Transfer tribulations – The if’s buts and near misses

Hello! Today we’ll be taking a look at some of the big-name and hot prospects that Spartans have either been linked with, attempted to sign or have at least been rumoured to have been interest in over the last few years, some of which are a bit mad. Obviously some of the below might not exactly be 100% accurate but then again, transfer rumours never are.

Richard Brodie

Bursting out onto the scene at Whickham in 2004 aged just 17, Brodie racked up 35 appearances in his first 2 seasons at the Lang Jacks while netting 21 goals in the Northern League 2nd division, which earned him a move to Newcastle Benfield in the summer of 2006.

His spell at Benfield started off well, leading them to the FA Cup 4th qualifying round where they took on York City, losing 1-0. Having just had a brief spell on trial with then Premier League side Bolton Wanderers, Brodie joined York on trial. He wouldn’t be picked up York immediately though, leading to Spartans being linked with Brodie in early November. A deal wouldn’t be struck though, and Brodie would ultimately end up signing for York City in January 2007 on deadline day.

He’d go onto to be used sparingly in the final few months of the season, scoring just the 1 goal in 12 appearances. During the 2007/08 season though, Richard featured nearly 50 times in all competitions while scoring 14 goals as York floundered in the bottom half of the Blue Square Premier.

That summer Gateshead put a ‘4 figure bid’ in for Brodie but that was turned down by York, though by the start of October that season he’d only scored 1 goal. This is where Spartans were rumoured to have gone back in for Brodie, though it’s not clear whether this was a loan or an actual transfer offer. He moved to Barrow on loan instead, scoring 4 goals in 7 games that earned him a place back in the York team.

It’s unclear when exactly during the 2008/09 (presumably when we had some FA Cup money) but Spartans were rumoured to have gone back in again for Brodie, with a rumoured bid of £10,000.

Brodie would go onto the be the star man at York during the 2009/10 season as he banged in 34 goals in 50 games, as York City missed out on promotion in the play off final, losing 1-0 to Oxford United. On deadline day in  August 2010, Brodie make the move to fellow Blue Square Premier side Crawley Town for eye watering £275,000, the highest fee ever paid for a non-league player at the time, which also took Crawley’s spending that summer past the £500,000 mark.

Brodie scored 13 times in 45 appearances in his debut campaign to help Crawley win the Conference title and promotion to League Two, as well as a day out at Old Trafford in the FA Cup 5th round . Unfortunately, the Gateshead-born star couldn’t settle in the area and spent the next few seasons on loan at Fleetwood Town, Morecambe and Grimsby Town. His career would go onto to fizzle out, and after leaving Crawley in 2013 he’d made a further 17 moves to clubs across the country over the next 10 years.

He spent the 2022/23 season as manager of Skelmersdale but resigned in May to take up the vacant role at Burscough but would resign from the role after just a few games in mid-September.

Lee Novak

Starting out at Wallsend Boys Club, Lee was picked up by Gretna (then in the Scottish Championship) in 2006 back when Gretna went through a phase of signing younger lads from the North-East. He spent the 2006/07 with Gretna and left the club in August 2007, when Gretna’s financial issues began to really start.

He moved to Newcastle Blue Star and went onto score 27 goals across the season in the UniBond Division One North, while having trials at Stockport County and Preston North End. After putting in a transfer request in during the summer of 2008, Spartans were supposedly interested.

Our bid for Blue Star’s main man was rumoured to have been as much as £3,000 but of course, the £3,500 bid from Gateshead would be accepted instead, which included forward Steve Salvin in exchange and a sell on fee, rumoured to be a 10%.

Novak would of course go onto make the switch across the Tyne and would thrive. 17 goals in 19 games would see him bought by League One side Huddersfield, for an initial £50,000 that would end up rising to £150,000 in total. He returned to Gateshead on loan for the rest of the season and helped them win promotion to the Blue Square Premier, before linking up with Lee Clark’s team in the summer of 2009.

Novak featured 172 times and scored 42 goals, while being used up front on the wing as Huddersfield moved into the Championship. He made the switch to Birmingham, even playing and scoring against Blyth in the FA Cup 3rd round but would drop back into League One with Chesterfield and Charlton. Spells at Scunthorpe and Bradford City would take him in League Two before he retired after the 2020/21 season, aged 32.

To think, at one point in the late 2000’s we could have had a front 3 of Robbie Dale, Brodie and Novak… what a trio that would have been.

