Non League Daily

Non-League rekindled my love for the game says Robins boss Fenton

An England Under 21 international, a transfer to the reigning Premier League champions, playing in the Champions League and playing alongside the likes of Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, Tim Flowers and Colin Hendry. 

Graham Fenton had it all as a player; however the likeable Geordie admits that he fell out of love with the game during his career

Starting as a junior at Aston Villa, Fenton moved to then-Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers for a fee of £1.5m in the summer of 1995, just months after making his England Under 21 debut against the Republic of Ireland.

However, after leaving Ewood Park for Martin O'Neill's Leicester City in 1997, the midfielder went on to have spells with Stoke City, St Mirren and Blackpool, as well as making short-term loan moves to Walsall and Darlington.

The loan spell with the latter turned out to be the final move of his professional career and he moved into the Non-League game with Northumberland based club Blyth Spartans, a place where he revealed his passion for the game was rekindled.

"I had fallen out of love with football during the latter stages of my career and it was Non-League that brought it back. I have found the players to be decent people who work hard and have a good attitude towards the game. Working with people like that brought the enjoyment back and I am very happy doing what I am doing at this level of the game"

Fenton spent six years at Spartans, a time when he became the club's assistant manager under the management of firstly Paul Baker and then Non-League veteran Harry Dunn. In his time with the latter, Fenton enjoyed an FA Cup run to the Third Round with the Croft Park club.

Now as a manager himself with EBAC Northern League side North Shields, Fenton is enjoying more cup exploits in the FA Vase. His Robins side are two ties away from a Wembley final and head to Southern Counties East League Erith and Belvedere this coming Saturday for a Quarter Final tie.

Fenton's side have seen off fellow Northern League sides Northallerton Town, Seaham Red Star and Stokesley as well as Emley and Phoenix Sports on their way to the last eight of a competition he described as "huge for the club's future"

"We are trying to increase the club's profile and the revenue we bring in. The new clubhouse is to be built and as always there are bills to pay. We have made good progress and our gates are up, we are moving the right direction and we want to bring the glory days back to North Shields. The FA Vase is huge for the club's future if we want to do all of that"

Seeing Fenton describe the progress made at the club as "good" may well be slightly underplaying it. The Robins spent last season in the second tier of the Northern League but romped to the division title to secure promotion by the end of March. Their upward curve continued as they shook off any thoughts of a relegation battle with an explosive start to the campaign and one that has shown few signs of stopping.

Ahead of their FA Vase Quarter Final the Robins sit in fourth position in the Northern League Division One table, just four points behind leaders and former Vase finalists West Auckland Town. Fenton admitted that his side were always "quietly confident" that they would have a positive first season back amongst the Northern League's elite.

"We set ourselves targets and maybe we didn't quite envisage the season panning out how it has. We had a points goal, that has been passed and although we were quietly confident we did set ourselves a top ten target. We have a great bunch of lads and hopefully we can go from strength-to-strength"

So does the former Premier League star hanker for a return to the professional game? A place where his former Blackburn Rovers team mates Tim Sherwood and Chris Coleman now manage, the latter with the Wales senior side. Fenton is indifferent to the idea, citing happiness at being in close to home and family but admitted that could change in the future.

"I have done my time away, I am really not that bothered. I have my family close in the North East and my kids are at home so I am happy. I had offers from down South at the end of my playing career but I was happy to come back to North East and I am certainly happy staying here. Maybe if things change, when the kids fly the nest, my attitude may change but the challenge at North Shields excites me and I am enjoying it so it won't be soon"

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