At the back of an industrial estate in Jarrow lurks the latest version of South Shields FC. Subject remains open to debate but there is an argument that the current Shields is the 7th club to bear the name. All the others crashed and burnt, often curiously relocating to Gateshead and changing their name to Gateshead but the outcome was the same. Very much open to interpretation but for me adding 1888 to the current club badge is not right.
Geographically, version no 7 is well positioned. Shields itself is a town of 75,000 Sandowners as they are called. Within ten miles are 3 cities. They are the fourth biggest club in that patch so can – and do – take talent from the numerous smaller clubs around them. For instance, they took fast full back John Lufudu and strong striker Paul Blackett from Spennymoor. They have 20+ players in their squad, many of them nowhere near the North-East. The man to watch is Aaron Martin, a 32-year-old striker who is ex-Gateshead with 5 goals in his first 9 matches.
Their pitch is an outstanding playing surface and was described as “being like Wembley” by no less than Kevin Keegan. It’s a sign of South Shields’ status that they can set up a Q&A night with Kevin Keegan and Peter Reid. Tickets started at £50. Shields employ 56 staff including directors.
Another sign of their prosperity is that the home club have an Academy for 11-16 year olds after which they can move into a 3 year full-time programme. This combines 12 hours of coaching with matches in a national U19 League. In between, they study for A levels or work towards a degree at Sunderland college.
The Mariners turned full-time two years ago under Graham Fenton, much to the dismay of their step 3 opponents. That’s two managers ago. Latest gaffer is Julio Arca, a former player but better known for his time at Sunderland and Middlesbrough. He was appointed this summer into his first managerial role. His accent is a mixture of Argentine and North East.
Of course, their fortunes are completely dependent upon one man – Geoff Thompson. He bought a broken-down Step 6 outfit in 2015 when they were on the point of closure (again). He left his day job to concentrate full time on Shields. These days, he is a director of several companies involved in energy or property management. He owns 3 classic cars. Last accounts show a deficit of £785,000, presumably connected to the owner.
I’m indebted to Scarborough supporter Paul Stephen Adamson sharing insight about the realities of visiting Shields: The away end is very small, half of the terrace behind the goal. The food van is cash only. Alcohol of a kind is available, cans of carling or an unremarkable cider at £2.50 each. Being a discerning lot, Hereford supporters don’t drink Carling so they’ll have to fund that out the hard way. Life will be much easier if there is no segregation. There are food and beer outlets every 50 feet. Do look out for the highly rated and cheap chicken curry and chips. Seat prices are £16 adults for seats (£11 concs) with £2 reduction all round for the terraces.
For the Northern Premier League Champions, their six home games in league and cup led to six wins, 16 goals scored and only one goal conceded. Not surprisingly, after 4 promotions and 2 play off defeats in 8 seasons, Shields average around 2,200 supporters. Their first away win of the season at Peterborough Sports leaves them joint top of our division.
If those stats don’t sound daunting enough, Ian ‘Jonah’ Stamford is part of the Radio Hereford team. Eight straight defeats now for Ian with only one Hereford goal scored. I’m sure stories that he will be kidnapped en route are just rumours. But as ever we travel in optimism with a full radio crew.
Tickets can be purchased online.