SOUTH Shields Football Club is coming home.
A deal has been struck to bring the Mariners back to their former home at the town’s Filtrona Park after two seasons of playing their home games in Peterlee.
The Shaftesbury Avenue ground will be known as Mariners Park after Geoff Thompson, chief executive of North Tyneside-based energy consultancy firm Utilitywise, agreed to buy it and lease it to the Northern League club.
Subject to league ratification and final checks, the deal is expected to be completed by early June, in time for Shields to play their home games at their old and new ground next season.
Mr Thompson will become chairman of the club, and he has paid tribute to the club’s existing committee for their success in keeping the Mariners going since their former lease on Filtrona Park ended in the summer of 2013.
He said: “The committee has done a tremendous job to keep the club going through what has been an extremely difficult period in its history.
I’m delighted to be able to help out, and very excited to now be part of such a historic football club with vast potential.Geoff Thompson, South Shields FC chairman
“I’m delighted to be able to help out and very excited to now be part of such a historic football club with vast potential.
“I’m confident that there are some very exciting times ahead for the club, and the first step towards that was to ensure it got back into the town as quickly as possible.”
He added: “To do that at a facility like Mariners Park is fantastic. It has everything we need and so much potential to be improved further in the future.”
The current committee, including former chairman Gary Crutwell, will all be staying at the club. Mr Crutwell will become vice-chairman.
The Mariners have big plans for the future and are hoping to progress rapidly, both on and off the field.
Mr Thompson added: “Ultimately, from a first-team point of view, we want to progress as high up the football pyramid as we can.
“We want the club to be vibrant from top to bottom, though, and we feel it has a huge role to play in the community.
“The club already has a superb junior section, which we hope will grow and flourish further, and a big aspect for me is the community side of things.
“I want us to be at the centre of the community, and we hope to build partnerships with the local authority and schools as part of this.
“Mariners Park will be at the forefront of everything we do. We can hold community events there, while we would also like our football coaches to go out into South Tyneside schools to put on sessions and inspire the next generation to play football and realise their full potential.”
South Shields played at Filtrona Park from 1992 to 2013.
The current version of the club was founded in 1974, but its history stretches back over 125 years in various forms.
During its last season at Filtrona Park, attendances averaged 164, and they were 211 the campaign, well up on the average gates of 70 seen at Peterlee last season.
The Mariners’ imminent return to Filtrona Park has been greeted with delight by those responsible for keeping the club going during a challenging period.
Mr Crutwell said: “It has been a tough few years for the club, but I am very proud of the committee’s efforts to get through that period, and I am confident that there are some excellent times ahead.
“We are delighted to have Geoff on board and can’t thank him enough for his efforts so far.
“The ambitions and potential of the club are massive, and I really hope we can provide the successful and community-based club that this town deserves.
“South Shields, and South Tyneside in general, is a football-oriented area, and we hope to well and truly tap into that potential.
“We would like to appeal to the football supporters of the town to get behind us to help us achieve our ambitions, and we want to provide them with a club to be proud of.
“The first step towards reaching those ambitions was to secure a ground in the town, and we are thrilled to be moving back to our former home.”
Two years of playing away over
1992: South Shields move to Filtrona Park from Jack Clark Park, where they had played since 1974.
May 2013: After the club’s lease on Filtrona Park ends, the Mariners enter negotiations over a temporary ground-share in the borough.
June 2013: The club confirms its move to Eden Lane in Peterlee after negotiations to groundshare fail to reach a positive conclusion.
August 2013: The Mariners play their first game at Peterlee, where they would stay for two seasons.
June 2013-April 2015: Shields continues negotiations over a return to the town, amid much speculation, while continuing to play in County Durham.
February 2014: South Tyneside Council says it is “devoting a significant amount of time working closely with the club to identify an alternative location”.
May 2015: Geoff Thompson agrees a deal to buy Filtrona Park and lease it back to the football club, subject to Northern League ratification and final checks.