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During the 1880's there was an explosion of interest in association football, with teams springing up throughout the length and breadth of the country. Tyneside, still in its growth phase as a centre of heavy industry, was no exception to this phenomenon. The formation of the Football League in 1888-89 brought a new dimension to the game which added greatly to its spectator interest, and coincidentally fostered the climate necessary for the emergence of professionalism. This new model was rapidly embraced in north east England, the Northern League and North-East Counties leagues being founded in 1889-90, and the Northern Alliance a year later 1. One town however - South Shields, appeared to be impervious to this trend. The handling code was well-represented in the Borough, the main teams being Westoe RFC 2, (founded in 1875) and South Shields RFC (founded in 1884), but unusually, for a town of its size and commercial importance, there was no association football team. The following decade saw several attempts to bring association football to the borough.

This account covers the period up to 1919, when South Shields successfully applied for membership of the Football League. The subsequent fortunes of the club have been dealt with in "South Shields FC: The Football League Years - A Complete Record of a Forgotten Club" by George Thompson, published in 2000 by Yore Publications, ISBN 978-1874427438.

Birth of a club - South Shields AFC

On 1st February 1889 a letter was published in the Shields Gazette from a "Lover of the Association Game" asking for anyone of a similar mind to contact him with a view to forming a club in the town. Subsequently the paper was able to report that two meetings, which had taken place on 16th February and 20th February, had resulted in the appointment of a provisional committee to run the club and a choice of team colours (details not disclosed in the report). A field had been secured at the rear of the Ingham Infirmary, and as it did not require much work to get it into order it was hoped that some matches might be arranged before the close of the season.

1889 notice

Shields Gazette - 1st February 1889

Evidently the call from "Lover of the Association Game had struck a chord with many, as following a practice game in the YMCA field on 23rd February it was announced that not one, but two teams would represent the club on Saturday 2nd March. The first XI would meet Bill Quay Albion in a field off Mowbray Road, near the High School, and the second XI would travel to Low Walker to play the Neptune Works club. The teams selected (in normal line-up) were as follows:

First XI
W. Toyn, Halliwell, Newton, John Atkinson, Armstrong, J. Harrison (captain pro-tem), Robinson, Watson, Hood, Williams, Atkinson.

Second XI
Holmes, McGuinness, Thornborrow, Turnbull, Terrell, Storey, Grainer, Thompson, Heron, Hogarth, Gordon.

The match versus Bill Quay Albion was, according to the Shields Gazette, the first association game to be played in the town. It was not a fairy tale start for the new club; Bill Quay scored six, and their total would have been higher had it not been for Toyn's excellent goalkeeping. By contrast, the home forwards failed to failed to find the net. However, the reporter felt that the team "showed good form, and with two or three more weeks practice they should be able to hold their own with any club in the district."

Two or three weeks more practice was clearly an understatement; during the remainder of the season the fledgling club managed to arrange 12 "ordinary" (i.e. non-league) fixtures, two of which were cancelled. Of the 10 games which were played, South Shields won 3, lost 6 and drew 1. Their heaviest defeat, 7-1, was by Jarrow St Bede's on 13th April 1889.

The following season (1889-1890) the club arranged a total of 28 matches, 8 of which were cancelled. Of the matches which did take place, Shields won 11, lost 8 and drew 1. Again these were all "ordinary" games, the club not yet having secured membership of a league.

The town's representation in the association game seems to have come to a premature end in season 1890-91. The season opened on 20th September with a 4-0 away defeat at the hands of Neptune (Walker), followed by a 4-1 home defeat by Jarrow St Bede's a week later. Although the club still featured regularly in the Friday edition of the Shields Gazette, which carried details of matches to be played the following day, the results of such matches rarely appeared, the newspaper preferring to cover rugby and first-class association football. All mention of the club ceased after 13th March 1891 and it may be that it had disbanded.

The Shields Gazette made no mention of South Shields AFC in seasons 1891-1892, 1892-1893 and 1893-1894. A team named South Shields Athletic appeared briefly in fixture lists during the autumn of 1892, along with "South Shields Adelphia Argyle" and "South Shields Albion," but no further details emerged.

