South Shields and Darlington are two clubs which have experienced real highs – and lows – over the course of their histories. The pair will go head-to-head on a day of celebration at Mariners Park on Saturday. Ahead of the fixture, Mariners historian Bob Wray takes a trip down memory lane…

Both clubs share a history with periods of major highs and lows, and of much changed fortunes and circumstances for each with 125 years or thereabouts since their original formations.

Both are phoenix clubs, following dramatic events for both in their respective histories.

South Shields, on two landmark occasions – 1930 and 1974 – went out of existence, while Darlington very recently were demoted to the Northern League First Division.

Both share a similar rise in their formative years, from comparative local obscurity to regional prominence. Competition against each other began in 1908, with their first seasons together as new members in the once-celebrated North Eastern League, which was the premier regional league. Prior to that, Darlington can claim that a town football club originated in 1861, but the club dates its official foundation from 1883.

For Shields, some sparse references found that allude to a club in the early 1870s, but with a confirmed 1888 appearance of the original South Shields Association Club.

Competitive football between the clubs began over a century ago, and it is from their first meeting in 1908, when Shields joined from the Northern Alliance and Darlington from the Northern League, that our story begins as a backdrop to the latest game between the two clubs.

Both remained members of the North Eastern League until the First World War, which led to the league being suspended in 1915 for the duration of hostilities.

During the years of their membership, Shields were champions on two occasions: 1913-14 and 1914-15, while Darlington were triumphant in 1912-13.

The clubs went their different ways thereafter, and Shields joined the wartime Tyneside Combination and Darlington into a local league, before both later became members of the Northern Victory League in 1918.

South Shields were elected members of the Football League Second Division the following year, and Darlington rejoined the North Eastern League, and in 1921 also became members of the new Football League Third Division North.

From season 1920-21, both clubs fielded reserve sides in the North Eastern League, and which continued until 1930.

Games between the two clubs at senior level recommenced in 1925-26 with Darlington’s promotion to the Second Division, with the Quakers winning both games, 4-1 and 4-2 respectively.

In 1926-27, Shields won at home 1-0 on December 4, but on April 23, they suffered their heaviest-ever league defeat at Feethams, 8-2.

Darlington were relegated the following season, as were Shields in 1928-29, and joined Darlo in the Third Division North. A 2-2 draw was the result of the season’s opener on August 25, followed by a home 1-3 defeat on December 21.

In Shields’ final year in the Football League the following season, the club suffered another heavy defeat at Darlington on January 1, 1930, 8-3, and the return fixture on April 18 resulted in a 3-3 draw.

At the end of what proved to be the final season in the Football League for South Shields, the club moved lock, stock and barrel to Gateshead, and meetings with Darlington were not thereafter resumed until the 1936-37 season.

Shields reformed and joined the North Eastern League in 1936, and its second X1 joined the Wearside League. Games once again resumed against Darlington in the NEL, but now against their reserve X1, and this continued until season 1958-59.

Shields recorded a 9-0 victory over Darlington Reserves in their North Eastern League championship-winning season of 1957-58.

A new league – the North Regional League, which was for league reserve sides only – was then formed, in which Darlington, Middlesborough, Sunderland, Workington, Gateshead, Carlisle and Hartlepool all joined, and the North Eastern League as a direct consequence folded through inability to find suitable replacements. Shields, with others, joined the Midland League for two seasons.

Shields played in the Northern Counties League between 1960 and 1962, and then the reformed North Eastern League between 1962 and 1964. 1964 saw the formation of the North Regional League, of which Darlington Reserves became a member the following season, as also Gateshead.

Darlington Reserves left to join the Wearside League at the end of the 1966-67 season, and remained there until 1971-72.

South Shields became a member of the new Northern Premier League in 1968 until 1974, when the club moved to Gateshead for the second occasion in its history.

So it will be seen that over the years, there have been only a few seasons prior to WW1 and during the 1920s in the Football League that Shields and Darlington have met at senior team level, and the Darlington reserve side played Shields seconds also in the 1920s and from 1936 for most of the years up to 1971-72 for their reserves and Shields first X1.

From that latter season, and Shields subsequently being reformed in 1974, the 2-1 encounter at Heritage Park at Darlington’s shared ground with Bishop Auckland on October 10, 2012, was the first game between the club’s senior sides since 1930.

In the reverse fixture, Darlington triumphed 3-0 at Mariners Park on their way to promotion from the Northern League Division, and they have since followed that up with a second promotion in three years.

South Shields and Darlington will go head-to-head again on Saturday, though, and games that began between the two clubs in 1908 have resumed after a long absence.

