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Morpeth Town midfielder Ryan Donaldson has twice tasted success at Wembley - and wants to add more FA Trophy glory to his list of achievements.

By Steven Oldham 

Donaldson no stranger to success 

The 30-year-old played a key part in Cambridge United’s successful 2013-14 season. His two goals in the Trophy final against Gosport Borough helped them win the competition for the first time.  United were back at Wembley two months later for the National League playoff final - where Donaldson’s  goal helped secure the side’s return to the EFL.

Having returned to his native North East with Hartlepool United in 2017, he now combines his playing career with a coaching role at Morpeth’s academy.

Now his side must play York City once again - having pushed their Step 2 opponents to a replay in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round this season. The Highwaymen have already eliminated Boston United on their way to the last 16.

Midfielder hungry for more 

As Craig Lynch’s side enter the fifth round for the first time, the draw could have been much worse.  Local rivals Spennymoor Town face a 536 mile round trip to National League Dagenham & Redbridge, for example.

Donaldson is happy to have avoided the tournament favourites and have a chance to progress to the quarter finals - and beyond. 

He said: “We wanted a home tie ideally,  but we got the second closest away game in York. We’ve avoided the biggest teams - we didn’t want to go away to a Wrexham or Stockport with the form they’re in.
“It’s another big test for us, but we’ve played York already this season and we know what they’re about. We’ve got a good following going down there, so it’s an opportunity to relish. 

“I’d love to go back to Wembley  - I’ve won the Trophy before and I’d love to get my hands on it again. We know how big the challenge is, but we’ve got this far, so why not aim for the final?” 

Memories to last a lifetime

Donaldson is clearly ambitious, yet remains incredibly modest about his own achievements. He describes himself as ‘very fortunate’ to have played at Wembley twice and concedes he ‘did alright’ in these games. 

His memories of the 2014 final are still clear in the mind.

“It was special, that was my first time at Wembley. It’s amazing to play and score there in front of your family.  Walking up those steps at the end and lifting the trophy is brilliant.  The pitch is huge, which you don’t realise until you get there - it doesn’t come across on TV.
“You can see the arch from miles away as you drive to the stadium, and it takes you back to being a kid watching FA Cup finals.  To be part of that, and then win, is something that I’ll remember forever,” he said.

From Hartlepool to the Northern Premier League 

Less than a year ago, Donaldson was playing his part once again as a National League playoff winner. 

He scored the winning penalty in a shootout victory over Torquay United to seal Hartlepool’s return to the EFL after four seasons in non-league.  The game - played at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate - was played in front of a crowd of over 6,500 - at a time when Covid restrictions were still partially in place. 

Offered a one-year extension to his contract, he turned the deal down in favour of a move to Craik Park.

Initially it may seem like a strange choice, but the switch allows him to develop his coaching career and continue playing at the same time. 

“It was coming towards the end of Covid regulations, so we managed to take a lot of fans down and make it feel like a big game. It was a crazy game, with their keeper equalising in injury time and having to go all the way to penalties.
“I’ve been really lucky that I have good memories of big games and I’m hoping to create more. 

“The chance to stay at Hartlepool and play EFL football again was really big, but it was only a one year deal.  I didn’t want to be in the same position again next year.  Leaving Hartlepool was really difficult, it’s a special club and I loved my time there. I hope they do well and I’m still a massive fan, but I have to look to the next 20 years and not just the next 12 months.  
“I was 30 last year, and thought it’s time to try something different.  I’ve been really lucky in my playing career that I’ve been able to do it full time since leaving school, so I wanted to try something different. It’s challenging - it’s a completely different environment and skillset.
“I’ve been dipping into coaching for the last couple of years, and the opportunity came up to start with the academy here and still play.
“I’ve seen what the chairman’s done for this club and where he wants us to go, and it just felt like something I wanted to be part of. Every day throws up something different, but I’m enjoying it,” he said.

Ambitious Morpeth aiming for Step 2 

Donaldson must’ve wondered what he’d let himself in for initially, with Morpeth losing seven of their first eight fixtures.

Fast forward to today however, and things are looking much healthier.  The club have lost just twice since October and have climbed into the league’s top ten, just six points away from the playoffs. Not bad for a team that was rock bottom in late September. 

They avenged one of those defeats to South Shields in midweek, with Donaldson believing they can take inspiration from the promotion chasers. The hard-fought 1-0 victory tasted even sweeter following a surprise loss to Nantwich Town three days earlier.

“That was a big game for us against our local rivals, who are where we want to be in the league. It’s a big three points to take off them. It was a really hard fought game against the only full time team in the league.
“We knew it was going to be tough, but we always back ourselves against the bigger teams.  Apart from the Nantwich game, our form has been outstanding since October. It’s always nice to get one over on them. 

“It was a really difficult start, we didn’t have the pitch down at the start of the season, so played away for the first four games and didn’t pick up a single point.  You start to worry even at that early stage about being left behind. We won two or three games on the spin and were still in the bottom four - you think ‘how are we going to get out of this’?
“It’s credit to the manager, who’s been different class.  He’s only young, but he’s made the game really simple and put players in their best positions. He deserves enormous credit for the run we’ve been on.

“I want to do well here and try to get this club into the National League North.  There’s big opportunities to be part of that North East group at Step 2 - there’s a lot of big games waiting for us in that league.
“South Shields will definitely be part of that in the next year or two, and we want to be part of that. We don’t want to be left behind.  There’s a lot of hard work before we get there, but it’s definitely an aim for the club to compete with the likes of Darlington and Blyth. . We’re probably three or four years behind South Shields in terms of development, who are a good example for a team like us.  When we can see what they’re doing, it inspires us as a club to have more success,” he said. 

Morpeth travel to York City in one of Saturday’s eight  FA Trophy clashes. You can read a full fifth round preview here.


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