Result: South Shields 2-1 Colne (Northern Premier League Division One North)
Venue: Mariners Park (Saturday 28th April 2018, 3pm)
With the Northern Premier League regular season entering its final round of games, I thought it only right to visit the home of one of the league’s three divisional champions and, with my railcard entering its final few months of validity (hurry up with that new one please), I decided it’d be best to head off to the side that is located furthest away. As such, and if the title hadn’t given it away already, I was off to the North East coast and to Mariners Park, home of South Shields F.C.
Setting off from a surprisingly sunny Manchester at just before half-nine, a quick change in York had me heading on down the tracks to Newcastle, arriving at a little before midday. After another swift connection down onto the city’s Metro system, I was soon eastward bound to the mouth of the Tyne. Eventually arriving into South Shields at around 12.30, I made haste towards the town’s Roman Fort….well, what’s left of it anyway. Unsurprisingly, the place is now little more than the foundations of the buildings that once made up the Romans’ Arbeia, (though a rebuilt gateway stands guard) and after a swift visit I continued onwards to the front and found myself outside the Harbour Lights restaurant/bar. Having walked into a brisk wind on the way there, I was in need of a warm-up and so headed within for a pint of Hop House 13, which set me back a little under £4. Not too bad.
After watching some of the Stoke-Liverpool early kick-off in here, I finished up and returned back to the town centre itself, where I bypassed the Wetherspoons and a few of its near-neighbours for the moment, instead preferring to explore the far side of the town, where I’d previously planned to begin my journey via the North/South Shields Ferry, before rail repairs put paid to that idea. Still, I had copious amounts of time in hand and soon arrived at the foot of the ferry terminal just as one of the pair of craft was pulling into port. I soon pulled into a kind of port too, though mine, unsurprisingly perhaps, was of the pub variety – namely the Alum Ale House, located in the shadow of all manner of shipping paraphernalia around the Tyne Dock. The Ale House was a lovely place with quite a number of punters taking advantage of the sun (not that it was warm to me!), though I stayed indoors with a pint of the fine 61 Deep.
From there, I continued a short way down the road, passing a pair of roundabouts until I arrived at the door of The Steamboat. Apparently, the Steamboat is a regular CAMRA award-winning place, though I didn’t much fancy partaking in another ale just yet. As such, I entered into the pub to find San Miguel which suited me just fine for the moment, whilst I took in the décor of the place, which encompassed all sorts of maritime stuff…and a Croatian flag. Never before have I seen a flag look quite so out-of-place! Regardless, the Steamboat has to be one of my favourite pubs visited this season. Characterful, warm and traditional. Sweet.
Sadly, time was quickly conspiring against me and I soon had to depart and return towards the bustling town centre and its market place. With a few drops of rain beginning to fall as I passed an old-looking church just off to the side of the tented stalls, I came across a pair of pubs just around the corner from the Metro station. A quick look at both helped me decide to pop into the Mechanics Arms, where I found one of my favourite lesser-spotted ciders on draught, Woodpecker. A pint of that was excitedly bought (yes, really) and I took up a seat at the window and watched bus-goers arriving into the town whilst being ferried from place to place.
A quick journey later and I was disembarking at Bede station, located a short five-minute walk away from Shields’ Mariners Park home. Arriving at the ground in what I thought would be plenty of time, I soon discovered that I was within the second thousand people to have gotten to the ground. Unsurprisingly, the in demand programmes where all gone by the time I paid in my £8 dues, though I was pointed in the direction of a small wooden hut which served as the club shop it appeared, where I was able to get another printed off at some point soon for a total of £3. With around 15 minutes still to go before kick-off, I reckoned now would probably be the best time to join the queue of people at one of the food bars and timed it well enough that I would be getting a nice, fresh batch of chips, not forgetting the gravy on top. For a further £2, these were pretty good too.
These kept me busy through the final few minutes leading up to the game before the teams emerged from the tunnel over the far side of the ground, with South Shields, led by former Sunderland & Middlesbrough man Julio Arca, receiving a guard of honour from opponents Colne, who were intent on making sure this would be the only niceties they would have handed out come five-to-five.
We were all soon set to go at Mariners Park, a ground located within an industrial estate, though is tidy and which features a few stands on the near side, with its Main Stand, bar, changing rooms and other amenities located across the way. The near touchline sees a pair of covered terraces, both a few steps deep, flanking a small seated stand that straddles the half way line. The opposite side sees and older, small covered terrace area that doesn’t particularly offer a great view of the action on a day like today, though did attract the most vocal of the Shields fan base it seemed. This stand is located between the clubhouse building and the Main Stand, the former of which also has an upstairs balcony-like area for those seemingly taking advantage of hospitality, whilst the latter has an area of terracing to the front, with the seats raised above the pitch, giving a good view of the action. Both ends are open, hard standing, with the far end housing a 3G training pitch and a large marquee over in the far corner alongside it, though this may have only been in situ today. So that’s Mariners Park in a nutshell and this is the story of the Mariners of South Shields….
