After five years at South Shields, defender Jon Shaw has taken up a new role with the club as assistant manager.
The veteran has been in the game since 2003, beginning his playing career at his boyhood club, Sheffield Wednesday.
Since then Shaw has played for a multitude of teams up and down the football pyramid and is hoping to draw on his experiences in his new position.
One aspect of this is the changing face of non-league football, and how this area of the game is moving away from stereotypes of pub footballers, endless long balls being lumped up the pitch and big Dave at the back doling out leg-breaking tackles.
Shaw said that his introduction to this football as a player had this general feel and standard similar to the horror stories that circled the non-league circuit, but this stigma is slowly changing.
“The level of football lower down the pyramid is getting better,” he explained. “The difference between League Two, National League and National League North is now really small.
“The best part about non-league football is that it’s going up, the standard of play, the standard of care, the standard of fitness, the standard of sports fitness.
“All of those things at the top of the game will inevitably just drip into non-league football.”
Shaw believes that this changing landscape of non-league football has allowed it to become a better arena for young players to come and learn their craft.
He added: “If you can find a club – and these clubs are popping up more and more – with a standard of playing and an identity of what they do, then you can get younger players into these levels and expose them when they’re ready for this development.”
As well as the standard of football, another area that is starting to shift is the science behind the football, something which Shaw has noticed in recent years.
“We brought in a sports science coach and he did some freelance stuff and at this level, it’s about education, making sure that the lads are aware of what they can and can’t do.
“We give players information and if they need our help, they can have it and if they want to use the sports scientists, they can and he’ll give us some information.
“The lower you go down the pyramid, you have to get players to take ownership of their own fitness, their own bodies, their own diets.
“We’ve got some great lads and they try and gain the 1%s and 2%s that they can.”
One key area of development at South Shields is the academy system, which has been up and running for the past four years and is something that Shaw is particularly proud of.
A big part of his ethos is his faith in South Shields’ academy system, and he says it would be “daft” to ignore it.
Shaw said: “Our academy is designed for exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about developing players and giving young lads in our region the best opportunity to get into our first-team.
“It’s about the opportunity to become a better person and a better person in what you do.”
South Shields were eliminated from the Buildbase FA Trophy by Ashton United on Tuesday.
In an action packed second-half, Ashton’s Sam Baird got the first goal in the 55th minute before Jamie Sterry equalised just 10 minutes later.
Michael Raynes got the winner seven minutes from the end, sending Ashton into the second round of the competition.
This was the third meeting between these sides this season and both teams saw plenty of the ball in the first half, but Shields had more possession and looked the more likely to score. The Mariners’ defence was able to switch play well and direct the ball through the middle.
Shields had the first chances of the game, with Alex Kempster and Jason Gilchrist going close in the opening stages. Ashton goalkeeper Greg Hartley was also called into action early on as he saved a Blair Adams header.
The Mariners had a couple of opportunities in the Ashton half. Jordan Hunter hit a menacing deep cross towards goal but the ball went over the bar, and Blair Adams was causing issues down the left for the Robins, providing attacking opportunities before being able to slot back into defence.
Ashton had a sniff at the Shields goal after switching the ball to the left wing, but a cross from John Pritchard was headed out.
On the cusp of half-time Adams had a decent chance saved after he received the ball from Robert Briggs and cut through the defence, but he was ruled offside.
Ashton came out full of energy in the second half, having a couple of early chances. Former Mariners forward Millenic Alli burst down the wing and his effort was kept out by Myles Boney.
Shields had a couple of plays in the Ashton half but it was the hosts who drew the first blood of the game. A Pritchard free-kick was met by Baird, who volleyed home.
The Mariners continued to attack and used Hunter and Kempster down the wings to try to build play.
They were soon rewarded for their efforts when a cross came in and was stabbed home by Sterry as he registered his first goal for the club.
Both teams began to pick up the pace in search of a winner, the ball pinging between them and both sides having chances.
It was the Robins who got the next goal when Raynes headed in a Pritchard corner in the 83rd minute.
Shields had numerous chances towards the end of the game to try to take it to penalties. Hartley pulled off another good save in the bottom corner to deny substitute Darius Osei in the 86th minute.
Just moments later Ashton managed to clear a dangerous ball into the box and another Osei effort was saved.
In the dying stages of added time, Sterry came agonisingly close to nabbing the equaliser but Ashton were able to block the ball and clear, with strong penalty appeals for a challenge on Dillon Morse waved away as the hosts held on to progress to the next round of the Trophy.
South Shields: Boney, Sterry, Adams, Ross, Morse, Briggs (c), Hunter (Hindle 84), Turnbull, Gilchrist, Lowe (Mason 81), Kempster (Osei 70). Subs not used: Coombe, Shaw, Baxter, Gillies.
Goal: Sterry (66).
After an enforced month-long break due to lockdown, South Shields are ready to return to action as they face Ashton United in the first round proper of the Buildbase FA Trophy on Tuesday.
This will be the third time in three different competitions this season that Shields have played against Ashton.
The Mariners have played one game so far in the Trophy, with Robert Briggs scoring the only goal of the game to beat Colne at home in the third round of qualifying.
Cup fever also gripped South Shields as the first part of this season saw the club make history as they reached the first round of the Emirates FA Cup for the first time since reforming in 1974.
Despite eventually being knocked out by Cheltenham last month, the team put in some brilliant performances to get there, including a tense penalty shootout victory against Southport, when Myles Boney made two excellent saves to take his side into the next stage of the competition.
Arguably their finest hour in the competition came against FC Halifax Town in the fourth qualifying round. Although Halifax are two leagues above Shields, the Mariners put in a fantastic shift, and goals from Darius Osei and Briggs knocked the Shaymen out of the Cup.
Elsewhere, Shields are currently sixth in the Pitching In Northern Premier Division table with 15 points, just four off Mickleover, who are sat at the top.
After a mixed start to the season in the league, Shields were beginning to find their rhythm just before the country was placed into a national lockdown.
The opening game of the campaign saw a 3-0 win against the current league leaders, with goals from Nathan Lowe, Jon Shaw and Jason Gilchrist.
However, Shields encountered some tough games afterwards, drawing 0-0 with Hyde United and 3-3 with Ashton before losing 3-1 to Radcliffe.
The Mariners began to change course, and a Gilchrist hat-trick against Bamber Bridge saw them begin to steady the ship. Since then they have won two, drawn one and lost one.
As the season restarts, the team will be looking to continue their consistent approach. Their last two games saw 1-0 wins against FC United of Manchester and Gainsborough Trinity, with goals from Josh Gillies and Briggs respectively.
The Mariners will have to wait until after December 19th to return to league action, though, with the league campaign remaining paused as a result of current restrictions.