Saturday 11 February 2017, 15.00, Mariners Park

The Northern League Division One clash between South Shields and Chester-le-Street Town.

A first ever visit to a Northern League match, although we did see both Newcastle Benfield and Morpeth Town in pre-season friendlies.

The Northern League is based in the north east of England for semi-professional and amateur teams.  Founded in 1889, it is the oldest surviving football league in the world after the Football League.

It currently has Divisions 1 and 2.  The top division is five below the football league and the top three teams may be eligible for promotion to the Northern League Premier, depending on certain criteria.

Although there have been some references found to the existence of a football club in South Shields in the 1870s, the first recorded team began in 1888.  South Shields Athletic AFC were formed in 1897.  This doesn’t mean that there were not others before, or indeed at the same time in the town, including another club which had the same name, as well as an Albion, an AFC and an Adelphia Argyle.  Athletic had some success in the Northern Alliance League but disbanded in 1902 due to financial problems.

South Shields Adelaide Athletic began as youth team and eventually rose to become a full Football League member in 1919.  (They had changed their name to simply South Shields FC in 1910.)  The lack of public support proved to cause financial problems and the team suffered, being forced to sell their star players.  Relegation to the Third Division North followed in 1927 and with bankruptcy looking likely, they moved to Gateshead.

The town wanted a new club to take the reins and in 1936, one was established and joined the North Eastern League.  They stopped operations during the second world war.  In this spell, the real thing of note came when they won an FA Cup Preliminary Round tie against Radcliffe Colliery Welfare by thirteen goals to nil, with Chris Marron scoring ten.

A ground move came in 1950, when they moved to another site within the town.  Over the years the ground was developed, including the building of two stands and floodlights being added.  Applications were put in to join the Football League, but were unsuccessful.

League reconstruction saw South Shields in the Midland Counties League in 1958.  Now known as ‘The Mariners’, they jumped around several leagues over the next few years, before they became a founder member of the newly formed Northern Premier League in 1968.

A decision was taken to move nearer the town centre to potentially increase attendances and in some incredible mismanagement, they sold their existing ground in 1974 before the deal was finalised on the new one.  This was particularly annoying for the supporters who had bought the ground in the early 50s for the club to use as their home.

With no facilities, the club went to Gateshead, for the second time, and became Gateshead United, who took the place of South Shields in the Northern Premier League.

Another new club was formed in the same year and the South Shields Mariners FC was born, although starting without a ground, players, manager etc.  Most of these were met quickly, but the lack of facilities meant winning the Northern Alliance League two years in a row did not result in promotion to the Northern League.

They joined the Wearside League and went on the hunt for a site for a new ground.  This was a long process and they finally bought the ground that had belonged to Filtrona FC in 1992.  Development followed over the years and promotion to the Northern League was attained.

2013 saw the lease on Filtrona Park expire and they had to play in Peterlee, 20 miles away.  A new chairman arrived in 2015 and bought Filtrona Park, which was renamed Mariners Park.

South Shields spent the last three seasons in Division Two of the Northern League, but won the title last season and currently sit second in the First Division, just behind local rivals North Shields.  They are also in the semi-finals of the League Cup, the Durham Challenge Cup and are in the quarter final of the FA Vase, the competition for Step 5-7 clubs in the National League system where the final is played at Wembley.

For the 2016-17 season, the club added three new stands to the stadium, which house up to 800 people.  A new 3G pitch was also built to the northwest of the main pitch as the club look to gain a second successive promotion from the Northern League.

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Captain Leepaul Scroggins is recovering from a broken leg and Barrie Smith also misses out with a hamstring injury. Iulian Petrache is suspended.  Stand-in captain is former Middlesbrough and Sunderland stalwart Julio Arca.

Chester-le-Street Town joined the North Eastern League in 1920 and when a second division of the league was established in 1926, they were relegated to Division Two at the end of that season.  Four bottom placed finishes in five years in the Second Division saw them transfer to the Wearside League in 1936, but they lasted only one season before leaving, having finished bottom.

The club was resurrected in 1972 as Chester-le-Street Garden Farm, named after the pub in which it was founded.  Ironically, given the history of their opponents, they began life in Gateshead, unable to find a home in Chester-le-Street.  They moved to the town the following year and are on their third ground there.  They have been at their current Moor Park home since 1978.