By season 1894-1895 the South Shields League had come into existence, but it is clear from the early season table shown below that this was far from being a top-class competition.

south shields league 1894

Shields Gazette - 9th November 1894

The champions of this league in 1894-95 were Athletic (according to a report in the Newcastle Football Chronicle on 25th April 1896 when they were described as the "ex-League champions")

The table above includes a team named St Jude's II. This begs the question - in which league did the first team play? A team named Shields United also existed - they defeated Heaton Excelsior 3-0 at Heaton on 10th November 1895.

South Shields AFC reborn (part I)

A new South Shields AFC appeared in season 1895-96, playing in the Tyneside League. The club's first match, against Newcastle Amateurs on 5th September 1895, took place on a field situated to the west of the South Shields Rugby Club's ground in Mowbray Road. It was an inauspicious start; the fledgling club was defeated 3-0. Their first Tyneside League game took place on 14th September when the visitors at Mowbray Road were Prudhoe. The South Shields line-up was as follows:

Carrol, Sharpe (capt.), Hyde, Bishop, Withers, Porteous, Spensely, Henderson, Wilkinson, Warden, Richardson

Again the locals were defeated, this time by 4 goals to 1. More ominously, the attendance was described as "moderate." A 4-4 draw with Gateshead Engineers on 21st September gained the club its first league point, but this was followed by a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Wallsend on 28th September. A match at Mickley scheduled for Saturday 5th October did not take place, although the team was listed in the Shields Gazette the previous night. On 10th October the Daily Chronicle reported that a special committee of the league had elected Gateshead St Cuthbert's to take the place of South Shields, who had disbanded. Of all the clubs to represent the town this was surely the most short-lived!

Tyneside League 1895

South Shields AFC's brief run in the Tyneside League - 1895-96

To cloud the issue, a report appeared in the Free Press and Advertiser on 19th October 1895, which stated that South Shields AFC (late Congregational) had drawn 1-1 with Harton St Peter's in a league match on Saturday 12th October. Harton St Peter's were not members of the Tyneside League, so evidently the Congregational club had decided to poach the South Shields name. They were still using it in season 1896-97, according to another report in the Free Press and Advertiser dated 29th August 1896. This season saw only junior association football played in South Shields; other teams such as South Shields YMCA (playing in the Tyneside Temperance League), South Shields United, South Shields Argyle, South Shields Borough United, South Shields Villa and South Shields Albion Star crop up sporadically in match reports.

South Shields AFC reborn (part II)

The lovers of the "socker" code, as it was then described, were not yet ready to give up on the possibility of bringing senior-level football to the town. On 18th May 1897 the Shields Gazette printed the following letter from a correspondent signing himself "Westoe."

DEAR SIR - Passing a shop in Laygate Lane yesterday, my eyes fell on a notice calling a meeting at the Brunswick Hotel on Wednesday night next, for the purpose of forming an association team for Shields. As this is about the only town in the north without a team of dribblers except one or two junior teams, I trust that many will turn up and give the scheme their support. Having in view the number of people who travel to Sunderland and Newcastle to witness matches, I cannot but think that an Association club could be formed with great success. Yours, &c.,


The meeting referred to took place the following night, and was well-attended. Under the chairmanship of Mr W. Watson a resolution was passed that "an Association team be formed for next season." A committee was established to make the necessary arrangements, comprising the following gentlemen: Messrs J. Robson, Mason, G. Sanderson, W. Lomax, L. Bell, W. Watson and J. Richardson. Mr Adam Harrison, who had instigated the meeting, was appointed secretary.

This latest effort to establish an association football club was more professionally organised than previous attempts, to judge by the rapid progress that ensued. On 1st June the Shields Gazette announced that the club had been registered with the Durham Football Association, a playing field had been secured, and there was every likelihood that the club would feature in the Northern Alliance during the coming season. A local Councillor, Thomas Dunn Marshall, who was formerly associated with Sunderland FC, had accepted the Presidency of the new club, and no doubt his connections in the world of football had helped considerably in moving the project forward.

