Harry’s last XI – 15 years on

15 years ago today, Hall of fame manager Spartans legend Harry Dunn managed Blyth Spartans for the final time. Following a second relegation battle on the trot, the executive committee elected not to offer Sir Harry a new deal, despite him leading the club to the 3rd round of the FA Cup during his final season in charge.

Over 150 Blyth fans made the trip down Burscough on the final day of the 2008/09 Blue Square North season to celebrate Harry’s reign and have quite the piss up! With around 100 traveling down on Martin Hunter and Ian Burt’s busses, most of the lads ended up in the The Bridge and The Old Packet House on the canal before the game for a few hours of fun.

At half time in the Burscough’s club, there was even an ‘opera off’ between a few Blyth fans. I honestly don’t have the words to sum it up, so here’s the video evidence…

Despite Burscough already being relegated, Harry wanted to go out with a bang, and arguably put out his strongest possible side – minus Gary Brown and Anthony Shandran who were suspended.

Instead they spent the entire second half getting pissed with Fred Wyres in the clubhouse, which given how Spartans played in that first half was probably a wise move. Alex Gildea also missed this game, as did Stuart Banks.

Blyth started the game off rather slowly, going 1-0 down early on in what was an incredibly dull first half of football. From memory, Blyth did trouble the goal but really lacked quality in the final third. Come the second half though, the game turned on it’s head.

Chris McCabe headed home early on before FA Cup hero Ged Dalton intercepted a back pass and slotted home to make it 2-1 Blyth in the opening 5 minutes of the half!

Burscough pulled one back, however another one of the team’s FA Cup hero’s from that season Shaun Reay bagged a late winner. With the terraces in full on party mode, goalkeeper Paul Farman even came on to play upfront for a laugh as the final moments of the game ticked by. As the final whistle sounded, the Spartans faithful invaded the pitch to celebrate with the players.

Less said about the state of the busses on way home the better though. To this day, Priory Coaches still won’t speak to us! Bus organiser Martin Hunter probably summed the day up best, saying “That day was crazy from start to finish – people necking homemade rhubarb wine on the Laverick is never a sensible start.”

A great end to what was a truly great era, and an unforgettable day out to boot! Now, lets take a look what happened to Harry’s final XI and everyone else who featured for Blyth on that day.

GK – Mark Bell

The hero of Bournemouth, Belly would stay on for the 2009/10 season under Mick Tait. Sadly though he’d once again pick up injuries throughout the season and even have to sit behind Jack Norton at times. It was somewhat obvious Taity didn’t really fancy Mark, and he left in the summer of 2010, making the switch back to West Auckland Town in the Northern League.

A 6th place finish in his first season at West was a decent start, as West began to splash some cash and assemble one of the best teams around at the time. The following year they’d make it to Wembley, losing an FA Vase final 2-0 to Dunston UTS. In the league, Bell and co finished in 2nd place behind Spennymoor Town.

Belly started the following season at West Auckland but made the jump to the newly formed Darlington 1883 in the November, going on to win the Northern League that season. He’d spend the next 2 seasons with Darlington 1883, losing his spot as number one goalkeeper to future Spartan Pete Jameson in 2014. He did step in for the play off final at the end of the 2014/15 season though, helping Darlo win promotion to the Northern Premier League Premier Division in his final game for the club.

Bishop Auckland would be Mark’s next port of call but by the March of that season he’d be transfer listed, jumping ship to Spennymoor Town. The summer of 2016 saw Mark rejoin Darlington, but by now his playing career had begun to wind down as he became the club’s goalkeeping coach.

When Darlington 1883 manager Martin Gray made the switch to York City, Bell followed him down the A19 to Bootham Crescent – where he’d spend the next year as a goalkeeping coach. After leaving York in late 2018, Mark began working at Middlesbrough’s academy – where he’d worked in various capacities since 2014. According to Football Manager, Mark is the Under 18’s keeper coach at Boro.

RB – Andy Leeson

Lees’ would hang around for a few months into the next season, but with the arrival of Stephen Harrison at RB and Richard Pell at CB, Leeson would depart the club in the first few months of the new season, rejoining Harry Dunn at Whitby Town where he was now manager.

Now essentially a Blyth old boys club, Whitby struggled at the wrong end of the NPL that season – though they did secure survival. The next year another season of struggle followed, and Whitby limped over the line to a 16th place finish. Leeson made the move to Bedlington Terriers soon after, linking up with fellow former Spartan Pete Snowdon.

After a few seasons at Bedlington which saw them largely struggle, Leeson left in the summer of 2015 and appears to have retired from football. I can find a record of him playing for Ashington Colliers (Ash’s reserve team) in the 2017/18 season, but he only featured in a handful of games.

