Ken Gaunt, a former football reporter for the Press Association, tells us about North Shields' quest to reach the FA Vase final at Wembley...
They are the talk of the Tyne and on the brink of booking a trip to Wembley for the first time in 46 long years.
North Shields is shaking with expectation at the prospect of the Robins sealing their place on Saturday at the national stadium.
The 1969 Amateur Cup winners are in the box seat and hold a 1-0 advantage against Wiltshire’s finest, Highworth Town, going into home leg of their FA Vase semi-final tie.
The rewards are tangible as well, the winners of the competition picking up £25,000 in prize money. While that might be your average Premier League player’s weekly wage, it is an enormous life-changing sum for clubs at this level.
But according to Northern League chairman Mike Amos the beauty of the Robins success - they were promoted to Division One only this season - is more to do with prudence than profit.
Amos said: “The great thing about North Shields is they built a fan base first. They just didn’t fling money at the club.
“They looked at it, looked at what they might do. They have built a support base, they have built a community base. They have done it right.
“North Shields have an average gate of 350 which for Step 5 is tremendous. They have the community behind them.
“Also they have made it known that when Newcastle are not at home, why not give them a go. And when their fans come, they love it.”
Under the stewardship of manager Graham Fenton, a League Cup winner with Aston Villa in 1994, these are heady days for a club chasing a thrilling league and cup double.
By coincidence that was the year Alan Matthews was installed as chairman of North Shields. While Fenton was sipping champagne he was trying to make the best of out of small beer.
Matthews is credited with steering the ship after a turbulent period. But despite having a hard-working committee alongside him, It took 10 years for North Shields to make it out of the Wearside League and return to the Northern League.
Now those who were around when the Amateur Cup was paraded in the town are dreaming of a day in the sun although Highworth of the Hellenic League might have something to say about that.
The record books show that Sutton United were defeated 2-1 in front of 47,000 fans on a momentous afternoon in 1969, thanks to goals from Richie Hall and Brian Joicey.
North Shields also won the Northern League title and the Challenge Cup that season. In addition, they became joint holders of the European Amateur Cup with Italian side Almas after the teams finished level on aggregate.
The Vase replaced the Amateur Cup and Northern League sides have made it their own with five winners out of the last six.
North Shields host the second leg of the semi-final at home on Saturday 28th March. The Robins are aiming to join that grand band and sing a song or two down Wembley way...
Image of Ralph Gardner Park courtesy of Roy Stuart Clarke - to see more of Roy's work visit the Homes of Football website.
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