By Bob Wray

The cross-river local rivalry that has existed for more than a century between the respective Shields clubs of north and south, the Robins and the Mariners, since early encounters of yore will be once again played out this Saturday, and not least for the usual local bragging rights between both sets of supporters.

The spirit of competitive endeavour between the neighbouring clubs was perhaps more prominent years ago, when the relative circumstances of both clubs was very much then on higher levels.

However, that said, both clubs have survived traumatic experiences recently and also some few years ago, with similar loss of grounds and demotion down the leagues and divisions, from previous situations of relative good times.

Memories of halcyon great derby games at their beloved former grounds of Appleby Park and Simonside Hall, with crowded ferries and packed attendances, all tell a romantic story that is now woven into local soccer folk lore.

Players and personalities readily come to mind for those of a certain age when memory recalls such events, and games from earlier times read of from the pages of newspaper reports.

One such report that is well worth relating tells of a particular match played in 1916, when with wartime conditions prevailing South Shields fielded a team that included no less that NINE internationals, and yet were still beaten!

Derby games during the middle decades of the last century attracted massive gates of 10,000 and more regularly, and some stirring and eventful matches indeed were the outcome.

Both clubs have similarly experienced memorable highlights in their respective careers and tragically also known crushing disappointments with the full and complete total reversal of fortunes, both of which that are the very stuff of history.

So to the most recent of encounters, with the Robins currently enjoying a very good season and occupying a high league position that may hopefully result in their promotion, and for the Mariners to continue to stabilise and survive and most hopefully progress beyond their current unenviable ground situation.

This for the first competitive league game between the clubs since season 2006 – 2007, which was then in the Northern League Second Division.

Without doubt the game will be competitive, and a testing encounter, and is one that is much anticipated for all the best of reasons, and that also a local tradition is continued in time honoured sporting fashion.

A brief history of our opponents.

The club was formed in 1896 as North Shields Athletic, and began playing strangely enough as a member of the South Shields and District League. The club moved to Appleby Park, Hawkey’s Lane in about 1900.

In 1908, North Shields Athletic joined the North Eastern League.

After the First World War, the club continued playing in that league, but changed their name in 1918 to Preston Colliery, before becoming North Shields in 1928.

Their record attendance was 12,800 for the local derby with South Shields in 1936.

After the Second World War, the club had increasing success in amateur football, culminating in 1969 with the winning of the FA Amateur Cup, beating Sutton United at Wembley, and becoming joint winners of the European Amateur Cup.

In 1995, the club changed its name back to North Shields Athletic, and in 1999 back once again to North Shields.

In 1992 as Northern Counties East League champions, the club was not promoted to the Northern Premier League due to bankruptcy, but reformed almost immediately, and joined the Wearside League Division Two, a relegation of five levels.

It gradually achieved two promotions during its time in the Wearside League back to the Northern League last vacated in 1989.

Coincidentally South Shields, as a founder member of the Northern Premier League in 1968, lost its NPL status with the move to Gateshead in 1974 and subsequent immediate reformation, albeit in the Northern Alliance.

Suffice to say that to date neither club has been able through various unfavourable and thoroughly changed circumstances to regain their earlier loftier places in the non-league world.

Anthony Woodhouse was appointed as player-manager in 2009 from local rivals Whitley Bay and in his second full season the club finished fourth in the Northern League Second Division, the highest the “new” club had ever finished, and just missed out on promotion from a strong mid-season position.

Woodhouse was succeeded by former Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa player Graham Fenton, who remains in charge today.

Appleby Park: North Shields played at Appleby Park until 1992 when debts forced the club into selling the ground. It was considered locally to be one of the better non-league stadiums in the country and perhaps even the fourth best in the North East after St. James, Roker and Ayresome Parks. The ground record attendance of 12,800 was achieved at the local derby with the newly reformed South Shields in its first season back in the North Eastern League in 1936, after its move to Gateshead in 1930 and the loss to the town of its football club and football league status.

Ralph Gardner Park: After two years playing at various grounds in the Wallsend area, the club finally reached an agreement with North Tyneside Council, and a new ground known as “Ralph Gardner Park” was built in the Chirton area of North Shields. 2010–11 saw the commencement of a sponsorship deal with local funeral director Daren Persson, which has seen the stadium carry his name. Attendances at “RGP” have been known to pass the 300 mark on occasions.

Below are some historical images relating to the fixture from the 1950s.

These are in the form of two extracts from the matchday programme from 1957, and a South Shields FC team photograph from the same year.

south shields north shields programme 1

south shields north shields programme 2


south shields team photograph 1957