South Shields FC: Mariners Fairytale Up For Sale

Football has an uncanny knack of coming up with fairytales. Last season it was Wrexham with a couple of Hollywood stars; this year it could well be South Shields, but this time with a local lad made good.



That’s right, South Shields, the non-league version of David sitting just a hop, skip and a jump in-between the giants from Newcastle and Sunderland and chasing a play-offs place in the National League North despite being put up for sale.


Not so much of a fairytale as Wrexham’s you might mutter, but definitely one out of the back from the dead category that’s for sure – and with their sights fixed firmly on a happy ending as well. Like the starstruck Welsh outfit the Mariners, as South Shields are nicknamed, have a saviour.



Nowhere near as famous as Messrs Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney maybe, but self-made millionaire Geoff Thompson – a North East resident all his life -is revered just as much in his home town. It’s hard to imagine where – if indeed anywhere – the club would have been if Geoff hadn’t stepped in and rescued it from the brink of extinction nine years ago.


Such was the fate they faced struggling in the Northern League Division 2 in front of crowds averaging around 70 at the ground they shared 21 miles down the road at Peterlee.


But here they are now, four consecutive promotions and an FA Vase triumph at Wembley later, back at their own home, complete with a new £3m stand Mr Thompson built for them. Like most fairytales, though, this one has a life changing chapter neither South Shields FC nor their saviour expected.


While the side continues to fare well on the field their much-loved saviour suffered a series of setbacks that included a prostate cancer diagnosis, and which all put together changed his outlook on life, and the future of his football club.


Chairman Thompson, explains: “I lost my dad 18 months ago and my younger brother passed away on New Year’s Day after a heart attack. I also had to have my prostate removed last March and will need to get tested every three months at the moment. There is a 30 per cent recurrence rate, and I’m just praying I won’t be among that 30 percent.”


That explains why the club is now up for sale with a price tag of between £3m and£5m and potential investors in America have already signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) to confirm their interest in joining the North East’s other two foreign owners of neighbouring Newcastle and Sunderland.


Geoff continued: “My decision to sell the club wasn’t based on my brother’s passing or my cancer diagnosis, but I realised I’m getting a bit long in the tooth at 61 and I want to retire and spend more time with my family. 


“It’s not about walking away with a big sack of money, although that would be very nice. The truth is I invested in the club with the right objective. I’ve got the club to a certain level, made itself sustainable, and now I want to hand it over to somebody else to enjoy the rest of the journey.”


Be that as it may any would be new owners will have to pass a strict Thompson test before they get the keys to the doors at the 1st Cloud Arena; no matter how much they’re prepared to pay.


Mr Thompson has gone out of his way to assure supporters he won’t be selling to just anyone. He needs to be certain about their objectives and plans and that they are able to fully support the club. Any new owner will need to understand the town and the community before they get a foot through the door.


“It’s not about who is the highest bidder, I’ll only sell it to who I think is the right person,” he insists.


“I’m not looking for someone with bottomless pockets. I’ve done a lot of the spadework. A lot of the infrastructure is in place, the ground grading that will satisfy the National League, and just a little bit extra will be needed to get to EFL League 2 standard grading.


“It would be nice to have a new owner who comes from the region, but in truth any individuals involved will have to understand the culture, what the club represents to the community, what we have tried to achieve, and the impact the club has on the community. It’s not just about the money, it’s about having that understanding that’s important to me

“There is an argument that I’m exiting at the wrong time. We’ve got no debts, there is significant revenue growth, we have already established a charitable foundation and an international academy, their revenues look very healthy, and we’ve got strong support. This club is unique and in a very good position. Now it’s all about finding the right custodian to take South Shields forward to the next level.”


Mr Thompson does have concerns that because of what happened at Wrexham people get the idea that it takes Hollywood money to own a successful football club, a view he dismisses.