Following a practice match on 3rd July which was watched by several hundred spectators, it was announced that the following players had been signed up for the first team: goalkeepers - Joe Ryder (ex-Newcastle United) and Thompson (Tyne Dock NER); full-backs - Breeze (Hebburn Argyle) and Harold Jeffrey (Newcastle United); half-backs - Hugh Dow (Sunderland), Sanderson (Rendel), Louis Purvis (Newcastle United), Frank Murray (Caxton House), F. McGuire (Caxton House), F. Holohan (Stoke) and Green (Willington Athletic); forwards - Jack Scott (Sunderland), W Bell (Newcastle United) and Richardson (Hebburn Argyle). The first team would be playing in the Northern Alliance, and a reserve team in the "Combination" (the Northern Combination, which was embarking on its first season). The club's ground would be the field adjacent to the South Shields Athletic grounds in Mowbray Road, and it was announced confidently that "in a short time all the necessary accessories, in the shape of palings, turnstiles, grandstand and press box will be provided."

An interesting practice match took place on 14th August when a team comprising first team defenders plus reserve attackers played one made up of reserve defenders and first team attackers. The game was won by the first-named side, largely due to the influence of Dow in the half-back line.

Prior to the season commencing there was some concern that would-be spectators might be able to watch the games without paying, by viewing from the adjacent Rugby club. However, despite rumours of ill-feeling between the two clubs, the South Shields Rugby club announced that it would keep its ground locked during association games, and instructed its groundsmen to keep an eye out for anyone trying to gain some free entertainment.

On a wet Monday night, 30th August 1897, South Shields played their first Northern Alliance fixture against Newcastle United 'A' at St. James's Park. The team on this historic occasion was as follows:

Ryder, Jeffrey, Breeze, Dow, Sanderson, Purvis, Richardson, Bell, Nicholson, McGuire, Scott.

It was not the happiest of starts to the season; Newcastle were 3-1 up by the interval, but the Shields defence was able to keep them out in the second half, preventing further score. A home match against Hebburn Argyle on 11th September was also a disappointment; Argyle, the Alliance Champions in 1896-7, beat the Mariners by 4 goals to nil. Despite the poor start however, the new club performed remarkably well over the season, finishing 4th in the table. Their nearest rivals, Jarrow, were runners-up, but Shields recorded a home victory against them on 22nd January 1898, winning 3-2.

The 'A' team (second XI) did not perform as well as the first team, finishing bottom of the Northern Combination having won only 1 game during the whole season. At the AGM of the Northern Combination on 13th June they resigned in accordance with the rules and South Shields YMCA were elected to take their place. By the start of the new season however the YMCA club had agreed to become the South Shields 'A' team, albeit under their own committee and management.

Towards the end of the season the club entered into negotiations with the landlord of the South Shields Rugby Club's ground in Mowbray Road. The negotiations were completed by the beginning of May 1898, and in addition to taking over the lease, which had 4 years to run, the club purchased the grandstands, hoardings and other fixtures and fittings from the Rugby club. The Rugby Club however were entitled to 12 month's notice, so possession of the ground did not take place until May 1899. This resulted in the club's English Cup campaign coming to an unhappy end; after defeating Bishop Auckland the latter appealed on the grounds that their opponents' pitch was too narrow by seven yards. The appeal was upheld, and South Shields were expelled from the competition. It was their proud boast that they were one of only two unbeaten clubs in the Cup that season.

The 1898-9 season opened on the evening of Thursday 1st September with a friendly against Jarrow, which attracted a crowd of 2,000. South Shields were handicapped at the start by having only 9 players on the field for the first 20 minutes, but Jarrow failed to score during this period, despite their advantage in numbers and having two penalties awarded to them. Towards the end of the game Jarrow, who were to be Northern Alliance Champions that season, managed to sneak a goal to take the match 1-0. South Shields' Alliance campaign commenced two days later with a home fixture against Blyth, from whom they had taken three points in the previous season. The game was played under a blazing hot sun, and on this occasion Blyth gained the upper hand, wining by a single goal. Nevertherless South Shields had a relatively satisfactory season, finishing in 5th place in the Northern Alliance.

