The Non-League Football Paper - - EVO-STIK NPL NORTH & SOUTH - By Mark Car­ruthers

There are around two hours to go to kick-off in South Shields’ key Evo-Stik North pro­mo­tion clash. Their Mariners Park home should have that no­table, peace­ful pause that an empty foot­ball ground has be­fore ex­plod­ing into life with the ar­rival of sup­port­ers.

But in­stead it is al­ready buzzing with ac­tiv­ity and ex­cite­ment.

The tills are ring­ing at the mer­chan­dise stalls, the bar is quench­ing the thirst of sup­port­ers and flags from both clubs are al­ready flut­ter­ing in the light breeze.

There is a buzz of ex­pectancy that is nor­mally re­served for those thrilling fi­nal mo­ments be­fore kick-off. It is all a long way from South Shields’ time play­ing in front of dou­ble­fig­ure crowds in Peter­lee, 18 miles away from their home­town, when a small band of hardy souls kept their beloved Mariners alive.


The ar­rival of lo­cal busi­ness­man Ge­off Thomp­son her­alded an up­turn in for­tunes. Since his en­trance in 2015 the club have won two league ti­tles, three cup com­pe­ti­tions, and have taken over 18,000 sup­port­ers to Wem­b­ley.

One key fac­tor in the club’s re­nais­sance has been the ad­di­tions of former Sunderland mid­fielder Julio Arca and former North Shields man­ager Gra­ham Fen­ton.

Arca was seen as a nov­elty sign­ing by many cyn­ics, shrugged off as a pub­lic­ity stunt and washed-up Premier League foot­baller.

But the cyn­ics have been proven wrong!

The re­cent 3-1 de­feat to Scar­bor­ough was Arca’s 100th ap­pear­ance for the club.

Arca sat alone in the home dress­ing room af­ter the game and de­scribed his two years with the Mariners as “an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney”.

“It was hard to pre­dict what was go­ing to hap­pen at that time,” ad­mit­ted the Ar­gen­tinean.

“It has been a fan­tas­tic time here; two years now and we aren’t used to get­ting beat. It has been an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney for my­self and for the club, it is a dif­fer­ent place.

“The town is be­hind us, the play­ers know that and we really en­joy hav­ing their sup­port”

The past 12 months have seen the re­nais­sance click into over over­drive.

Gra­ham Fen­ton crossed the Tyne to be­come the Mariners joint-man­ager along­side Lee Pic­ton in Septem­ber 2016. Since his ar­rival they have won the North­ern League ti­tle and a hat-trick of cup com­pe­ti­tions, in­clud­ing last sea­son’s FA Vase.

A tough jour­ney, but an en­joy­able one ac­cord­ing to Fen­ton: “We have lost a cou­ple of games in the year so it could have been bet­ter. The lads are a plea­sure to work with and they have been top class at times. Go­ing into a sea­son and win­ning four tro­phies, it’s al­most un­prece­dented, but we en­joyed ev­ery step of the way last year”

They have taken to life in the Evo-Stik North with ease and cur­rently sit sec­ond on goals scored.


The Mariners don’t shirk away from the fact that pro­mo­tion is their aim, with an eye on climb­ing through the divi­sions in the Non-League pyra­mid.

Fen­ton said: “This year we went into the un­known, step­ping into a new league.

“The lads have han­dled it really well and we had some joy in the FA Cup too, which was fan­tas­tic for the club. We were happy to fin­ish 2017 at the top of the league but we want to be there at the end of the sea­son.”

Those sen­ti­ments were echoed by Arca, with the former Ar­gentina Un­der-23 star be­liev­ing that an Evo-Stik North ti­tle win would be as big as their quadru­ple last sea­son.

“I have said many times be­fore, what hap­pened last sea­son was unique. I can’t see any team do­ing what we did for a very long time.

“This sea­son, the main thing is the league. I think ev­ery­one wants to win the league and that is our aim as a club.

“That would be as big as what we did last year.”

PIC­TURE: Peter Tal­bot

PREMIER LEAGUE EX­PE­RI­ENCE: South Shields’ in­spi­ra­tional cap­tain, Julio Arca and joint man­ager, Gra­ham Fen­ton

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