Those old enough to remember will know that North Shields have been to Wembley before. In 1969, the club won the FA Amateur Cup, beating Sutton United 2-1. North Shields, which sits on the north bank of the River Tyne, turned out in force to see their heroes bring the famous old cup home.
There’s cup fever in the town of 40,000 that is just eight miles from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with an estimated 5,000 making the long trip south. Although the senior club in the area, “The Toon”, has definitely had a murky season, their less celebrated cousins, known as “the Robins”, can bring a bit of football joy to the region if they win at Wembley today.
The FA Vase could do with a cracking final and a reasonable crowd. Having witnessed last season’s game, the atmosphere was flat and the football cagey. In such a vast stadium, a crowd of 5,000 is worthless. But from next season, the FA are trying to rekindle the two non-league competitions by holding them on the same day. It’s arguably a last attempt at drumming up support at the national stadium before someone decides to move the finals to a more realistic venue.
That will not matter to North Shields or their opponents, Glossop North End, today. The Robins have had a great season, and might have added a Northern League title win had they not run out of steam in April, when they played eight games in 24 days. Two defeats, at Dunston and Sunderland RCA, put paid to their championship hopes, and they finished in fourth, just five points behind winners Marske United.
In the Vase, North Shields have been prolific in front of goal. As ever, the competition is a very long road and if you’re from the far north, you end up playing league rivals on a frequent basis. Starting in the first qualifying round, and up until round four, North Shields faced no less than five Northern League clubs (Northallerton, Stokesley, Sunderland RCA, Seaham Red Star and Consett). The only break in that run was Northern Counties East side Emley. In round five, North Shields faced ambitious Phoenix Sports (see Game of the People Arundel v Phoenix), and then they travelled to Erith & Belvedere. The semi-final saw them overcome Highworth 3-0 on aggregate. It has been goals aplenty for North Shields on the way, with 29 scored in 10 ties. Striker Gareth Bainbridge, who netted four in the tie with Stokesley in the second qualifying round, has scored a total of 16 goals in the Vase, so he’s clearly the man the Glossop defence will be watching.
North Shields’ squad will include players who have “done the rounds” among North-East footballing institutions. Clubs like West Allotment Celtic, Seaham Red Star, West Auckland and Blyth Spartans feature on their CVs. As well as Bainbridge, who has netted 102 goals in 90 games for the club, Dean Holmes has 18 to his name this season and Denver Morris 15. Combative midfielder Ben Richardson and defender Jack Donnison are also popular with the fans.
The Robins have been well supported this season in the Northern League Division One, averaging 400-plus per game at the Daren Persson Stadium. That was boosted by a near-1,500 gate for their local derby with Vase specialists Whitley Bay.
North Shields manager Graham Fenton has also been paying tribute to the people behind-the-scenes at the club. He told the local media: “They’ve rebuilt the club from scratch, taken a park field and turned it into a football ground with a lot of hard work, and gradually put the infrastructure in place for us to work with a half-decent budget, to get some good players in….they are knowledgeable enough as a committee to let us do what we do, and not impose their input on the football side of things….this football club works because they understand that.”
One final point. In the past, North Shields’ press officer was none other than Ray Laidlaw, the former drummer of local cult band Lindisfarne. Another good reason to suggest that the Robins can indeed lift the “fog on the Tyne”.