Season 1899-1900 saw the club playing at the new ground in Mowbray Road. The large east stand had been thoroughly overhauled, and a new stand had been built on the west side of the ground, so that covered accommodation could be provided for 4,000 spectators. The directors of the club were clearly eager to show off their new purchase; on 16th September a Northumberland v Durham match was staged at Mowbray Road. The teams were drawn from the pick of the Northern Alliance clubs, and a good crowd witnessed Northumberland run out the winners by 4 goals to nil. Over the season the club turned in another solid Northern Alliance campaign, the club finishing in 6th place. Although this could not be considered a sparkling performance, the club had demonstrated its ability to hold its own at this level of football. All was not well, however. On 14th July 1900 the Free Press and Advertiser reported that the Emergency Committee of the English FA had met to consider two matters involving the club. The first was a claim from a player named Beck for wages due, and for loss of work and medical attendance. The latter two claims were thrown out by the Committee, however the claim for unpaid wages was upheld, and South Shields were ordered to pay £12 5s together with a deposit of £1. The second matter was a claim by South Bank FC for the sum of £7 10s owing under a guarantee. This too was upheld, and South Shields were ordered to pay, or suffer suspension. While these matters may seem trivial, they were indicative of deep-rooted financial problems affecting the club. It was not surprising therefore when, on 26th July, the directors decided to wind up the affairs of the club.

South Shields Athletic

This latest failure of an Association club in South Shields did not lead to a hiatus in the provision of association football in the town, as had happened on previous occasions. On 30th July 1900 a meeting was convened in the North of England Cafe in King Street to discuss the formation of a new club. The meeting was addressed by Mr T W Bell, who described the circumstances which had led to the previous club becoming defunct. He stated that about four months previously he had been asked to take in hand the reorganisation of the club, which was in difficulties. He had agreed, subject to certain conditions. These were not fulfilled, and consequently he had not become involved.

He advised the meeting that if a new club were formed, the directors of the defunct club had offered the use of their field at a rent of £50 per annum, and had assured him that their liabilities to the English FA would be met. After some discussion the Chairman, J.R. Robson, moved that a new club be formed, to be named South Shields Athletic. The motion was accepted, with approximately 50 persons signing up to become members of the new club.

A subsequent meeting on 7th August elected the club officials, the most noteworthy being the Chairman, J.R. Robson, the Treasurer, W. Jolly, and the Secretary, T.W. Bell. At this meeting it was also announced that the South Shields United Club had agreed to run as the Athletic second team.

The following evening a meeting of the Northern Alliance took place at the Express Hotel in Newcastle to determine the vacancy caused by the resignation of South Shields. Applications were received from Mickley, Morpeth Harriers, Annfield Plain Celtic, Consett Swifts and South Shields Athletic, the latter being elected by a clear majority.

South Shields Athletic did not get off to a good start; The directors of the old club were unable to pay their liabilities, and Athletic had to agree to pay 20% of their ground receipts until all the debts were cleared. Things were disappointing on the pitch too; In their first season the first team finished in 10th place in the Northern Alliance, and the reserve team finished bottom in the Northern Combination.

Worse was to come; in season 1901-02 the first team finished at the bottom of the Northern Alliance. The club's nearest neighbours, Jarrow and Hebburn Argyle, occupied the the two places above them, which may suggests that the slump in shipbuilding which was then hitting the area was having an impact upon football club revenues. The 'A' team, which started the season once again in the Northern Combination, was withdrawn in February 1902, as were the teams of Preston Colliery and Jarrow 'A'. At the AGM held on 15th May the Secretary's report "regretted the fact that the last season was the worst in the history of Alliance football in Shields." The total club income during the season was £178, all of which had been expended, and there were still some liabilities to be met. The Secretary, T.W. Bell and the Treasurer, W. Jolly submitted their resignations, and ominously, it was decided that in view of the small attendance at the meeting it was not advisable to proceed with the election of replacements. The Chairman J.R. Robson accepted the Secretaryship pro-tem, and the meeting was informed that a Mr John Smith of South Frederick Street wished to meet with interested parties with a view to raising funds to allow the club to start the coming season debt-free. Although re-elected at the Northern Alliance AGM on 7th June 1902, the club was unable to secure its financial position, and a brief report in the Shields Gazette on 5th July 1902 announced that the committee had decided to disband the club "Owing to the difficulty in securing the field in Mowbray Road on suitable terms." The Sunderland Daily Echo expanded on this, reporting that "the committee were not able to come to an arrangement with the Ecclestical Commissioners, the owners of the land. The ground was not tenantless for long; the newly-formed St Hilda's Association secured the use of it a week later. On 9th December the London Gazette recorded that South Shields Association Football Club Limited had been dissolved.