The current incarnation of South Shields Football Club was founded in 1974 and is the third club to carry the South Shields name. The original club was formed in 1889 as South Shields Adelaide Athletic and competed in the Shields & District, Tyneside League & North Eastern League pre-WWI, winning the former in 1905, the Tyneside League on two consecutive occasions in 1906 & 1907 respectively and the same feat was achieved in the North Eastern League, the two titles here being won in 1914 & 1915. The club also won the wartime Tyneside Combination in 1916, whilst also winning numerous cup silverware in the form of two Durham Challenge Cups (1911, 1914), two Black Cups (1913, 1914) and an Ingham Infirmary Cup, also in 1914 with that year seeing the club achieve a quadruple.
The club was voted into the Football League’s Second Division in 1919, before financial issues necessitated a move to Gateshead in the late 1920’s, later becoming Gateshead A.F.C. The club would remain a League outfit through to 1960, despite having being relegated to the Third Division North in 1928. They finished as Third Division North runners-up in 1932, missing out on promotion on goal average before performances dropped off and they finished second bottom in 1937 but achieved re-election.
1950 saw another runners-up placing achieved (only the winners were promoted) and 1952 saw Gateshead reach the FA Cup’s 4th round – a run which included a win over Liverpool – but eventually, come 1960, they were “surprisingly” voted out of the Division 4 in favour of Peterborough United, despite not having finished bottom or had to apply for re-election since 1937. This subsequently meant the club saw out their remaining years in the local Northern Counties League (the North Eastern League’s replacement, before retaking the name a few years later) winning the North Eastern League’s League Cup in 1961 before switching into the North Regional League in 1962 and lifting the title in 1964. They became a founding member of the Northern Premier League in 1968, finishing bottom in 1970 and dropping into the Wearside League, finishing runners-up in 1971. A failed seven attempts to return to the league were encountered before a short two-season spell in the Midland League was had prior to their eventual folding in 1973 and the club being replaced in similar fashion by another South Shields FC club who were relocated to the Heed. This second outfit was also renamed to take the Gateshead name, becoming Gateshead United, but folded after only three seasons in the town.
Before their folding, the second club had started life as South Shields FC and were admitted into the North Eastern League in 1936, finishing third in their first season before winning the league title in 1939. After WWII, the club reached the FA Cup First Round for the first time in 1948, losing to Crewe Alexandra, a run which saw Chris Marron set a Cup record by netting 10 goals in a 13-0 preliminary round game against Radcliffe Welfare United. Three further league runners-up spots were achieved in 1949, ’56 & ’57 (the latter season also saw a second First Round cup appearance, the club taking Chesterfield to a replay) and the 1958 saw them reach the FA Cup’s Second Round, overcoming Frickley Colliery in the First Round before bowing out to York City. They went on to win that year’s North Eastern League title and also attempted to join the Football League afterwards, but this attempt failed.
The North Eastern League folded in 1958, with Shields moving into the Midland League, a spell which saw a second Second Round appearance achieved in 1959 (a run which saw a 5-0 revenge win over Crewe) and this was repeated the next season, only with Chesterfield taking the place of the Alex. Further attempts to join the League were unsuccessful and upon the Midland League’s demise in 1960, the club joined the new Northern Counties League and were joined by Gateshead A.F.C., the club they’d been formed to replace. 1962 saw another league runners-up placing and a League Cup win with the league’s renaming that same year preceding a further two second place finishes in the next couple of seasons, the league being disbanded in 1964 and Shields joining the North Regional League and after winning it in 1967, shadowed Gateshead in becoming a founder of the NPL and reached the FA Cup’s Third Round in 1970, eventually losing at QPR.
1972 saw them try to join the Scottish Second Division (along with Wigan Athletic) but they were rejected and after reaching the 1974 FA Trophy semi-finals, found themselves with no ground and so relocated to Gateshead to replace A.F.C. After a second failed attempt to join the league North of the border, a further two appearances in the FA Cup’s Second Round were achieved before their folding in 1977 and the forming of the current Gateshead outfit.
The current club formed in 1974 and joined the Northern Alliance which they won in both of their first two seasons before a switch into the Wearside League saw success continue, the title here being won in 1977, along with the Durham Challenge Cup. After winning the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup in 1987, they eventually moved into their own ground at Mariners Park in 1992 which led to a second Wearside League title in 1993 (along with the Sunderland Shipowners Cup) and a third in 1995 which saw the Mariners promoted to the Northern League’s Division Two and the following year saw them promoted again to Division One. This would only last a sole season however, with Shields relegated back in 2000 and despite the threat of the chairman at the time that he’d fold the club if relegation was suffered, the club were still around come the next campaign.
