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.