South Shields FC supremo Geoff Thompson has revealed he is considering plans to build a new £10million stadium – as cup fever continues to sweep the town.
The Mariners are just two games from Wembley after reaching the FA Vase semi-final, where they will play Coleshill Town over two legs.
More than 3,000 fans packed into Mariners Park a fortnight ago to watch the team beat Newport Pagnell Town in the quarter-final of the national competition, while Saturday’s win over Shildon was their 21st successive victory in all competitions – a new club record.
Attendances average around 1,500 this season and the ambitious club have hopes of moving up through the football pyramid and potentially playing Conference level in the future – if not making the Football League.
It’s a far cry from the bleak days a couple of years ago when they had no home, were forced to rent a ground in Peterlee and struggled to attract regular fans as a result.
Since Mr Thompson took over as chairman and bought Mariners Park – formlerly Filtrona Park – the club has gone from strength to strength, with huge investment on their current ground transforming it into one of the best non-league facilities in the region.
Mr Thompson insists the plan is to continue developing their Shaftesbury Avenue home, but admits he is looking into whether the football club could be re-housed elsewhere in the town as he refuses to rest on his laurels.
He said: “If we look at what we can control, at the minute that’s Mariners Park.
“We have a masterplan and we need to get the spec out for a new stand and get that out to tender.
“We’re still exploring a number of options but the current plan is to continue to develop and invest in Mariners Park and create a little mini stadium which has a capacity of circa 5,000.
“The ground grading satisfies the next league and following league but in that two-year period we can see what else is available.
“We have looked and are still looking at other options. Myself and Mike (Orr, managing director at the club) have been working with the council to explore other possible sites. Could we create a brand new purpose-built facility elsewhere in Shields?
“We are appointing some consultants to look at land and see what’s available.
“It could cost £10million to £15million to build a new stadium and the question now is does that stack up?
“Is there any land available? How would you fund it? How would you develop it? Does the commercial side stack up?
“I know the chief executive at South Tyneside and the executive team there, and I know the political leaders at the council and they have been very supportive. They are as thrilled as anyone with the progress we have made. We are still in dialogue and still looking at various options.”
The availability of land for a possible new stadium within South Shields was initially looked at by the club three years ago when they faced the prospect of being homeless. Gypsies Green and Temple Park were mentioned, along with other venues, but those talks ultimately came to nothing.
Westoe Rugby Club and South Shields Cricket Club have since announced plans to move from their Wood Terrace home to Temple Park, but Mr Thompson insists any football club venture is only in the early stages, with the focus still remaining on developing their existing home.
“It would be wrong to say ‘would we move to Temple Park’ for example,” he added. “We are aware the rugby club are moving up there, and there’s a lot of land up there so there’s various thoughts and discussions under way.
“But Plan A is to redevelop Mariners, invest there and I wouldn’t discount a move elsewhere, but it’s not currently on the horizon.
“There’s a clear plan to develop Mariners Park while exploring other options.
“We could do a lot more with Mariners Park and we are looking at deals to do with adjacent available land.
“But I think we should show some imagination.”