South Shields dream comes true with championship triumph

Joyful scenes at Ashington last night. Picture by Peter Talbot.
Joyful scenes at Ashington last night. Picture by Peter Talbot.

Those connected with South Shields FC have long dreamt of a night like this.

Champions of the Northern League in front of an away crowd approaching four figures and on their way to the Evo-Stik League - all unimaginable just two short years ago.

Throw into the mix an imminent trip to Wembley and two other upcoming cup finals, and the Mariners have never had it so good.

Last night felt like a new high, and boy did they celebrate.

The scenes following the 4-1 win at Ashington which sealed the Division One title were as euphoric as you could expect.

Fans - young, old, long-serving, new - joined the players and staff on the pitch and serenaded their heroes, with champagne spraying everywhere and everyone getting involved.

The joy was felt by all connected with the club, and there were tears.

Shields is a club very much looking forward, but it’s impossible not to have a nod to the past.

Two years ago, a hardy band of volunteers was helping to keep the club alive towards what proved to be the end of a two-year spell in Peterlee which almost killed the Mariners.

They did it because they cared, and because they believed in the potential of their club.

Some of their loved ones may have questioned their sanity, traipsing 20 miles down the A19 every other weekend to watch a team seemingly on the road to nowhere.

But boy, were they right to keep going.

Nights like this would not have been possible otherwise, and the true potential of South Shields FC may never have been realised.

So much of the credit has to go to chairman Geoff Thompson, who came to the club’s rescue in 2015, bringing it back home and unveiling plans to progress through the football pyramid.

He has been good to his word.

Two successive promotions, two successive titles - it could not have been a better start.

A record-breaking team now has its first bit of silverware on the road to what they hope will be four trophies this season.

After missing their first chance of the title, conceding a last minute equaliser against Morpeth Town on Saturday, they were determined not to do the same again at Ashington.

It took just 11 minutes for David Foley to open the scoring, latching onto a quick throw from Robert Briggs to rifle into the bottom corner.

One became two when a Briggs through ball again found Foley, who rounded the keeper to score his second.

It was fitting that Foley was so heavily involved in Shields’ crowning moments, taking his goal tally for the season to 32.

There were less than 18 minutes played when Michael Richardson made it three, getting to a goalkeeping clearance first to lift the ball straight into the net.

This was champagne football from the Mariners - and there was much more of that later.

There could have been more goals in the first half, but it was not to be.

Richardson was particularly unlucky when he was played in on goal, but saw his effort kept out by the leg of home goalkeeper Conor Grant.

Despite the general dominance of Shields before half-time, Ashington fought back well in the second half.

A number of half chances came and went, and the Mariners would be the first to admit their own level of performance dropped.

Ashington deservedly pulled a goal back in the last 10 minutes when an impressive flick by substitute Ryan McGorrigan beat Liam Connell.

It did not feel fitting that Shields would not have the final say, and so there was an air of inevitability that another goal would arrive.

Sure enough, that happened, with Gavin Cogdon racing through on the inside right of the box before rifling into the roof of the net.

That sparked the glorious scenes at the end, a dream end to a dream night in a dream season.

Shields have another party planned on Saturday when they travel to Guisborough Town knowing the league title will be presented afterwards.

It’s hard to see how they can top the emotion of last night, but they’ll certainly give it a good go with another huge travelling support behind them.

The coach journey back to Mariners Park last night - where the celebrations continued long into the night - saw some committee members think back to those days in Peterlee.

“It seems like such a long time ago, doesn’t it?” said David Fall, the club’s treasurer during those years.

You bet it does.

SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Smith, Callaghan (Storey 67), Shaw, Lough, Arca (c) (Holden 47), Briggs, Phillips (Petrache 77), Cogdon, Richardson, Foley. Subs not used: Jameson, Stephenson.

Goals: Foley (11, 15), Richardson (18), Cogdon (90+2).

Attendance: 1,097.