South Shields FC chairman Geoff Thompson has told of his Wembley dream as the club plans for a ‘party weekend’ – whatever happens on the pitch.
The Mariners face the biggest game in the club’s history a week on Sunday.
They will take on Cleethorpes Town in the final of the FA Vase in what is the club’s first-ever visit to the national stadium.
One of the masterminds behind Shields’ success – which has seen them win back-to-back promotions, and three trophies already this season – has been Mr Thompson, who took over the running of the club in 2015.
The speed of the Mariners’ progress since then has taken him aback, and now they are ready to reach a new height.
Mr Thompson said: “We’ve known about Wembley for quite a number of weeks now, but as the days draw nearer, I’m getting more and more excited about it.
A lot of our fans are going down for the weekend and will have a really great time - a party weekend - and hopefully we’ll deliver on the pitchGeoff Thompson
“There are a little bit of nerves, but in a positive way.
“What I do know is we’re going to have an unbelievable day out, a memorable day.
“A lot of our fans are going down for the weekend and will have a really great time - a party weekend - and hopefully we’ll deliver on the pitch.”
There are expected to be anything between 13,000 and 15,000 Shields fans at the game, which will kick-off at 12.15pm.
Joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton are now adding the finishing touches to their preparations as they aim to bring the trophy back to the town.
Mr Thompson added: “It’s great to here that we’re selling so many tickets.
“At the last count, it was about 13,000, so I’m hoping we can get up to about 15,000 Shields fans down there.
“We all hope and believe we’ll get the right result.
“That’s not to be disrespectful to our opponents, because Cleethorpes are a good side and are there on merit.
“On the day, I’m sure Lee, Graham and the team will be properly prepared and we’ll get out there and give it our best shot.”
The club this week announced the launch of a new academy for 16 to 19-year-olds, which will see managers Lee and Graham become full-time employees at Mariners Park.
Next season, the club will compete in the Evo-Stik League First Division North, which will see far greater travelling distances to away matches.
Mr Thompson hopes that will just be another step on the Mariners’ rise up the football pyramid.
He said: “It has been an incredible season, but I’m equally excited about next season.
“It’s going to be hard to replicate the success of this season, but it’s a whole new venture for the club against new opponents, we’ll be travelling to new venues, and new people will be coming to Mariners Park.
“We’ve talked about the launch of the academy, so that’s another new initiative.
“There’s a lot going on for next year, not just what’s going to happen on the pitch and the opponents we’re going to meet, but also a continued investment in some of the infrastructure and some of the work that goes on behind the scenes to make the club successful in the longer term.”
Meanwhile, as the Gazette revealed yesterday, the club is spending time training at both Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United’s training grounds ahead of the trip to Wembley.
The Black Cats wished them luck yesterday, tweeting: “Good luck at Wembley! Ha’way the Mariners!”