South Shields Carl Finnigan is hoping to honour his Newcastle hero Alan Shearer in the FA Vase final at Wembley

Carl Finnigan
Carl Finnigan

Carl Finnigan has only been to Wembley once in his life.

And to be honest it was not the most enjoyable of experiences – witnessing boyhood heroes Newcastle United beaten 2-0 in the 1998 FA Cup final by Arsenal.

Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer

Heartbroken he may have been, but the experience sparked something inside the then Magpies academy striker.

Finnigan dreamed of gracing the national stadium’s hallowed turf, just like his footballing idol Alan Shearer.

Shearer was on the losing side that day, hitting the foot of the post with the score finely balanced at 1-0. He also lost there the following two years, against Manchester United and Chelsea.

While Shearer, who never played under the new Wembley arch, netted 18 times at the ground in his career, all of them came for England. On his three Newcastle outings the closest he got was on that balmy May afternoon against the Gunners.

Carl Finnigan with his trademark celebration

Carl Finnigan with his trademark celebration

Finnigan is aiming to go one better than the Geordie legend when the Mariners take on Cleethorpes Town in Sunday’s FA Vase final.

And in homage to his hero, he’s hoping to raise one arm and wheel away having netted the goal that claims Shields’ historic fourth trophy of a remarkable season.

"There has only ever been one guy for me and that’s Alan Shearer. It would be nice to take it there. I’ll try and take it there for him," he said of Shearer’s famous goal celebration, which globe-trotting Finnigan has replicated every time he has scored in the professional game.

"The celebration has always just happened for me. It is what you do when you score goals as a kid and it just stuck with me.

Carl Finnigan during his time at Newcastle United as a kid

Carl Finnigan during his time at Newcastle United as a kid

"I haven’t tried to nick it off him it just happened naturally.

"As a striker my aim every game is to get on the scoresheet, so heading to Wembley is no different.

"And if I do score the celebration will definitely get an airing."

Having admired Shearer from afar, Finnigan’s progression through the youth ranks at Newcastle under the guidance of Peter Beardsley, Kenny Wharton and eventually John Carver, brought him into close contact with the 206-goal striker.

Alan Shearer celebrates scoring five against Sheffield Wednesday

Alan Shearer celebrates scoring five against Sheffield Wednesday

Finnigan spent a year in and around the first-team under Graeme Souness then Glenn Roeder before leaving for first-team football at Falkirk.

It was one of the greatest learning experiences of his career. And he says Shearer played a massive part, although he may not know it.

"As a kid growing up I looked up to him immensely," he said.

"I dreamed of seeing him, meeting him and all of sudden I was training with him in the first-team squad at Newcastle .

"To have that experience of being around him, learning from him, both as a player and the way he holds himself as a person was invaluable for me. He helped me massively.

"He always had time to say a positive word and help you to learn.

Carl Finnigan playing for Newcastle reserves against Birmingham City in March 2004

Carl Finnigan playing for Newcastle reserves against Birmingham City in March 2004

"I remember him having a conversation with me one summer when we were over playing a friendly in Malaga – Alan wasn’t involved and I was just a reserve player along for the ride.

"He probably will not realise how much of a help he was to me, and other young players at Newcastle at the time."

When Finnigan joined South Shields he had been expected to jet off back to Africa, where he had spells in Botswana and South Africa, having had a move set up out there thanks to close friend, former Newcastle reserve teammate and current Blyth Spartans midfielder Matty Pattison.

But one thing in particular convinced the 30-year-old frontman to stay in the area.

While it was nice seeing the family, catching up with old friends and living back in the region he was born, silverware and a potential trip to the national stadium was what really got the juices flowing for Finnigan.

"It was a massive goal of mine when I joined here," he said of making the FA Vase final.

"I knew the club had ambitions to go and win the Vase, as well as all the other cups.

"For me, the Vase was the pinnacle. A chance to go to Wembley, a place back when I started my career 10 years ago in Scotland I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to go.

"It is every kid’s dream growing up, kicking a ball about in the streets you make that little area Wembley. You think about playing there, scoring there.

"Now I have the chance to make that a reality – not many people ever get the chance to say that."

The big occasion is not something totally alien to Finnigan. And a big cup final will be no new thing either this weekend.

Back in 2009 Finnigan came off the bench in a Scottish Cup Final against Rangers. He even had the ball in the Hampden Park net but his strike was disallowed and he could not help the Bairns on their way to silverware.

Finnigan expects that Sunday’s encounter will eclipse that, and anything else he has done in his career to date.

"I would say this is the biggest, in terms of what it will do for this club as a whole," he said.

"This one game can create history.

"Scoring my first professional goal against Rangers at 21 in front of 50,000 people – I will never forget that. I will take that feeling with me to my grave.

"But doing the same at Wembley in front of about 40,000 would take some beating."