He is best known in the North East as the Geordie who stopped Newcastle winning the title but Graham Fenton hopes to make history for a different reason with Blyth Spartans. Chief sports writer Luke Edwards reports
GRAHAM Fenton was not the only Geordie in the Blackburn Rovers team 12 years ago, but he was the only Newcastle supporter who took the blame for wrecking United’s title bid.
While Fenton has been treated like a Pariah since that infamous occasion in April 1996, Blackburn’s best player, Alan Shearer, went on to become a legend at St James’s Park following a £15m move back to the North East just three months later.
Shearer is a Geordie icon and is afforded hero-like status after ten successful years on Tyneside, but his young team-mate on that day has never been given such a shot at redemption.
For the rest of his career, Fenton has been shown the contempt of a traitor for having the audacity to score two late goals for the club who paid his wages against the club he supported as a boy.
At 34, the midfielder from Wallsend, who began his career as a trainee at Aston Villa in 1990 after failing to impress his local team, is sick of having to listen to the same tired accusations and the same old abuse.
“That goal against Newcastle still gets mentioned now and again and I suppose I will take it to the grave with me,” said Fenton, whose brace against Newcastle were two of only seven goals he scored during his time at Ewood Park. “I have to accept that.
“It sometimes irritates me, but it’s just one of those things. Some people still have a go at me about it, but I’m not the only Geordie to have scored against Newcastle, am I? What did people expect me to do, miss?
“The thing is people still blame me for losing Newcastle the title, but it wasn’t even that result that did it. Newcastle lost the title that year when they lost 1-0 at home to Manchester United when Peter Schmeichel was superb and made save after save.
“People still blame me, though, because I’m an easy scapegoat I guess, but there are more important things in life to worry about. Yeah, it annoys me when I have to listen to people saying the same stupid things about me after all these years, but I’ve got on with my life, perhaps some people should do the same.”
Tomorrow, however, Fenton will have an opportunity to make a name for himself in North East football for rather happier reasons when he is part of the Blyth Spartans side which takes on Shrewsbury Town in the first round of the FA Cup.
It is the first time Blyth have reached the first round proper of the competition in 11 years and has brought back vivid memories of their magical FA Cup exploits in 1978, when more than 45,000 fans crammed into St James’s Park to see them play Wrexham in a fifth-round replay.
“It’s been a long time coming for Blyth,” said Fenton, who is the club’s assistant player-manager. “It’s been more than a decade since we were last in the first round and when you have an FA Cup history like ours, that is a long time to wait. You are aware of the history as soon as you join the club, it is something people are very proud of, but perhaps it has weighed heavily on players in the past, being constantly told about 1978 and what the club achieved. We just have to enjoy this experience and you never know what will happen on the day, that’s the beauty of the FA Cup. I don’t think you will ever see another non-league team in the fifth round again, not with the way football has gone and the money involved.
“First and foremost we want to give a good account of ourselves, but as I keep saying to the lads, there is always at least one giant-killing in the first round, so why shouldn’t it be us (who does it)?”
It was five years ago, following the death of his father and with his enthusiasm for the game evaporated, that Fenton decided to sign for Blyth. Having slipped down the leagues from Blackburn, taking in Leicester City, Stoke, St Mirren, Darlington and Blackpool on the way, Fenton had begun to dread the daily grind of the professional footballer. He explained: “This has been a fantastic move for me and has given me my love back for the game if the truth be told. I’d just stopped enjoying it. I know that sounds strange, I used to love going into training every day, but that vanished.
“I didn’t see eye-to-eye with a few people and I worked for a few egotists and ended up hating it. It was a job, nothing more, and not a very enjoyable one at that. When my dad died in 2001, my wife and I made the decision to come back to the North East and that was when I signed for Blyth. It isn’t as financially rewarding as league football, but I’m a lot happier.
“I think there are a lot of players like me in non-league football, players who lost their love for the game and wanted to do something else as well as play football.
“When I was at Darlington and Blackpool I used to look at some of the players and I couldn’t believe they were playing league football. And when I look at some of the players in our league, technically they are definitely good enough to play in the league, but for one reason or another they have ended up not making it. Sometimes it is a complete mystery, but the FA Cup is a chance for them to show what they are really capable of.”
Blyth Spartans would like to remind supporters the game against Shrewsbury kicks off an hour earlier than usual at 2pm tomorrow.