David Foley excited ahead of return to Victoria Park with Mariners
Victoria Park – or the Northern Gas and Power Stadium, as it is now called – holds a special place in the heart of David Foley.
The South Shields forward took his first steps in the game with Hartlepool United in a whirlwind seven-year spell.
Thrust into the spotlight as a 16-year-old, Foley became the club’s youngest-ever player – a record he still holds – and established himself as a top prospect, with searing pace and an eye for the spectacular.
A stunning long-range strike against Stoke City sealed an FA Cup giant-killing at Victoria Park in 2009, in a season which also included a victory over West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup. Foley scored in that one, too.
A year later, he moved on to pastures new, joining Puerto Rico Islanders before a further spell at Fort Lauderdale Strikers, after which he returned to England and eventually joined his hometown club.
Things will come full circle for Foley on Wednesday when he and his Shields team-mates travel to Victoria Park to take part in the Durham Challenge Cup final against Billingham Synthonia.
He admits playing at the Vic again will be “surreal”, but is looking forward to the occasion.
He said: “It will be very nice to go back there.
“I have a lot of special memories from my time there, and definitely had more highs than lows.
“It would be nice to play on that pitch again and be involved in the Hartlepool atmosphere again.
“The club was really on the up at the time and Martin Scott – now the assistant manager at Shields – was there, too.
“It will be a different experience to go there as a visiting player, but really nice to be back and hopefully get a positive result for us.
“To be going back there with my hometown club as well is huge for me. It will be a little bit surreal going back there to play for another team.”
Hartlepool are locked in a battle to maintain their Football League status, and must beat Doncaster Rovers in their final game of the season on Saturday to have a chance of surviving in League Two.
Their current position saddens Foley, who is hoping they can pull off the great escape this weekend.
He added: “It’s sad to see where they’re at now, because their result is still the first one I look for on a Saturday.
“They seem to be in big trouble this year and have to win on Saturday to have a chance of staying up.
“It will be tough for them, but hopefully they can pull something out of the bag like they have done the last couple of years.”
In Wednesday’s final, Shields will be coming up against a Synthonia team which beat them twice last season.
This season, they finished third in Northern League Division Two to seal promotion, and Foley is expecting a difficult encounter.
He said: “We haven’t seen Billingham Synthonia at all this season, but they gave us a few problems last year and have won promotion this time, so they’re flying.
“They’re in the final and have beaten some teams in our division to get there, so we can’t and won’t take them lightly.
“Everyone is really hungry to get the win though.
“It’s certainly not a case of us winning the league and then thinking the job is done until the FA Vase final.
“If we don’t win all four competitions, we’ll be disappointed. We don’t just want to reach finals, we want to win them.”
Since the final league game of the season, at Guisborough Town on April 22, Foley and his Mariners team-mates have been kept busy in training to prepare for three cup finals.
He feels they are in great shape ahead of the trip to Hartlepool.
He added: “We’ve still been training three times a week.
“At this stage of the season, it’s less about fitness and more about just ticking over and staying sharp.
“Training has been quality and all the players are looking in good shape.”
Kick-off at the Northern Gas and Power Stadium, which has a post code of TS24 8BZ, is at 7.30pm.
Admission costs £5 for adults and £2 for concessions, and tickets will be available throughout Wednesday at Mariners Park.
There are expected to be cash turnstiles in operation for access to neutral areas of the ground.