It was inevitable. Like releasing a child into the open world. A guest post. So for the first time, I hand over control. If anyone else wants a go, please let me know. But for now…
Welcome to Colin’s takeover of Timmy Bacsi! A guest post by long suffering Newcastle fan, who in pursuit of greater viewing pleasure has joined Timmy Bacsi at many top venues, including Loko Vltavin, Ujpest, MTK, BK Frem, and Malmo, amongst others. Feeling it was time to seek a similar football experience in my native England, I took to the lower leagues, and this an account of my own little excursion…..
With a current general malaise pervading “top level” football in the North East of England, there has been an apparent upsurge in attendances at the lower levels of the game. Disenchanted Newcastle fans, sick of the poor stewardship of club owner, Mike “I’ve just been to the casino” Ashley have looked elsewhere, as have Sunderland fans sick of watching averagely talented millionaires struggling to stave off relegation year after year.
That isn’t to say that lower and non-league interest in the North East has traditionally been low – it hasn’t, with Gateshead (Tier 5), Blyth Spartans, Spennymoor Town ( both Tier 7), Dunston UTS and North Shields (both Tier 9) all making their mark nationally, in either the FA Cup, FA Vase or FA Trophy in recent years. The Northern League, as Tiers 9, and 10 are known, is the oldest active league in the world, it being formed in 1889.
TimmyB’s first ever panorama.
It was in this context that I eschewed the prospect of helping my Dad decorate his new house extension, and scarpered up to Mariner’s Park in South Tyneside, to catch South Shields FC vs Ryhope. For the uninitiated, South Shields is a coastal town in the north east, which, despite lying immediately north of Sunderland, and east of Newcastle, manages to maintain a strong town identity within the Tyne and Wear conurbation. South Shields is notable for curry (you can choose from 10 curry houses on Ocean Road alone), producing woefully average pop acts (Little Mix and Joe McElderry), but being slightly more successful in books, TV and film (Dame Catherine Cookson, Eric Idle, Sir Ridley Scott and Tony Scott (of Top Gun fame) were all born in the town). It is also where the lifeboat was invented. In terms of sporting achievement, the town’s output has generally been mixed with the successes of motor racing boss Sir Frank Williams and Paralympian Josef Craig being somewhat diluted by the town also being able to claim permatan tangoman Phil Brown (currently managing Southend Utd) as one of their own.
The current iteration of South Shields FC has been in existence since 1974, after the previous iteration (also known as South Shields FC) folded, which itself was a reincarnation, of erm, South Shields FC. The club has never seen major success, and has been in and around Tiers 9 and 10 for much of its recent history. A rocky relationship with previous owners, and being made homeless has previously hindered the club to an extent, but a recent investment by Chairman Geoff Thompson of around £1 million, and a move back to South Shields from a temporary home, has seen a relative upturn in fortunes, and there is a real buzz around the club, particularly on the back of last season’s promotion from Ebac Northern League Division 2, to Ebac Northern League Division 1.
Great back of head photo. Good work, Colin.
I had never been to Mariner’s Park before, and it being a spur of the moment decision, I was by myself, although I expected to bump into at least 1 or 2 friends whilst there – the boyfriend of a good friend of mine is South Shields’ Goalkeeping Coach (and as it happened, a shortage of players saw him sign a playing contract before kick off, and warm the bench as sub keeper for this game!). It turns out the ground is located at the heart of the industrial estate, not far from Bede Metro Station, and rather handily if it should choose to rain, virtually next door to the HQ and Factory Shop of wax-jacket and designer clothes manufacturer, Barbour.
Admission was £6 via cash turnstile only, with a sign clearly proclaiming that no dogs were allowed. The ground itself was open, with a single large half terraced, half seated stand along the length of the pitch, with a sizeable clubhouse and bar in one corner. The far side of the pitch hosted the dugouts, along with further covered standing areas (more on those later). Pitchside standing, behind a single railing was many peoples vantage point of choice, including behind the goals. I chose a more elevated view from the terraced covered stand, close to the halfway line. My timing allowed me to perfectly judge arriving, buying a beer, and finding a place to stand before kick off, as well as bumping into my friend Steve, who like me found himself there in absence of his own team (sunderland in his case) having a 3pm kick off. Luckily, the “No drinking pitchside during play rule” was being as strictly enforced as the “No dogs allowed” rule, as I stood sipping my Moretti, whilst the Pug below me watched the teams kick off.
