SSFC Academy graduates Arron Thompson and Callum Guy have continued their progression by signing first-team contracts for the 2019-20 season.
The deals will see them stay with the club for at least another year as they bid to build on an extremely positive last 12 months.
Thompson joined the Academy a year ago and went on to make three senior appearances last season, most notably in the Durham Challenge Cup final against Shildon when he produced a polished and composed display in midfield.
Guy linked up with the club when the Academy was formed two years ago and has made a significant impact since then, consistently impressing at Academy level and also when called upon by the first-team. He currently has nine senior appearances and two goals to his name.
Both players have now graduated from the Academy set-up to the first-team squad, and joint manager Graham Fenton is pleased they have committed their future to the club.
He said: “We’re delighted that Arron and Callum have agreed to sign for the club for at least the next year.
“Both players have thoroughly deserved their opportunity to join the first-team squad through their performances over the course of their time with the Academy.
“We feel both have progressed excellently over the last 12 months and we have high hopes that over the next year they will be really pushing towards first-team places.”
Thompson and Guy were part of the Shields team which won the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup last season, beating Basford United on penalties at Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium.
Thompson scored in what was a 2-2 draw while both netted in the penalty shoot-out, with Guy dispatching the winning kick.
Fenton insists that the work has only just begun for the midfield pair, though.
He added: “They both know they’ve still got work to do to get there but they have the attitude and mentality to put the effort in to get their rewards.
“They will further boost the competition for places in midfield areas and they know that the players who are ahead of them at the moment are very, very good players, but I’m sure they will give it everything they’ve got to progress and earn their right to play in the first-team.”
Since the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, a series of meetings have taken place at management level to continue the evolution of the club’s long-term future.
Coming out of those meetings were a number of strategic decisions which have been made with the club’s sustainable growth and ambitions in mind.
We are now in a position to confirm our exciting restructure.
Following lengthy discussions over a number of months between the board and first-team management, the club will adopt a new hybrid model during the 2019-20 campaign.
This hybrid model will entail the first-team managers, Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, being able to take advantage of increased contact time with much of the first-team squad, with two additional training sessions to take place each week.
It is a significant commitment by the club and further underlines the faith of the board in the abilities of Picton and Fenton, who are preparing for their fourth season in charge of the first-team.
The long-term view is that the hybrid system will ultimately progress into a completely full-time model, although we anticipate this could take a number of years to come to fruition.
There will be an emphasis on promoting exciting young prospects and giving them a platform to showcase their talents, with a continued focus on developing players through the club’s own academy.
Two of last season’s academy squad will be regular members of the first-team squad next season, with details to be announced soon.
The club feels that this initiative will further enhance the opportunities of success for the first-team as it strives to progress higher up the league pyramid.
Picton and Fenton will also continue to be heavily involved in the coaching of the academy and will aim to add to the success of its first two seasons, which culminated in the academy’s first national title in May.
The academy’s leadership is to be strengthened by the addition of Jon Shaw, who will join as Head of Professional Development on July 1, alongside his continued role as first-team captain.
Over recent months, the club has developed a strong relationship with the Harton and Westoe Miners’ Welfare, which includes representation on their Board of Trustees, and an agreement has been reached to allow the first-team to use the facilities at the Harton and Westoe Miners’ Welfare Ground for training purposes.
A programme of additional activities will also be developed there by our SSFC Foundation, whilst maintaining all existing user groups at the facility.
The Foundation, headed by Steve Camm, will grow programmes which will allow the club to further diversify and broaden its role as a community club across a wider range of sports and health and well-being activities.
The club can also confirm the promotion of Wess Brown to Academy and Recruitment Manager.
Brown will head up the recruitment for the club from Futures Academy to first-team, and oversee the alignment of the club’s player development from age six upwards, which will include working alongside Shaw in developing players through the 16-19 academy programme.
Brian Smith will aid Brown with first-team recruitment alongside his role as assistant manager, and Catalyst Professional Sports Management will continue to assist the club with recruitment for the first-team and academy.
Brown will also continue with his coaching and leadership of the club’s Futures Academy alongside Jamie Williams, in conjunction with Mortimer Community College.
The Futures Academy is preparing to welcome its second intake of students in September following a hugely positive first school year.
A benefit of this continued growth will be a further commitment to the next generation of footballers in the area.
SSFC Foundation’s Thinkers and Movers sessions, led by its Programme Delivery Lead Nathan Kew, will continue and help feed youngsters into a new programme for under-6s.
