Excited Julio Arca tells of delight after extending South Shields FC love affair

Julio Arca realised a lifelong dream last month as he played at Wembley for the first time  and his day got even better as he helped South Shields claim the FA Vase for the first time in the clubs history.
Julio Arca realised a lifelong dream last month as he played at Wembley for the first time  and his day got even better as he helped South Shields claim the FA Vase for the first time in the clubs history.

He may be 36, but in football terms, Julio Arca feels as young as ever.

Reinvigorated by an incredible two-year spell of success at South Shields – five trophies, two promotions and a dream day at Wembley – the Argentinean is hungry for more.

Julio Arca and South Shields joint manager Lee Picton are now set to work with each other for the next two years after the midfielder signed a new contract with the Mariners.

Julio Arca and South Shields joint manager Lee Picton are now set to work with each other for the next two years after the midfielder signed a new contract with the Mariners.

So when the Mariners gave him the chance to extend his Indian summer by a further two years with a new contract offer, the midfielder did not take long to weigh up his options.

The deal was duly signed and the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough star could look forward to continuing his love affair with Shields.

That is what it has become. For all the club and its supporters have taken to Arca to their hearts, he has reciprocated that and more.

Having been forced to retire as a professional footballer aged just 32 because of a persistent toe injury, Arca now relishes every second he gets playing the game he loves – for a club he describes as a ‘family’.

I never thought about going anywhere else, because I don’t want to go anywhere else

Julio Arca

Arca is every inch the adopted Sanddancer.

“I love playing here,” he said. “The support we get is incredible, and everyone at the club has always been so welcoming and supportive of me.

“Everyone behind the scenes is fantastic, and it’s like a family now.

“I’ve built up some very good relationships with a lot of people, and that makes every moment that bit more enjoyable.

Arca says South Shields FC  the players, support staff, volunteers and supporters  feels like a family. Picture by Peter Talbot.

Arca says South Shields FC  the players, support staff, volunteers and supporters  feels like a family. Picture by Peter Talbot.

“I look forward to coming to training, I look forward to games, I look forward to coming to the club for other things as well.

“Football sometimes doesn’t give you chances like this, especially in the professional game.

“Sometimes it can just be about playing the game and going home.

“Here, I get to play for a club where I truly enjoy the environment and look forward to coming to all the time.”

The midfielder has a strong rapport with the South Shields supporters.

The midfielder has a strong rapport with the South Shields supporters.

Last season brought Shields an unprecedented level of success.

They clawed their way back from a 17-point deficit – albeit with five games in hand – to topple North Shields and win the Northern League title.

The Mariners followed that up with victories in the finals of the Durham Challenge Cup and Northern League Cup, before last month’s incredible day at Wembley, when they won the FA Vase with a crushing 4-0 triumph over Cleethorpes Town.

For a player who achieved so much as a professional, many may have seen Wembley as an ideal way for Arca to bow out.

However, that thought barely crossed his mind.

He added: “Committing my future to the club is something I was looking to do.

“This was a unique season, and something that will stay part of history.

“I never thought about going anywhere else, because I don’t want to go anywhere else.

“The club has a lot of ambition and everything has been going in the right direction.

“I still feel fit. I spoke with the chairman and the two managers, and when they offered me a two-year contract, I was delighted to sign and commit my future here.”

Arca’s influence on the Shields team is obvious.

He brings such a calmness in possession, dictates the play from midfield and pops up with the odd spectacular goal.

His two goals in Shields’ Vase run will live long in the memory, with his 45-yard strike at Team Solent and thunderbolt in the semi-final second leg against Coleshill Town setting his team on the road to glory.

Arca is confident he can continue to contribute to prolonged success for the Mariners as they get ready to step up a level next season, into the Evo-Stik League First Division North.

He said: “I don’t want to just play for the sake of it.

“I want to keep helping the club and hopefully win more silverware.

“To achieve what we did last season, winning all the competitions we realistically could, would be almost impossible. However, we’ll prepare well in pre-season and our main target will be promotion again.”

For all of Shields’ successes over the last two years, Arca remains the biggest draw.

Long after games at Mariners Park have finished, he can be seen signing autographs and posing for pictures without complaint.

He is undoubtedly a superb ambassador for his club and a huge asset on and off the pitch.

Arca’s arrival in September 2015 led to an immediate boost in attendances at Mariners Park, and that upward trend has continued, with crowds of over 1,000 now the norm for a club which once played in front of a gate of 12 at its adopted home of Peterlee.

There are hopes that, next season, the average crowd at home games may be close to 2,000, and Arca simply can’t wait to play in front of those supporters again.

He said: “I’ve always had a great connection with the fans here, which helped me settle in straightaway.

“We’ve had two seasons together now and I can’t wait for the next two.

“We get lots of different fans here – people who support Shields mainly, and people who also support Sunderland or Newcastle.

“Thankfully everyone has been really welcoming and supportive of me.

“It’s great to see people who might also support Sunderland or Newcastle mixing together. They might hate each other when Sunderland and Newcastle play against each other but when Shields play, they come together as part of the same bubble to support us.

“It’s brilliant to see.”

Arca played 49 games last season across five competitions – a testament to the shape the 36-year-old keeps himself in.

Having signed a two-year deal, many may assume this will be his last contract before retirement.

However, having already been forced to give up the game he loves once, Arca is not ready to commit to a retirement date in 2019.

He added: “It will depend on how I feel.

“I’m 36 and I’ve always looked after myself. That will never change.

“I’m getting older, and playing with some lads who are 10 or more years younger than me. I just have to keep looking after myself and doing the right things.

“I can’t afford to drop my standards and I’m determined not to do that.

“I’ll have good games and bad games, just like any other player.

“The main thing will be to maintain my physical level, because I feel they was good last season.

“Myself and the club are happy to commit to each other for the next two years, and I’ll do my best throughout that time.

“Realistically, I’ll be 38 then and who knows what will happen in the meantime, but it’s too far away to think about whether I might be able to carry on after that.

“I’m just thoroughly looking forward to the next two years first of all.”

Arca is set to return to Argentina next month for a holiday with his family, and could miss Shields’ first competitive game of the season.

However, such is his commitment to the cause, that he has vowed to train with a club in Argentina during his holiday to ensure he can hit the ground running when he returns home.

Arca has also spoken of his hope that, when his playing days do end, he can continue in a behind-the-scenes role at Mariners Park. His love affair with the Mariners may only just be beginning.