Mark Carruthers: A bittersweet week for North East non-league teams as Hebburn and Consett prepare for Wembley and South Shields turn full-time

It has been a week of polarised emotions for the North East non-league scene.
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This time last week we were absorbing the news that Northern League rivals Consett and Hebburn Town will finally get their day at Wembley after the Football Association confirmed a date for the 2019/20 FA Vase Final.

For only the second time in the 46-year history, two clubs from the region will contest an eagerly awaited fixture for the right to add their name to the growing list of North East clubs that have lifted the Vase.

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Monday 3rd May will be a historic day for the region and for both Consett and Hebburn as they walk out at the home of football for the very first time.

Mark Carruthers' non-league verdict.Mark Carruthers' non-league verdict.
Mark Carruthers' non-league verdict.

There was clear excitement and anticipation from key figures at both clubs following the announcement – but their joy was tempered by the news that the Wembley stands will be empty after the FA confirmed that the game will take place behind closed doors.

The frustration levels were only raised when the governing body confirmed that this season’s Vase Final – which takes place three weeks after the meeting of the North East sides – could take place with a limited number of supporters in attendance.

Along with the ambition and financial backing shown by those in charge at Consett and Hebburn, the supporters played a key role in their upturn in fortunes, and they are a big reason why their clubs are preparing for a date with destiny.

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Preparations are already well underway – but it speaks volumes for Consett chairman Frank Bell and his Hebburn counterpart Vin Pearson that their initial reaction on hearing the news was one of sadness that their supporters cannot play a key part of their Wembley date.

There is a desire to make the occasion a celebration of North East non-league football – but the day will be all the poorer for the absence of supporters.

There was more exciting news on Tuesday evening as South Shields confirmed that they are set to make the final step in their progression towards full-time status.

The Mariners have been one of the stories of the non-league game over the past five years and they will head into the 2021/22 season looking to break into the ultra-competitive National League North.

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The announcement means that the region will now have a sixth professional club as the South Shields join Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hartlepool United and Gateshead in the full-time ranks.

It should be said that the move almost unheard of in the third tier of the non-league game and many challenges will lie in wait on and off the pitch - but with plans coming to fruition on and off the park, the Mariners look well set to hit the ground running when the competitive action finally gets back underway in August.

There was a tinge of sadness with the news after the Mariners revealed that four key players will be departing the club as they are unable to make the transition to full-time football.

Long-serving defender Craig Baxter, midfield duo Phil Turnbull and Josh Gillies and forward Lee Mason are to leave the 1st Cloud Arena following the expiration of their contracts – and there will be no shortage of interest in their services.

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All four players bring much experience and no shortage of talent and they will be on the shortlist of many clubs when the summer trading gets underway.

They will leave with the good wishes of the Mariners faithful and their role in establishing the club in the top three tiers of the non-league game will not be forgotten as the focus switches towards taking the next step towards the Football League.

The saddest news of all arrived on Wednesday morning when Northern Alliance club Percy Main Amateurs revealed that they are close to bringing down the curtain on over 100 years of football at their scenic Purvis Park home.

This is a club that were formed in the aftermath of World War One by soldiers returning from the frontline and they have been a stalwart of the North East non-league scene ever since.

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They have competed in the Northern Alliance for the past 53 seasons, but their time looks set to come to an end following the Challenge Cup campaign that gets underway next month.

Many have speculated that the financial impact of Covid-19 has played a key role in the decision – but the club explained that the epidemic has helped them “in a strange way” in a heartbreaking statement released on their website.

For this decision is not one that has been made on the back of a financial meltdown – this decision came partly because of a lack of volunteers to help the club plough on through these tough times.

Percy Main have asked for support for a number of years as the inevitable pressure of running a football club increased with every passing season.

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Their “dwindling” committee should be honoured for continuing to battle against the odds and their commitment and the unseen hours of work deserve recognition.

The club is teetering on the brink and one final call for assistance has been made in desperation.

Should that be met with silence once again, one of North Tyneside’s oldest football clubs will be consigned to the history books.

More information on Percy Main Amateurs and their call for support can be found on their website here

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