Photo: Blyth Spartans AFC

Despite the close-season exodus at Blyth Spartans, the rebuild did leave them with a former Premier League player and Championship boss at the helm in Lee Clark. The flurry of necessary arrivals at Croft Park also included a former EFL player and one of non-league’s most effective current frontmen – the not so shy and retiring Scott Fenwick.

He was one of the main protagonists in the Hartlepool United side that astonishingly clambered to League Two survival in 2015, and over the past year or so, Scott Fenwick has been putting National League South defences through the mill for Chelmsford City. The former Tranmere Rovers and York City player returned home to the North East this summer, linking up with Blyth Spartans in the National League North.

At 29, though, he is in no mood to start sitting back in his armchair and harking back to Football League (EFL) days gone by.

“I’m a motivated lad,” he said. “You do make mistakes in football, you are naive, sometimes you get advised by the agents and whatnot and you pick moves based on other things rather than where you think you’ll be happiest.”

“There’s still a massive desire to get back (to the EFL); I know I’m good enough to play in those leagues. Football’s football, you do your talking on the pitch and if someone wants to sign you then they’ll make it happen.”

Spending time with Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland as a youngster, the time since has taken the Gateshead native to various places. But for circumstances beyond his control, his own wishes, or the surprisingly disparaging words of one former manager (as he will detail later), a whole host of other destinations could be sitting there now on his footballing CV.

One aspect he has consistently established, though, is a winning rapport with supporters, and the bonds he has shared with numerous people over the past decade he feels are the litmus test of him as a character.

“I’m not a football robot; there are a lot of lads who’ll just go through life not saying anything and just agree with things just to say they’re footballers. I’d say the reflection of myself is every single team that I’ve been in, I’ve still got a relationship with the bulk of the players.

“If there’s weddings, birthdays, christenings, arranged nights out, I’m always there. Even the boys in Malta (from his time at Naxxar Lions), I just got back from Austria not long ago going to visit one of my teammates, because I have that bond with people.”

His new manager was part of the 1990s Newcastle United ensemble he looked on at with awe as a kid on Tyneside, with Lee Clark making an ultimately unsuccessful bid to sign him for Kilmarnock three summers ago. A belated link-up it might be, but former Huddersfield Town boss Clark has identified Scott as the ideal candidate to lead the way with presence, influence and personality in a young Blyth team this season.

Scoring nine times in a packed pre-season that brought nine victories, if it wasn’t Spartans stalwart Robbie Dale wearing the captain’s armband, it was Scott. He arrives off the back of an emphatically positive 14 months at fellow Step 2 side Chelmsford City, with 21 goals and 23 assists in 54 games for the Clarets.

Few should be unaware of his new club’s reputation as one of non-league’s most renowned names, but the mass outgoings at Croft Park after a 2018/19 in which they remarkably made the play-offs included manager Alun Armstrong and several players to Darlington, as the club’s ambition was called into question. In that sense perhaps, the erstwhile League Two marksman’s acquisition was something of a coup.

Stoking the dressing room spirit is as much a Scotty Fenwick hallmark as his forward play, and he has been quick to get it bubbling since his summer move.

“I’m the changing-room music man; I walked in there straight away at Blyth and put my ownership down! I think the boys have taken to it really.

“I was the music man at Chelmsford, at York at times, then when Gary Mills came in there was a lot of lads from different areas and the more r&b stuff went on, which isn’t me at all. For one specific song, I’m a sucker for ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2; cheesy football song before a game.

“I can’t imagine any of the young lads at Blyth would listen to that before we went out; maybe Robbie (Dale) would. My OCD’s a joke when it comes to superstitions; if we win, that same playlist goes on a week after.

“I know it does some people’s heads in but it has to happen.”

In terms of desired credentials, it was probably much more the ‘old-fashioned, aggressive nine’ part that ticked the box for Lee Clark. Like the ex-Fulham midfielder, being back home is a cornerstone of why he has joined Blyth for the coming months.

With family close by and the club half an hour or so up the road, it is some contrast to where Scott headed just shy of two years ago. After a York City spell in which the club were Wembley winners in the FA Trophy but relegated from the National League, a non-contract stop-off at Darlington preceded an adventure in Malta that was both brilliantly and woefully surreal.

As he has alluded to previously, the prelude to his Naxxar Lions exit – though he could never be accused of jumping ship without allowing fair chance for the situation to improve – was the chairman withdrawing his backing of the club. Before that, it had been a lap of luxury.

“Malta was unbelievable; if the problems off the pitch hadn’t have came, I don’t think I’d be back. For the first month, we lived in a hotel, it was a big five-star complex, we had recovery pools, ice pools, sunbathing areas, all the food and everything was paid for, big double rooms each.

“You got up, you trained, you had a recovery, went back to sleep, got up and trained again. It was a pretty intense schedule but it was unbelievable.

“The facilities and the standards that they had out there for that level of football was a joke. People used to ask what the standard was like and I just used to say it was similar to home.