Keith Gillespie

The Northern Irish winger who started off at Man United moved to the North East in 1995 as part of the notorious Andy Cole transfer. He’d have a decent spell on Tyneside where he made over 100 appearances and bagged 11 goals before moving to Blackburn Rovers in 1998. He’d spend 5 years at Rovers but by then his issues with gambling were beginning to take over his life, and he’d cling onto a top flight football with the likes of Leicester City and Sheffield United in the mid 2000’s.

Short spells with Bradford City, Glentoran and Darlington would follow, though he was declared legally bankrupt on 1 October 2010 by the Belfast High Court, later revealing his lost around £7,000,000 during his playing career gambling. Shortly after this and his brief spell with Darlington, he’d be linked with Spartans.

During an interview with the Chronicle that was published on Christmas Eve 2010, the article read ‘Tait will not be making a move for former Newcastle and Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie, who has been released by Darlington after just three games.’ It’s unclear if an actual approach was made or he was sounded out about a move, but Gilespie would continue his playing career with Longford Town until 2013. These days, Keith often works on the ‘talk in’ circuit around the pubs and clubs of the area.

Given Keith’s troubles at the time and our limited budget, it’s probably a good thing a move for him didn’t materialise. Though, it would have gotten a few through the turnstiles.

Pascal Chimbonda

After starting out at Havre AC, Chimbonda moved over to Premier League new boys Wigan Athletic in 2005, prior to spells with Tottenham Hotspur (twice), Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers for transfer fees in total that are north of £10,000,000. He managed to pick up a League Cup winners medal in 2008 and was part of France’s World Cup squad that were runners up in 2006.

In 2011 he began a steep fall down the leagues and was seemingly done with football after time with the likes of Carlisle, Market Drayton and French lower league side AC Arlésien. Out of the blue though in 2017, a random twitter story came out of nowhere claiming he’d side for Northern League side Washington! Though he’d only feature a few times for them, it was confirmed he was settled in the region and during a pre-season friendly in the summer of 2018, he would make his one and only appearance in a Blyth shirt away at South Shields.

It’s unclear how long he’d be training with us or if any serious offer was made to sign him, though the club did come out with a statement on twitter saying “We repeat, Chimbonda is only with the club to keep up his fitness” which was put out after the storm of attention the club received on Social Media following the news he was ‘training with us’.

Thankfully his relationship with the club ended almost immediately after the game, and Chimbonda went onto feature for Ashton Town and later Durham City. These days the Frenchman now manages over in the North West, having recently been appointed the manager of Skelmersdale United.

Craig Bellamy

After breaking through at Norwich City in the Championship, Bellamy had a year at Coventry City before moving to Premiership side Newcastle United for a fee reported to be around £6.5 million. Under Sir Bobby Robson, Bellamy thrived alongside legendry forward Alan Shearer as Newcastle challenged for the Premiership title on a few occasions and had deep runs in both the Champions League and UEFA Cup.

Despite injuries, Craig made 99 appearances and scored 33 goals between 2001 and 2004 on Tyneside before Sir Bobby Robson was sacked and former Liverpool and Rangers manager Graeme Souness was brought in, famed for his disciplinary. He and Bellamy would of course famously clash, and by January 2005 he was frozen out of the team after arguing with both Souness and Alan Shearer after being accused of faking an injury. In steps, Blyth Spartans.

Just days before the transfer deadline with Newcastle seemingly struggling to offload the Welsh international, UniBond Premier League struggling Spartans put in a formal bid to the Premiership giants to take Bellamy on loan for the rest of the season. Blyth general manager Ian Evans said: “I don’t think we could come up with Bellamy’s wages, but we have discussed the idea of bringing him to Croft Park. If nothing else, we see it as a way in which Craig can stay match fit until and if he resolves his differences with Newcastle. But I must say that, as yet, we have not had a reply from United.”

For some reason, Newcastle ignored Blyth’s bid and allowed Craig to drop even further down the footballing pyramid, as he made the move to the Scottish Premier League with Celtic on loan.

Craig would go onto leave Newcastle permanently in the summer of 2005, going on to play for Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, West Ham, Man City and Cardiff and pick up medals in the League Cup in 2012, Community Shield in 2006 and Championship in 2013 on top of the Scottish Cup in 2005. Though I’m sure he’d much rather have had the chance to win a UniBond treble in 2005/06 with Blyth and who knows, with Craig we may have even tied up the quadruple that year by snatching the Northumberland Senior Cup.

