From humble beginnings to the Football League

HALCYON DAYS ... South Shields Adelaide FC, pictured in the 1905-06 season.
HALCYON DAYS ... South Shields Adelaide FC, pictured in the 1905-06 season.

SOUTH Shields FC this week launched a share issue to help buy Filtrona Park, which it hopes will be the first step towards recapturing the club’s former glories.

Here, in the first of a two-part article, Bob Wray, the secretary of South Shields FC Supporters’ Association, traces the origins of the club, and explains how it ended up in the Football League.

A few references have been found that allude to the origins of a town football club playing in the early 1870s on a recreation field on what was known then as the Lawe Heugh, now lost without trace on the Lawe Top, which was rented from a local farmer, before houses were ever built there.

Next year will mark the 125th anniversary of the first recorded public appearance of a named South Shields Association Football Club.

From those early times, the town club has been subject to both fortune and misfortune in full measure of both halcyon days of great success and also periods of severe reversal.

South Shields Athletic AFC played at the Athletic Ground on Mowbray Road, next to the Bents Cottages, and was formed in 1897, and has the credit of being the first ‘real’ football club to bear its hometown name.

A member of the Northern Alliance League, it enjoyed moderate success in its short career of five years, before being disbanded in 1902 due to financial problems.

But it featured in its playing staff many former Football League players, notably of Newcastle United and Sunderland, and acquitted itself reasonably well.

The name Jack Inskip features prominently in the early annals of South Shields FC.

He is credited with the formation of a junior club in 1899 of local schoolboys from the Adelaide Street area of Laygate which progressed beyond all measure and was ultimately elected into membership of the Football League in 1919.

This team was known as South Shields Adelaide Athletic, and enjoyed a continuous rise through the junior leagues of the district, playing on a pitch at Hartingdon Terrace, next to Wood Terrace.

In 1907, it successfully applied for and gained membership to the Northern Alliance, where it remained for one season.

The 1908-1909 season was opened at the Horsley Hill Road ground, now replete with the requisite ground facilities.

Shields were by now sporting the most appropriate colours, inspired no doubt by maritime connotations of its major seaport home of red and green, being port and starboard.

Well worthy of mention in that team are ex-Newcastle United player Billy Wilson, and Pat Cassidy, who once scored a goal from the halfway line and went on to star for Cardiff City.

There was also Peter Howe, an ex-Harton Village schoolboy, who joined Shields after service with Reading and Hull City.

Re-organised in 1910 as a limited company, the club changed its official title to South Shields Football Club.

A major capture in 1912 was former England international Arthur Bridgett, from Sunderland, as player-manager and captain .

There were also numerous other quality players, not least another ex-England man, Irvine Thornley, a prolific goal-scoring centre-forward, signed from Manchester City.

The few years before the First World War were the most successful and productive ever achieved by any team that has carried the Shields colours, with numerous records made and smashed, plus two consecutive North Eastern League championship titles celebrated.

This was an outstanding team and a future in the Football League was openly discussed.

The 1913 to 1915 campaigns turned out to be most remarkable for Shields, with six trophies won.

Player-manager and captain Arthur Bridgett ended the season with 30 goals to his credit in 47 appearances.

In the following season, the league record goals tally was quite simply blown away as Shields amassed a huge new record of 160, and centre forward Irvine Thornley ended the season with 70 goals to his credit.

The outbreak of war put matters on hold, with clubs fielding ‘shadow’ teams on account of military service manpower requirements, though competitive football continued.

The objective of Football League membership for the club had been a long-held dream, and in 1919 the years of effort behind the drive came to fruition with its election to the 2nd Division of the Football League, or the second league as it was then titled.

This was no calculated gamble on the part of the club directorship, even with the close proximity of both Sunderland and Newcastle United.

But it was the firm belief that a town with the population of Shields could and would sustain a league club.

TOMORROW: The post-war years and beyond.