Football finally came home for South Shields FC on Saturday - and for once, the result did not seem to really matter.
The club returned to Mariners Park, in Shaftesbury Avenue, South Shields, after a two-year exile in Peterlee with a friendly against Darlington.
The task of facing a team which operates three leagues higher ultimately proved too much for Shields, who fell to a 3-0 defeat - a result which perhaps flattered the visitors.
However, a crowd in excess of 500 supporters - boosted by a large contingent of Under-16s, who entered the game for free - generated a positive, family-orientated atmosphere as the return of the town’s football club was celebrated.
Before the game, the Mariners’ junior teams played on the bottom pitch at Mariners Park, while the 10th South Shields Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association entertained the crowd with a marching band routine.
The teams entered the pitch at 3pm with the famous ‘Football’s Coming Home’ theme ringing out over the PA system, while Shields’ Under-10s side acted as mascots.
The town came out and supported us, and hopefully they will come back week-in and week-out.David Foley
When the game got under way, Darlington gained control early on, and former Sunderland player Adam Mitchell gave them an early lead.
Shields fought back into it, but Mitchell scored a second 14 minutes before the end, and a third Darlington goal was added when Nathan Cartman bundled the ball home.
However, the pre-season friendly result did not deflate the Mariners too much on their momentous day.
Manager Jon King said: “It was a great occasion, and it was fantastic to see the crowd that we had.
“The bar was really busy, and the change-around at the ground in such a short space of time has been outstanding.
“I was very proud. I looked around and thought, ‘we’ve come a long way’, and now it’s our job to give all these people a team to be proud of.”
Forward David Foley, who was making his first appearance for the club, added: “It was a disappointing result, but that’s never the most important thing in pre-season friendlies.
“The town came out and supported us, and hopefully they will come back week-in and week-out.”