PAUL Brayson will make a long awaited return to St James’ Park when he captains Blyth Spartans FC against Newcastle United Reserves in the Sage Northumberland Senior Cup Final on Wednesday, May 11.
The striker joined his hometown club at the age of 14, and despite breaking goalscoring records throughout his days in the youth academy, he could not force his way in to a first team which included stars such as Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, Les Ferdinand and Faustino Asprilla.
Like many youngsters in the Newcastle ranks at that time he had to look elsewhere for regular first team football and fled the Magpies nest in 1998 to join Reading for a fee of £100,000.
Looking back at his time with the club he still supports to this day, Brayson said: “I was doing well and making a name for myself in the youth sides by scoring regularly.
“Newcastle had a great side then, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to get in to the first team when you looked at the players Kevin Keegan was signing.”
It was not just personnel standing in Brayson’s way of making it at Gallowgate, but a decision by Keegan himself to scrap the reserve team in order to preserve the St James’ Park turf for his ‘Entertainers.’
Brayson said: “It was a shocking decision really. I was fortunate in a way because I was still young enough to play for the youth team, but you would see players slightly older than me only having a game every few weeks.”
He added: “It stopped players progressing in their careers because they weren’t getting regular football and I think it made a lot of younger lads think twice about joining the club.”
During his time in a black and white shirt, Brayson made just two first team appearances before Kenny Dalglish sold him to Reading on the eve of the 1998-99 campaign.
Brayson admits it was his decision to leave St James’ but with hindsight may have bided his time as the arrival of Ruud Gullit 12 months later saw a younger squad develop.
He said: “As it happens, Gullit came in the season after and started giving all the young players a chance.
“You can never say what might have been if I had have stayed. But I don’t regret it – I went to Reading and then Cardiff, and that was probably where I was happiest during my career.”
Following an unsuccessful spell at the Madejski Stadium a switch to Cardiff led to him rediscovering his form in front of goal.
He continued to find the net at Cheltenham Town, Northwich Victoria and York City before a return to the north east eventually saw him end up at Blyth Spartans two years ago.
The striker claimed the Blue Square Bet North golden boot in his first season and was on course to repeat the achievement this term, but not a single goal in his last six games has seen him lose out.
As for the game on Wednesday, Spartans fans may have painful memories of his last appearance in a Senior Cup final.
He said: “My first game at St James’ Park was actually for the reserves against Blyth in the final of this competition – we beat them 5-1 and I scored twice.”
Looking forward to this year’s showcase final Brayson said: “We’ve had a long hard season and I think the week and a half break will do us the world of good, it gives us a bit more time to prepare.
He added: “The pitch will suit our passing game and it should be an entertaining match.”