“Well run clubs at our level can survive and do well,” he says. “Wrexham are of course the ones that grab the headlines with American owners of smaller clubs, but there’s also Wycombe Wanderers of course and Dagenham & Redbridge. 


“There is a momentum from America because if you’re an American and reasonably wealthy, to buy a US franchise literally costs hundreds of millions. English football represents great value for money in terms of accessing and owning a football club for a fraction of a similar franchise in the US. And you can run a football club, particularly of our size, profitably and successfully. It doesn’t have to be a money pit anymore.


“I want to do a deal that’s right for the buyer and right for me. I spent £3m on the new stand and it was a painful process signing all those cheques. But we own the freehold and in terms of value you could estimate that forecasts for the future growth of the club the value is between £3m and £5m. But that deal can be quite flexible; the money doesn’t have to be paid all upfront, some of it can be deferred. I have a very open mind about what the deal structure will be. 


“It’s not an investment to make millions, it’s buying into the excitement, the journey, and involvement you have with a local community and the impact you have on that community. There are so many moving parts to running a football club.”


Thompson stresses the importance of what he considers is the realisation that every club has a level. But in some cases, like Luton Town for instance, even the ultimate dream can be realised.


“In 2030 it will be the 100th anniversary from the time South Shields fell out of the Football League from the old Second Division which was the Championship as it is now,” he recalls.


“It’s a long, long way from us ever being up there again, but why not eventually? There’s every reason and prospect of us getting back into the Football League and I think we can ultimately compete at that level. 


“We are in touching distance of the play-offs in this league at the moment, and we have every chance of promotion. We are going to give it our every effort and get promoted again. We have had some great success, and wouldn’t it be something if we made it five this season?


“If my health had held up and I was 20 years younger I would most definitely carry on and see if we could get there. It’s an exciting journey for someone. There’s no external debt at the club, there’s no mortgage debt, we own the ground, we’ve got our separate training facility, we have our own charitable foundation; all the infrastructure is there. We have a great forecast of where the club is likely to be, so why shouldn’t we try to get back into the Football League? What a journey that will be.


“For me it’s all about my legacy being that 10 or 50 years down the road we’ll have a club that’s continuing to prosper and in a really good position. That’s what is driving me to find somebody that can understand that and take the club forward.


“It has to be the right person; I’m not interested in any fire sale. I’ve spent nine years of my life and a fair slice of my personal wealth and emotion and energy rebuilding this club. I care too much about it to just walk away; that will never happen.


“If no one comes forward, we carry on. If it takes another year or two, so be it.  I’ll carry on. I’ll stay as long as it takes, but I’m confident we will find the right individual. Whoever gets a hold of this will have a lot of fun; it’s a wonderful club and a wonderful opportunity.”


Now, that’s what happy fairytale endings are all about, isn’t it?


South Shields’ Little Mix Star’s Hope For Home Town Club

As South Shields FC goes up for sale – Little Mix star Jade Thirlwall backs the team to go on to even bigger brighter things.


As South Shields Football Club’s sale gathers momentum and chairman Geoff Thompson seeks the next custodian to hand the club over to… Shield’s-born pop star Jade Thirlwall has thrown her support behind the sale, calling Shields fans the “most loyal” fanbase.


Jade Thirlwall at South Shields FC’s 1st Cloud Arena
Photo by Kevin Wilson.


The Little Mix star is an honorary president of South Shields FC and a huge fan. And she has backed the club to go on to even “bigger and brighter” things.


She said: “South Shields FC is a great club with an amazing history and has huge potential to go on to bigger and brighter things.”


Jade believes the fans can continue to back the club as it scales to even greater heights and the holy grail of the EFL.


She said: “Sandancers are the most brilliant, loyal fanbase – it’s always a joy to get up there and among the fans! South Shields is home and my involvement with the club will always be special to me.


“Geoff has done a phenomenal job during his time here and, as we enter this next chapter, I’m hopeful that the right new owner will come along to take the club on its journey to the next level.”


Images: South Shields FC





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