What has the Northern League ever done for us?

#7 Sheffield Wednesday

Jack Allen, Teddy Davison, Mark Hooper, Chris Waddle and Gerald Young all have two things in common: they were born in the North East and are some of the greatest players to have ever worn a Sheffield Wednesday shirt. Several other players from the North East have also played for the South Yorkshire outfit including Ian Bailey, Billy Felton, Brian Joicey, Ian Knight and Graeme Lee. The area can even be forgiven for Chris Adamson and Andy Sinton’s much-derided spells at Hillsborough.

But one footballer from the region, who was one of Sheffield Wednesday’s most important players during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, has often been a forgotten figure in the club’s history. His name is Ray Blackhall – one of the most underrated players to have come from the North East.

Blackhall, who was born in Ashington in February 1957, started his career in August 1974 as a trainee at Newcastle United. He made his debut in March 1975, during Newcastle’s 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, and quickly became known as promising right back. Although Blackhall was affectionately known as “Bomber” during his time at St James Park, he struggled to become a first-team regular and was reduced to making sporadic substitute appearances during his first three seasons at the club.

He made more of an impression during the 1977-1978 season, as he made 21 appearances and scored two goals in the FA Cup – which included a freak wonder-goal from the wings. It was to be his last season at the club, though, as Newcastle United were relegated from the First Division.

Hillsborough was Blackhall’s next destination after Richard Walden abruptly left Sheffield Wednesday – just before his contract was due to expire – to secure a move to Newport County, as he had just purchased a house in the South. This caused a defensive crisis for manager Jack Charlton, who was forced to play teenage centre-half Peter Shirtliff at right back, until he paid £20,000 for Blackhall’s services in August 1978. He developed into an attacking and cultured full back under Charlton’s stewardship, although his reputation as a tough-tackler remained.

Blackhall made his debut just four days after joining the club – in a 1-0 League Cup victory over Doncaster Rovers – and he was ever present in his first season, until he suffered a serious knee injury during a friendly with Guernsey Club Vale Recreation in February 1979. He fully recovered from this injury, though, as he helped the Owls achieve promotion to the Second Division in the 1979-1980 season.

This was slightly soured by a dispute with the club over wages, but he remained a regular fixture at Hillsborough after signing a new contract in June 1980. He only missed one match during the 1980-1981 season – where the Owls consolidated themselves in the Second Division with a 10th place finish – but he lost his place in the side during the 1981-1982 season, due to the emergence of a young Mel Sterland. Blackhall’s appearances in the blue-and-white stripes became less regular and he requested a transfer in March 1982. His participation in a 2-2 draw at Rotherham United in May 1982 was the last of his 140 first-team appearances for Sheffield Wednesday and he left the club later that month, after his contract had expired.

He quickly secured a move elsewhere, though, as he accepted a short-term contract from Swedish side IK Tord in July 1982 and he later moved to Mansfield Town on a free transfer in November 1982, where he made 15 league appearances. He left Field Mill in May 1983 – after he was released from his contract – and he had an unsuccessful trial at Carlisle United in 1984, as he struggled to find a new club.

He moved back to the North East in September 1984, after signing for Northern League outfit Blyth Spartans. It was during this point when Blackhall started working full-time in the steel industry, before relocating to Kensington in order to join the Metropolitan Police. Although his tenure at Hillsborough was not as memorable as Hooper and Waddle’s spells, he still remains one of the Northern League and Sheffield Wednesday’s most unsung heroes.

Many thanks to Wednesdayite, real ale drinker and connoisseur of semi-forgotten 90s music Chris Ledger. Check out the brilliant Obscure Music and Football for more of Chris’s work, or follow him on twitter here.

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One Response to What has the Northern League ever done for us?

  1. Paul Potter says:

    I bumped into Ray Blackhall in 2001 during my service with the Met Police DPG. I was on a hospital guard with Ray and got talking about Newcastle, me being a lifelong fan. He told me how he did not enjoy his time at NUFC and I recalled how the crowd called ‘Blackhall you bastard’ during the games…..I remember it vividly despite being just 10 at the time of going and watching Newcastle.

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