Charlie Nicholas

Better known for his time on Sky Sports in recent years and talking absolute shite in the process, Nicholas was once a highly respected forward who spent the 1980’s and early part of the 1990’s at the likes of Arsenal, Celtic and Aberdeen before finishing up with Clyde. In total he made 578 appearances scoring 224 goals in the process while staring for Scotland.

It was in October 1996 when the news broke in the Chronicle that then Spartans manager (and future disgraced football agent) Peter Harrison had been trying to sign the then 35-year-old striker, in an attempt to bolster the squad to help with the FA Cup run, having met him on a business trip that month.

A Chronicle Photoshop job

Naturally, Charlie turned down the chance to sign for Blyth due to business commitments in Scotland before joining Sky Sports in 2000, where he was one of the faces of Soccer Saturday.

Steve Archibald

A Scottish International who played for the likes of Aberdeen, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Hibernian and Espanyol between the late 1970’s and 1990’s during which he won the SPL, FA Cup (twice), UEFA Cup, Copa de la Liga and La Liga while even appearing on Top of the Pops. Archibald began to wind down his career in the 1990’s jumping from club to club before Spartans entered the frame in 1996, following his dismissal from East Fife where he was Player/Manager.

Peter Harrison spoke to Chronicle reporter Bob Moreland in November 1996, explaining that he was indeed looking to reinforce his side with the signing of Archibald due to Spartans expansive fixture list due to the league campaign and the various cup competitions Blyth were involved with.

The 40 year-old Archibald did meet with Harrison to discuss the move, but he likely saw straight through the dodgy character that is Peter Harrison and decided against the move, instead deciding to move to Spain. Probably the wiser move in fairness. After his failure to secure Nicholas and Archibald, Harrison would then set his sights on Ali Dia…

Gary Martin

A bit of an unknown compared to some on this list but had Gary linked up with Spartans up top alongside Paul Brayson in 2010, things have may have turned out very differently for Mick Tait’s Blyth Spartans side.

Martin was a Darlington lad who was picked up by Middlesborough as a youth and would almost break into Middlesborough’s first team in the summer of 2009, even going on tour with the team. He spent part of the season on loan in Hungary with Újpest, who are best know for losing to Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup final back in 1969. He’d be released by Boro though in the summer of 2010, supposedly due to his poor attitude.

In the summer he trained with Spartans, with manager Mick Tait already aware of his talent. At a friendly away at Spennymoor Town, the home side handed out team sheets to fans which included the names of all Blyth’s trialists, confirming Martin was set to feature in that game. Though, Gary never ended up featuring for Spartans that day as he ended up agreeing a deal with Icelandic side Íþróttabandalag Akraness (good luck pronouncing that) as one of the many young lads from the region that plied their trade over in Scandaniva in the 2010’s.

After spells with fellow Icelandic sides Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur, Knattspyrnufélagið Víkingur, Danish side Vendsyssel Forenede Fodboldklubber and Norwegian side Lillestrøm Sportsklubb where he featured in European competition, he made the switch to topflight Belgian side Sporting Lokeren in 2017. That spell wouldn’t go to plan though, and he’d return to England to join York City in October 2017 which would end up being another disasters spell.

He was released after only 3 weeks at the club (only managing 3 league games) due to ‘disciplinary reasons. The main stories online were it was because he was playing for Darlington Sunday League side Darlington Albion but as he was only a non-contract at York City, this wasn’t specifically illegal. Another rumour that went round on the socials was that he’d been sacked for… something else.

After this debacle he joined Lillestrøm again in January 2018 where he’d once again struggle for form, before returning to Iceland with Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja. In January 2020 he’d make the loan move to Darlington under Alun Armstong during the Icelandic off season, and while he managed not to disgrace himself in Darlington (off the pitch at least) he did only manage 6 games and 0 goals in roughly 3 months at Darlo before his loan ran out and he returned to Íþróttabandalag

In April 2021, Íþróttabandalag terminated his contract after a teammate of his reported him to the police for posting a nude picture of him in a Snapchat group. And here’s me thinking that was just normal behaviour? Since 2021, Gary has played for UMF Selfoss in the 2nd tier of Icelandic football.

Throughout his career Martin has played in just over 300 games, scoring 130 goals. On paper (and according to Football Manger) Martin could have been a very capable at Blue Square North level and could have gone onto be a solid player higher up the football pyramid had he stayed in England and managed to avoid controversy.

