Goalscoring legend Alan Shearer was at South Shields FC tonight to usher in a new era for the town’s football team.
Shields, who are on a 17-match winning run, have refurbished the facilities at their Mariners Park home, in Shaftesbury Avenue, over recent months.
And Newcastle United and England goal ace Shearer accepted their invitation to officially open the renovated function rooms at the ground at a ceremony attended by supporters.
Shearer was also joined by Newcastle United defender and Wales international Paul Dummett.
Shearer told the crowd: ““The facilities are hugely impressive. Myself and my friends were trying to work out how many divisions the club was away from the Football League, and we worked it out at six or seven.
“There certainly won’t be many clubs which are that far away from the league with facilities as good as this.
Keep up the good work, you’re on an incredible run.Alan Shearer
“People often forget that there is football outside of the Premier League, and that football didn’t start in 1992. Without clubs like this and chairmen at clubs like this, I wouldn’t have had the career I had, and neither would thousands of others.
“To attract 1,400 fans here was an incredible achievement. The team is also on an incredible run. It’s good to have something to shout about in the North East, because our other clubs aren’t doing so well.
“I get invited to do a million of these things, and I would be doing one every day of the year if time allowed. Geoff is a friend of mine. I was delighted to be here because football in the North East means a lot to me. It was my pleasure to open this fantastic facility.”
A plaque was unveiled to mark the opening, while there was also entertainment from South Shields guitarist and vocalist Taylor Payne, as well as singer-songwriter Paige Temperley, as members of the community mingled and took in the new facilities.
Shearer told those that had gathered: “Keep up the good work, you’re on an incredible run. We have to shout about something in the North East as our teams aren’t doing very well!”
An Under-15s match between Newcastle and Sunderland was due to take place, but was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch.
Shields had spent the last two seasons playing their home games 20 miles away, in Peterlee, before Mr Thompson took control of the club and bought the ground in the summer.
Earlier this month, he revealed his plans for the club to the Gazette, which included the eventual aim of turning Mariners Park into a 5,000-capacity home and leading Shields into the Conference.
Part of his initial aims upon taking over the club in the summer was to fully refurbish the facilities at the newly-acquired ground, and the function rooms there are available for free hire until the end of December.
Mr Thompson said: “This was an important milestone in getting the facilities complete. There is still a lot more work to be done around the ground, for example providing more shelter for supporters.
“We hope that the community can come down and use the facilities. A lot of hard work has gone in off the pitch from a lot of people, including the contractor Samco.
“A lot of people fought to keep this club alive during some very dark days. The likes of Gary Crutwell, Bob Wray, Philip Reay and David Fall - along with many others - kept the club alive.”
The launch tonight was just the start of a weekend of entertainment at Mariners Park, with band King Size Voodoo Traveller to perform there tomorrow from 9pm.
On Saturday, meanwhile, the Shields first team will travel to Consett for an FA Vase match, and on the night-time at Mariners Park, Britain’s Got Talent finalist Danny Posthill will perform.
The comedy impressionist is on from 7pm, with tickets costing £20, including a pie and peas supper. To book a ticket, call 0191 454 7800 or 07854 858423.