A pair of football supporters who have followed their club for 137 years between them are ready for an emotional day as South Shields FC return home this weekend.
The Northern League club have spent the past two seasons playing their home matches 20 miles away, in Peterlee, after the lease on Filtrona Park ended.
However, the Mariners have now returned to the Shaftesbury Avenue ground – which has been renamed Mariners Park – and will play their first game back there against Darlington in a friendly on Saturday.
Club stalwarts Richard Bailey and Bob Wray, who were both recently made vice-presidents, have supported South Shields since the 1940s, and followed them religiously down the A19 over the last two difficult seasons.
For Mr Bailey, who first started attending matches in 1945, new chairman Geoff Thompson, who secured the return to Mariners Park, has been a ‘godsend’.
He said: “I’m over the moon that Geoff came on board and secured us a future at Mariners Park.
I remember my father coming home after the war, and the first thing he did was took me to the footballRichard Bailey
“Saturday is going to be very emotional, because not only do we welcome Geoff Thompson to his first game as chairman, but we also get to play again at Mariners Park, which to me is the best ground in the area.
“I’ll have been following the club for 70 years at the start of next season. I remember my father coming home after the war, and the first thing he did was took me to the football.
“I went at the age of 12, and have been watching South Shields ever since.”
Mr Bailey, 81, is the club’s former assistant secretary, and is still involved with the Mariners alongside Mr Wray, who also serves as the Mariners’ historian.
Mr Wray, 76, has followed Shields since 1948, and said: “It’s lovely to see the club back home, and with what we hope is a positive future.
“We wouldn’t be Shields supporters if we weren’t emotional. It’s a dream come true. For those of us who are a bit long in the tooth and have been followers of the club for a long time, there is an air of expectancy, hope and optimism.
“I was delighted and honoured recently to accept the vice-presidency of a club I first watched in 1948.
“During that time, the club has been dealt some cruel blows, but it has an excellent history, tradition and heritage, and now we can look forward to the future.
“The first game can’t come quickly enough.”
l Kick-off for Saturday’s game against Darlington 1883 at Mariners Park is at 3pm.