CB – Gareth Williams

Cheeks retained the captaincy under Tait, but by the time the summer of 2010 came around, it was only Cheeks and Robbie left from the Harry era. So when Whitley Bay came in for him in late July, he made the move to the Bay after 10 years and 400+ appearances.

“It came to the time when I needed a new challenge. After 10 years I’d become a bit stale and simply felt a change was necessary. It’s nothing to do with anything happening at the club. I’d like to thank the supporters, including those on the Fans Forum, for getting behind me over the years and I hope the side pushes on this coming season.”

He’d help them to an FA Vase win, their third win at Wembley in a row. Cheeks played for Whitley for another year, before making the switch to Ashington in 2012. After a few months with the Colliers, he switched to Newcastle Benfield where he’d spend the next few years but finished up at Dunston in the latter half of the 2014/15 season.

According to some records I’ve found he briefly played for Whitley Bay ‘A’ in the Northern Alliance around 2017(ish) where he played his final game of football in a cup final, against Pete Snowdon’s Seaton Delaval Amateurs.

CB – Richard Pell

Having originally moved up the North East for what only supposed to be a year to finish university, Pelly moved back down to south to play for Alfreton Town at the conclusion of the season. By January 2010 though he had retuned to god’s country, linking back up with Spartans for a second spell. He’d walk into the team and make a huge impact upon his return but in the summer he was approached by Harrogate Town who were starting throw money around at North East based players.

He’d spend 2 seasons with Simon Weaver’s side, who largely underperformed given how much money they were spending on wages – as they lingered around the bottom half of the league. By the time the summer of 2012 came around, Bedlington Terriers had begun to throw money around and assemble a solid team.

After a year in the Northern League with the Terriers, Pelly moved to Whitby Town where he’d spend the next 3 seasons – often getting a lot of stick from Blyth fans whenever Blyth and Whitby clashed due to his departure in 2010.

His time at Whitby saw them struggle for most part, and he left the club in the summer of 2016 to link up with Spartans for a third spell. By now though he was 34-years-old and he mainly operated as a back up player, making 10 appearances for Spartans as Alun Armstrong led the team to promotion.

Pelly was let go in the summer, and he originally moved to Morpeth Town before jumping to North Shields, where he stayed until 2019. He’d spend the 2019/20 season with Wallington in the Northern Alliance Premier but once the season was abandoned due to COVID in March of 2020, he seemingly quietly retired from football after a nearly 20-year career.

LB – Adam Laidlaw

Admittedly I know very little about Adam. From memory, he only got drafted into the team occasionally. He briefly featured for Whitby Town after leaving Spartans, though there is next to nothing about him online.

He may have played for Alnwick Town at one point, as he was manager there in the 2015/16 season. Resigning after a 7-1 defeat to Ryhope in March of 2016, he doesn’t seem to have done anything in football after that.

RW – Adrian Webster

The fan favourite and former New Zealand international would hang around at Spartans for a few more months, before returning to Australia where he’s played previously to join up with Cockburn City in the 2nd tier of Australian football. After 18 months of sun and paradise, Adie returned to UK and settled back in the North East.

The summer of 2012 would see him feature for newly formed Darlington 1883 as a trialist, but he wasn’t picked up. A few months with Newton Aycliffe would follow, before jumping to Durham rivals Bishop Auckland, where he’d have a successful season and a half.

In 2014 and now aged 34, Adie moved back to Newton Aycliffe and became Player/Manager at the club. Very little information can be found online about his time at Aycliffe as manager but after looking at a few press stories, I’d have to assume he had at least a season at the club – as nothing can be found online about his playing or management career from 2015 onwards.

CM – Simon Todd

Toddy had started the 2008/09 season off in good form, which convinced Harry to sign him permanently from Darlington. He began to fizzle out a bit as the season went on though, but he was kept on by Tait in the summer of 2009. It was clear early on though that Tait didn’t really plan on keeping him around, as he only made 15  appearances across the 2009/10 season and he was released by Tait at the end of the season.

He’d spend the next season or so at struggling Durham City, and this is when records of his playing career get a bit weird, as he seemingly dropped off the face of the footballing world. I can see he briefly featured for Seaham Red Star at some stage in 2011, and he then appears to have done nothing in football for years. I can find references to him playing on a Sunday in the Peterlee league, and it’s possible he may have featured for a few teams in the Wearside League.

He did remerge in around 2018, playing for Easington Colliery in the Wearside League as they earned promotion to the Northern League. He stayed around until 2022 and seems to have dropped out of football at the conclusion of that season.

