Geoff Thompson reveals South Shields dark thoughts as he ploughs ahead with Mariners project despite COVID pressures

South Shields chairman Geoff Thompson has revealed COVID pressures have taken him to the edge in 2020 – but he’s determined to plough ahead with project Mariners.

Sunday, 25th October 2020, 12:00 pm

This calendar year has been particularly damaging to Thompson’s club, with the Mariners seeing their Northern Premier League promotion hopes dashed – it was a sure thing due to their 12-point lead at the top – as well as the cutting of crowds down to 10% of their potential size. Commercial and financial challenges have also arisen due to the current COVID landscape.

But Thompson has reiterated his determination to deliver for his hometown club.

Despite the issues thrown up by an utterly forgettable year, the South Tyneside benefactor wants to be true to his promise – ensuring the town on the Tyne has a Football League club to call its own in the not too distant future.

Geoff Thompson celebrates after South Shields' FA Cup win (Pic via Kev Wilson).

"There are moments where you, sort of, sit in a dark room. I will always be honest with that,” said Thompson.

"It has been tough here, as it has for many businesses in this COVID environment.

“Last year, it was difficult, I’ve had therapy over it. As we know, we were 12 points clear with nine games to go and then had the null and void decision imposed on us.

"It’s quite ironic, when you think with the Covid situation, the National League clubs are getting National Lottery money. Arguably we should have been amongst that, and I don’t begrudge those clubs getting that sort of support.

“But it’s kind of ironic, that we should have been there on merit, and it didn’t happen. But we have dusted ourselves down, we have gone again, and today was a massive statement about what we are trying to achieve here.”

Among the dark days, Saturday’s was a bright spark.

A vibrant, dominating South Shields humbled their National League opponents Halifax Town – the 2-0 FA Cup margin did not do justice to the chasm between the sides at the 1st Cloud Arena – to reach the first round proper of the competition for the first time since 1973. It is, of course, the first time the club has ventured this far in its current, most recent guise.

"My commitment to the football club has always been long-term. My view is that we can support an EFL club here - we are a big enough town, a big enough conurbation to support that,” he said.

“I stand by what I have said before - South Shields deserves a team in the higher divisions of the Football League.

“And these days make up for the bad ones.

“We have a group of people here who have knuckled down and got on with it. This result and the next game will be a little payback for those people.”

A clearly delighted Thompson added: “It’s incredible, isn’t it?

“It’s just a pity that more of us weren’t here to enjoy it in the current circumstances.

“It’s the first time we have been through to this round since 1973, let’s hope we can maybe get Sunderland in the next round.

“We would normally have had well over 3,000 here today, but it’s a bit of history."

And that’s one of the biggest challenges facing Shields – for a game like Saturday you’d expect the place to be packed to the rafters, the bar spilling out at the seams with punters, the live music booming from the beer tent, the lounges full of paying supporters, tills ringing at the food, merchandise and drinks stalls. COVID has put an end to all that.

“I just want to get things back to normal, get the COVID thing behind us and start to enjoy football together again,” said Thompson.

“What I really want to achieve is to get 3,000-4,000 fans back in Mariners Park again.

“It is an exciting journey we are on. I am excited for the next round, who knows what can happen?

“All credit to Lee and Graham, and the first-team players for how they have responded to a bit of a difficult run in the league.

“I think we have had a bit of bad luck, we have dominated matches and not scored, but I think today was confirmation of the quality of football that we can play.

“To be fair to Halifax, they came and played football and it was good to see we got a deserved win.”