Robbie Dale exclusive: Blyth Spartans legend on his mural, career highlights, 'amazing' fans and retirement
The final strokes of paint have dried on the surface of the Robbie Dale mural.
Months of planning, stress, fundraising and hard work are over.
While Dale no longer struts his magic on Croft Park’s hallowed turf, he now stands taller than ever - 25-foot tall to be precise - overlooking his second home.
Supporters may never get to watch their local hero again but one glance at the mural on their journey into the stadium will forever bless them with irreplaceable memories.
“The artist has done an amazing job - it looks great,” Dale tells the News Post Leader.
“I’m very proud to have a mural up in the town and so close to the ground, so I'll see it quite often.
"It will be strange walking past it on my way into the ground.”
In February, a group of supporters – led by Simon Needham and Alan McLean – launched a fundraiser to raise £5,000 for the mural.
Within weeks, the target was met – another firm indiction of what Dale means to the Blyth fans – before talented artist Frank Styles began work, three weeks ago.
Outsiders might frown upon it being situated on the side chip shop but the people of Blyth will rightly tell you, Gino’s is the perfect and iconic location on Plessey Road.
“I’m honoured that the supporters would want to do something like that as a kind of thank you for what you've done for the club. It shows how much I meant to them.”
The feeling is definitely mutual. From Dale’s debut in March 2005 and even till now – their bond is understandably unbreakable.
“I've had an amazing relationship with the fans from day one. I've given everything for them, tried to entertain them on the pitch.
“They’re amazing. They've followed us everywhere and supported us no matter what.
“They stick with you even when it’s going wrong and sing their hearts out for you and the club.”
A young and unknown Dale was signed by Blyth legend Harry Dunn, who recently labelled him as his greatest-ever signing.
For all the personal and team accolades Dale achieved at Blyth, a statement from someone as experienced and well-connected as Dunn is quite something in itself.
“Harry means a lot to me, so for him to say that means a lot."
We could sit here all day and list Dale’s achievements at Blyth – so we’ve let Dale pick out the standout ones.
“The highlights were the league titles as it meant we were the best team and nobody could say otherwise."
And what about the FA Cup?
With Blyth Spartans well renowned as the cup giantkillers – Dale twice led the team into the dizzy heights of the third round.
“Getting to the third round twice was amazing but second round ties were my proudest moments.
"At Bournemouth in 2009, the fans supporters travelled from everywhere, there were some flying down from Edinburgh.
"In 2015, I was captain when we beat Hartlepool away. We beat a Football League club on their patch.
"People talk about the Birmingham tie but honestly, the two goals were just a bonus in that cup run.”
His exploits, on more than one occasion, made national headlines.
Oxford United, managed by the late Jim Smith, were one of the professional clubs to come calling.
But Blyth is where his heart is at – and that can only be admired.
“I had a few opportunities to move on from Blyth but I think, in the end, I played football where I felt happiest and that was at Croft Park.
“You should try and enjoy your football while you can and I did that.”
There is just something unique and special about Blyth Spartans. You’ve got to be there to feel it.
Just ask the five players who re-signed for the club last week – Dan Maguire, Nathan Buddle, Michael Liddle, Jordan Watson and Sean Reid.
After two years away, they were chomping at the bit to come back.
“There is just something about the club where lads seem to love playing and play their best football.
“I’ve spoken to so many lads over the years who've left and just wanted to be back at the club.
“Lads genuinely miss playing for Blyth when they move on.
“Blyth Spartans means a lot to me. It was the team that took a chance on me.
"It has been part of me for 16 seasons, so it's a massive part of my life. I've won league titles, had two trips to the third round of the FA Cup.
“I have great memories and I'll always be attached to the club."
Covid-19 regulations prevented the Croft Park faithful from saying a proper goodbye last year but that opportunity will still come around when his testimonial is arranged.
“Retiring during Covid wasn't great as I didn't get to go out on my terms – I still think I had plenty to give.
“I didn't get to say a goodbye to the fans or thank them for their support towards me but I'll get my chance though.
"I'm supposed to be having a second testimonial. I won’t forget them.”
And while fans beg Dale to give it one more season, his only plans, at present, are to join them on the terraces.
“I will definitely be coming to games, especially to watch some of the lads who've returned.
“I'll be going to a few away games as well - it’ll be nice to have that match day experience with the fans and sample the atmosphere on that side of the fence.”