Dale pumped up for a cup thriller

ROBBIE Dale plays in front of the live television cameras tonight hoping to become the man whose name strikes boredom into future generations of Blyth Spartans players and pub regulars alike.

As usual, he spent yesterday pulling pints in a Newcastle pub. But tonight Robbie Dale hopes to enter footballing folklore, he tells Stuart Rayner

ROBBIE Dale plays in front of the live television cameras tonight hoping to become the man whose name strikes boredom into future generations of Blyth Spartans players and pub regulars alike.

After three-and-a-half years as a Croft Park striker, the 23-year-old barman knows the names of Steve and Rob Carney, Terry Johnson (pictured right), Alan Shoulder and Dave Clarke off by heart.

But tonight’s FA Cup second round replay serves up a chance for the current crop of Spartans to write their name into the club’s history books by earning a home tie against Premier League strugglers Blackburn Rovers.

For Dale it is an opportunity to change his own unwanted place in the Blyth FA Cup story and maybe even turn his back on pulling pints.

Wearing the green-and-white stripes of Blyth can be a mixed blessing. Their unorthodox name, unusual strip and the 1977-78 FA Cup run which took the Carneys et al to a fifth round replay against Wrexham in front of 42,000 at St James’s Park made them a household name in non-league circles.

But those exploits bring a burden of expectation and a near-perfect recollection of a match which took place before most of the current squad was born. “We get it all the time if we speak to members of the committee,” the striker explains.

“On the bus trips to every away game people are always trying to get the DVDs of it out. It’s not just when we’re having a cup run – this is just for league games. Hopefully we’ll annoy people in 20 years’ time with DVDs of what we did!”

But the tales of the Wrexham tie are just another indication of the unending enthusiasm for Blyth, something their first round victory over Shrewsbury and the subsequent draw at Bournemouth’s Dean Court have only furthered.

“I’ve played for Blyth for four years and it’s the first time I’ve played in the FA Cup proper so we’re trying to make the most of it,” he says. “The game’s a sell-out. We normally play in front of about 600, which is great for our level but it’s nothing like having 4,000. We took 400 fans down for the first game. We really appreciate the time and effort they put in to watch us.

“We know a lot of our fans by name. Some travel down on the team bus because they help pay towards the cost of it. You see at close hand how they will do anything to help Blyth Spartans.

“Since the first Bournemouth game I’ve had people coming up from everywhere asking for tickets and scarves. It’s great to see so many people interested and now we’ve got to hope we can keep 200 or 300 for the league games.”

Quite apart from another TV game next month, Dale also has a shot at redemption. In recent seasons, Blyth have made a habit of getting within sight of the proper rounds of the FA Cup, only to blow it against lower-division opposition.

With such an enticing tie awaiting now, the danger is Blyth take their eyes off the ball tonight. “It’s important we try to get Blackburn out of our minds,” Dale says. “But your ears do prick up whenever you hear about Blackburn on the television.”

The luck of the Cup has been on the side of Harry Dunn’s team, even if it has deserted them in Conference North, where they sit one off the bottom.

“In the qualifying rounds we’ve always played people from lower divisions so the pressure’s been on us,” he reflects. “Against Shrewsbury, in the last round, and now again we don’t have that pressure so we will take the same attitude of just going there to enjoy it. We knew Shrewsbury had scored seven a couple of times this season so we were expecting a really tough game.

“After the first five minutes of a game you can always tell how hard it’s going to be. But we scored straight away (through Shaun Reay) and thought, ‘We’re going to have a chance here,’ especially after we scored the second.

“We got lucky at Whitby in the qualifying rounds. We got an equaliser very late in the first game then they had a man sent off in the first couple of minutes of the replay.”

Modesty prevents Dale from offering up the fact he scored a hat-trick in that game. For Dale, tonight offers the chance to give up his job in Newcastle and switch to the more lucrative professional game. The former Ryton and West Allotment Celtic player had the chance to join Oxford United after their relegation from the Football League two years ago.

“I work in the Blacksmith Arms in Gosforth,” Dale said. “The regulars are all football daft. The last match was on the big screen and tonight’s will be as well. I work days and my days off are Tuesdays and Saturdays, so it fits really well around the football.

“I had a trial at Oxford two years ago. I was offered a contract but didn’t take it. I’d just moved out of home and didn’t think there was enough money to live in London. I would have had to give my job up too.

“I want to play league football, of course. I think that’s what everybody wants to do. If something comes from it being on telly or watching me, that’s great. I hope I get picked up, but if I don’t it’s not the end of the world.”

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