South Shields FC owner Geoff Thompson says the creation of a new academy is just the latest step on what he hopes will be an ‘exciting journey’ for the club.
The Mariners yesterday announced the launch of a new programme for 16 to 19-year-olds, led by first-team joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, who will become full-time employees at Mariners Park.
The club recently secured back-to-back promotions, and will next season play in the Evo-Stik League First Division North.
That is far from the height of Mr Thompson’s ambition, as he attempts to help drive the club towards the Football League, which remains four promotions away.
He said: “This is a huge step forward for the club, and Lee and Graham are a central part of that.
“The whole idea is to have quite a close-knit academy of about 40 students and talented young footballers.
“Hopefully we can get them from South Shields, but certainly from the North East with a South Shields focus. We want to identify that talent, develop it and hopefully that will feed into the first team.”
Academy coaching will be carried out by Lee and Graham in conjunction with the Improtech Soccer Elite coaching company run by former Sunderland AFC star Martin Scott, while the education element for A-level, Btec and HND courses will be provided by Sunderland College.
It’s the latest initiative put in place by Mr Thompson, whose two-year spell as owner has been a whirlwind as the Mariners continue to progress at a rapid rate.
He added: “I think we’ve got to continue to invest in the right areas.
“We’ve got to make the whole experience for our fans a good one, so obviously perform on the pitch, but also make sure the day at Mariners Park is a great day out for people. I mention that because without the fans, we wouldn’t have come this far this quickly, and or be as ambitious as we’ve outlined.
“There’s no reason Shields couldn’t become a Football League side.
“I think we’ve got the fanbase, the enthusiasm, and the beginnings of a set-up – although there’s a lot of work still to do – that could achieve that.
“I think we’re doing all the right things, and just have to keep doing that, investing in the right areas and relying on our fans to keep turning up.
“If all of those things happen, I think we’re on a very exciting journey.”