Blackburn are just the ticket, says Blyth boss

HARRY Dunn has been a man in demand since engineering Blyth's latest FA Cup heroics.

HARRY Dunn has been a man in demand since engineering Blyth's latest FA Cup heroics. He spares a minute to reflect with Mark Douglas.

HARRY Dunn’s mobile phone has already been bombarded with begging text messages and phone calls, and having to turn down hundreds of ticket requests is the one thing that the amiable boss of Blyth Spartans won’t relish in the long build-up to his team’s historic meeting with Blackburn Rovers.

The demand for tickets to see the millionaires of Ewood Park turn out at Croft Park next month will far outstrip supply, meaning Dunn will have to disappoint most of the well-wishers who come through him to try and secure their place among the lucky 4,000 or so packing into Blyth’s homely ground.

It is a small price to pay for securing their place in Cup history, but Dunn admits that his life would have made a lot easier if the club had been permitted to follow their predecessors in 1978 and switched the game to St James’s Park.

In order to keep the competition true to the spirit of the Cup, the FA will not allow a venue change unless there are health and safety reasons.

“In some ways we might have been better off moving the game to Newcastle United. Judging by the kind of interest we’ve had in the first day after the Bournemouth game I think we could have filled St James’s Park if we had have moved the match – we’d definitely have got over 30,000,” he said.

“The thing about people in the North East is that they love nothing more than seeing teams in the region doing well for themselves, and everyone wants to be a part of it. I spent most of yesterday replying to text messages and phone calls, most of them asking after tickets too!

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’ll be a fantastic night at Croft Park and it’s something that our loyal fans will absolutely love, seeing a Premier League team at our ground. That’s part of the magic of the Cup.

“And even though we might not get as many people watching us it might help us out in the game because Blackburn won’t be used to playing anywhere like this – the crowd will be right on top of them and they won’t have experienced it before.”

Unlike some of his victorious players who had to return to work nursing hangovers yesterday, Dunn was enjoying a well-earned break and contemplating the surreal prospect of welcoming Benni McCarthy, Roque Santa Cruz and Paul Robinson to Northumberland.

Blyth’s manager preferred a quiet walk in his home town of Bishop Auckland to popping champagne corks, but he doesn’t begrudge his players their celebrations.

“I think it’s safe to say there were a few sore heads and the lads deserved their celebrations,” he said.

“I didn't think we played particularly well in the first half, to be honest, but we dug in once we got started in the second half and I think we deserved it in the end.

“Of course, we’ll all be thinking about Blackburn. It’s a huge, huge task for us – no non-league team has ever beaten a Premier League team and it would require a hell of an effort for us to even get close. Some of our lads were playing ten levels behind Blackburn’s players last season and they’ll be fitter than us too.

“But if they get someone sent off, or they have an off day we’ve got to be ready and the crowd will be a huge factor in our favour.”

Dunn learned yesterday that his counterpart will be former Newcastle United manager Sam Allardyce, announced yesterday as the successor to Paul Ince. “Sam’s an excellent manager and I’m sure he’ll do well at Blackburn. In some ways this gives them an incentive to win because Sam will be setting his stall out and the last thing he’ll want is to introduce himself to their fans with a defeat,” he said.

“We won’t be doing anything special because it’s Sam and it’s Blackburn – we treat everyone well when they come here and Sam’s no different from any of the other managers. He’ll work hard for his team, I work hard for mine – we’re all the same in that respect.”

Whether they give Blackburn a scare or not, the current generation of Spartans have already written a new chapter in the club’s extraordinary history with their dramatic late win over Bournemouth.

The League Two club may have seen better days but it was still an incredible achievement, made all the more impressive by the lack of resources at Dunn’s disposal.

Mark Evans, a former member of the Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday academies and son of club secretary Ian, was drafted in to sit on the bench as emergency defensive cover despite not playing regular football, and injuries and suspensions left the Spartans down to their bare bones.

If Blyth’s league form remains a concern – they are second bottom and at risk of dropping into the Unibond League – their financial worries have been effectively erased by their Cup run. “The money that we’ve raised will keep us going for another five or six seasons. Teams at our level have to scrap and save just to get by and while the club is fantastically well run we’re no different in that we’ve had to watch what is going out and what is going in,” he said.

“Hopefully that won’t be such a big thing anymore, and it’s a big reward for everyone at the club who has worked hard to keep the club going and prospering.” But while the rest of the town dreams of Premier League giant-killings, Dunn will bring his players back to earth when they reconvene for training tonight.

“We're down the bottom of the league, which isn't acceptable,” he said. We've certainly got to be picking league points up but now the players know if they don't do it in the league, they won't play in the cup. So that's the incentive to get some league points on the board and hopefully get us out of danger.

“It will be difficult for them on Saturday because Solihull will be waiting for us. If they can beat us, they'll be the giant-killers. It's funny how football works its magic.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer