Mark Carruthers: Non-league football on Wearside is thriving - so can we hope for a maiden FA Vase win?

North Tyneside rivals Whitley Bay and North Shields have been there and done it.

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 1:33 pm

South Shields represented South Tyneside with pride on a history-making day and Hebburn Town could follow their lead soon.

Northumberland followed Morpeth Town and Bedlington Terriers when they experienced contrasting fortunes on their day in the sun.

Teesside got behind Stockton Town when they made a historic visit and the borough of Gateshead threw their weight behind Whickham and Dunston UTS.

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Mark Carruthers' non-league verdict

In the coming months, Consett will hope to add their name to the likes of Spennymoor Town, Tow Law Tow and West Auckland Town when they received the support of County Durham.

I am, of course, talking about North East clubs reaching the FA Vase Final and experiencing the magic of a day out at Wembley (or, in one case, Villa Park).

There is one area of the North East missing from the list as Wearside’s wait for a day out at the home of football continues.

Indeed, Sunderland RCA’s recent runs to the last 16 of the competition is the closest that a club from Wearside has come to walking out at Wembley.

Martin Swales’ side reached the fifth round in 2016 and 2017 before falling to Newport Pagnall Town and Bristol Manor Farm.

Seaham Red Star and Sporting Club Vaux – a forerunner of Ryhope Colliery Welfare – have all reached the third round of the competition since it was first held in the 1974/75 season, but that remains five wins from reaching the final.

Casting the net slightly further afield, Washington can match both clubs in reaching the third round.

Ryhope – under the guises of Ryhope CW or Sunderland Ryhope CW – have made their way to the second round before falling to a whole host of opponents.

And Sunderland West End – Wearside’s newest Vase entrant – reached the second qualifying round in their historic maiden run last season before falling at the first hurdle this season against a strong Garforth Town side.

But there are signs of life for non-league football on Wearside.

West End, just sixteen months after their secured promotion into the Northern League, have finally ended an all-too-long absence from their Ford Quarry home and are looking to kick on after a promising start to their second season in Division Two.

Last weekend marked their first game at the newly built football hub as they battled to a 2-1 win against Carlisle City and now with a base of their own, a place to call home, they can look to move towards taking the next step in their development.

They will look to follow the lead of Ryhope CW, who can now class themselves as Division One stalwarts as the undertake a fifth consecutive season in the Northern League’s top tier.

It’s easy to forget that the club were plying their trade in the Wearside League as recently as 2014.

Slowly, but surely, Gary Pearson and Chris McCabe have built a squad capable of providing a challenge for the great and the good of the Northern League and the addition of former Hebburn Town manager Scott Olivier to their coaching staff will only strengthen their belief that they can kick on.

Seaham Red Star have battled against the odds over the last few years as Mark Collingwood seems to create a new look squad with every passing season.

The Red Star boss has seen a whole host of key players depart the club over the last two or three seasons – but he still manages to keep the club in the Northern League’s top tier.

Sunderland RCA look like Wearside’s best bet for success after they secured top five finishes in Northern League Division One in two of the last three seasons.

Martin Swales has a talented squad at his disposal and has managed to keep his top players away from the league’s elite.

The likes of Greg Swansbury, Mark Davison and Dylan Elliott have shone in recent seasons and would not look out of place challenging for a league title or playing for a club in the Northern Premier League.

But they have remained loyal to RCA and Swales has also added a number of youngsters to his ranks in recent seasons.

The common denominator between the four clubs is finance – or that should be the finance that is available to clubs currently challenging at the top end of the table.

That has forced the clubs to take a similar approach as they look to bring in experienced players that have escaped the attention of top-three challengers and, more importantly, to develop their own players through their youth systems.

A number of talented youngsters have already progressed into first-team football with all four clubs and some have gone on to make a step up to higher levels.

Morgan Dart showed signs of promise during his time at Seaham Red Star and will begin this season as part of Michael Nelson’s squad at National League North club Blyth Spartans.

Nathan Greenwood, now back at Red Star, spent the last two years in the academy at Sunderland and was a regular in the Black Cats under-23s squad during that time.

West End have recently linked up with Sunderland University to give youngsters a platform in the Wearside League’s second tier and RCA are now seeing the benefit of a link they formed with Sunderland Uno junior club last year as a number of young players train amongst the senior members of their squad.

It is early days to make rash predictions of promising young players heralding a new successful era in non-league football on Wearside and a Vase final visit may have to wait for now.

But maybe something there are signs that something is starting to stir as the four clubs opt for a different approach.