South Shields heading to Wembley for FA Vase Final
Northern League side South Shields are all set for their Wembley date with destiny after semi-final glory on Saturday. In the second leg of their FA Vase semi-final, Shields beat Coleshill 4-0 to win the tie 6-1. They will meet Cleethorpes Town in the final in May.
The current South Shields is the third form of the club, after twice previously having gone out of business. The seaport side, located near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, are nicknamed the Mariners due to their location and original nickname the Seasiders.
South Shields have far from had a straight forward time in recent years. In 2012/13, they were relegated to Northern League Division Two, the tenth tier of English football. Financial problems meant they were also forced from their home at Filtrona Park. For two seasons, they played in Peterlee, at Eden Lane, before securing a return to Filtrona Park in May, 2015. Their homecoming took place when new chairman Geoff Thompson took over and renamed the ground Mariners Park. Since then, the club has been transformed on and off the pitch.
On the pitch, former Sunderland defender Julio Arca joined the club during the 2015/16 season, along with several other experienced names. South Shields won the division with ease, sealing promotion back to Northern League Division One. Off the pitch, Thompson's newfound investment paid dividends. Record attendance was broken on several occasions.
This season, the Mariners increased capacity on three sides of their ground, again tumbling attendance records. The board then re-emphasised its ambition, sacking manager of five years, Jon King, despite sitting third in their new division following promotion. Now, South Shields sit second in the league table, a top three finish guaranteeing promotion. They still are competing for four trophies this season, including the league title wherein they are going head-to-head with their local rivals from across the Tyne, North Shields.
FA Vase Semi-final
The FA Vase is a knockout competition for those in the lowest reaches of English football. All sides in England compete in the FA Cup from the smallest village teams who enter in the first preliminary round to the giants such as Manchester United and Liverpool. However, like the League Cup for those from the Premier League to League Two. there are two specific competitions for those outside of the top four divisions, the FA Trophy and FA Vase. The FA Trophy is for those in the first four levels of the National League non-league system. However, the FA Vase is for those at the lowest level of the English pyramid from the ninth tier of the game or lower.
After reaching the FA Vase final four, the Mariners were made overwhelming favourites, yet were far from their best in a 2-1 victory in the first leg away to Coleshill Town. Mariners Park saw yet another record attendance when 3,464 fans packed into the ground Saturday to get behind the side, in hope as much as expectation. Pressure was on to reach Wembley for the first time in Mariners history and to continue a league tradition. The last eight FA Vase finals have featured at least one Northern League team.
With tension all around, the deadlock was broken just before half-time by none over than Arca. The Argentinian's 20-yard strike that would have graced his time in the Premier League.
Despite the Mariners now being in complete control, everyone in the ground was relieved when veteran striker Gavin Cogdon made it 2-0 in the second period. Cogdon has spent a large portion of his career achieving success in the Northern League with Spennymoor Town. He scored in the Vase final for the Moors in 2013 but his 23rd during this campaign for South Shields may end up being just as important.
With the crowd now in a partying mood, Carl Finnigan and David Foley scored in stoppage time to make the final score 4-0, 6-1 on aggregate.
In the other semi-final, Cleethorpes beat Bromsgrove 1-0 to reach the final 2-1 on aggregate.
Given the huge increase in South Shield's attendance over the last two seasons, fans are sure to travel down to Wembley in large numbers. Those who make the pilgrimage to the capital will do so with expectations for returning with silverware. The bookies agree, having made the Mariners clear favourites.
Whether they win or lose, Saturday will go down in South Shields folklore. With pleasure or regret, those in attendance will never forget the scene at full time. However, among all those in attendance for the semifinal, Arca's reaction was most notable. The ex-professional left the pitch in tears of joy. Away from the bright lights and glory at English football's top levels, smaller moments like this can be just as impactful for those who have been at the peak.