Managers plot further success as South Shields prepare for return to training

South Shields celebrated winning the FA Vase at Wembley last month - but thoughts have already turned to more success.
South Shields celebrated winning the FA Vase at Wembley last month - but thoughts have already turned to more success.

After a remarkable, trophy-laden campaign, it would be understandable if those connected with South Shields FC were still catching their breath.

But there’s been no resting at Mariners Park.

Chairman Geoff Thompson is hoping to take South Shields to the Football League. Image by Peter Talbot.

Chairman Geoff Thompson is hoping to take South Shields to the Football League. Image by Peter Talbot.

Joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton have barely stopped this summer as they plot continued success for the Mariners.

The players will return to training on Saturday, with Picton and Fenton having spent recent weeks finalising their squad and putting together a training schedule they hope will set them up for a third successive promotion.

It’s part of a process they feel could lead to the club turning professional within the next two to four years.

Shields are moving into the Evo-Stik League North, and crowd support could prove crucial again.

Who knows when we might cross that line into full-time football? You never know. It could be as short a time frame as two years

Lee Picton

Fenton is hoping that some of the 15,000 army of Mariners who travelled to Wembley to watch them lift the FA Vase last month who are not regulars at Mariners Park will now help the club’s push for further glory.

He said: “The crowd support we received last season was fantastic and when we went to Wembley, it was unbelievable.

“When we walked out of the tunnel and saw 15,000 people there supporting us, it was spectacular, and we’re hoping some of those people who haven’t been regular visitors to Mariners Park will come to support us next season.

“If we can start getting regular crowds of 1,500, 2,000 or 2,500, that will be guaranteed revenue for the club all the time to help take us forward.

Lee Picton and Graham Fenton led South Shields to four trophies last season  but insist their work is just beginning at Mariners Park. Image by Kev Wilson.

Lee Picton and Graham Fenton led South Shields to four trophies last season  but insist their work is just beginning at Mariners Park. Image by Kev Wilson.

“(Chairman) Geoff Thompson has said on numerous occasions that he’s more than willing to put his own money in to build the infrastructure, but he wants the football club to run itself and generate its own revenue, and pay for players that way.

“It’s only right that we don’t put the football club in jeopardy at any stage, like we’ve seen at some other clubs in the past.

“We’re hoping to get to the stage in two to four years when we might need to go full-time, and so we have to make those steps between now and then to make sure we can afford to pay full-time wages at that point.”

With Thompson’s ultimate goal to take Shields to the Football League, the prospect of going professional may not seem such a distant one.

Striker Luke Sullivan is one of three new signings at Shields so far this summer - with no more additions in the pipeline, according to the managers.

Striker Luke Sullivan is one of three new signings at Shields so far this summer - with no more additions in the pipeline, according to the managers.

Picton said: “We’re trying to plan for success, and in a short space of time, we want to get into a position where this club is ready to go to a full-time model at first-team level.

“Who knows when we might cross that line into full-time football? You never know. It could be as short a time frame as two years.

“It’s not a secret that at National League North level, there are quite a few full-time clubs.

“Geoff has never tried to hide the fact that his ultimate ambition is for South Shields to become a Football League club once again.

“To do that, we’ll have to navigate our way through Evo-Stik and National League level football.

“We’re hoping to get there pretty soon.

“To give yourself a realistic chance of getting through that level, you have to start seriously looking towards a full-time model at first-team level.”

Since the end of last season, Shields have lost key players David Foley and Wayne Phillips, but added well in the shape of midfielder Matty Pattison and striker Luke Sullivan.

Goalkeeper Craig Turns has also agreed to join as back-up to Liam Connell, but no more new faces are expected, with Picton and Fenton satisfied with their squad.

Picton is convinced Shields are on a path which could lead to them becoming the top non-league club in the region.

He added: “This club is on an upward trajectory.

“There are so many upsides to being part of this club and we all believe that it will continue to get bigger and better.

“I believe, within a short period of time, this will be the number one non-league club in the North East. That’s my genuine belief.”

The glories of last season are now gone, with Shields now fully focussed on the new season and their aim for a third successive promotion.

Expectations will be high – and Fenton says they will be doing everything in their power to live up to them,

He said: “Whatever happens next season, it will not be for the want of trying.

“We’ll be trying as hard as possible and hope we get the support carrying on into next season, especially during any little blips.

“We hope the supporters keep encouraging the players and giving the fantastic backing they did last season.

“We’ll be aiming to hit the ground running from the start of pre-season to get ourselves ready for the new campaign.”

Picton allowed himself a short break after the Vase final to recharge his batteries – but it wasn’t long before his attention was diverted back to matters on the pitch.

He said: “I’m pretty new to being a manager and I’ve come to appreciate how much you’re constantly inside of a bubble. My wife will endorse that.

“There’s a 100% focus on thinking about the team, the club and how to move things forward.

“I went on holiday with my wife the day after we came home from the Vase weekend, and within two days I was writing notes about what we were going to do this season.

“At the moment, I wish the season was starting tomorrow. I just want to get cracking again.”