A second threat of closure in 2006 resulted in the club being locked out of their home though a new committee would be formed and save the club. On-field performances improved and 2008 saw promotion back to Division One finally achieved and the 2010 Northern League Cup ended a long wait for silverware. However, things took s dip and 2013 saw Shields relegated once more and forced to leave their home for Eden Lane, in Peterlee after their lease expired. 2015 saw them return home and they would win the 2016 Northern League Division 2 title and promotion back to Division 1. The next season saw the club go on a 32-game winning run which led to them becoming Northern League champions and also lifting the Durham Challenge Cup for a second time. They added the Northern League Challenge Cup and the prestigious FA Vase to these successes to achieve a quadruple after beating Cleethorpes Town at Wembley and their success has continued into this season, South Shields having won the NPL Division One North title and with it promotion to the Premier Division, under the ex-Sunderland duo of manager Martin Scott and captain Julio Arca.
The early stages of the contest saw a very quiet, tight opening with neither side giving much away to their opponents, Colne especially so having extra stakes on their side as the Lancastrian outfit looked to sneak into the play-offs via the back-door. The visitors would eventually fashion the first real chances of note too, with Matt Morgan firing in a low shot that flew wide of the upright, before Alex Curran forced a first true save out of either ‘keeper, South Shields’ stopper Liam Connell keeping out the effort.
The game continued being a closely fought affair, though the deadlock was eventually broken on the half-hour and it was the soon-to-be-crowned champions who would grab the opener. Shields won a corner when the Colne defence eventually scrambled the ball behind after it had twice been cleared off the line, but this resultant set-piece would prove to be their downfall as the ball eventually found its way to the feet of Lee Mason and he prodded the ball over the line for one-nil.
Having waited half-an-hour for the opening goal, they began to arrive like the much-maligned London buses. Just a couple of minutes later, the hosts won possession in the middle, the ball being brought forward by Michael Richardson before he played a nicely weighted ball into the platinum-highlighted coiffed Carl Finnegan, the striker cutting inside the defence and firing beyond Colne stopper Hakan Burton. That looked to be the end of the visitors play-off hopes for another season.
However, Colne had other ideas – though they did require a huge slice of luck and more than a helping hand from Connell between the Shields sticks. Just a few minutes before the break and having had very little to do up to that point, Connell was faced with watching a weak and seemingly unthreatening effort from full-back Waqas Azam into his waiting arms. Unfortunately for him, a huge bobble (or something anyway) caused the ball to rear up sharply, bypassing the ‘keeper’s grasp and rolling over the line with Connell watching despairingly on. Two-one and game on as we headed into the break.
An uneventful half-time came and went and I decided to start off the half in the small terrace with the louder fans, though, as I said earlier, found it to not be the greatest of places to watch from and so continued on round the ground for a second time. Azam had an early chance to double both his and Colne’s tally, but could only find the side-netting before Shields responded Luke Sullivan and Lee Mason going close to adding a third. Skipper Arca was replaced around this time too, having showed just how good he still is at this level, superbly marshalling the middle of the park for the Mariners.
From there, little of note really happened up until the last five minutes, with only a few wayward or blocked shots being seen and it looked as though Colne’s hopes were being snuffed out as the clock ran down. But, they were given some hope late on when Matty Pattison was adjudged to be time-wasting (I assume anyway) over a corner by the referee and received a second yellow, resulting in him getting his marching orders. He looked rather bemused, as were many in the crowd (me included), but the hosts were down to ten nonetheless and perhaps it wasn’t over yet for the visitors.
Indeed, the dangerous Curran forced Connell into another decent stop as Colne piled forward as the clock ticked over into stoppage time, but that was to be that, the champions held on to end their time in the NPL’s Division 1 North with a win, likely becoming the final ever winners of the division in this form, prior to its East/West split from next season. Colne would just miss out on a play-off to Trafford and Tadcaster (though both would resultantly bow out in the semis anyway) so perhaps got their disappointment out of the way! Julio Arca lifted the trophy to the cheers of the Shields faithful before the champagne was sprayed as I made my way out of the ground and back to Bede station for the train back into the town for a couple of post-match bevvies.
First up came the Wetherspoons I’d passed earlier, the Wouldhave – the name derived from a ship I think I noticed from the picture in the doorway. Either way, after seeing a couple of guys trip on the stairs on their way up to the loos, I opted to keep it easy with a quick bottle of Hooch before nipping next door to the Clover and Wolf, one of those foody bars. It was pleasant in here too and not too pricey, a pint of Moretti coming in at £3.30, before finishing up in the previously scouted out Kirkpatrick’s, located in a grand-looking, sprawling building just around the corner and a couple of minutes from the station. There were a couple nearer, though I decided not to be too silly and call it a day with my cheap £2.75 Amstel.
The train back was caught with no issue and I arrived back in Newcastle station where the train was waiting to whisk me back down to Manchester. Unfortunately, a slight delay on this meant I missed my local connection, but a bus wasn’t long in coming to my rescue. So there ends the day. It’s always good fun getting caught up in someone else’s party (Ossett wedding crash notwithstanding), the game and ground were both decent and South Shields was a decent town too (plus I wanted to visit the club whilst they still used their traditional badge!). Journey was ok enough despite the small set-back, so no complaints here. Onwards into the last month of the season then, starting off with another promotion party a little higher up the pyramid….
Programme: N/A (pending)
Value For Money: 6