Julio Arca’s bid to fly his family over to watch him play at Wembley for the first time has been dashed – but instead he has vowed to win the trophy for his new kin.
The South Shields skipper had hoped his father and brother would have been able to see him take on Cleethorpes in the FA Vase final tomorrow.
They are unable to come over from Argentina, but Arca says playing for a ‘family club’ like Shields is inspiration enough.
He said: “Playing here is like going back in time, going back 10 or 15 or 20 years when I was playing young and my mam used to come and watch me.
“That’s the same here, you get a lot of fans that are close to you. It’s happened a few times this season where you’ve scored a goal and they’ve come on the pitch and celebrated with us.
“It’s just a different environment to when you play professionally. When you play professionally, you don’t get that connection with the fans because you’re not allowed to or because you only see them when you go into the stadium.
“But here you could come and have a lunch and see some fans and after the game have a few drinks with them.
“It’s more like a family club – the people working here are all really nice people. It would be fantastic to win the Vase for every player, but for the club it would be great.”
For the 36-year-old, playing at Wembley tomorrow will be the culmination of a lifelong dream, and something he could never have imagined when he retired from the professional game with a foot injury in 2013.
The midfielder had enjoyed a fantastic career, becoming a fan’s favourite at both Sunderland and Middlesbrough as he racked up more than 350 appearances for the two clubs, enjoying the high life in the Premier League as well as international glory with Argentina Under-20s.
He couldn’t keep away from football for long, however, and amazingly turned out for Sunderland Sunday League outfit Willow Pond, alongside his mates, before former Shields boss Jon King persuaded him to join the Mariners’ revolution.
Now he’s reaping an unexpected reward for his dedication and enjoyment in the twilight of his career.
“When I stopped playing professionally it never even crossed my mind to start playing Northern League, or Sunday League,” Arca added.
“Things started happening – the Sunday league took me here, and then here last year we won the league.
“The plan this year was to win the league and get promotion, that’s what the plans are. But to do so well in the other competitions is great.”