Christopher Reay, who has been appointed as the club’s Foundation Phase Lead, will lead the new under-6s programme and manage a smooth transition for players into under-7s teams, whilst also providing a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme for Foundation Phase coaches at the club.
After confirming the club restructure, Chairman Geoff Thompson said: “This is a very exciting time for South Shields Football Club and we are confident that these changes will greatly assist with our long-term ambitions.
“Reaching the Football League as a community-based club is our goal, but a lot of effort and commitment will be required to turn that ambition into reality.
“The appointments and changes we have decided to make underline that we see this as a long-term project which will require a huge collaborative effort.
“Allowing Lee and Graham the opportunity to spend more time with the first-team players is key for us, and we are excited about the impact that could have as they bid to maximise the potential of our squad.
“The appointment of Jon was also a no-brainer for us.
“He has been a hugely positive influence, both on and off the pitch, since joining us three years ago, and after a terrific two years with Monkseaton High School’s football academy, we are delighted to add him to our 16-19 academy leadership team.
“We are all eagerly anticipating the 2019-20 season and are hopeful there are lots of exciting times to come.
“Our supporters have been with us every step of the way during the thrilling journey we have had so far, and we are going to need that to continue to make all of this a success.
“It’s critical people continue to get behind us, and we will reward that commitment with an enormous determination to maximise the potential of this club and get it as far as it can possibly go, however long that may take.
“Let’s do this together.”
A big crowd is expected to pack into Mariners Park on Saturday as South Shields and Warrington Town go head-to-head in a promotion eliminator.
The match is undoubtedly one of the biggest in Shields’ recent history as they take on Warrington in the final of the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-offs.
The victorious team will not be guaranteed promotion, though, and must beat the winners of the Evo-Stik South Premier Division Central play-offs a week tomorrow to earn a place in National League North.
The Mariners are well aware of the size of their task against a side which beat them home and away in the league campaign.
They did finish a place and three points ahead of the Yellows, though, and will take confidence into Saturday’s tie after they came from behind to beat Buxton in a thrilling semi-final on Tuesday.
With the Durham Challenge Cup final against Shildon to contend with on Friday, followed by the divisional play-off final on Saturday, joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton have rarely been so busy.
But Picton says it’s a challenge everyone involved with the Mariners is relishing.
He said: “We’re just massively excited.
“Myself and Graham have felt like we’ve been spinning a lot of plates recently.
“A lot of really good things have been going on with the academy and we’ve been travelling up and down the country with various high-profile games going on.
“At the start of the season, though, this is the position you want to be in. You want to be so busy.
“There are a lot of footballers and teams out there that are done for all the wrong reasons by the end of April.
“We’re still going and have tonnes to play for, so it’s really exciting.”
Picton is expecting Warrington to provide a stern examination of Shields’ promotion hopes.
The Yellows ended the season with the division’s best defensive record and came from behind to beat Nantwich Town 4-1 in the semi-final on Tuesday.
He added: “It’s going to be a really hard, physical test.
“Again, we’ve got to make sure that the game turns out to be the type of game that we want it to be.
“We’re at home, the surface is good and we can get the ball down and play.
“We showed again on Tuesday that when we do what we’re good at, we’re more than a match for anybody.
“I thought we were unlucky not to get at least a draw against them when they came here last time around, and you’ve got to give them massive credit and respect for lots of reasons.
“Their defensive record and resilience they’ve shown at various stages of the season have been impressive, so we know it’s going to be a massive test, but it’s a test that we’re absolutely relishing.”
Shields are expected to be without left-back Blair Adams after he suffered a hamstring injury in Tuesday’s win.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm and admission prices are £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Cash turnstiles will be in operation but fans are encouraged to buy tickets online in advance to avoid the large queues experienced on Tuesday. Tickets can be bought before midnight on Friday by clicking here.
The club is also encouraging supporters to arrive at the ground earlier than usual to ease queuing.
The turnstiles will open at 12pm, and the first Happy Hour will run between 12pm and 1.30pm.
There will also be a Happy Hour in operation between 5pm and 6pm, while the Southend United vs Sunderland game will be shown on the TVs from 5.30pm, with Newcastle United vs Liverpool on at 7.45pm.
The two sets of supporters will be segregated on Saturday following discussions with the police and the league.
South Shields fans will be able to enter via turnstiles one, two and the hospitality entrance, with Warrington supporters to enter via turnstiles three and four, by the 3G pitch.
Home supporters who buy tickets in advance will be able to secure quicker entry by entering through the hospitality entrance.