CM – Chris McCabe

A club legend and true Spartan. Tadge was one of Tait’s men main at the start of the 2009/10 season, but he suffered a horrendous broken leg (tibia & fibula) in a game against Stafford Rangers in February 2010. It as later announced that he was going to retire from football, but that was quickly amended and he would soon head out on a ‘dual reg’ during the 2010/11 season, going onto to play for Seaham Red Star where he scored 4 goals in 12 games.

In the summer of 2011, he linked up with Shildon where he’d spend the next 3 seasons at top end of the Northern League. By now he’d dropped into back to playing CB and wasn’t picking up as many cards as he once was, so clearly the injury had affected him a fair bit.

By the start of the 2014/15 season, Tadge was on the books of Seaham Red Star once again and he helped guide them to the Northern League Division Two title that season. By 2016 he’d become Player/Manager, and he lead them to a 14th place finish in the Northern League 1st Division. He’d be replaced in early 2018 with Seaham at the wrong end of the table.

That summer he moved over to Ryhope Colliery Welfare, to join the coaching staff alongside popular manager Gary Pearson (RIP) and would later to be promoted to joint manager in January 2020 alongside Pearson. He’d leave the club in 2021 though, and since then has been playing over 40’s football for Seaham Harbour Cricket Club. At the time of writing, he’s played 13 games and scored 8 goals for them this season.

LM – Robbie Dale

I mean, we don’t really need to cover Rob, do we? You all know his story. And if you don’t, that’s on you.

ST – Marc Walton

This would prove to be Marc’s last game for the club, going onto link up with Durham City that summer. He’d switch to Morpeth Town in the Northern League shortly after, and then eventually West Allotment Celtic all in the same season. 3 consecutive season with Ashington in the Northern League would follow after linking up with them in the summer of 2011, though no goal stats can be found sadly. He did win a Northumberland Senior Cup though.

Another stint with West Allotment Celtic would follow before a switch to Bedlington Terriers to play under his mate Andy Ferrell. He’d stay there for a season or so, before dropping down to the Northern Alliance Premier with New Fordley.

ST – Sean Reay

The hero of Shrewsbury! Sean had 9 goals across 29 league games that season and was kept on by Mick Tait that summer. He’d be bombed off ‘on loan’ to Shildon in the October, before moving to Whitley Bay and then later Jarrow Roofing – all before 2009 had ended!

At this point Sean would go onto be a proper Northern League journeyman, starting the 2009/10 season off with Bedlington Terriers before dropping down to the Wearside League with Bolden CA for next 18 months or so. He was initially signed by Darlington 1883 at the start of the 2012/13 season, but he’d quickly be let go and move over to Dunston.

A few stable years at then cash strapped Hebburn Town would follow in the 2nd Division of the Northern League as they tried to get back into the Northern League’s topflight. A season and a bit with West Allotment Celtic was next on the agenda, followed by a few months with Esh Winning.

2018 saw him return to Hebburn according to Football Manager, but I can’t find any record of him playing for them anywhere else. He did appear once again for Bolden CA in 2019/20 at some point, but he then seemed to drop out of football aged only 30.

Sub – Ged Dalton

Despite etching his name into the club’s history books in the FA Cup earlier in the year, Ged saw a drop off in his game time as the season went on – and Burscough away would end up being his final game for the club.

He spent the next season in the NPL at Whitby with Harry before moving to North Ferriby for a few months. By the end of the 2010/11 season, Ged had moved across to Pickering Town in the Northern Counties East Football League Premier Division, which is the equivalent to the Northern League. Ged would spend the next 3 seasons at Pickering, helping them win a North Riding Senior Cup in that time.

The 2014/15 campaign would see him return to Whitby Town in the NPL for a season, but he’d be back at Pickering by the summer of 2015, where he’s been ever since. 2017 saw Pickering win promotion to the Northern Premier League 1st Division East, but they’d be relegated in 2022 after a few poor seasons. By now Ged was involved in the coaching set up, but by March of 2023 he picked up an ACL injury, and seems too have been out of action ever since then.

Sub – John Brackstone

One of Harry’s last ‘big signings’ in the February that season, John had been signed for a few grand from Gateshead but he struggled to hit the ground running. Under contract for the 2009/10 season – Taity gave John a start for most of the season, but he never really reached his full potential at Croft Park. He was released at the end of the season and moved onto Bedlington Terriers.

Two seasons at Bedlington would be followed by a spell at Shildon, where John helped them to a Durham Senior Cup and a Northern League Cup. He stayed with The Railwaymen until 2016, before going onto spend his final season in football with West Auckland.

Sub – Paul Farman

At the conclusion of the 2008/09 campaign Paul was picked up by Gateshead, who were going up to the Blue Square Premier. He quickly won the number one shirt from Jim Provett, going onto make 33 appearances that season as they survived relegation on the final day of the season against AFC Wimbledon.