They flitted around different amateur leagues before joining the Wearside League in 1977.  They changed “Garden Farm” to “Town” in 1978.  They won the Wearside League in 1980-81, and after finishing as runners-up in 1982-83, they moved up to Division Two of the Northern League.

The club won Division Two at the first attempt, but a number of yo-yo years followed with frequent promotions and relegations between the two divisions.   After finishing third in Division Two last season, they were promoted along with South Shields back to Division One.

They haven’t found life as easy as their hosts in Division One, and currently sit bottom of the table.  Things are not looking good as they are already 11 points away from fourth bottom, and safety.  They have, however, show signs of life recently, beating third placed Shildon and drawing with league leaders North Shields in the League Cup (although they lost on penalties).

Chester-le-Street are commonly known as ‘The Cestrians’.

It was a filthy day and concern was setting in on the train down to Newcastle from Edinburgh if the game would be on or not.  After the debacle in Fife the previous weekend in search of a game, the fear was starting to set in.  South Shields’ tweets were encouraging, but other games in the area were starting to be postponed.

Mariners Park has a South Shields address, but is three Metro stops away from South Shields stop, at Bede.  (The station which always brings to mind ‘Twiki’ from Buck Rogers).  Walking from the Metro station in the rain it was encouraging to see quite a few others heading to the ground.

Having entered the ground, it’s an impressive place.  A big social club (newly refurbished) inside the ground, food outlets, even a club shop.  If anyone had ever wondered where the wooden structures that make up Christmas markets all over Europe go the rest of the year, this is the place.

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The referee and his assistants came out onto the pitch with a ball at 2.45 and the first attempted bounce of the ball wasn’t encouraging as it barely moved.  More hopeful was their passing to each other which didn’t see the ball holding up.  A fan shouted “C’mon ref, it’s fine!”  One of the officials asked if he could borrow the fan’s umbrella.  A volunteer from the crowd and the South Shields vice chairman came on with pitchforks and did their best to improve the most affected areas.

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It was a relief to see the teams come out just before three.  An impressive 703 braved the weather.

A slack pass by Town in the third minute saw Foley nip in and play the ball quickly to Richardson.  He took the ball forward and showed good footwork to get to the edge of the box before he curled his shot wide.

Callaghan brought the ball forward for Shields in 10 minutes and exchanged passes with Cogdon but was taken out by Stephenson as he ran towards the box.  The Town defender was lucky to escape with a warning.

Briggs took the free kick and it bounced right in front of Wilson who could only parry the ball.  Shaw was running in but the ball was already going past him.  He stuck out a leg, but the ball spun off his heel and looped onto the top of the net.

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Some great football by the home side in 14 minutes ended with Richardson laying the ball off to Foley in the box, but he couldn’t take the ball in his stride and the defence cleared.

Some intricate play by Shields in 15 minutes saw Cogdon winning a corner on the by-line.  Nicholson took it short to Cogdon who returned the ball to the taker.  He played the ball across the box to the back post where an unmarked Shaw tapped the ball in for the opening goal.

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A minute later Cogdon played the ball forward for Foley who had a clear run on goal as the Town defence had all pushed high up the pitch, but the flag went up.  It must have been close.

Phillips corner in 17 minutes found the head of Lough, but he somehow nodded wide of the Town goal from inside the six yard box.

In 27 minutes, Cogdon played a clever ball behind the Town rearguard and Foley had a great chance, but he miskicked and the ball trickled through to Wilson.

A great ball by Arca in 28 minutes found Richardson in the box and he headed it down for Foley, but a defender managed to nick the ball away.

Town’s Michael Hepplewhite took a sore one after a crunching tackle from Phillips in 32 minutes.  He had got the ball, but may have also caught Hepplewhite with his studs.  He continued after treatment.

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Cogdon found Callaghan on the left in 35 minutes and he cut the ball back into the path of Richardson, but he took a heavy touch and the chance for Shields was gone.

With 37 minutes gone, Foley chipped the ball into the Town box to Cogdon.  The striker, with his back to goal went to chest the ball and was bundled over from behind by Danny Hepplewhite.  Penalty.

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Arca stepped up but saw his shot pushed away by Wilson.

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South Shields continued to press and Phillips whistled a shot just wide of the far post from the corner of the box in 38 minutes.

