The North East are champions of Wembley once again, alas not through Newcastle United (or any of the other major clubs in the region), instead it was South Shields that lifted the Vase a fortnight ago after a thumping 4-0 win, just in case you weren’t aware.
While our larger clubs suffer on and off field woes, supposed minnows like both Shields sides have seen tremendous success. The failings of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough have all played a part in the domination of our grassroots football.
I have long given up hope of seeing the Mags in a cup final and yet I have seen ‘my team’ grab silverware under the Wembley arch in person on three occasions.
So have many other non-league patrons from the bigger Premier League/Championship fanbases. In fact, the last nine Vase finals (eight wins!) have included a team from these parts.
This is a staggering record by any means and has created a fair bit of jealousy and cattiness across the amateur and semi-pro ranks in England.
It has been claimed from such critics that the North East is only successful because teams like Whitley Bay, when at their peak, could have played at a higher level yet cynically refused promotion from the Northern League in favour of being the big fish in a small pond.
That explanation, nevertheless, ignores the general quality across our local divisions and the competitiveness that characterises each season. It also fails to account for the incredible level of support for our lower-ranked sides.
Anyone who was at Wembley would have once again noticed the vast swathes of Shields fans (over thirteen thousand) completely outnumbering their opponents’ travelling cohort. The Mariners have big money behind their sudden success but cash means nothing without the stands full of voices.
Most of these supporters, especially the ones at regular games on the terraces, are disgruntled supporters of one of the big three clubs. It cannot be a coincidence that Sunderland’s worst season in a decade fell alongside a power shift in the Northern League south of the Tyne.
Similarly, when Newcastle’s form plummeted a couple of years ago, hordes of alienated Mags came together to back Gateshead, Morpeth, or North Shields.
Many players too, owe a debt to the larger local academies, having at one time or another been connected with them. Within the triumphant Shields squad were former NUFC trainees like Carl Finnigan and Michael Richardson, alongside ex-mackem signing Julio Arca. Next season former Newcastle player Matty Pattison joins their ranks too.
It is therefore a credit to us all that the North East is doing so well outside the 92 Football League set-up.
It is not just proof that this area has never lost its obsession with football, but also that it remains a working class network supported at all levels by committed enthusiasts.
The North East deserves its success in the Vase and should be a source of pride, even when our main loyalty is to a perennially underachieving team such as Newcastle United.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])