An injury in the summer of 2010 would see Gateshead bring in Barrow stopper Tim Deasy, and Paul was unable to win back the job as number one keeper until the start of the 2011/12 season. Despite being number one keeper, Gateshead loaned him out to Lincoln City at the end of 2011 – but he returned to Gateshead in early 2012 and stared in the first team until the end of the season, before he left the club.

He was picked up by Lincoln on a permanent basis in May 2012 and started the new season off as the teams first choice goalkeeper. After going on to make 47 appearances that season, he agreed a new 2 year deal with the club but during the following campaign he’d pick up a serious injury, and be forced to miss the final 3 months of the season.

His replacement Nick Townsend began the 2014/15 season as the clubs first choice keeper, despite Farman having recovered from injury. He made a short term move to Boston United in September 2014 before being recalled by Lincoln, where he quickly won back the starting job. Within just a few months he was given another 2 year deal, and went onto win the club’s Player of the Season at the end-of-season awards.

After playing every minute of the 2015/16, he’d play a key role the following year as Lincoln City stormed to the National League title with the Cowley’s at the helm – keeping 22 clean sheets in his 46 league games. He was also part of the side that made the FA Cup quarter-finals that season, playing against the likes of Burnley and Arsenal.

Paul would win another 2 year deal with Lincoln, but he would be usurped as the clubs number one keeper again in late September, and he wouldn’t win back the starting job. He did pick up an EFL Trophy winners medal – though he was an unused sub in the final at Wembley. At the end of the season Farman would depart the club for Stevenage, having made 242 appearances across 6 years at Lincoln.

After 2 seasons at Stevenage where spent most of his time as the first choice goalkeeper, he returned North to link up with Carlisle United in 2020 and had a successful season in Cumbria. He was offered a new deal, but chose instead to sign a deal with rivals Barrow. 4 years on and over 125 appearances later, he’s still Barrow’s established number one goalkeeper and is on the verge of securing a play off place with the Cumbrians.

Sub/Assistant Manager – Graham Fenton

An unused sub in his last game as a player and ultimately as a member of the coaching staff, Fents was gone from the club not long after Harry – with him seemingly not getting a look in for the vacant managerial role.

He linked up with North Shields in the second tier of the Northern League, making a few appearances for the club during the 2009/10 season. He was also signed up as the club’s assistant manager, working under Anthony Woodhouse.

In April 2012 Woodhouse left the club, and Fents took over as manager and 2 years later, he led them to the Northern League 2nd Division title as they thrashed South Shields 3-1 late in the season. That season they scored an incredible 141 goals and racked up over 100 points.

The following season would see Fents lead The Robins to even more success, as they went on to beat Glossop North End at Wembley to secure the FA Vase in May 2015 with former Spartan Adam Forster netting the winner.

More success would follow in the 2015/16 season, with Shields defeating Spartans in the final of the Northumberland Senior Cup, as Shields racked up a 5th place finish in the Northern League’s top flight.

In early September that year he was tempted away by rivals South Shields, working alongside Lee Picton as co manager while Geoff Thompson began to flex his financial muscles. He led The Mariners to a history quadruple, winning the Northern League Division One, Durham Challenge Cup, Northern League Cup and the FA Vase (again).

They went up again the following year, winning the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North with 103 points after a close title race with Scarborough Athletic and Hyde United. The following season saw them lose out on the Premier Division title to Farsley Celtic, and then again in the ‘super play offs’.

The following season saw them start the season off well, and by March Fents and co nearly had the title wrapped up. That was until COVID kicked in and the league was scrapped in April of that year. The 2020/21 began but soon met the same fate as well.

By January 2022 though and despite being near the top of the table with games in hand, Fents was controversially sacked as manager – being replaced by Kevin Phillips. After a few months of gardening leave, he took on the Spartans job in August 2022, leading us to safety on the final day of the 2022/23 campaign before departing the club in December 2023.

Manager – Harry Dunn

Upon departing Blyth, Harry was quickly picked up by Whitby Town in the May – taking many old Spartans players with him. Of course his second spell as manager of Whitby Town didn’t go well and Harry resigned in October 2010.

In 2012 he joined newly formed Darlington 1883 as Martin Gray’s head scout, a job he was very successful in as Darlo quickly rose up the leagues with Gray at the helm. In October 2017 Gray made the switch to York City, taking Harry with him. Gray’s time at York was a bit of a failure and he didn’t last long with Harry being ousted from his role in the summer of 2018.

After a few years out of football Harry was appointed as Bishop Auckland’s Head Scout in 2021, where he still remains today having recently just turned 70-years-old.