There can’t be many step five clubs that have captured the media’s attention in the way Ebac Northern League club South Shields have this season.
Whether it is their rising crowd levels, their ability to score eye-catching goals or their winning streak of thirty two games; it’s been hard to keep the Mariners out of the news.
They will be in the news once again when Non-League Finals Day arrives as they face Cleethorpes Town in the Buildbase FA Vase Final.
They will be backed by a huge following from the North East, all a far cry from years of struggle when the club played in front of small numbers for “home” games twenty one miles away from their home town.
Now they count attendances in thousands and joint manager Lee Picton can’t wait to see the travelling support at Wembley Stadium on 21st May.
The two-time Vase winner said “What sticks in my mind now is the anticipation of seeing all of the folk from the town going down there to support us.
“They will be on the opposite side to the stadium to where we walk out and it will be a special moment seeing them.
It shows how the town has got on board with what the club is doing and what we have done over the last two years
It could be yet another catalyst for the development of this football club”
Picton isn’t the only FA Vase winner in the Mariners management team.
Two years ago Graham Fenton led North Shields to a final win over Glossop North End.
That day, by Fenton’s own admission, the Robins were clear underdogs for the competition, a clear contrast to the position he finds himself in with their South Tyneside rivals.
But the former Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers player isn’t reading too much into tags and is thriving on the pressure he and Picton are working under.
“There is already pressure and it has already been put on us here” said Fenton.
“The pressure of delivering with South Shields far exceeds that of winning at North Shields.
“We didn’t have pressure against Glossop North End, they were favourites that day and it was hugely enjoyable to beat them.
“I am sure that will be the same this time, even though people say we are favourites going into the game”
Picton added “The squad we have, the experience we have in there, we will be relying on players that have played massive games throughout their career.
“We have our experiences to touch on too but we know we have players that will settle other players down.
“The favourite tag means little, it’s a game of football and it is about what happens on the day.
“It is a tag other people have given you, not something we give ourselves.
“We will do our normal preparations, we will ensure we get it the way we want it and let others worry about tags”
There is a clear focus in the Mariners dressing room.
That has brought some spectacular results and trophies in the two years since local businessmen Geoff Thompson invested in his hometown club.
Former Premier League star Julio Arca and Gateshead stalwarts Craig Baxter and Jon Shaw joined the club.
Michael Richardson, Alex Nicholson and Dillon Morse were plucked from a Blyth Spartans side that came close to securing promotion from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League last season.
Gavin Cogdon dropped down a level from Spennymoor Town, persuaded by the exciting future plans at the club.
These are exciting times for the South Tynesiders and they are under pressure to deliver another trophy on Non-League Finals Day.
If they do they will become the latest Ebac Northern League side to win the Buildbase FA Vase, following in the footsteps of the likes of Whitley Bay, Dunston UTS, North Shields and current holders Morpeth Town.
But rather than judging themselves against others Picton urged his side to focus on getting their own performance right when they step out on to the Wembley turf.
“What we have always said, throughout the season, is that we judge ourselves by our own standards.
“We don’t worry what is in the opposition dressing room, we concentrate on ourselves.
“That will be no different on 21st May, we will do what we can to reach our levels, our standards and if that is good enough on the day then great.
“We don’t acknowledge what tags people give us, we just focus on ourselves and our own performance”
And if that performance is enough to win the Buildbase FA Vase it will be the latest big achievement in the incredible rise of South Shields.
Tickets are still available for the Buildbase FA Vase and Buildbase FA Trophy Finals. If you want to be at Wembley for Non-League Finals Day click here to buy tickets.
This interview features in Non-League Daily’s ‘Road to Wembley Guide 2017’ and was produced in association with the Football Association and Buildbase.
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: South Shields FC