South Shields chairman Geoff Thompson and Gateshead FC react to merger reports

Geoff Thompson.
Geoff Thompson.

Geoff Thompson has rubbished reports that South Shields FC could merge with Gateshead.

A newspaper report at the weekend claimed that the two clubs had held talks over a possible merger, which would see the Mariners - who play in the Evo-Stik Premier league - join forces with National League outfit Gateshead.

However, both clubs have played down the claims, though Gateshead have admitted that officials from both clubs did meet earlier in the season to discuss ways they could attract bigger crowds to the International Stadium.

The Heedwere taken over in the summer by Dr Ranjan Varghese, and have enjoyed a superb season on the pitch, sitting in the play-offs as they bid to return to the Football League.

However, doubts still remain over their long-term future and a report in the Non-League Paper at the weekend claimed Gateshead had held talks with Shields about merging, and about relocating to Kingston Park, home of rugby side Newcastle Falcons.

Shields chairman Thompson, who has overseen a stunning transformation of the Mariners since taking over in 2015, has been open in his ambition to return the club to the Football League for the first time since 1930, and launched Project EFL in September.

However, he rubbished the reports that they could seek to get into the Football League by merging with Gateshead, who are two rungs higher in the pyramid.

He tweeted: "Never going to happen! We know where we are going #ProjectEFL. Let’s not waste our time discussing it."

And Gateshead have equally moved to distance themselves from the report, claiming it was 'potentially damaging' and a 'complete non-story'.

A statement read: "Gateshead Football Club are confused as to why this has cropped up again in the local media. It is a complete non-story based off speculative conversations which took place very early on in the season and went no further.

"A meeting took place between both parties months ago entirely out of curiosity from our new owners, who were keen to gain a greater understanding of football in the region while also looking at ways at attracting larger crowds to the International Stadium.

"It quickly became apparent that any merger could not happen as it would provide no benefit to either club.

"Both clubs are currently focused on gaining promotion from their respective leagues and any reporting of a merger is not only potentially damaging but also a complete waste of time given the circumstances.

"We have a good relationship with South Shields Football Club and wish them the very best for the future - as a separate club."

Shields are chasing promotion from the Evo-Stik Premier this season, which would put them in the National League North, two runs below the Football League.

The club has undergone a remarkable transformation under Thompson since he took control of the Mariners in 2015. Shields, who had been playing at Peterlee, returned to the town and have achieved three successive promotions as well as winning the FA Vase at Wembley.

Reports of talks between the two clubs first surfaced last May with South Shields issuing a statement saying there was no truth in the claims.

It read: "The club wishes to clarify its position following rumours which have accelerated online and in the print media over recent days.

"There is no prospect of the club merging with Gateshead FC this summer, nor has this avenue been suggested or explored."

Shields and Gateshead have a long and chequered history together. The third and current incarnation of the Mariners was formed in 1974 after the club moved to Gateshead following the sale of Simonside Hall, the second time it had happened after South Shields FC had also folded and moved to Gateshead in 1930.

It seems there is no appetite for this to happen a third time, however.