Ahead of their FA Vase trip to Team Solent, NLD Editor Mark Carruthers had a chance with South Shields management team Graham Fenton(GF) and Lee Picton(LP) at their Mariners Park home.
Here is what they had to say.
NLD: The draw has given you a long journey down to Team Solent, that must be far from ideal logistically?
GF “At this stage in the competition you would love a home draw, especially with the amount of fans we get in here, but in terms of a weekend away with the lads, it is going to be great for us.
“Since we have been here we have been fully focused on getting results, we haven’t had a lot of social occasions together. So yes we are focusing on the game and getting a result, but hopefully getting a weekend away with the lads, getting that bonding going, will benefit us in the long-term.
“Logistically, with the journey, it’s not ideal but it will be good in the long-run”
LP I think it’s going to be more like three hundred and fifty going down there, which is incredible. We have just come off a game at Jarrow Roofing where there were 1,100 supporters at the game and, no disrespect to Roofing, but there must have been over 1,000 South Shields fans there.
“I know it’s only a short trip from our patch but it felt like a home game from start to finish. No disrespect to them at all, but I think it could be the same on Saturday. It could be a home from home.
“In my experience in the Vase, as a player, back in 2008 I was with Whitley Bay when they drew Truro City away and that is even further than Team Solent will be.
“We are staying down Friday and Saturday night and we did similar with Whitley Bay. Nobody gave us a chance because Truro were Vase holders, but we won the game 3-0 and we had an opportunity to spend a full weekend together and it not only served us well for the rest of the season but that group stayed together with great success for two or three years and that weekend served us well for that period”
“This weekend, at Solent, will be a great opportunity to further develop that close knit dressing room and hopefully we can get a win to go with it”
NLD: Given that you are both meticulous planners and like to do your homework on opposition, this must have been a tough challenge seeing what Team Solent are all about?
GF “Obviously it is difficult to see them in person. I was going to take a drive down there last week but the weather was against me and it looked like it would be a waste of time.
“But we have done our homework on them. We have had them watched and we have had a really good report done on them and we are well-prepared for the game.
“It’s as good as it could be”
NLD: You are now in the latter rounds of the Vase, where the draw goes national. Is this where the competition becomes even more special?
LP “We have heard the lads talking about it. We have had a number of home ties in the Vase so far, which has been great for the club in lots of different ways but there is something special about going away, when it is such a long trip.
“When the players are away from their families, not that they enjoy being away from their families obviously, but it is a different experience.
“It’s a bit special and I think the lads are looking forward to it.
“If we can get our performance levels up to where they were against Jarrow Roofing last Saturday, we will be more than a match for Solent this weekend”
NLD: You have both won the competition, Graham as a manager with North Shields, Lee as a player with Whitley Bay. Where would winning it with South Shields rank in your careers?
GF “It’s difficult to compare but any trip to Wembley is a special occasion.
“You take each one on their own merits, but we will certainly be trying to get there. If we can get there then it will be a magnificent occasion for the club, for the town and for everybody involved.
“It is another Non-League Finals Day this year after the success of last year and we want to be part of it.
“If we can get there I am sure we will take a good few thousand down the M1 and it would be magnificent weekend for everyone involved with the club.
“We want to achieve that goal, but there is a long way to go yet”
LP “That is the biggest thing for me, we have been there ourselves and the thing that would make me most proud, if we get there, is what it gives to South Tyneside and South Shields as a town and as a community.
“It is such a massive thing to get there and I know the town will embrace it if we get there. The town will back us, that makes it more special for me if we get there”
NLD: You have an experienced dressing room, with players that have achieved great things higher up the league pyramid. It must be quite a buzz to see them excited about this stage of the Vase?
LP “Look at Julio Arca(picture). He has had a glittering career at the top end of the game but he has never played at Wembley.
“That is what alot of people need to understand, it is still a really special thing for players at any level to experience, even those that have played in the Premier League.
“We have had lads that have never been this far, they’ve never played at Wembley, and they’ve heard lads who have experienced talking about it at length.
“The Northern League has a lot of players that have had the experience of Wembley in the Vase, and we have lads in the dressing room that have been there, done that and got the t-shirt but they are desperate to do it again.
“That experience is going to be helpful. We can’t get ahead of ourselves because there are fifteen other teams trying to do the same but the prospect of getting to Wembley, it can be daunting, it can weigh heavy on the shoulders.
“But if you have that experience in the dressing room, with players and the management team that have been there, it can only be a good thing”
NLD: No club has ever won the Northern League and the FA Vase in the same season. Do you think this squad could do that this season?
GF “It will be very difficult but with this squad we will be pushing on both fronts equally as hard because we want to be the first team to achieve that.
“Everybody is pushing to achieve that and as Lee says there are fifteen other teams trying to win the FA Vase and three other teams right around us in the league that are pushing and not dropping points at the moment.
“It will be difficult, there are a lot of huge games left to play this season but you would much rather have that than have nothing riding on the last ten to fifteen games of the season. There is nothing worse than that.
“Our squad will be ready and prepare to take every game as it comes and give it a right good go”
NLD: There are a lot of ambitious plans on and off the pitch at the club. There seems to be a lot of momentum building. How important is that this season and beyond?
LP “Momentum is massive for us, it’s is very important.
“I think when people look from the outside, at what is going on here, they think it is a bed of roses throughout the season.
“It’s far from that. We have taken over the side and had a lot of things to deal with, to sort out. That’s being brutally honest with you.
“It was always going to be a big challenge. Yes, we have good resources, nobody here is arguing with that.
“But it doesn’t mean that you have a trouble-free, or a problem-free environment. Far from it.
“We are quite proud of what we have achieved in a relatively short period of time, results aside.
“The results are coming but we are now starting to see certain things coming to fruition that we have been working on behind the scenes.
“That’s in terms of the cultural things in the dressing room, around the club, how the values we want to promote are implemented.
“We are really happy now, me and Graham, with the quality, the togetherness and the spirit we have in the dressing room”
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: South Shields FC (Peter Talbot)