Photographing a game can give a distorted view of the action: play seen through the lens is always a bit different from enjoying the wider perspective of standing back and looking at the whole field. And, after choosing which end to start from, any snapper is at the mercy of play reaching that area. After 15 minutes of North Shields vs Shildon in Saturday’s FA Vase Third Round tie, waiting near the Shildon goal yielded some long-distance shots of a goal celebration, a nice sunset behind the clubhouse, a few ill-framed views of some midfield tussles and, in desperation, a snap of a passing squadron of low-flying seagulls.
It wasn’t that it was a poor game – far from it – but Shields, Northern League leaders, were rocked by the visitor’s high-tempo start. Shildon, the defending league champions, clearly set out to impose themselves on the action from the first whistle of the biggest Vase tie of the afternoon, and did so admirably. The opening goal came in the eighth minute, Michael Rae winning an aerial challenge with the goalie to loop a header home from Lewis Wing’s up-and-under, and most of the danger seemed to be around Sean McCafferty’s goal.
The photo reel shows that the hosts steadily grew into the game: Dean Holmes began to assert some influence in midfield, hitting the post after bursting through on goal and causing more and more problems down the left. Shildon continued to look threatening on the counter, and a good game of football developed.
But just when Shields looked to be getting on top, a goalkeeping howler handed Shildon a second goal. Amar Purewal’s long-range shot seemed routine but McCafferty somehow fumbled it into his own net. It wasn’t the most alarming goalie incident though: Shildon’s Nick Liversedge topped it when he earned a red card for an off-the-ball tussle with Holmes. The Shields Ultras on their self-styled Curva Nord were in full voice, and when substitute Denver Morris smashed a shot past sub goalie Keith Finch from a tight angle it was game firmly back on.
Then things started getting out of hand. Shildon, not unnaturally, sought to slow the game; Shields’ players and fans, equally unsurprisingly, got frustrated with this. Ryan Carr had a would-be equalizer chalked off after a similar header to Rae’s opener; many Shields followers claimed double standards from the ref, but the linesman clearly indicated an offside, rather than any unfair challenge on the sub keeper. A penalty shout was turned down and Marc Lancaster was booked after a bout of handbags brought a crowd of players together in the Shildon box. Several minutes of stoppage time wasn’t enough to save Shields, nor to appease many of the home crowd who felt that not enough was done to keep the game flowing once the Railwaymen were down to 10.
Then came the disappointment. Much has been written about North Shields and their fans – both positive and negative. The trouble is that the good parts, concerning a passionate bunch who have worked wonders to resurrect the club after its collapse in 1992 and steadily work a passage to the top of the Northern League, tend to be overshadowed by reports of trouble. And sadly, trouble was where this game ended up as some of the anger over refereeing decisions and perceived time-wasting spilled over after the final whistle. Keith Finch, Shildon’s sub keeper, got involved in an exchange of opinions with some home fans that started with banter and ended with allegations of spitting. Then, as that flashpoint calmed and a visibly angry Finch disappeared into the dressing rooms, a small group spilled onto the pitch. Punches were thrown before cooler heads could prevail to separate the antagonists.
It made for a disappointing finale to a great afternoon of football. At a time when the Robins are making great strides to build a community around the club, with a highly impressive social media set-up, prominent sponsorship deals for the club video service and a steady rise in crowds as the team climbs the league, there should be a constant stream of good news emanating from North Shields. Instead, incidents like this one – which others claim is not unprecedented, leave a nasty taste that is all the more sour for the good things happening at the Daren Persson ground.