Newcastle Blue Star FC might be in the eleventh tier, but their sights are set firmly on Wembley. Dan Tracey transports us to NE15 and proves that Newcastle is way more than just a one-club city.
By Dan Tracey. Images By Josie Lamb.
While the takeover of Newcastle United may have generated plenty of sporting headlines in recent times, there is more to footballing life on Tyneside than just the Magpies.
This is demonstrated by an incredibly healthy non-league scene – one that sees some of the region’s best make a near-annual trip to Wembley as finalists in the FA Vase. And with the likes of Hebburn Town, both North and South Shields and Morpeth Town winning the trophy in the past decade, it is fair to say that this part of the country is a non-league hotbed that encompasses every step of English football’s non-league pyramid.
And although Step 7 is not eligible for entry into the FA Vase, it is still a level that has the ability to create fascinating stories; none more so than the story going on within the West End of Newcastle right now. With an eleventh-tier club being able to welcome more than 1,000 paying supporters on matchdays, something special is happening at this level.
The club in question can be found in the NE15 postcode, an area of the city which has played host to Newcastle Blue Star FC since its revival in 2018. The original iteration of the club won the FA Vase back in 1978, but hard times followed in the new millennium and operations ceased in 2009, bringing seventy-nine years of activity to a swift end.
However, through the vision of a local businessman, a star has been reborn and with owner Steve Best breathing new life into Newcastle Blue Star FC, it is not just a Wembley return which is currently on his agenda. When you look at the list of North East clubs that have tasted success at the home of English football and then moved further up the pyramid, that is exactly what the team at Blue Star are aiming to achieve.
With the club currently operating in the Northern Football Alliance, the seventh tier of non-league football in England, the only way is up. And with the work that is being carried out, both on and off the pitch, upward mobility does not seem all that far away.
Take, for example, Blue Star’s Scotswood ground, which would not look out of place further up the pyramid. It’s a world apart when compared to some of the more rudimentary locations that you find within the division. This is a ground that has seen a countless number of volunteer hours poured into its construction and with every home game that takes place, there is always some new structure or stand which seemingly appears from nowhere.
It’s clear that Blue Star do not want to just make up the numbers in the Northern Football Alliance and if progress up the league ladder is to take place, then the ground will need to match the talents on the pitch – talents that are aiming for promotion at the end of this season. With Covid-19 halting their ambitions over the past couple of years, it has only added extra impetus to their latest attempt at progress.
Whether such attempts are converted into glory remains to be seen, and although there would be massive disappointment if it did not happen this time around, the mood at Blue Star will not be one of panic, either. Steve Best is very much of the mindset that promotion will happen and when it happens it will come at exactly the right time for the club. First and foremost, he says, this project is not about who can spend the most money at this level – it is all about sustainability:
“Washing its own face is what I have said from Day One. We were perhaps guilty of getting carried away at the very beginning, but we learned very quickly that money does not buy you success. I think you have to have the right players and the right characters.
“Not only that, but we need to have diverse ways to generate funds, be it hospitality, functions or club shops. I may be new to owning a football club, but I run a steel business Monday to Friday away from Blue Star, so I know what is needed from a business point of view.”
Steve continues: “If I left here tomorrow, this club would still stand the test of time due to the revenue streams in place. When I do eventually step aside, all the time I have spent here and short-changed my family will be worth it, because there will be history and we are creating something for the future.”
This is an approach which is backed up by the pathway of talent that is currently being cultivated, and with teams competing from the Under 9s junior leagues all the way through to the first team itself, the pipeline is already in place for future years.
Of course, laying down a pipeline of talent is one of the more fundamental aspects of running any football club and Blue Star will not be the only outfit at this level that will look to put such building blocks in place. So from that standpoint alone, there is nothing to really set them apart from everyone else. But if that is the case, why are so many people deciding to walk through the turnstiles on any given weekend?
Thanks are due in large part to the owner and the committee members who have managed to tap into an enormous amount of local pride. Pride that comes with rebuilding a club from the bottom up and aiming to go as high as they possibly can.
Not forgetting, too, that people in this area of the country simply love their football and although the city of Newcastle is viewed from the outside primarily as a one-club city, that notion is simply not the case.
Steve Best acknowledged this when I spoke to him a few months ago on the club’s own podcast. When referencing the catchment area for support, he observed: “The west side of the city, there is a big hotbed of football there. In the past, I’ve watched kids and adults who have to go further afield to play and with Blue Star we have thankfully managed to tick all the boxes in terms of junior and senior competition.
“It has been a sleeping giant for me. I was surprised that nobody in the past has looked to tie it all together in terms of a link from junior to senior football. Usually, you see players go elsewhere at sixteen because their development path comes to an end. Thankfully at Blue Star that will not be the case.”
From a personal point of view, I cannot stress how much of a community club Blue Star is. A community that has made me feel a part of not just Blue Star but also the local area since I moved here from London back in 2020. It is this community spirit that welcomes everyone through the gates, and as the club’s motto is “Feel Like You Belong”, that is exactly what I and countless other hundreds of people feel every week.
These are people who have not just taken an interest in what happens in NE15 because of previous anti-Mike Ashley sentiment up the road, but because it is something that they can truly be a part of. Here you are a supporter and not a customer.
It is the pint while standing around the perimeter of the pitch; it is catching up with people you know and making new friends with strangers. Sometimes one of the difficult things is managing to watch the game in front of you, because you are always talking to somebody else.
It is simply that kind of club, a club that may have given refuge to bewildered fans in the past but which now stands alone. A non-league juggernaut which is gaining incredible momentum and is not planning on stopping anytime soon.
Blue Star is everything a football club should be. Inclusive, progressive, community focused, ambitious, hardworking, but most importantly – and this is what some clubs have been guilty of overlooking – fun.
If ambition won promotion up the football pyramid, this outfit would already be knocking on the doors of the Vanarama National. However, ambition alone does not win you league titles or promotions.
Thankfully, it is not just ambition which is in place at Blue Star. With everyone at the club playing a fundamental role in its day-to-day operations, progress up the ladder is not a case of if it happens, it is going to be a case of when.