SOUTH Shields Football Club is hoping to win on and off the pitch in tomorrow’s vital money-spinning clash with century-old rivals Darlington.
More than 1,000 fans are expected to be at the Mariners’ Filtrona Park ground for the first South Tyneside meeting of the clubs since 1930 – more than five times their average home gate of just 172.
With Shields propping up the Ebac Northern League Division One and in desperate need of extra funds to secure the club’s long-term future, extensive preparations have been made to welcome Darlington’s fans.
But anxious club chiefs still have one eye on the weather and are hoping a gloomy forecast doesn’t put the crucial fixture in doubt.
Volunteers and club staff have been working tirelessly in recent days to ensure that the pitch is playable on the day.
Darlington 1883, who were demoted down four leagues and forced to change their name from Darlington FC after going into administration, have been taking big followings to away grounds all season.
Table-topping Darlington are 54 points ahead of South Shields FC heading into the game – but it is hoped home fans will support the team in bigger numbers than ever to cheer them to what would be a shock victory.
Bob Wray, secretary of South Shield’s FC Supporters’ Association, says the game is a chance for the people of South Shields to get behind their club.
Mr Wray told the Gazette: “We have got one eye on the weather, but if it holds up it will be a great opportunity, with Newcastle and Sunderland not playing at home, for local people to get behind their home town club.
“Darlington 1883 bring a huge following to away games, often into four figures. Many clubs have doubled prices for when they visit, but our prices are unaltered for the game.
“We have made extensive preparations. We will have two kitchens and two bars running, and have had about a dozen volunteers helping out.
“There will also a bucket collection to raise funds for South Shields FC. We had a great welcome when we played away at Darlington earlier in the same fixture and want to do the same for them.
“We are both clubs that are singing from the same hymn sheet and have gone through similar problems.
“The game will be very important – Darlington are top of the league and going for promotion, while we are bottom of the table and trying to secure our status in the league.”
The club launched a share scheme last year, which gives people the chance to own a stake in it and put its future on firmer ground.
It’s hoped that with the help of fans, The Mariners will be able to buy Filtrona Park – the club’s ground for 20 years – which is up for sale.
Shares cost £1 and supporters have the option of buying £100 blocks up to a maximum of £20,000.
Tickets for the game, which kicks off at 3pm on Saturday, are available on the gate and are priced at £5 for adults, with concessions £3 and under-16s paying £1.