FA Cup: Blyth Spartans fan who last missed a game in 1987

By Owen AmosBBC News website
FA Cup second round: Hartlepool v Blyth
Venue: Victoria Park Date: Friday, 5 December Time: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Two from 19:30 GMT, full commentary on BBC Tees and BBC Newcastle, updates on BBC Sport website.

In January 1987, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Bobby Robson was England manager and Jeff Young missed his last Blyth Spartans match.

Since then, Young has seen more than 1,500 Spartans games in a row. That's every game, in every season, for 27 years.

The FA Cup first-round tie against Altrincham in November was his 1,500th; the second-round game against Hartlepool, live on the BBC on Friday, will be his 1,507th.

Young will be one of more than 1,000 Spartans fans making the 40-mile trip down the north-east coast for the match.

With Hartlepool bottom of League Two, Spartans - 19th in the Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of English football - can be forgiven for dreaming of the third round.

But whatever the result, Young will be at the next match, a league game at home to Trafford on Tuesday. At 1,507 not out, he's not going to declare yet.

Blyth Spartans AFC
Play in the Evo-Stik Premier Division - the seventh tier of English football
Reached the FA Cup fifth round in 1977-78 while still a Northern League team
Average league attendance this season is 458

"I never intended to reach this milestone," he said. "My motivation is always the next game. I just like going to the match."

And what do his friends and family think?

"Most of them are Spartans fans," he said. "I think they're quite impressed."

The closest he came to missing a game was when his brother - an inconsiderate soul - got married on a match day.

"I managed to attend the wedding but missed part of the reception for you know what," said Young.

And he had a decent excuse on 27 January 1987, as well.

It was a midweek FA Trophy replay away to Bath - a 650-mile round trip from the Spartans' home in Northumberland.

Unable to find a lift, he followed the match in the only way possible: the black and green twilight world of Ceefax.

"I remember sitting in front of the television, waiting for the page to update, watching and waiting," he said.

Jeff Young in his Blyth shirt at the Monaco grand prix
Jeff Young wears his Blyth shirt with pride at the Monaco Grand Prix

"I don't think the score came through until half an hour after full-time. There was no instant communication in those days. Eventually I saw it - we won 1-0 after extra time.

"I let out a yell. I think my mother, who I lived with at the time, got quite a shock."

It was the last time he would have to follow a match on Ceefax.

Since that night, he's seen three promotions - from Northern League, through both divisions of the Northern Premier League, to the Conference North - and one relegation, back to the NPL.

There have also been famous FA Cup ties, including a 4-3 defeat at Blackpool in the first round in 1997, and a run in 2008-09 that ended with Spartans losing 1-0 to Blackburn Rovers in the third round.

Wade excited by Blyth's cup test

Young, who is 49 and from Stakeford, just outside Blyth, started watching Spartans in the 1970s and was hooked by their record-breaking cup run of 1977-78.

Blyth won eight ties, progressing from first qualifying round to fifth-round proper, before losing in a replay to Wrexham at St James' Park.

"I was a young lad, growing up, and to see those games was amazing," he said. "It just kicked on from there.

"It's difficult to sum up getting the bug. I simply got on the bandwagon and didn't get off.

"But there is a uniqueness about Blyth Spartans - the name, the shirt colours."

Jeff Young's favourite game
"It was a Northern League game away to Murton (a former mining village near Sunderland) in the early 1990s. We had two men sent off and played for an hour with nine men. It was 1-1 at the time. There was a group of us congregated behind the goal and none of us thought we'd win, but we did. It was incredible really."

Just how much he had "kicked on" didn't become clear until another fan reached a milestone.

"I didn't have a clue how many games I'd done - I didn't keep count," he said.

"Then our former secretary, Anne Donnelly, did her 1,000th game in a row and received a lot of publicity. I spoke to her, said I hadn't missed a match since Bath, and asked how many I was on.

"Anne was very much the statistician. She came back a week or two later and said: 'My 1000th game was your 700th game in a row'.

"After that, I lost track again. Then at the end of one season, I came in from work one day, and there was a card on the doorstep.

"It said: 'That game at Bamber Bridge was your 1,004th consecutive game. I'm glad there's someone as crazy as me.'

"The card was from Anne, and since then I've kept a record."

For Blyth manager Tom Wade - who has also supported the club since he was a boy - Friday's game against Hartlepool is a reward for Young and the Spartans' other diehards.

"It's a fans' club," said Wade. "It survives on the revenue the fans put in, via the clubhouse or the gate money, so the Cup run is for them."

Blyth Spartans v Wrexham, 1978
Jeff was hooked by Blyth's 1977-78 FA Cup run, which ended with defeat by Wrexham

And what does the gaffer make of Jeff?

"He's a fountain of knowledge," said Wade. "If you ask him about a game in 1999, straight away he'll tell you the result, who scored - and whether it was a sunny day."

Sunny day or not, Jeff has no thoughts of packing in, especially as he's now the Spartans' fixture secretary and kitman, travelling to matches on the team bus.

"I know this might sound daft, but it's very rare I feel that I can't be bothered," he said.

"Having said that, I do enjoy the close season. It's a chance to catch up on some sleep."

With his job at an electronics factory giving him the time off he needs - "you have to have flexible shifts if you're getting in from a midweek away game at 3am" - 1,500 not out could easily become 2,000.

And his amazing streak might have been even longer.

"A week or two after I missed the game at Bath in 1987, we played North Shields," he recalls.

"I saw my mate there and he said: 'Why didn't you come to Bath? You could have got a lift with us - there was space in the car!'

"Now you tell me, I thought. I didn't know whether to laugh, cry - or hit him!"

Croft Park, Blyth
Jeff Young hasn't missed a home game at Croft Park, Blyth for 31 years

Tell us your stories of fan dedication

Missing weddings, hitching lifts or spending your life savings? We want to hear about ways in which you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support your team.

Let us know your tales of dedication in no more than 100 words by emailing sport.interactive@bbc.co.uk. We might use some entries in a story.

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