South Shields joint manager Lee Picton believes the support the club got at Wembley this weekend shows the Mariners are a ‘sleeping giant’.
Around 15,000 fans watched Shields lift the FA Vase with a thumping 4-0 win over Cleethorpes Town to cap a remarkable season.
Shields had already won the Northern League title, Durham Challenge Cup and League Cup, and will play in the Evostik League next season after taking promotion.
Chairman Geoff Thompson wants Shields to push all the way to Conference football, if not higher, just like Fleetwood Town.
And Picton says the potential of the club is huge, as shown by the way the fans took over Covent Garden and Wembley at the weekend.
“They’ve supported us the length and breadth of the country all season long,” he said.
“They went to Team Solent and places like that on our run and we really wanted to give them an experience that could live long in their memories as well.
“We want to rekindle it. People talk about sleeping giants and it’s a widely used phrase but South Shields used to command gates of ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty thousand back in the last century.
“It just shows that the potential is there. We are one of the biggest towns in the country that doesn’t have a Football League club as it’s a really big town.
“It’s just about capturing the imagination, and that’s something Geoff and a lot of people at the club have done really well with the last few years. It’s now about carrying that forward.
“Geoff sees the club potentially doing something like Fleetwood Town or Burton Albion have done.
“I know Geoff knows the guy who owns Fleetwood through his business connections and I guess it’s the mentality of if they can do it, why can’t we.
If you look at the population of the two towns, Fleetwood has got about 25,000, South Shields is more in the region of 75,000 with two big cities either side of it.
“So we’re hoping this is potentially a springboard to increasing our fanbase ahead of next season.
“A lot of people who came today won’t have been regular fans at Mariners Park this season and hopefully we’ve given them a taste of what they like, and want to come back.”
Picton also believes the plight of Sunderland could help the Mariners grow off the field.
“Something like 60 per cent of our fanbase are Sunderland fans, and with them being relegated to the Championship we may be able to capitalise on that and hook some fans in.
“But the plans for the football club are really ambitious.”
For fellow manager Graham Fenton, he believes the ambition of the club is something that sets it apart from most Northern League clubs.
“I can only look at the other team I’ve managed, North Shields, and if they’d finished in a position to go up they aren’t financially in the right place to do so.
“I think it’s good that teams are trying to progress. You have Bishop Auckland who have plans to progress, Consett do too, there’s been Spennymoor.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and we’re delighted Geoff has the ambition to take the club as far as it possibly can and we’ll enjoy the journey.”