A new era is underway at Newcastle Blue Star.
In this most disrupted and decimated of seasons, change has certainly been afoot as well down at Scotswood. Following Kenny Wharton’s departure as manager in late-August, Steve Preen and Robin Falcus had overseen proceedings, but were confirmed as amicably stepping away as February was drawing to a close.
Liam McIvor and Paul Bryson are the new men at the helm for the Northern Football Alliance Premier Division outfit, with McIvor joining from league rivals Ponteland United. Bryson, meanwhile, was Sunderland Under-18s lead coach until six months ago, when his near-two-decade association with the Wearsiders came to its conclusion.
The one-time Chester-le-Street player-boss featured on this site back in November, having linked back up with former club Birtley Town to lend a hand this season. As March begins, the action may not be back, but the anticipation is alive and well for the Gateshead native.
On the current level of familiarity with fellow incoming Blue Star boss McIvor, he explains:
“I’ve known Liam a bit over the years; obviously he played non-league football when I was involved with different clubs. He’s had a long association with Ponteland, and when I was at Gateshead full-time prior to going to Sunderland, we used to send players to Ponteland.
“There’s still a few Gateshead players playing at Ponteland, so I’ve known Liam through that way more than anything else.”
West End club Blue Star announced the addition last summer of former Newcastle United man Lee Clark as director of football, with the ex-Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City boss having a particular emphasis on advancing the youth side. On the latter, it is fair to say there are very few who match Bryson in that regard in the North East.
NEWS 📰 | Former Sunderland AFC Academy Coach joins i2i Sports
Welcome to the family, @PaulBryson7! 🤝
— i2i Soccer Academy (@Thei2iSA) September 20, 2020
As Gateshead College head of football, he worked with the likes of Sheffield Wednesday’s Adam Reach and Sheffield United’s Chris Basham, not to mention Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson as a teenager at Sunderland. With a full-time role today at the renowned i2i International Soccer Academy, he discusses whether he had been looking to get back involved as a manager at senior level, or if the Blue Star gig came like a bolt from the proverbial.
“A little bit of both, to be fair. When I was at Sunderland, I thought that would be it for another couple of years.
“You never say never in football, you never know what’s around the corner. When I left, I went to i2i, done a little bit at Birtley, which I enjoyed, but the biggest thing when I got the call off Stevie (chairman Steve Best) is the ambition that the club hopefully is gonna go places, and it was just being really up for that challenge.
“So whilst it came a little bit out of the blue, it’s blew us away a little bit, so I’m really looking forward to the challenge and being part of hopefully a successful team and club going forward.”
Alongside McIvor, ‘Brysa’ will be picking up a team who were 10th in the Northern Football Alliance Premier Division ahead of the 2020/21 action being halted. He will certainly be working from a foundation of familiarity, too.
“I know about 80 per cent of the players, I would say. Off the top of my head, there’s players like Andrew Bulford who played for me at Gateshead before he went to Darlington as a pro, Michael Dixon centre-midfield, Luke Gilhespy, Sam Norris.
“So I have coached quite a few of the players in previous years.”
A long-time striker in non-league, his aforementioned role with i2i Academy sees him offer tutelage to American students who train alongside studying. With so much compromised in the past year – from the authentic sound and feel of a match day, to everything we have come to recognise about social settings in general – he has been grateful in no small measure to still be able to coach.
“My full-time job with i2i, we’ve still been allowed to do one-to-one training, so that has kept us busy, kept us ticking over. It’s kept us involved, and I’ve been very, very fortunate that we could do that.
“It hasn’t been the same as training normally, but there’s a lot of bigger things going on in the world. My love for it is still the same, so hopefully come the end of this month, we’ll get the news about starting to train again.
“I think they’re on about having a cup competition, so that’ll be great, and for myself and Liam to assess the players in competitive games. Then we can have a proper look at the squad that we’ve actually inherited and then see what we need from there.”
Those plans for a round-robin cup competition for the league’s divisions are intended for April and May. While Bryson, who himself played until 43 in 2007, is probably an outside bet to feature in a starting line-up sometime soon, the core enthusiasm has never waned, from Redheugh Boys Club to Newcastle Blue Star.
“Getting on the grass with the players, that’s where I get my biggest buzz from. Then putting into practice what we’ve done there into the game, come the Saturday.
“That camaraderie’s massive as well, and that’s what we’re looking to build. Build a team that really wanna play for Blue Star, they really wanna be there and be part of the club going forward.
“I’m really excited about it – you can probably tell in my voice!”