Carl Finnigan has played his final game for South Shields.
Despite a huge willingness from all parties for Finnigan’s spell at Mariners Park to stretch into a fourth season, the striker has ultimately decided to leave because of work commitments.
He leaves with a record of 72 goals in 115 appearances for the Mariners, and he played a part in two promotion campaigns and five trophy wins.
Finnigan was also the first player in history to score for South Shields at Wembley Stadium, having netted the opening goal in the final of the FA Vase in 2017.
He departs with the best wishes of everyone at the club, safe in the knowledge that he and his family will forever be welcome at Mariners Park.
South Shields joint manager Graham Fenton said: “This is a very sad day for us at the football club.
“Carl has been a brilliant servant to us on and off the pitch over the last three years and we are very sorry to see him leave.
“We offered him a new deal as we very much wanted him to stay, but ultimately he has been given a work opportunity which he cannot turn down, so we can’t stand in his way.
“He leaves on the best possible terms and we would like to thank him for his huge contribution during his time here.
“We’re sure he will continue to be a success both on and off the football pitch in the years ahead.”
Finnigan established himself as a key part of the club after joining in 2016, also regularly taking on a coaching role in SSFC Foundation’s training camps.
He was also one of the club’s Project EFL ambassadors and was part of several school visits last season.
The 32-year-old has expressed his sadness after making the difficult decision to leave Mariners Park.
He said: “It is with a very heavy heart that I have decided to end my time with South Shields FC.
“I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of the club’s growth and hope to watch the continued progress as a supporter moving forward.
“I have been given many memories that will live with me for the rest of my life, most notably the quadruple trophy-winning season, including winning the FA Vase, scoring at Wembley and that amazing winning run we put together.
“I want to personally thank Lee Picton and Graham Fenton for constantly demanding the most professional environment to train and play in, which allowed me personally to thrive.
“Football aside, they’re great people and I hope they continue to get full backing in moving the club forwards.
“Andy Morris will have a lot more free time now I’m gone. I owe him a lot, particularly after he retrieved my tongue and brought me back to consciousness.
“Phil Naisbett and Brian Smith have been a pleasure to work with and not forgetting George McLaughlin and his matchday sweets!
“I can’t forget little Jak Lewis, a great kid who epitomises what the club is all about and also Keith Finnigan, David Mitchell and every volunteer who works hard behind the scenes to keep the club running smoothly.
“A huge thanks also to the lads. None of those memories would have been possible without such a great set of guys with an abundance of ability.
“I hope you all kick on this season and gain promotion as champions, led by a captain, top player and even better guy in Shawsy!
“Lastly, the fans have been PHENOMENAL.
“Your support has gone from strength to strength and I know every staff member and player at the club appreciates how vital you all are in helping the club to progress.
“I have been lucky to receive a lot of personal support during my time playing and for that I am immensely grateful.
“It will be easy to keep up to date, with Dan ‘the media man’ in charge of publicising the club.
“The amount of work that guy puts in is second to none, making sure the club’s achievements reach a global audience.
“Along with the assistance of top snappers Kev Wilson and Peter Talbot you guys have captured these memories to hold onto.
“My time with the Foundation has been exceptionally rewarding.
“Steve Camm is doing amazing work with the help of Nathan Kew, Zak Turner-Cooke and Blair Adams to give local kids the opportunity to play and learn in a fun but professional environment.
“The kids themselves have always been fantastic to work with and I hope to see some of them progress through the academy system to the first-team.
“The decision has been made to allow myself to explore a new opportunity and start a fresh career away from football that will help my life move on after football.
“I will continue to play football for Whickham FC, who through the vision of Neil Wilson, have ambitions to develop and grow as a club and I will work hard to assist them in this journey, alongside my new career.
“Thanks for the memories.
“‘We had a striker called….’
South Shields kept their promotion hopes alive on a dramatic night at Mariners Park as they came from behind with an inspired second half performance to beat Buxton on Tuesday.
The Mariners went in at half-time a goal down after an impressive first half performance by the Bucks, but responded instantly to turn the tie on its head.
Jon Shaw and Carl Finnigan netted within a minute of each other to put Shields in front, before defender Tom Dean was sent off for the visitors after two quickfire yellow cards.
Buxton did get back on level terms but Finnigan restored Shields’ advantage and Josh Gillies made the game safe late on as the hosts marched on in front of a jubilant crowd.
They will host Warrington Town in the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-off final on Saturday, and the winners will progress to the super play-off final where they will battle for a promotion place.
Shields made two changes to the team which beat Gainsborough Trinity in the final league game of the season three days earlier, with Nathan Lowe and Finnigan introduced to the starting line-up in place of Phil Turnbull and Gavin Cogdon.
But they almost endured a nightmare start when a first minute corner by Buxton hit the head of Shaw before bouncing against the crossbar.
Buxton were one of the sides to avoid defeat against the Mariners in the league campaign, and they threatened again when Callum Chippendale flicked the ball onto Diego De Girolamo and he drilled an effort wide.
Shields had a number of half-chances but it was the visitors who struck first just before the half-hour mark.
