the local news trying to broadcast from inside the pub. Those games were busier then it used to get for Newcastle Vs Sunderland which just showed the love for the team in the town, I just wish they made that effort more often. It came to an end on the morning of the 6th of January when one sun came up one of the last people to leave was the late Anth Lowther, he had been dancing on the seats as if we had won all night!! I was physically and emotionally broken when that run ended, it took me a few weeks to recover.

What would you say it takes to run a successful pub? As most of the lads reckon they could do a canny job running one after about 5 pints.

Most important, look after the beer, keep the place clean and tidy and good staff. After that you need to keep changing with he times, stand still and you find the crowd has moved on and you have to fight to get them back.

Favourite moments from following Spartans away over the years?

The first outing of Harrys Tache at Marine was special thinking back now, me and Dixon had been secretly making it for weeks and didn’t know how it was going to turn out, everyone loved it, it even went on to have its own website. The Setanta shield game at Staybridge was fun. The female presenter wanted to interview the tache live during the game so we said yes, and gave her some advice about what to ask the tache, she ignored us and the following interview was a proper car crash as Fitch didn’t even know the score at the time and she just look confused by the whole thing. The naming of the bull didn’t seem to important at the time but when the club and other clubs started using as a term of endearment it always made me laugh, it had nothing to do with his size or playing style, lets face it he was awful, we had seen enough to figure that out after a few pre season games, during a match up in Edinburgh Dixon declared if he scored he was going on the pitch to ride the bull, well the ball went in off his arse so Dixon jumped the fence and rode the bull…….. Bournemouth away has to be the highlight, we arrived in Bournemouth around 1030 on the Friday morning and didn’t get back till around 2300 on the Sunday where we obviously had a lock in at the Masons…… the game it self was amazing on and off the pitch, there stewards really didn’t know what to make of us and I doubt they have seen a draw celebrated int hat way before as we knew we would win the reply at Croft Park.

Give is your all time Spartans XI and why?

GK Adam Bartlett, there have been some real contrasting goalkeepers at the club in my time, they should have either been playing at a much higher level or wouldn’t get a game in the alliance. Barts is the best out of some really good options here for me.

RB Gareth ‘Cheeks’ Williams, great servant for the club, fast and committed, he really needed his speed when Snowdon was about!!

LB Andrew Leeson, ever present when we won the NPL, amazing season.

CB Richard Foster, Strong and no messing about.

CB Wayne Buchanan, solid defender, I think he was unlucky to play for us in the period he did.

CM Chris McCabe, proper midfielder, did the dirty work then bombed forward, lethal on the end of a corner!! Also every team needs a chef!

CM Stephen Turnbull, that freekick was the icing on the cake, his vison and ability to split a defence was great!

LW Rob Dale, no explanation needed

RW Richie Bond, loved being the entertainer but could get stuck in when needed, it was never boring with him around

CF Dan Maguire, looked too small, didn’t think he would cut it, yep, I was wrong. Amazing goal scoring record.

CF Steve Pyle, used to love watching him as a kid, knew how to put the ball in the net!!

Back in the Summer of 2008 you won a raffle to become a member of the squad, what do you remember about that?

I can’t remember the details of the draw, who did it, where the money went etc. But I was listed on the website as a utility player. We went to William hill around 9am in Bournemouth on the day of the game (drunk) and I was listed in the first goalscorer betting they had just gone off the website, I was about 5/6 favourite to score for us. The lass behind the counter didn’t know what to make of us telling her and taking the piss, so we stuck a few quid on just to claim the stake back when I didn’t play…. At the end of that season we played a charity game against a Hollyoaks eleven. I played up front with Ritchie Bond. Didn’t score and was shit as you would expect.

You’ve followed England around a fair bit in the past, what’s your favourite away trip you’ve done so far?

Germany world cup 2006, what a road trip, three lads (Me, Dixon and Turton) a Peugeot 206 and a shitty old tent, we may have only been there for one game (England lost) but what a few days. We nearly took the tache but it was pointed out to us it looked a bit like Hitler so that may have been pushing our luck. Camped in the equivalent of Ridley Park which the hosts set up for us as there was loads of English there, beer and burger vans it was great. In all seriousness the Germans were great hosts, they must have hated us English but didn’t show it. We even had a few pints with Richie Bond who spotted outr flag so wandered over. Singing 10 German bombers in park in the early hours with a group of Germans was just strange!! I went to Switzerland away with my dad and the coach broke down, we only arrived 30 mins before kick off and saw none of the city but it was still a great trip, he never wanted to go again, no idea why. Seeing us win away against Germany, Scotland, Wales (twice) and Argentina were all great trips too!! Bumped into loads of Stoke fans with England which always started a good bit of banter!!

Speaking of England, reckon we’ve got a chance against the French on Saturday?

Yes, knock out football you always have a chance, I think we can trouble them going forward but they can also hurt us, I think a lot will hinge on how Kyle Walker copes with Mbappe, if we can limit him we will win!!

Lastly, how would you like to see the club improve in the near future and what changes would you like to see?

I think we need to do more with the wider community, get players into schools and junior teams for coaching and involve them more. I love Colin and Gillian in the club but wish they could invest a bit more, more, better TVs, speakers, screens and get people in earlier and keep them later on match days. I think off the pitch there needs to be more openness about what is happening in the club. An update and relaunch to the 1899 club would be welcome too!! On the pitch I think we are heading in the right direction, Fen isn’t going to turn us into a top half team over night but if we stay up this season we will kick on next season.