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.”
Two Darius Osei goals denied South Shields all three points as Stalybridge Celtic twice fought back from a goal down to earn a share of the spoils at Bower Fold.
The Mariners took an early lead when Wouter Verstraaten prodded home from a corner but were pegged back when Osei converted a penalty midway through the first half.
Stalybridge produced an impressive performance to seriously threaten the league leaders, but Shields went back in front just after the hour mark with a Robert Briggs penalty.
Most in attendance would agree that a draw was a fair result, though, and a smart turn and finish from Osei with six minutes remaining earned Stalybridge a point.
The result moved the Mariners a point clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division ahead of Tuesday’s derby trip to Morpeth Town.
Shields handed a debut to Ryan Whitley after he joined on loan from York City on the eve of the game and he was called into action as early as the fourth minute when Adam O’Reilly advanced into a dangerous position on the inside-left of the box and the goalkeeper was alert to close the angle and make the save.
The first goal of the game arrived from a Nathan Lowe corner for the Mariners on 12 minutes as he delivered a teasing ball from the left which bounced in the area before being rifled low into the net by Verstraaten as he registered his first goal for the club.
Verstraaten, making his first league start, had an opportunity for another soon after as Callum Ross found him on the right of the box, but this time his effort lacked the power needed to seriously test Alex Fojticek in the Stalybridge goal.
The home side showed their capabilities going forward with a two-minute burst of action around the 20-minute mark and their pressure paid off when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Jon Shaw.
Osei tucked his spot-kick into the bottom corner to level the scores and he almost added a tremendous second in the 30th minute as he robbed Shields of possession in the middle before driving forward and crashing a shot against the post from 20 yards.
The same player had another chance for a second before half-time when he was picked out on the right of the area but his effort across goal drifted past the post.
The Mariners lost captain Shaw to a groin injury five minutes before the break and that forced a reshuffle, with Briggs introduced from the bench and Verstraaten moved into a defensive role.
The visitors showed signs of improvement at the start of the second half and had an early opportunity as Craig Baxter’s cross found the head of Sefton Gonzales but the ball went wide.
On a number of occasions, Stalybridge tried to catch Shields out with blistering efforts from distance but they all cleared the crossbar, although attempts by Scott Metcalfe and Osei did not miss the target by much.
It was the Mariners who made the vital next move in the game though as Mason received the ball in the area and was bundled to the floor, resulting in the referee awarding a second penalty of the match.
Briggs rattled his spot-kick down the middle to put his side back in front.
Jason Gilchrist, Mason and Gonzales all went close in a quick flurry but Stalybridge cranked up the pressure at the other end and got their reward in the 84th minute when Osei turned smartly and finished equally well for his second goal of the afternoon.
The best chance for a late winner fell to Gonzales as he nicked the ball high up the pitch on the right but Fojticek closed the angle and made a smothering save.
The result kept Shields at the top of the table and they will hope to return to winning ways on the eagerly awaited trip to Morpeth.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Whitley, Hunter, Baxter, Shaw (c) (Briggs 40), Morse, Turnbull (Mason 46), Verstraaten, Ross, Gilchrist (Gillies 83), Lowe, Gonzales. Subs not used: Boney, Thompson.
Goals: Verstraaten (12), Briggs (pen 61).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
An inexperienced yet vibrant South Shields side put in-form Radcliffe to the sword as they ensured they would be top on Christmas Day with an impressive 3-0 win at Mariners Park.
Injuries and suspensions to a host of key players led to opportunities for several youngsters, all of whom grasped them with both hands.
Will Jenkins will take the headlines after he opened the scoring with a stunning lob from distance just after the half-hour mark but equally impressive displays from the likes of Ross Coombe, Kieran Charlton, Arron Thompson and Sam Hodgson caught the eye.
They were joined by a small collection of experienced players who performed admirably, with vice-captain Robert Briggs netting twice from the penalty spot to seal the home side’s win.
Radcliffe would have moved to within a point of Shields had they won and came to Mariners Park on a tremendous run of form.
They had an early opportunity to open the scoring when Anton Forrester fired a ball across from the left and Ben Wharton headed it over after having little time to react.
The Mariners gradually became more threatening and their first chance fell to Hodgson, whose effort from the edge of the area went over.
Briggs drilled wide from the edge of the box as Shields’ bright play continued, but they needed a superb stop from Coombe to stay on level terms in the 14th minute as he brilliantly tipped a Tyrese Sinclair free-kick onto the post.
Shields almost took the lead when Craig Baxter headed the ball across the box and Radcliffe goalkeeper Ollie Martin got a hand to it but sent it goalwards, where Tyrell Warren was forced to head off the line.
The game was brought to life in the 32nd minute when Jenkins opened the scoring in stunning fashion.
He concluded a move which involved three Shields academy players as Charlton linked up with Hodgson before sending a terrific pass into the feet of Jenkins, who glided forward before beating Martin with a tremendous lob from 25 yards out on the left flank.
The hosts had good momentum at that stage and almost doubled their advantage as Jenkins flicked the ball to Jason Gilchrist and he fired narrowly wide from the right of the area.
Shields’ performance after half-time was impressively mature as they controlled proceedings and were rewarded with two further goals.
The first came seven minutes into the second half as Gilchrist was tripped by Martin, who was shown a yellow card for bringing down the frontman. Rick Smith was also booked for his protestations.
Briggs made no mistake from the spot as he squeezed his penalty into Martin’s left-hand corner, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to his effort.
Blocks by Phil Turnbull and Dillon Morse kept Shields two goals ahead before they were given a golden opportunity for a third when Smith handled a Gilchrist shot and was shown a second yellow card as Radcliffe were reduced to 10 men.
Briggs picked out the same corner of the net to double his tally for the afternoon and all but seal the Mariners’ victory.
Hodgson went close to getting in on the act 15 minutes before the end when he fired not far wide from the right of the box, while at the other end Coombe saved well from Javid Swaby-Neavin and Wharton.
It was an impressive and important victory for Shields as they maintained their place at the top of the table heading into Christmas.
They are back in action on Boxing Day when they travel to Whitby Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Coombe, Baxter, Charlton, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull (Alli 77), Thompson (Thurston 42), Briggs, Gilchrist (Guy 71), Jenkins, Hodgson. Subs not used: Errington, Wokoma.
Goals: Jenkins (32), Briggs (pens 52 and 70).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.