Life will come full circle tomorrow for Geoff Thompson – and South Shields Football Club.
The Mariners, with Thompson now at the helm, return to Shaftesbury Avenue after a two-year hiatus, playing their first game back in the town since their enforced move to Peterlee.
For Thompson – businessman, entrepreneur and now football club chairman – it’s a going back to where it all began for him almost 40 years ago.
As founder of energy company Utilitywise, Thompson is used to multi-million pound turnover, huge business deals and rocketing share prices.
It all had started for him on Shaftesbury Avenue, however, and now he hopes tomorrow’s visit of Darlington 1883 is the beginning of a new era of success not just for him, but for football in the town.
Thompson has a vision of a football club serving the community, prospering up through the football pyramid and returning to the glory days which inspired him as a youngster watching the team play in front of thousands at Simonside Hall.
I want to make it a real community club, something that will deliver for the people of South ShieldsGeoff Thompson, South Shields FC chairman
Having bought Filtrona Park – renamed Mariners Park – from John Rundle last month to allow Shields to have their own home on Shaftesbury Avenue again, he’s renovating the ground to turn it into a facility that can serve the town.
“When I was contacted by Bob Wray from the club to see about possible sponsorship, I didn’t even realise the club was playing at Peterlee if I’m honest. It just grew from there and I’m delighted to have been able to help the club and the guys who’ve worked so hard around it.
“By default, someone has to be the figurehead and that’s me. But I’m slightly embarrassed by it. The guys on the ground floor have been amazing and I’m in awe of what they’ve done to keep the club going.”
Now, it’s about moving the club on to the next level and Thompson, with all his expertise, knowledge, contacts and ambition is keen to drive.
“I left Jarrow Grammar School at 16, and did an apprenticeship with Burgess Industrial Silencers, on Shaftesbury Avenue believe it or not,” he laughed. “So you could say it’s come full circle.
“I’ve always enjoyed growing things. I like to create something and see it grow.
“When I started Utilitywise there were three of us in a small office on Team Valley in Gateshead with laptops and a credit card. That was it.
“Now, we’re on course to turn over £70million this year and make £20million profit.”
It’s that ambition that Thompson, now 53, wants to bring to Shields. While the football club may never return to the heady days of the Football League status they enjoyed in the 1920s, the potential is massive if they can get it right both on and off the pitch.
Manager Jon King and his players are tasked with the former; Thompson, vice-chairman Gary Crutwell, the committee and the business contacts at Thompson’s disposal will look after the latter.
“It (the football club) will be a non-profit organisation,” he said. “Everything we make will be ploughed back into the club. Bar takings, functions, sponsorship.
“I want it to be sustainable. Yes, I’m putting the initial money in but it’s not going to just be about me writing cheques. We’re taking legal advice about setting up a company structure for the club and which is the best model.
“There will always be cynics who say I’m in it as some sort of ego trip, but believe me that’s not the case. If it was about ego, I could have gone into another club. It’s about giving something back to South Shields.
“I want to make it a real community club, something that will deliver for the people of South Shields. I’m a South Shields lad, from Whiteleas, and a lot of my family is still around Shields and Jarrow.”
South Shields’ return to Mariners Park will be completed tomorrow when they take on Darlington from 3pm in a pre-season friendly.
The ground, and bar, will be open from noon, giving supporters the chance to see all of the refurbished, and new, ground facilities.
They include new turnstiles, a new fence and new dugouts, as well as a new and refurbished downstairs bar which will be officially opened at a future date.
Under-16s can attend the game for free, while it is £5 for adults and £3 for those over the age of 65, with entry to be paid for at the turnstiles.
All of the club’s junior teams will attend, and will play on the bottom pitch at Mariners Park from noon.
Meanwhile, the Mariners’ Under-10s side will play on the main pitch at half-time of the friendly.
At about 2.20pm, the 10th South Shields Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association will perform a marching band routine on the pitch.
The club is also taking bookings for events in the upstairs function rooms, which is expected to be refurbished by the end of August. To enquire, call 07854 858423.