Appointment of Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips an intriguing roll of the dice from Geoff Thompson and South Shields

I have learned that nothing should surprise you during over a decade working in non-league football within the North East.

But even I expressed disbelief when it was suggested to me Kevin Phillips was to succeed Graham Fenton as manager of South Shields.

An initial text at around 8am on Sunday morning became a trickle of calls and further messages than progressed into a flood by around lunchtime.

No smoke without fire, as they say.

Kevin Phillips.

The events of Sunday 16th January will go down in the history of South Shields Football Club as they look to continue their push towards the upper-reaches of the non-league game and beyond.

They have, I must admit, left me with mixed emotions.

On one hand, there is sadness at seeing Graham Fenton leave his role at the club after playing a key role in the remarkable progression the club has made in recent years.

He will be back at some point and given the success he had Shields, North and South, you would not rule out more notable achievements before racked up at his next employer.

For now, we look to the immediate future - and there is obvious excitement over the appointment of Sunderland legend Phillips and what impact he can have on and off the pitch at the 1st Cloud Arena.

There are obvious comparisons with the signing of his former Black Cats team-mate Julio Arca when he was brought to South Shields by former Mariners boss Jon King.

That proved to be a masterstroke as Julio’s professional attitude and ability helped catapult the club from the Northern League’s second division to the third tier of the non-league game inside three years.

Crowds surged, interest widened and the Mariners became one of the most talked-about clubs in the country.

It would be easy to pass off the Phillips appointment as a PR stunt - just as some did when Arca joined the same club seven years ago.

And just as Julio brought on-field expertise with him, so too will Kevin Phillips off the pitch as he arrives with a reputation as a talented coach.

There is risk - isn’t there always? - and stepping into his first managerial role in the cold, hard environment of the Northern Premier League Premier Division will present considerable challenges for the former England striker.

There is no room for a period of adaption in the charge for promotion into the National League North.

There can be no settling-in period and results are needed to keep pace with fellow title challengers like Matlock Town and Buxton.

Sunderland legend Phillips, of course, will be all too aware of the demands and expectations at South Shields and he will not need to be taught of the challenges in non-league football after starting his playing career at Baldock Town some 30 years ago.

It is an intriguing roll of the dice from Geoff Thompson and South Shields FC - and we await with intrigue to see which way they fall.

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