The stage is set.
South Shields Football Club is ready for its biggest game in decades this afternoon.
The Mariners are taking on Warwickshire’s Coleshill Town in the second leg of the FA Vase semi-final.
Should they avoid defeat, Shields will be heading to Wembley Stadium in May for the first time in the club’s history.
A record crowd of about 3,500 is set to pack into Mariners Park this afternoon to cheer on the team.
It is a match the players have been relishing for some time.
It would be a dream for any of us to get the chance to play at Wembley, and we know we’re possibly just 90 minutes awayBarrie Smith
Long-serving Barrie Smith said: “We’re all really excited for the game.
“By a country mile, it’s the biggest match I’ve ever been involved in.
“It would be a dream for any of us to get the chance to play at Wembley, and we know we’re possibly just 90 minutes away.
“The support we’ve got is unbelievable and we can’t wait to see everyone today.
“The way the tickets flew out for this game said it all about how much interest there is.”
Barrie combines playing for Shields with working at Mariners Park on a day-to-day basis, as a coach and in ground maintenance.
He spent yesterday with vice-chairman Gary Crutwell adding the finishing touches to the preparation, with the ground now ready to welcome its biggest ever crowd today.
Shields won 2-1 at Coleshill in the first leg last Saturday to ensure they take a slender advantage into today’s game.
Another victory would be a remarkable 24th in a row for the Mariners, but a draw would be enough to secure them that dream Wembley trip.
In the run-up to the semi-final, the people and businesses of South Tyneside showed their support for the club.
Several companies have posted good luck messages in the windows of their premises as the town has thrown its support behind the Mariners.
The Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Alan Smith, is among those who has backed the club to progress.
He said: “Let’s hope the Mariners can continue their fantastic run of victories when they meet Coleshill Town in the semi-finals.
“I’m sure the whole town will be rooting for them and we wish them every success on their road to Wembley.”
Today’s huge occasion comes less than two years since Shields returned to Mariners Park after a two-year exile, during which they were forced to play home games in Peterlee.
The club has been reborn since being taken over by chairman Geoff Thompson, who has transformed the Mariners on and off the pitch.
Mr Thompson will keep an eye on the team’s progress from afar today, with the chairman currently on holiday, but has been hailed for the way he has ignited he passion of the public.
Mr Crutwell said: “The way the club has grown since Geoff took over has been incredible.
“His vision and commitment has been the driving force behind he upturn in the club’s fortunes, and the way the public has repsonded is there for all to see.
“This will be the club’s biggest day for many years, and we’re now all just desperate for the team to do well.”