Chippendale’s shot from 20 yards was parried by Liam Connell and pounced on by De Girolamo as he smashed the ball home from close range.
The Mariners built up some momentum in the closing stages of the first half, but the closest they came was a sweet strike from distance by Craig Baxter which went wide.
Shields started the second half like a team possessed, and Buxton goalkeeper Theo Roberts was tested almost immediately by a 25 yard effort from Nathan Lowe.
From the resulting corner, the hosts pulled level as Gillies’ cross was headed against the bar by Dillon Morse before Shaw forced home the rebound.
Less than a minute later, there was pandemonium at Mariners Park as Shields won the ball back and advanced down the left, with Blair Adams delivering an inch-perfect cross which Finnigan turned in from close range.
The Mariners continued to sense blood and almost scored again when Gillies played in Finnigan, who was denied by Roberts.
Buxton had a decent chance to equalise soon after, but Jude Oyibo could only head over after an impressive counter-attack.
Finnigan hit a further shot inches wide at the other end before Buxton were reduced to 10 men after two cynical fouls by Dean within a minute of each other each resulted in yellow cards.
Against the odds, the Bucks levelled things up in the 65th minute as a free-kick from a tight angle on the right of the box by substitute John Pritchard nestled in the net.
Their reprieve was short-lived, though, with Shields soon restoring their advantage when Lee Mason advanced down the right before sending in a dangerous low cross which Finnigan converted at the near post.
The Mariners effectively saw out the rest of the match, with Mason and Gillies going close before the game-clinching goal arrived a minute before the end.
Substitute Gavin Cogdon got in on the left of the box and although his effort was parried by Roberts, it fell to the feet of Gillies, who made no mistake in stroking the ball home from close range.
Shields must now win two further games at Mariners Park to clinch promotion.
Before that, they face Shildon in the Durham Challenge Cup final at the Stadium of Light on Friday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams (Lough 55), Shaw (c), Morse, Briggs, Daly, Lowe (Turnbull 66), Finnigan (Cogdon 79), Mason, Gillies. Subs not used: Mouanda, Foley.
Goals: Shaw (47), Finnigan (47, 71), Gillies (89).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields were forced to settle for a play-off place in the Evo-Stik Premier Division despite beating Gainsborough Trinity with a second half Carl Finnigan goal on Saturday.
Shields went into the game knowing they would win the league if they won at Gainsborough and relegation-threatened Marine triumphed at Farsley Celtic.
The Mariners kept up their end of the bargain but Farsley ultimately proved too strong for Marine, winning 2-0 to seal the title.
Shields will now face Buxton at Mariners Park on Tuesday in the semi-final of the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-offs.
They knew their final assignment of the regular league season would be a tough one against a Gainsborough side which needed to win to reach the play-offs.
The visitors started in confident mood, though, and almost took the lead early on when Robert Briggs fizzed a 25 yard effort just past the upright.
Blair Adams was also off target with a shot from distance as the Mariners attempted to build some momentum.
The first half saw lots of stoppages and although Shields looked the more dangerous team, Gainsborough did pose the odd threat of their own.
A free-kick from the right was cleared as far as Nathan Stanfield on the edge of the box and he went for the spectacular as he flicked the ball up and fired towards goal on the turn, but it went onto the roof of the net.
Another presentable opportunity fell to Benjamin Hughes, who received the ball in space 20 yards out but skewed his effort wide.
Briggs was off target at the other end as the teams went in at half-time goalless and with all to play for in the second half.
Josh Gillies went close to breaking the deadlock two minutes after the restart, but his free-kick was pushed behind for a corner by home goalkeeper Joseph Green.
Gavin Cogdon also hit a shot over after some good work by Gillies, while at the other end, substitute Alexander Simmons drilled not far wide after a cutback by Benjamin Hughes.
Finnigan was brought on for just his second appearance since recovering from an ankle injury he picked up in January in the 59th minute, and within three minutes of being introduced, he was in the thick of the action.
Luke Daly drove through midfield and slotted in Craig Baxter down the right, and his low cross was slid in at the near post by Finnigan as he notched his 70th goal for the Mariners.
Gillies appeared to grow in stature as the game went on and one excellent run resulted in him going over in the area, but the referee waved away Shields’ penalty appeals.
Liam Connell had a fine game in goal for Shields and he was alert to deny Neil Austin as he hit a strong effort from 25 yards.
Connell also made a superb stop from Hughes late on to preserve his clean sheet.
The Mariners had opportunities to make the points safe, with Finnigan firing over after a brilliant move and substitute Nathan Lowe also missing the target after a pass by Daly.
But they did enough to see out a 1-0 victory which saw them finish second in the league.
Buxton are their opponents on Tuesday, with kick-off at Mariners Park set to be at 7.45pm.
Season tickets will not be valid for the match, and admission prices will be £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Those with a seated season ticket will have their seat reserved for them as usual, subject to them paying the £10/£8/£3 fee at the turnstiles or online in advance.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull (Lowe 67), Daly, Briggs, Cogdon (Finnigan 59), Mason (Bell 81), Gillies. Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goal: Finnigan (62).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.