Harry Dunn exclusive: 'Robbie Dale didn't think he was good enough to play for Blyth Spartans' as iconic mural gets underway
Harry Dunn is one of Blyth Spartans’ most successful managers.
Yet asides from all his accolades at Croft Park – two league titles, a Northumberland Senior Cup and a FA Cup third round tie with then Premier League side Blackburn Rovers – Dunn is also the man who convinced Robbie Dale arguably the club’s greatest-ever player, to sign.
And as explained by Dunn, it was far from an easy task. After all, Dale, who is Blyth’s all-time record appearance holder and hailed as Dunn’s “greatest-ever signing”, genuinely believed he wasn’t good enough to wear the green and white shirt.
That, quite frankly, is a story in itself.
"We had a scout called Jim Forrester,” Dunn recalls. “He’d recommended a couple of players we signed before he told us about Robbie - he was absolutely buzzing about him.
“He basically turned around and said we wouldn’t sign a better player if we didn’t sign Robbie.
“I went and met Robbie at his mother’s pub. We had a chat and the top and bottom of it was, he didn’t think he was good enough. He really didn’t think he was good enough.
“It was more hard work trying to sign him than what it was in all the years he played for us.
“I must have travelled up about three times to see him. I lived in Bishop Auckland so it was about a 60-mile round trip each time!”
Running out of ideas – and petrol money – to persuade Dale into joining Spartans, a cunning Dunn had one final plan.
And to say Dunn had pulled off a masterstroke is an understatement.
“The only way I could get him to play was by tricking him,” Dunn reveals. “What I said was ‘if we’re ever short, will you come and help us out?’ He said ‘yeah but I don’t think I’ll be good’.
“We had a couple of injuries at the time and we had Wakefield and Emley to play in midweek, so I rang Robbie up the night before and said ‘we’re struggling badly tomorrow, will you come and just sit on the bench just in case we need you?’ He said ‘yep no problem’.
“When he came, I left it until about half an hour before kick-off to pick the team and I started him. I told him one of the lads had failed a fitness test and that he’d have to play.
“Obviously, I didn’t give him a chance to have any nerves before the game or anything like that. He played and scored a hat-trick. I think he’s the only Blyth player ever to score a hat-trick on his debut.”
Three goals on his debut were just the beginning of a spectacular tale and one that is unlikely to be heard of ever again at any level of football.
Dale appeared in 17 consecutive seasons for Spartans. In that time, he scored 212 goals during 680 appearances before hanging up his boots last year.
The 36-year-old’s achievements are simply too long to list, which is why it’s no wonder why Dunn, without hesitation, labelled Dale his greatest-ever signing.
Dunn admits: “To be perfectly honest, Robbie should have made enough money out of football not to work again.
“He should have played at Football League level and that’s no disrespect to Blyth.
“I’ve been a manager and involved in football for years and he was the best player I ever signed. Simple as that.
“There have been a few players I’ve signed who’ve gone onto to play in the Football League and he was better than all of them.
“I watch the EFL programme before Match of the Day on Saturday nights and when I see some of those players playing for great clubs in the EFL - Robbie was much better than a lot of them.”
Dunn is adamant Blyth, or any other club for that matter, will never see his like again – and it’s hard to argue otherwise.
“He’s done fantastically well for the club. Robbie is a one-off. He is a one-off type of footballer.
“He’s big and tall but his control of the ball was first class. He’d go past people as if they weren’t there and scored some terrific goals.
“I can’t see there ever being another Robbie Dale-type player or personality.
“The fact he was voted the second-best player in the Northern Premier League behind Jamie Vardy - I think that just says it all."
Last Tuesday, the Spartans-faithful moved one step closer to honouring their hero in truly fitting fashion after work for Dale’s mural got underway.
The mural, painted by Sunderland-based Frank Styles, cost £5,000 in fundraising and will be situated just outside Croft Park on the side of Gino’s Fish Bar.
It ensures Dale’s legacy is etched into Blyth soil for years to come.
Dunn says: “It’s great. I would never have thought of doing something like that. I think he might catch on, I really do.
“It’s great for Robbie, it’s great for his brilliant family.
“When you think of a little place like Blyth, to be able to put a mural up about a local lad, not somebody who cost millions of pounds or earned mega-money, is great.
“Some signings work out and some don’t but as far as Robbie is concerned, it worked out very well.”
Not a bad days work for somebody who thought he wasn’t good enough to play for Blyth Spartans.