Our Road to Wembley

Graeme Bailey talks with Blyth Spartans chief Tony Platten

Our Road to Wembley feature is back as the FA Cup roars back into action with the first round proper.

30 non-league teams are left in the competition with their eyes firmly fixed on the promised land that is the third round - when the Premier League clubs enter the fray.

Last year we were blessed to follow some tremendous teams and brilliant ties as we witnessed FC United's victory over Rochdale in the opening round, before seeing Brighton's brave run, which was only ended by Stoke, who we stayed with until the final where they lost to Manchester City.

This year we began our FA Cup journey in the North East of England with one of non-league's most famed clubs - Blyth Spartans.

For those who don't know, Blyth lies on the Northumberland coast, some 13 miles north of Newcastle.

The club themselves, founded in 1899, have never played league football but have one of the best records in non-league football when it comes to the FA Cup, making the first round no less than 33 times.

Before we go any further we must tackle the name Spartans. There is nothing complicated about it, just founder Fred Stoker thought the name would gave the players hope as they went into 'battle' on the field in similar vein to the Greek Spartan Army.

So to the modern day, Blyth are currently in the Blue Square North, just two promotions away from league football. And although things have not gone too well this season, chairman Tony Platten insists they are not too worried as things stand.

"If you consider that we have not played the same team all season, then that would explain a lot - we are putting together a good team," Pullen told skysports.com.

"We have had a few results go against us and the odd decision, but we are confident things will turn around."

Platten admits the magic of the FA Cup is served better in fewer places than at Croft Park - their 4,500 capacity home.

"Many a chairman would look at our FA Cup record with envy, I would imagine we have one of the best FA Cup records around, and we do try our best and we do love it," he continued.

"The town is buzzing again, the local press are loving it, we will be live on local radio with Newcastle and Sunderland not playing because of the internationals and we will be getting television exposure too."

Local draw

Many at Blyth would have been hoping for a league draw, but next best is a local derby which is what they have got with Blue Square Premier outfit and long-term rivals Gateshead their opposition.

"Of course when the draw is being made you want league opposition, that is natural as it would have caused a huge amount of attention, and when Gateshead came out I was in two minds," Platten said.

"But we are very much looking forward to this match and I think it will be a great game."

The fact Blyth drew Gateshead brings comparisons between the two, and for much of the last decade the Tyneside club were below the Spartans in terms of league positions, but consecutive promotions saw them make it to the Conference in 2009.

Now Gateshead are a full-time side and, with the financial backing of their chairman Graham Wood, are pushing for promotion to the Football League.

But Blyth do not cast envious eyes in their direction, whilst they have league ambitions they are doing things in a different way, indeed the club has an ownership model that would be the envy of many lower league clubs.

Blyth are owned by 2,500 members who all have a shareholding and the club is run by Platten and his board.

"If you look at the facts and figures, most of football is unsustainable especially in the lower leagues, and now we have the Conference which is virtually fully professional," he continued.

"You get the likes of Crawley, now Fleetwood and even Gateshead who do their budgets as they see fit - but we travel to all lengths of the country as we are, and I know how much that alone costs.

"We have our own budget set, we work to around 550 attendances and we know we can sustain that.

"And our image is very much still here, our ground - the main stand thanks to our last big cup run 2009 - is up to standard with all four sides covered too.

"But our fans know what is going on, some obviously are never happy, but we have the community in mind too."

Whilst not splashing the cash, Blyth have managed to secure a coup of their own by bringing in highly-rated marksman Jamie Mole.

The 23-year-old Geordie was a free agent after leaving Hearts in the SPL and has considerable experience from numerous loan spells in Scottish League football.

Now Blyth have snapped him up and he has already shown his potential with three goals in two games.

"He is a local lad, who was happy to come here," said Platten.

"We didn't risk him in our last game as we wanted him to be ready for Saturday."

Next week we will bring you all the reaction from Croft Park as we see who makes it to the second round.