For so many already, 2019/20 has been deemed the season that never was, though Scott Fenwick has more reason than most to hold out hope that it may not quite be done and dusted.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to put everyday life as we know it on hold, with the game that we love sadly (but rightly) far off in the distance in regard to priorities at present. It is hard to curse your luck too hard in such wide-reaching circumstances, but personal frustration is natural, and fair all the same.
Back in pre-season, Scott Fenwick had high hopes for his move to Blyth Spartans. It was the former Hartlepool United striker’s return to the North East via Malta and Essex, bringing as well the chance to work with a manager in Lee Clark who was part of the Newcastle United team he idolised as a kid, not to mention someone who had previously tried to sign him for Kilmarnock.
Suffice to say, it has been an arduous season for the Croft Park faithful, with Spartans nine points from safety in the National League North when the campaign was halted last month. In an October game with Heaton Stannington, their ex-Chelmsford City forward was stretchered off just a few minutes into his return to action after a fortnight out injured, this time suffering ankle ligament damage.
The original estimate was a two-month lay-off, but it would be more than double that in reality. As he shared in a detailed conversation with Non-League Daily last summer, the Gateshead-born player prides himself on being right amongst the liveliness in a dressing room, and grafting for every point on the pitch, so such a prolonged spell away from it all was everything he didn’t want.
He describes whether tunnel-vision focus on working his way back, or reflecting on and reminding himself of previous achievements and enjoyable moments, has been most preferred.
“I always look back on stuff; I think it helps you mentally knowing where you’ve been and what you’ve done. This one has been really hard because I haven’t been out this long since I was a kid.
“I’ve been relatively fit for the last couple of seasons, which is why I’ve played a lot of games. I just wanna make sure I grab a goal.
“I’ve never not scored in a season before! This would be my first one.”
Lee Clark’s managerial tenure came to an end on 4th March, with ex-Hartlepool defender Michael Nelson stepping in as player-manager. While discussing what lockdown life has been like in recent weeks, Scott reveals that the season suspension came just as he was on the cusp of returning.
“It’s been quite hard; you don’t realise how much freedom gets taken away from you. I’ve just been watching a lot of films, doing the odd work-out – I’d probably say eating and drinking more than anything!
“It’s been the odd run here and there, and some body weight stuff in the back garden when I can. Luckily, the girlfriend has a decent back garden, so we’ve made a head tennis court and me and her brother have been playing most days.
“I was due to finally be back in the squad the weekend in which the suspension started. It had been a long, long five-month recovery.”
Regardless of whether 2019/20 resumes play – and the null and void decision over Steps 3-7 of non-league already means there will be no relegation from the National League North – the season will not likely be taking pride of place in Blyth folklore. Back in pre-season, though, with almost an entirely new squad needing to be assembled, there was optimism that a side containing a number of local players being given the opportunity to step up the divisions could progress.
Scott offers his take on the struggles Blyth have endured this time around, in a notoriously strong league, with various former Football League clubs scrapping it out amongst the mix.
“I think the management staff underestimated the level, and I think some of the new signings got a massive shock in the jump in quality from the leagues they had played in previously. You need a good mental head to play in these leagues, because they are tough.
“You have to fight for every point from the minute the season starts until it ends. There’s a lot of experienced men in these lower leagues nowadays.
“I just think because the squad have never experienced professional football before, they didn’t understand (Lee Clark’s) methods and his approach to things. They were all new, young lads with virtually no experience of proper men’s football, and it showed massively.”
His former manager is of course a Newcastle fan who also played (with success) for Sunderland. While he has never donned the red and white himself, the Mackems have been getting some airtime of late for Scott.
“Sunderland ’til I Die was a good watch, despite being a Newcastle fan! I’ve also been watching the Harry Potter trilogy with the missus!
“The list goes on; I don’t think we have much left on Sky Cinema that we haven’t watched yet.”
On the subject of the Sunderland documentary, back recently for its second series on Netflix, Scott is asked which of his former clubs would have been ideal for such fly-on-the-wall insight during his time there. A pivotal part of Hartlepool’s great escape under Ronnie Moore in 2014/15, his eventful stint with Maltese side Naxxar Lions was discussed in his last interview, so we decided to stick to his time in England.
“Probably I would have said York. The back-to-back relegations, there was a bad atmosphere amongst the club, fans were unhappy with the managers, and we must have had nearly 50 players through the door in that season!
“New faces every day in the playing squad and trialists, we got so close to staying up, and then obviously, eventually winning at Wembley (in the 2017 FA Trophy final) was a bit of a madness.”
It is a season where nothing really has gone to plan, while he was also this month robbed of a proper 30th birthday celebration!
“A big party was planned on Good Friday night; all my family and friends, and a lot of ex-teammates had all made arrangements for a mad one. It’s something that needs to be arranged when this is all over!
“I must say my girlfriend and her family took good care of me on my birthday; they made it a memorable day either way.”
As far off as it may still seem, and how trivial it appears alongside loss of life, football will gladly return in the future. For Scott, he would love to help bring back some cheer for Blyth supporters, while the non-playing aspect of his footballing endeavours remains a firm part of his plans.
“There is a loyal fan base there in which they just want the best for the club. As long as you’re trying and giving your all, the fans will stick by you.
“I think they just want a little bit more success, punching at the right end of the league. There is a lot of talent up in the North East.
“I’m hoping to start my (UEFA) A (coaching) licence in the summer, and I’ve looked at maybe becoming a football agent, too. So, as long as I stay in the game, that’s all that matters to me really.”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes