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Spartan Fenton awaits Rovers tie


Fenton ready for Rovers challenge

In May 1995, Blackburn Rovers were crowned Premier League champions, and just six months later, signed promising young striker Graham Fenton from Aston Villa.

Fast forward 14 years and Blackburn are no longer Premier League champions. They remain in the top flight, but it is vastly different story for the player they once signed.

Fenton, 35, has a player/assistant manager role at Blue Square North side Blyth Spartans, having quit league football six years ago following a spell with Darlington.

He admitted his career since he left Blackburn has not panned out as he might have wished.

"After Blackburn I did the rounds, went to Leicester where I had three of the worst years of my life and then went to Walsall, Stoke, St Mirren, Blackpool and Darlington," he told BBC Radio Newcastle.

"My father passed away, we'd just had a little boy and we decided moving back to the North East was the best thing for the family. I moved to Blyth and have been here since."

Fenton has been off the radar for a long while since dropping out of the professional game.

However, this season's cup run has brought new focus on Spartans, and in particular Fenton as a former professional player.

And down to the luck of the draw, Blyth welcome Rovers to Croft Park in the FA Cup third round on Monday, hoping to build on their giant-killings of Shrewsbury and AFC Bournemouth.

Graham Fenton
Fenton found himself in the shadow of Alan Shearer at Blackburn

It is an occasion the Whitley Bay-born forward is relishing.

"We were down at Leicester in a hotel and when the draw was made we were jumping around. I was over the moon it was Blackburn.

"Aston Villa were still left in the hat so there was a slight chance of getting one of my old clubs."

In his two years with the Lancashire side, he made just nine starts as the prolific duo of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton stood between him and first-team duties.

In the end, he scored seven goals in 27 appearances, but only two of them will he be remembered for - the two strikes in the last four minutes in April 1996 at Ewood Park that wrecked Newcastle United's title dream.

Trailing 1-0, Fenton equalised on 86 minutes, then got an 89th minute winner to single-handedly beat his home town club and boyhood heroes 2-1 and break Kevin Keegan's heart, not to mention those of 50,000 Geordies.

He readily admits that there has been little contact with people at Ewood Park since he left for Leicester in 1997, but he has been able to stay in touch with a few of his old team-mates.

"I know David Dunn," he said. "I was there when he was a kid the first time around, but he's injured at the moment and might not be fit to come up.

"Other than that, there is Gary Croft who just recently retired.

"He did his stint at Blackburn before going onto Ipswich, Grimsby and Lincoln. He's the only one I really keep in touch with."

Blackburn's form in the Premier League had been poor prior to the arrival of new manager Sam Allardyce, who has instilled new belief in the club since taking over from Paul Ince.

However Fenton believes Rovers cannot afford to field a weakened side for their televised trip to Croft Park, given the need to build momentum.

My brain still works on the football pitch but the body doesn't quite get me to where I want to go

Graham Fenton

"I don't think he's going to rest a lot," he said. "I don't think Sam is that silly to think that if he plays a full reserve team they're going to get everything their own way.

"I've been fortunate this year to have seen their reserves play at Newcastle.

"If they do play their full reserve team we'll have a good chance of going through."

Fenton's role at Croft Park has been restricted to coaching in recent months due to a lack of match fitness.

And the likeable Geordie is realistic about his chances of making the first XI for the big game, regardless of his desire to play.

"I'm not naive enough to think I can get myself fit enough to play against Premier League players within a week," he said.

"It's still the same thing of tight calves. Whenever I get myself doing any serious work I get tight calves and I think the body's trying to tell me to pack it in.

"Until I get a proper serious injury and actually break down I'm going to keep on trying and trying until my body tells me that's enough.

"I'll be on the bench I think as we're under strength. My brain still works on the football pitch but the body doesn't quite get me to where I want to go."

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see also
FA Cup third round draw
29 Dec 08 |  FA Cup
Blyth boss so proud of his team
17 Dec 08 |  FA Cup
Blyth Spartans 1-0 Bournemouth
16 Dec 08 |  FA Cup
Blyth plot Cherries cup upset
28 Nov 08 |  FA Cup

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