Exclusive: South Shields chairman Geoff Thompson on Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips and hopes for the season
South Shields chairman Geoff Thompson has thrown his support behind Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips and revealed they are both ‘very determined’ to succeed next season.
Phillips took charge of the Mariners in January when he was the surprise choice to succeed long-serving former manager Graham Fenton.
A poor away record would see South Shields pipped to the Northern Premier League Premier Division title by Buxton and play-off heartache would follow with a semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat against Warrington Town.
Plans for Phillips’ first full season in charge have got off to an impressive start with the former Sunderland striker keen to put his own stamp on the Mariners squad.
Former Newcastle United academy star Mackenzie Heaney became his first permanent signings last month and he was followed by the addition of Hartlepool United midfielder Martin Smith.
The recruitment drive stepped up a gear over the last week with York City midfielder Michael Woods, Hartlepool United stalwart Gary Liddle and Bradford Park Avenue forward Dylan Mottley-Henry all putting pen-to-paper at the 1st Cloud Arena.
More new faces are expected ahead of the Mariners return to pre-season training later this month and Thompson is adamant the club can move on from the disappointment of missing out on promotion into the National League North.
He told The Gazette: “I’ve been impressed with Kevin and I like him very much man-to-man.
“He’s very humble, very considered and we are lucky to have him given his pedigree with the likes of Sunderland and other clubs at the highest level of the game.
“I am very determined to make it a success here and to give him the backing he needs to help us move on from last season and really push things forwards here.
“He kept going after the play-off game, he knew what he wanted to bring into the club and he refused to get bogged down in the disappointment of what happened.
“That’s the mark of the man, he was determined and I believe those behaviours will be the mark of all aspects of our football club moving forwards.”
Thompson’s commitment to the Mariners has seen him take on a dual-role for the new season after a restructure behind the scenes.
Chief executive Lee Picton will now form part of Phillips’ coaching staff as well as moving into a role as the club’s first Sporting Director.
Former Colchester United head of senior recruitment Joe Monks has been appointed as Football Operations Manager and Jon Shaw has reverted to his previous role of Head of Professional Development as well as playing for Northern Premier League East club Dunston UTS.
The changes mean Thompson will take over Chief Executive duties and continue in his existing role as the club’s Chairman.
He revealed why he is keen to take a ‘more hands-on approach’ as thoughts turn towards another tilt at promotion into non-league’s second tier.
“Joe who has joined the team in a recruitment role and we knew Kevin had made is clear what his thoughts were on new signings so him, Joe and Wess (Brown) have worked closely in that area.
“Lee’s role has changed, so there’s a group of experienced people working with Kevin to ensure he gets what he needs.
“We have been selective in our approach, it has purposely been very targeted and we knew what we wanted to do on and off the pitch.
“It is still painful to reflect on what happened last year but it has been a really positive start to the summer on a number of fronts.
“I think people have seen the infrastructure has improved, we wanted to make a firm fresh start and I think we are demonstrating that with the way we are conducting ourselves during the close-season.
“I will be more hands-on with the new role I have and I will ensure we move things on from last season.”
The restructure behind the scenes is a result of a root and branch review of the club promised by Thompson in the aftermath of the play-off defeat against Warrington.
The Mariners are still working towards a plan to reach the top tier of non-league football and progress towards a place in the Football League.
But Thompson admitted there is still a lot of work to be done despite the changes on and off the pitch made since the end of last season.
“Last year was a bitter bitter disappointment for everyone, me, the fans, the people within the club and we have to push on now,” he explained.
“We have done this analysis of where we missed out last year, it was a failure and it’s a tough word to use for us.
“We have looked at everything, including the playing side, and you can see where we are trying to strengthen through the weaknesses we have addressed.
“There are areas outside of football we have to improve upon and I am hoping the new stand and everything that can deliver will bring benefits.
“We have to make that work, we have a bigger hospitality offering and a bigger non-match day opportunity, so there is a lot to consider for us but it is a challenge we are relishing.”
Determination and defiance shine through as Thompson is asked to deliver one final message to Mariners supporters.
“I’m not getting any younger but I want to say I am persistent and I am very determined,” he said.
“I will keep going, we will keep going as a club and we will continue trying to improve everything we do.
“There’s no lack of commitment and focus from me and from others.
“We will move our club forwards.”