South Shields sat 2nd in the league pre-match, and had somewhat controversially sacked their manager and installed Graham Fenton as Co-Manager with former the Assistant Manager, a week or so before. Two managers seems a bit greedy for me! Graham Fenton was previously managing cross-river rivals North Shields, who pre-match sat top of the league. What a way to undermine your rivals! Graham Fenton is a name known to me mainly as the player who finally killed off Newcastle’s Premier League title challenge in 1996/97, when he scored the winning goal in a match against Blackburn. I might forgive him. One day.
Most dog owners cannot read?
South Shields have strengthened this year, following promotion and are now able to boast a side which, on paper should be aiming to finish high in the league. The most notable name on the teamsheet was Argentinian Julio Arca, formerly of Sunderland and Middlesbrough, and who now aged 35 is continuing to play semi-pro, in addition to his day job coaching at Sunderland’s academy. Of lesser note, but clearly of good pedigree at this level were defender Craig Baxter (recently released by Gateshead), midfielder David Carson (Blackburn Rovers’ U21 Captain last season), and striker Jon Shaw (also recently released by Gateshead). Striker Carl Finnigan, who didn’t get on the pitch has a colourful CV including Newcastle Utd, Falkirk, St Johnstone, Dundee and Gateshead, but also spells at South African club Chippa Utd, and most recently, Botswanan side Township Rollers.
Early skirmishes eventually led to a free kick on the edge of the Shields box, which was duly dispatched into the bottom corner. 0-1 after only 2 minutes, and suddenly it didn’t sound like there were 1140 people in attendance. Shields however didn’t panic, and although Ryhope competed for every ball, the technical abilities of the home side began to tell, with some neat passing moves beginning to come off. On 16 minutes, the quality of Carson and Shaw showed through with the former playing in the latter for a deserved equaliser. Two minutes later Shaw and Arca linked up in a nicely played one-two for a second, and a 2-1 score line, which held until half time, the result of a couple of quality saves by the Ryhope keeper. Arca, having provided an assist, scored a goal and picked up a niggle was substituted shortly before the break.
A cup of tea (oh why did I choose to drive?!) and a fantastic Beef Dip later and we were into the second half. The Ryhope manager’s probable half time talk of “we’re only one down, we’re still in this” was scotched after just 3 minutes, when a good move down the right saw Craig Baxter put The Mariners two goals clear with a tidy finish from a narrow angle. At this point, Ryhope really ceased to be an attacking threat and resigned themselves to damage limitation, with Shields’ David Carson bossing the midfield. Poor defending by Ryhope saw Briggs put away a fourth on 51, before he bagged a fifth on 61, and a sixth on 71 for a twenty minute hat-trick. 60 minutes saw the introduction of cult hero Warren Byrne, a gentlemen of a most un-footballer like build, but with a fantastic scoring record at this level. What he lacks in mobility, he makes up for in technique and power, as can be seen from his goal which won Budweiser UK’s 2016 Dream Goal competition, which has been viewed by over 3 million times on YouTube, and bagged his club £50,000 prize money. Allegedly the cash paid for the two aforementioned fan shelters behind the dugouts, and birthed the song “He paid for our Stands, he paid for our Stands! Oh, Warren Byrne, he paid for our stands!”
Unfortunately, Warren didn’t have any worldies in his locker for this match, and it finished 6-1 and was an entertaining affair, with some good football being played, and with a special mention to the referee who allowed the game to flow. For some inexplicable reason he, along with the linesman copped some stick from a few home fans during the last 5 minutes, which, given their side was 6-1 up at this point, seemed more than a little churlish. Honourable mention also to the Ryhope keeper, who wasn’t really given much of chance by his defence and pulled off some good stops to prevent the scoreline escalating further.
All in all, it was £6 well spent, and at 87p per goal was excellent value for money. A crowd of over 1100 at this level, is frankly ridiculous, and gates regularly exceed 900. At a match last week, the gate topped 1400. Shields are a club on the up, appear to be well run, and have a good atmosphere. I suspect they would score highly on the Timmy Bacsi Matrix of Truth. The challenge however, is how to retain that character and spirit without “selling out”, as success follows, which if they keep playing the way they are, it most likely will. Undoubtedly though, I will be back.
Cheers, Colin. Another (or perhaps the first) good reason to head to the North 😉
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