Joe Tait

A player many of you will be familiar with as we’ve tried to sign him on many occasions, but most won’t remember a young Joe Tait pulling on the famous green and white shirt in the summer of 2009 in a few pre-season friendlies under new manager Mick Tait (possibly related, I’ve not ne clue) most notably in a game against Dunfermline Athletic.

Joe wouldn’t be picked up by Spartans and would end up heading to America to play in the college system over there, for the likes of Baton Rouge Capitals and Dayton Dutch Lions before being picked up by MLS side Philadelphia Union. He would only spend a little over 2 months with them before returning to England.

He would link up with the newly formed Darlington 1883, playing a key role in their Northern League winning season prior to making the move back into full time football with Gateshead in the summer of 2013. He’d last only a few months with them before making the switch back to Darlington.

Rumoured to have been linked with Blyth once again in the summer of 2014, Tait made the move to Spennymoor who had been promoted to the Evo-Stik 1st Division North. He’d spend the next 4 seasons with Spenny, achieving promotion to Evo-Stik Premier through the play offs and then to the Vanarama North, once again through the play offs.

In 2018 he’d once again go back to full time football, joining NLN rivals York City. His 2 years in York didn’t exactly go to plan, as they went through 3 managers and failed to gain their much-sought return to National League. Despite being club captain at one point, he’d leave York in the summer of 2020 and once again be seriously linked with Spartans.

Manager Michael Nelson was confirmed to have offered Tait in late August/early September of 2020 as he desperately tried to find a centre back partner for the newly acquired Matty Elsdon. Naturally Spartans were unable to compete with Spennymoor’s offer where he’d spend the next few years before seemingly retiring after the 2022/23 season.

Arguably one of, if not the best centre backs at this level of football throughout the 2010’s, had we managed to secure to his signature at one point there’s very little doubt he’d have been nothing short of a success story at Spartans. Sadly, our lack of financial resources when compared to our local rivals seems to have scuppered all of our chances to sign Tait.

Chris Waddle

It’s been hard to find anything in writing on this one, but I’m told Blyth were either once interested in or made an offer for future England star Chris Waddle sometime between 1978 and 1980, before he joined Newcastle United in July 1980 for £1,000. Given Spartans dominance over the Northern League at that time and financial might thanks to the FA Cup run it’s highly likely that we could have afforded him, and he obviously would have done wonders for Jackie Marks side.

Of course, though he’d instead go onto have a canny career with Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Marseille and Sheffield Wednesday as well as representing England for many years, most notably during the 1990 World Cup. Since retiring, he’s worked in the media for various promotions and was front and centre at Croft Park during Football Focus prior to Blyth’s FA Cup 3rd clash with Birmingham City in 2015.

Lee Kerr

One of the strangest ones on this list. Lee was with Sunderland on schoolboy terms (I think that’s what you still call them?) but wasn’t offered a proper YTS deal and featured briefly for Shildon and Hebburn before making the move to Whitley Bay in the mid 2000’s, where he exploded onto the scene. Early on he was offered a trial at Newcastle United in early 2007, with interest from Watford, Norwich and later Darlington following.

He’d ultimately stay at Whitley Bay, forming a formidable partnership with Paul Chow and score in each of Whitley’s FA Vase finals at Wembley as they completed a hat-trick of trophies between 2009 and 2011. It was here though were things changed at Whitley, with Steve Cuggy and Gav Fell leaving to take roles at Spartans. They began by taking captain David Coulson, then the likes of Lee Mason and David Timmons joined the Whitley Bay exodus, but it wouldn’t be until the end of July when Kerr nearly joined Spartans.

On 30 July 2011 prior to a friendly with Ashington, it was announced that Spartans had ‘released’ Robbie Dale. Rumoured to have not impressed the new management in training. It was explained to fans at the time (at least on the day) that some form swap deal had been agreed with Whitley Bay for Lee Kerr. On the day of the game, Kerr even warmed up with the lads at Croft Park and sat on the sidelines as we thrashed Ashington.

On paper, while seeing Robbie go was a painful pill to swallow, the acquisition of Lee Kerr was seen as a bit of a coup. The Northern League at the time was a lot closer to the Blue Square North in terms of quality, with many players capable of stepping up to the BSN, and Kerr was seen as the cream of the crop. Due to the amount of money in the Northern League, teams chasing a day out at Wembley and the lack of travel at that level, top end players often stayed in the Northern League.