A stinging shot by Foley was parried by the Town keeper in 39 minutes.

Town’s Grant picked up the first booking of the day in 40 minutes for a lunging tackle on Arca.

A great lung bursting run up the left by Callaghan in 44 minutes saw him cross dangerously into the Town box, but his team mates hadn’t managed to keep up.

Still just one goal in it at half time, but the Mariners were well in control.

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The home side continued to press as the second half began and were probing again in the opening minutes.

Another short corner in 56 minutes saw Phillips play the ball to Arca before getting the ball back.  His cross to the front post found the head of Cogdon who gave Wilson no chance and Shields were two up.

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A Town corner in 60 minutes was cleared and Shields broke quickly with Foley running into the Town half.  Callaghan had made another strong run, but Foley’s pass was overhit and Wilson got there first.

Briggs saw his shot in 61 minutes blocked by Wilson as the Town keeper remained busy.

A Cogdon cross from the right in 62 minutes looked to be landing right on the head of Foley, but Danny Hepplewhite managed to get a touch to send the ball behind.  Wilson fumbled the corner, but the defence managed to get the ball away.

More good build up play by Shields in 69 minutes ended with Finnigan shooting for the bottom corner from inside the box.  It was well placed, but didn’t have the power to get past Wilson who saved in the corner.

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Town’ Honour was booked in 71 minutes for a foul when the referee could have played advantage as Shields came forward.

Phillips became the first Shields player yellow carded in 72 minutes as the game became a little tetchy.

A good run forward by Latham in 76 minutes got him to the edge of the Shields box, but with little support he took on the shot and dragged it wide.

Foley picked up the ball on the left in 82 minutes and cut inside before taking the ball past Grant-Soulsby in the box and lashing home for Shields third.

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Lough and Arca both picked up late bookings for Shields as time ran out.

With a minute left, Baxter burst into the Town box and shot wide, although he looked as if he had been held.

In injury time Shields had a final chance when Finnigan’s shot from the edge of the box took a nick off a defender and went wide.  The corner came to nothing.

A convincing win for the Mariners in terrible conditions although the pitch did hold up well.  Town never gave up and showed commendable spirit to keep fighting for every ball.  They certainly won’t play many teams as good as South Shields in the league, who recorded their 18th consecutive victory with this win.

Everything went through Phillips in the Shields midfield and he certainly ran the first half.  Richardson showed good close control on numerous occasions.  Callaghan seemed to have boundless energy and was constantly on the move and looking for the ball on the left.  He looked a real star in the making.

For Chester-le-Street, Hailes looked decent on the left wing with little of the ball and White showed some nice touches in midfield.

I think we’ll be coming down for more Northern league games in the future.

Given how cold it got towards the end of the match, I didn’t envy those who were taking part in an overnight sleep-out event on Saturday evening to raise awareness of the challenges homeless people face, as well as to raise funds and awareness for the charities Hospitalty & Hope, and North East Athletic.  Players and officials from South Shields FC, along with some fans spent the evening in the ground. You can still donate to this worthy cause at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/marinersparksleep

Full Time: South Shields 3 Chester-le-Street Town 0

Admission: £6

South Shields: 1 Liam Connell, 2 Alex Nicholson (Baxter 77), 3 Anthony Callaghan, 4 Jon Shaw, 5 Darren Lough, 6 Julio Arca, 7 Robert Briggs, 8 Wayne Phillips, 9 Gavin Cogdon (Finnigan 67), 10 Michael Richardson (Stephenson 58), 11 David Foley. Subs: 12 Louis Storey, 13 Dillon Morse, 14 Craig Baxter, 15 Andrew Stephenson, 16 Carl Finnigan.

Chester-le-Street Town: 1 Jack Wilson, 2 Christopher Stephenson, 3 Mark Pattison, 4 Joe Grant, 5 Andrew Grant-Soulsby, 6 Danny Hepplewhite, 7 Joe Hailes, 8 Michael Hepplewhite (Latham 45), 9 David Surrey, 10 Dominic Laws, 11 Alex White.  Subs: 12 David Latham, 13 Jack Honour, 14 Aaron Reynolds, 15 Lee Mole 16 Kieran Megran.

Referee: Michael Gillespie

Programme: £2

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