Jon Shaw can’t believe the first season he went part-time, he has managed to achieve the one dream that eluded him in a 20-year career as a professional footballer.
The South Shields defender helped his side reach the FA Vase final at the weekend with a 4-0 second leg victory over Coleshill Town, completing a stunning 6-1 aggregate win.
It means the 33-year-old will round off his first season in the amateur ranks with an appearance at Wembley, having never played at the famous stadium before.
Shaw has enjoyed a successful pro career, starting off at boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday with spells at the likes of Luton Town and Burton Albion along the way.
His third spell at Gateshead was brought to a close last season, however, when boss Neil Aspin told him he was surplus to requirements.
Shaw had a decision to make, to either find another professional club or drop down to the part-time ranks when South Shields came calling. And while it hasn’t been about proving a point to Aspin or anyone else, his delight at reinvigorating his football career is plain to see.
“Honestly, the people behind the scenes at this place are amazing and I’m so happy for them, but there’s a personal happiness in there as well,” Shaw said.
“I’m going to get to go down there with all my family and friends and they’ll get to see me play at the one place I’ve always wanted to play.
“There’s a couple of occasions I’ve been near and you get to 33 and you know the day is coming when a manager is going to tell you that you’re not fit for pro football anymore.
“Whether you belive him or not, you have to accept it. I accepted it, looked at it and came here for a challenge – and in my first season I’m going to get to do the one thing that I’ve wanted to do for the last 20 years. I just can’t wait.
“I couldn’t be happier, I really couldn’t.”
Shields’ triumph in the second leg owed no small part to the stunning strike of captain Julio Arca on the stroke of half-time, the midfielder lashing the ball home left-footed to settle any nerves.
And Shaw is claiming an assist – for not pulling the Argentinian back into position as Shields counter-attacked.
The centre-half revealed: “When the play builds up like that, I normally grab hold of Julio and say ‘stay with me Jules’ but he set off sprinting like a man possessed. I never said anything, I just let him keep sprinting, hoping that the ball would fall and the way he struck it, well it was the perfct man for the perfect situation.
“I don’t know how he read what was going to happen, but when the ball fell to him and he cracked it in, I couldn’t have been happier for him.
“He is desperate for this just as much as we all are. To see him score that goal was amazing.
“From that moment on we just grew and grew, and on we go.
“There’s always guaranteed nerves. I was a little less nervous after watching them down there last week but going into the game you’re always aware that something might stop you, whether it’s a decision or a trip or something goes wrong.
“But the lads were magnificent from start to finish.
“I think last week put us in a great frame of mind but I said to a few people that we played well in spells. That probably scared them a little bit to think that if they really came and pressed us, would we play through them. We were patient. Yes, they had a 10 or 15-minute spell in the first half but overall I’m not sure anyone could deny we deserved to win the game and go through.
“We knew they would come at us, we knew it would be a tough game but the way the lads played through them, we almost demoralised them.
“By the end we were enjoying it and now we’ve got the big day to come. I can’t wait.”