By Mark Carruthers
In a week where Blyth Spartans fans celebrated a win over league leaders Stockport County, manager Alun Armstrong heeded warnings of trouble times ahead – and is contemplating bringing his three-season stay at Croft Park to an end.
The 44-year-old former Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town striker has been informed his budget has been cut substantially despite taking Spartans to the brink of the play-offs in National League North.
With the likes of Dan Maguire and Peter Jameson out of contract in the summer, a mass exodus is the worrying reality for the Northumbrian side – especially since the board will not offer new contracts until players take a pay cut, says Armstrong.
“The budget is being cut – I’ve been told to get cheaper players from the Northern League, something I’m not willing to do,” said Armstrong.
“In reality, those Northern League players can probably earn a similar amount at a lower level – we can barely compete with local teams in lower divisions.
“I will keep battling away, I feel as though I am dragging this club along as high as I possibly can.
“I have been told by the board that they cannot afford to go up – when our lads are fighting tooth and nail to get into the play-offs.
“That is the thing that’s bugging me more than anything else – this is not what they told me when they offered me a new contract last year – and this was one of the reasons I decided to sign it. They’ve gone back on their word.”
“The minimum I want is to keep the players I’ve got. If I can’t I would really have to consider my own future in the summer.”
Despite the lack of resources, and competing against full-time sides, Armstrong and his side go into the final three games of the season three points outside the play-offs.
“We have gone all season without tracksuits, even Robbie (Dale) has said that has never happened before.
“We’ve had no new training gear, and we have to train on a five-a-side pitch when I asked for a full-size training pitch and nothing has been done.
“And to put it into some perspective, the budget I’ve been given for next season is lower than my first season at the club in the Evo-Stik Premier, when we had crowds of under 400, we now average 700.”
According to Armstrong, the board have insisted that for more money to be invested in the playing staff, gates must further improve to the 1,000 mark – but the manager believes there are other means to attract investment that are yet untapped.
“The players literally can’t do anymore to get bums on seats, it’s probably the best squad that Blyth have had in recent history.
“Everybody knows we need to bring more money in commercially and build closer links with the local community – but nothing seems to happen.
“All that will happen is fans will be blamed for not reaching four-figure crowds every week – despite attendances being as high as they’ve been in recent memory.
“If we don’t get up there into the play-offs – which the board do not want – I am worried what is going to happen to this squad; I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it together.
“It’s getting to the point where almost all my players will be out of contract as the board won’t let me offer any contracts unless it’s at a reduced wage.
“The people I feel for are the hardcore fans who are here week in week out, wanting their club to progress.”
By Mark Carruthers