“Teams like Valletta and Birkirkara play in the Champions League qualifiers now and it shows you what kind of players are out there.”

Rather than a gradual realisation that cutbacks were happening, it came to light in pretty clear circumstances, as Scott recalls.

“There’s a lot of international players out there and you get a winter break, so we had a mid-season schedule booked to go to Dubai. We were told we could fly back home to England and lads from different countries could go back home, but we had to report back to Malta for 27th December because we were flying to Dubai for five days.

“So we had sent our passports and everything in, we end up flying back and it was cancelled out the blue; even the manager didn’t understand why. We’re all at the training ground expecting the bus to come and pick us up to go to the airport.

“Then we were due to be paid at the end of the month – that didn’t come. ‘Oh, don’t worry, there’s been mishaps, it’ll come in January, you’ll get double salary.’

“Out there, everything was kind of paid for, so I was saving a lot of my wages. It got to January, no wages again, and I was thinking ‘this is two months now,’ so I contacted the PFA at home and they said they couldn’t intervene until it’s three months.

“So now there’s a thing amongst the squad where lads are refusing to train, some lads had families, some lads had their own apartments that they paid for themselves. It got to March and no wages again, so this was nearly four months without pay.

“I was thinking ‘I’m living away from home with no income, I’m owed this amount of money, what am I gonna do?’ So the PFA instructed us to just get on a plane and fly home.

“That’s a contractual situation that’s been going on for quite a while now and still not resolved.”

It led, however, to a spell in which the ever-buoyant attacker was given extra cause for enthusiasm. From Naxxar, he made it most of the 2000 miles back to Gateshead – just a couple of hundred or so short, as he signed for Chelmsford City last March.

“When the opportunity came to go to Chelmsford it was the most random thing ever. I spent a month there non-contract, because I still had a contract abroad, so I wasn’t allowed to sign professionally at home.

“I had that unbelievable month down there and I just thought ‘I’m happy,’ the lads were great, some of my ex-teammates were there, the facilities, I got on with the manager and assistant, Rod (Stringer) and Nick (Haycock), like a house on fire, the staff were mint. I just thought ‘why not have a crack at it?’

“I’d been to Malta, lived in Liverpool with Tranmere, I’d had a spell at Hartlepool, I moved to York, and I thought ‘why not London? Let’s see what it’s about.’”

The former Durham City goal machine made headlines beyond non-league with back-to-back hat-tricks of penalties against Whitehawk and East Thurrock United (as he scored four in the latter). Ending the 2017/18 campaign with 11 goals in ten games, he extended his stay with the Essex club and linked up to great effect last season with top scorer Rhys Murphy.

A pivotal part in them reaching the National League South play-offs again, Scott was on target against Welling United in May’s semi-final, but just like the season before against Hampton & Richmond Borough, that was the Clarets’ last stop. The pull of home was proving too strong, but he bid a fond farewell to the club, and he gives no shortage of credit to Rod Stringer for presiding over a hugely productive 14 months in his career.

“He’s probably one of the best managers I’ve had in terms of a motivator. He always used to banter around and say he’s the best man-manager in the world, and I’d probably believe him from the way he could get the best out of people, and definitely me.

“He knew when I needed an arm around us or when I needed a rollocking; I like that old-school approach and I always have. We lost two play-off semi-finals in the time I was there and I was devastated because I promised them I’d get them out of that league, but I’m hoping that the club get out of it this year.”

Nevertheless, staying in a division rather than getting promoted into one ranks as ‘the greatest thing I’ve done in football’ for Scott. He had earned his Hartlepool move in November 2014 from Dunston UTS, signing for then-League Two Pools on an 18-month deal.

He bagged six goals in 19 games in the remainder of that season, but as all Poolies know, that doesn’t tell half the story. In a season that included the dramatic second round FA Cup exit at home to a Blyth team three divisions lower – Jarrett Rivers and all that – TMH 2014 Limited took over the club and Ronnie Moore arrived as manager in mid-December, with Pools six points adrift of Football League safety.

The gap was ten points in January, but Scott was on target as they beat play-off-chasing Exeter City 2-1 at Victoria Park in the season’s penultimate game to stay up. He had attracted attention from the likes of Portsmouth in the midst of his best form and says he felt ‘untouchable’ at times.

His esteemed gaffer from that spell remains the manager who has most struck a chord with him, even if an arm around the shoulder wasn’t always the Rotherham United legend’s preferred approach at the time!

“It’s still Ronnie Moore for me. I was devastated when Paul Murray left after such a short space of time, and Ronnie came in, he did a little speech in front of all the lads and then he just kind of stayed away for three days, just watching from afar and (assistant) Sam (Collins) was taking training and whatnot.

“I remember he pulled us into the office on a Friday and he just said to us ‘you’ve got something.’ He was like ‘I see it, you’ve got a knack in the box, and I can make you better,’ so he was kind of helping us learn the game a bit and he would give us video clips to watch this one and to watch that one.

