Mark Carruthers: Graham Fenton can reflect on job well done after key role in South Shields' transformation
Although this season has not gone as expected, Graham Fenton can leave South Shields with his head held high.
Since he joined forces with Lee Picton on a dramatic September day in 2016, Fenton has played a significant role in the club’s remarkable rise up the non-league pyramid.
That first season provided memories with every passing week and ones that will live with the Mariners faithful for a long time to come.
Sealing promotion into the Northern Premier League at the end of a marathon run of fixtures, securing the Durham Challenge Cup at Victoria Park and a big win in the Northern League Cup final against North Shields.
And Wembley, then there was Wembley.
Over 14,000 supporters swamped London, drank Covent Garden dry and watched on as their side strolled to a 4-0 win against Cleethorpes Town to claim the FA Vase under the arch.
Momentum continued, a historic step towards becoming the North East’s sixth professional club was made as the club moved to a hybrid model of part-time and full-time players.
Progression on the field was match off the pitch as Mariners Park - now the 1st Cloud Arena - transformed with every passing month.
More success had followed with promotion into the Northern Premier League’s top tier - but a poor performance in a play-off defeat against Warrington Town and the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic stunted progress.
The National League North remained agonisingly out of reach, changes were abound as Picton moved upstairs in a surprise announcement made in the aftermath of a historic appearance in the FA Cup first round at Cheltenham Town.
Fenton’s first full season in charge coincided with the completion of the transition towards full-time status and results and the success of new additions to the squad have been mixed to say the least.
That said, the Mariners are still very much in the mix for promotion into the National League North and the timing of the decision to part company with Fenton has already been questioned.
Key fixtures with the likes of Warrington, Matlock, Buxton and Morpeth lie in wait - but they are now to be the focus of the manager chosen to succeed Fenton.