Robert Briggs tells of determination after penning new deal
Vice-captain Robert Briggs has reiterated his desire to win a fourth promotion with South Shields after extending his second spell with the club into a sixth season.
Briggs is Shields’ longest-serving player, having rejoined from Spennymoor Town when the Mariners were a Northern League Division Two side in August 2015.
Over the last five years he has helped the club achieve three promotions and win six trophies, but the hurt of the last two campaigns has left him more motivated than ever.
Shields finished second in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League in 2018-19 before losing to Warrington Town in the play-offs, and were 12 points clear at the top of the league when the 2019-20 season was curtailed early and the decision was made to null and void the campaign. That decision continues to be challenged but as things stand, Shields are due to face a third season in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
Briggs – who last season passed the milestone of 250 appearances for the Mariners – has explained his decision to extend his stay at Mariners Park.
He said: “It’s a mixture of a lot of things, including a lot of loyalty to the club.
“I’ve been here for five years in this spell and another year when I was younger, and I wouldn’t have been able to just walk away after what has just happened.
“We were 12 points clear and I’m convinced we were going to win the league, and there was the disappointment of the play-offs last year as well.
“Winning promotion from this league is a massive motivation for me and I don’t feel like I could choose to walk away until we’ve done it.
“I don’t want to leave until the club is in a position I can’t follow it to, for example if they go full-time with no part-time players.
“I want to stay as long as I can and help the club as high up the pyramid as I can.”
Briggs has thoroughly enjoyed the last five years with the Mariners, despite the disappointing way the most recent two seasons ended.
He credits the players he has worked alongside for the tremendous team spirit which has been fostered throughout that time, as well as the coaches he has played under during that time – including joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton.
As he explains, it has “always felt right” for him at Mariners Park.
Briggs added: “When you join a club you have to get used to the surroundings, the pitch, the staff and so many other things, and for whatever reason sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“It has always felt right for me at South Shields.
“I’ve always had good relationships with the players, the management team and the other staff at the club, as well as the fans.
“They’ve been great with me since I started.
“The club is also local to me which is a real bonus, and a lot of my friends come to the games.
“It feels like you’re part of a big community.”
Briggs was a key part of Shields’ quadruple-winning season of 2016-17, which culminated in victory over Cleethorpes Town in the final of the FA Vase at Wembley.
Looking back at that Wembley experience provides mixed emotions for the midfielder, who came on as a second half substitute in Shields’ 4-0 win.
He said: “I had played pretty much every minute of every game in the Vase leading up to the final and wasn’t selected in the starting line-up at Wembley.
“When I was told I wasn’t starting I was devastated.
“I desperately wanted to play but when I look back now, I have a bit of a different view.
“When I came on, 13,000 to 15,000 South Shields fans cheered me onto the pitch and that was a great feeling. I wouldn’t have had that if I started.
“I got a really good ovation when I came on at 1-0 and then I set up the second goal.
“I still look back on it with sadness that I didn’t start because I believe I deserved to start but it’s a team game and I had to do my bit from the sidelines in the first half and then on the pitch in the second half.”
Briggs is now a manager in his day job and understands the difficulty Picton and Fenton face when tasked with selecting a team and a squad, week-in week-out.
He admits he is undecided on a potential future in football management for himself, although at the age of 28 he believes he has plenty to look forward to on the pitch yet.
He added: “I want to play for as long as possible.
“I want to set records and I want people to remember the fact I was part of the whole journey here.
“Julio Arca gets a lot of praise and rightly so for what he did here.
“I want to leave something like he did, and the longer I stay the better that’s going to be.
“It’s not just about making so many appearances, it’s about being part of a successful team in those games.
“I want to be playing those games and winning things.
“I want to set the bar up there for someone to come and break, which they probably will.”
Briggs admits that the recent enforced break has helped him to appreciate football more, and he is raring to go when it is safe to do so.
He said: “I can’t wait to get back.
“We have a WhatsApp group and keep in touch on there, and the lads are all saying they hope this and that happens.
“There’s a lot of excitement about returning to football when it’s safe.
“We all miss football and are raring to go.
“We’re also a big part of each other’s lives because we see each other so often. They’re good friends and it will be great to catch up with them when we can.”