“He was hard on me, he would call us ‘Dog & Duck’ and stuff, and I don’t know if that was like a motivational factor for me, but he would always say ‘you’ve come from the Dog & Duck,’ and I used to just think like ‘who you talking to? I’m better than your strikers that are here now and they’ve been in the game a long time.’

“I knew I would always back myself and he just knew how to motivate us. It was his way or no way, and that’s what it was; he was there to keep Hartlepool United in that league.

“It was like people had given up, but there was a core in the squad that hadn’t. He knew just how to push you and he just brought everyone together and it was unbelievable.”

A move to Gateshead was all but agreed earlier this year, though the well-documented and farcical turmoil the Tynesiders ultimately had to come through before Ranjan Varghese’s nightmare tenure came to an end understandably put paid to that prospect. Coming from Allerdene, Scott grew up with Cardiff City striker Gary Madine from nearby Birtley, one of his closest friends and a golfing partner these days.

“He’s one that would grief us for playing golf when I was a young ‘un and now he probably plays more than me.”

From this football-besotted part of the country, though, so many players packed with potential fall by the wayside. One name sticks in Scott’s mind that bit more for what might have been – a player who made his one and only Sunderland appearance against Blackburn in the FA Cup ten years ago.

“We had a good group of core players growing up that were all good at football – there’s a few who should be playing at higher standards now but for different reasons they’re not – but there was a lad called Nathan Luscombe. We couldn’t get near him – ever.

“He was little, he was chubby, but he was the fastest kid on two legs. His technical ability was a joke, his strength was a joke.

“I know the reasons why he did go off the rails, but I’ve always had a go at him over the years and said ‘don’t make excuses of everyone else, it was down to you.’ Nathan Luscombe should be the lad who’s captaining Liverpool, because people like Jordan Henderson got nowhere near him when we were kids.

“He was the one that everyone talked about and now he doesn’t play football at all.”

Keeping the camaraderie flowing is something he doesn’t tire of, and he cherishes that side of what, in truth, is often not the kindest of games. Amongst others, he shouts out a former Norwich City defender and Chelmsford teammate for being a standout in that regard – “Mickey Spillane – absolute nugget.”

He loves the laughs and prides himself on the on-field work he puts in, so he was understandably taken aback when hearing his character had been attacked by someone he had previously worked with in the game.

“I’ll say it now that I’m back home and this’ll maybe put a little bit of light on things. Without naming names, there was a club interested in signing us last summer, from League One.

“It was down south, so I knew I wasn’t coming home again, and all my coaching staff at Chelmsford, all my teammates, had obviously been contacted by this manager, given us references. They’d obviously bigged us all up, saying I’m a big personality, I’m a great lad etc.

“The manager said ‘I’m speaking to Rod, we’re obviously going to give them a bit of compensation because they’ve looked after you on non-contract terms, I want you to come down, do a medical and get everything sorted.’ So I’m thinking ‘right, I’m going to this club.’

“In the meantime, this manager has been an ex-teammate of someone I’ve worked under in the North East, who then said I didn’t turn up for training, I used to turn up drunk, I was a bad egg in the changing room, I didn’t get on with people, I was selfish, and basically just described the complete opposite person of who I was. I couldn’t understand why someone in the game would just make up bare-faced lies, so that hurt us really.

“A part of us was like ‘do I get on the phone and say ‘why have you done that?’’ but I thought if this manager wants to listen to one person, rather than everyone I’ve been with the last few years, then that’s down to him.”

Back to the here and now, Blyth are the ones to get the benefit of having him in the ranks, and he talks of fitting his coaching around playing and training. After a 2-1 defeat at home to Gloucester City in last Saturday’s season opener, with a late penalty for a foul on Robbie Dale curiously denied, a trip to Alfreton Town this coming weekend is their chance to bounce straight back.

Scott is confident the goals and the wins will flow, as will the odd potshot in his direction from a teammate or two!

“The Blyth lads, we had our first night out recently and they’ve seen what I’m about. They’ll grief me and say I’m the old man of the team, with us being 29, but I was getting IDd at the bars just like they were!”

Spartans’ senior citizen still has the best part of a year until he turns 30, but looking back so far, what has he learned from football? Is he wiser for his experiences?

“I should be wiser. I should keep my mouth shut sometimes.

“I think that’s what I’ve learned, but at the end of the day, I’m a fiery, passionate lad, and I can’t accept losing. That’s why I battled to get out of the lower leagues, because I knew that I had that ambition and I want to be successful, no matter what.

“I’m a competitive lad, I went to play mini-golf on Sunday with a few friends and I had to win. I’m a Geordie lad who loves football, but at the same time, I like to have a life.

“I’ve always had a great relationship with fans, no matter what club, because when I’m on the pitch I graft and I make sure I do everything I can to win that game. Maybe sometimes I should have just kept my mouth shut and sat in the background like other people, but then that’s me being fake.

“I’d rather have a full-on argument with someone face to face, then agree to disagree, shake hands and walk off. I couldn’t be fake and just nod my head and be like a puppy dog and not say anything; it’s never been me.”

Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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