Despite having a deal in principle agreed, the move fell through as it was explained that Kerr had some personal issue that meant he couldn’t commit to the travel at BSN level, and he ultimately went back to Whitley Bay, playing alongside Robbie Dale. Lee would go onto rack up 270 goals in total for Whitley while also having spells at Spennymoor, Shildon, Seaham, Jarrow and eventually Heaton Stannington before retiring.

Had he been able to complete his move to Spartans though, who knows how different Steve and Gav’s spell in charge of Blyth could have been.

Paul Connor & Richard Hope

In the Chronicle on 9 February 2009, he was reported that Spartans were after experienced pairing Paul Connor and Richard Hope, with then Manager Harry Dunn quoted as saying “We’ve got to be interested in any Football League player who may be looking to return to the region. Connor and Hope fit the bill. They are both Middlesbrough lads with long league careers behind them and would be good additions to the squad.”

Connor was 30 at the time, and had transfer listed by Cheltenham Town but was unable to find in a move in that January transfer window. Having started at Boro and bouncing around the country with the likes of Stoke, Swansea and Leyton Orient, Connor seemingly either wasn’t ready to drop down into part time football or Spartans weren’t able to agree a fee with the FA Cup money they had burning in their pocket. Connor hung on in full time football until 2012, before returning to the North East to finish his career with Shildon and then West Auckland.

As for Hope, the Stockon born defender started out at Blacburn Rovers prior to spending the majority of his career at Darlington and Northampton making nearly 200 appearances before becoming a bit of a journeyman with the likes of York, Chester, Shrewsbury, Wrexham and eventually Grimbsy in the 2008/09 season where he’d struggle for game time, having his contract terminated in early February. For whatever reason though, Blyth were unable to meet his contract demands.

We’d once again be in for Richard in the summer, with new manager Mick Tait making an approach for him and his brother Chris who had left Rushden & Diamonds that summer. He was unsuccessful in signing them sadly, with Richrd retiring to work offshore and Chris carrying on his career down south before retiring to be a sports coach in a private school in Cambridge.

Paul Brayson, Kris Gate, Craig Baxter & Mark Hudson

In the summer of 2012 following Blyth’s relegation to the Evo-Stik Premier League, then manager Tommy Cassidy struggled to recruit new players. With striker Craig Farrell and goalkeeper Conor Grant the only new faces in prior Blyth’s first pre-season game against Ashington in mid-July where Blyth used a random trialists and a few lads from Shankhouse, it looked like we were set for a season of struggle with a manager who didn’t have a clue. It emerged just after that Ashington game though that a number of experienced and well thought of players had offered their services to the club but instead of offering them contracts, Cassidy told them that they needed to come in on trial to ‘prove themselves’. Naturally, they were picked up by other clubs.

Paul Brayson whom had scored 59 goals in 77 games between 2009 and 2011, winning the league’s golden boot twice had left Harrogate Town in the summer of 2012 and was seeking a return to Blyth. Naturally, money should have been thrown at him but alas, Cassidy chose not to and instead moved to cash rich Bedlington Terriers. This sadly would become a theme.

Next up was Kirs Gate, a Newcastle United academy graduate who captained the reserves between 2005 and 2007, Gate joined up with Gateshead and rose through the leagues with them, going from the UniBond Premier League to Blue Square Premier. After his best season with the Heed where the tenacious midfielder scored 7 goals he left Gateshead, choosing to return to part time football aged only 27.

After initially being offered only a trial at Blyth, he chose to sign for Harrogate Town before U turning on that move to sign for Bedlington Terriers. It’s unclear if Blyth got another chance to sign him between Harrogate and Bedlington move though. Kris ended up moving to Australia in 2013, where he’s lived ever since playing for various teams.

His teammate Craig Baxter was probably regarded as the best right-back in the region during the late 2000’s and the 2010’s. Another Newcastle academy product who ascended through the ranks before being released and joining Gateshead. Craig accepted a decent contract from Bedlington after Cassidy snubbed him, where he’d spend the next season before being recruited once again by Gateshead where’d stay for 3 more seasons, prior to a few successful years at South Shields and now Dunston, where he’s still gong strong today.

Lastly, we have Mark Hudson. A centre midfielder from Bishop Auckland who started out at Middlesbrough, even playing some first team games. He’d spent the 2000’s at the likes of Chesterfield, Huddersfield and Rotherham before dropping down to play for Gainsborough Trinity in the Blue Square North, That would be followed by 2 more years at Grimbsy before he returned home to the North East.