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Australian makes 10,000-mile trip to cheer South Shields FC to promotion

John Barnes, far right, is presented with a signed South Shields shirt by players Graeme Armstrong and Julio Arca, with friend Tony Ilott, far left. Picture by Kev Wilson.
John Barnes, far right, is presented with a signed South Shields shirt by players Graeme Armstrong and Julio Arca, with friend Tony Ilott, far left. Picture by Kev Wilson.

A football fan went the extra mile to cheer South Shields FC to promotion – over 10,000 of them, in fact!

Australian John Barnes, 78, was at Mariners Park to see the club clinch a third promotion in a row with a 3-0 win over Glossop North End on Tuesday.

Australian John Barnes, left, and his friend Tony Ilott. Picture by Kev Wilson.

Australian John Barnes, left, and his friend Tony Ilott. Picture by Kev Wilson.

He had travelled from his home in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, after friend Tony Ilott got him “hooked” on the club from afar.

John and Tony struck up a friendship when Tony – who is originally from South Shields and returned to live in his hometown three years ago – lived in Australia.

And it didn’t take long for Tony, 58, to pass on his football allegiances to his friend, having first watched Shields play at Simonside Hall in the 1970s before emigrating at the age of 14.

Before Tuesday’s game, John was presented with a signed shirt by Shields players Julio Arca and Graeme Armstrong.

I’ve been following the club for quite a long time online, but it has been tremendous to see them play in person

John Barnes

He went away hugely impressed with what he had experienced, and is already planning a return visit to see his adopted club.

John said: “I’ve been following the club for quite a long time online, but it has been tremendous to see them play in person. One of the things I’ve been most impressed by is the friendliness of the people.

“I hope the club never loses the spirit that is there at the moment, because it is tremendous, and is missing from a lot of the so-called higher echelon clubs. There’s a terrific rapport between the management, players and fans, and it’s clear that there is tremendous support from the community, which seems to be getting bigger.

“I’ll definitely be returning a couple of times in the future.”

John – who has been following the Mariners online for the last three years – will return home to Australia on May 8, and plans to attend more Shields matches before that. Tony says his friend is now a fully-fledged Mariner.

He said: “Since I returned to England, we’ve kept in touch and visited each other a couple of times.

“I went to stay with him for a while and I would look at the Shields results on the computer. I told him about how South Shields used to have a decent team and that I’d watched them as a child.

“He really got interested in following the club from there, and I always send him messages with the latest score when he’s back home.

“He seems to be hooked on the club now.”