Jarrow AFC, which was also re-elected to the Alliance, suffered the same fate as Shields and disbanded before the commencement of the season.

jack inskip in 1909

from the Shields Football Gazette 13th March 1909

South Shields Adelaide

A junior team known as South Shields Adelaide Athletic was supposedly founded by Jack Inskip in 1899. A short biographical note on Inskip which appeared in the Shields Football Gazette of 13th March 1909 gave the following account of the foundation of the club:

"Jack Inskip, a young and enthusiastic follower of the game, possessed a more than ordinary share of talent as a player, and after learning the rudiments of the association game with a number of junior clubs he threw in his lot with Adelaide Albion. After staying for a couple of seasons with that club he found there was plenty of room for another junior organisation, and after consulting a few of his friends on the matter Inskip founded the Adelaide club which has so sensationally risen to almost the highest pinnacle of fame. The team was then known as South Shields Adelaide Athletic, and in their first four seasons 1900-1904 they won the Shields and District League Cup and medals, and the Big Budget Cup and medals. They had the honour of being the first club in the North of England to secure the latter trophy. During the whole of this time young Inskip acted in a threefold capacity, namely as secretary, treasurer and captain of the team. He soon became a popular enthusiast and player by reason of his fair and upright management. The following season the team joined the Tyneside Junior League, and in that year the club was fortunate enough to win four sets of medals. The Shields and District League next had Adelaide as aspirants, and subsequently they entered the Tyneside League with such success as did them every credit. Step by step the team rose, young Inskip giving way to some extent to his father in the management."

It has not been possible to verify this account from primary sources: there certainly was an an Adelaide Albion, but the only references to them I have so far discovered relate to the 1899-90 season, when they met clubs such as Regent Athletic, St Stephen's Juniors, Stone Quay Athletic, Celtic and Sunbeam. Which league they played in is uncertain. The name of Jack Inskip does not appear in any of their published team selections, but this is hardly surprising as he would have been only 13 at the time. Nor have I been able to find any references to South Shields Adelaide Athletic in seasons 1900-1904. In season 1902-03 there was a team named Adelaide playing in the South Shields Junior Alliance, which was a league for boys of average age 14. Jack Inskip would then have been 15, so it is conceivable that he figured in this team. A more conclusive sighting comes in season 1903-04 when a team named Adelaide played in the South Shields Juvenile League 'A' Division, and on 19th December 1903 the name of Inskip appears in the Adelaide team to meet Hebburn Caledonians at Hebburn.

A major opportunity for the club to grow arose in August 1904 when South Shields Rugby Club was voted out of the Northern Rugby Union. Adelaide took over the former rugby ground at Horsley Hill early in 1905 for an annual rental of £30. This ambitious move nearly led to the club's downfall, as a promised loan for this amount failed to materialise, but a local solicitor, Victor Grunhut, advanced a loan of £35 on a simple IOU, payable within three months. From this venue the club ran two teams, the first XI playing in the Tyneside League and the second XI in the South Shields and District League. They were immediately successful, winning the James Knott cup for the championship of the Tyneside League and the Hunt Shield for the championship of the Shields and District League.

adelaide fc in 1906

South Shields Adelaide 1905-06

South Shields Adelaide at Horsley Hill in 1906 with the James Knott Cup and the Hunt Shield
(photograph courtesy of Barrie Cram)

The 1906-7 season began with a rather unedifying exchange in the local press; the Secretary, Joseph Edmondson, declined to be re-elected to the position, which prompted "The Pilot" * in the Shields Gazette to express regret at the fact. This brought an angry letter on 8th September from Morris Mouter, the new Secretary (and former Chairman), claiming that Mr Edmondson had attended only six out of 32 Committee meetings during the season, "placing the club many times in a very critical position," and that the club would have "gone under long before the season was finished had it not been for the Chairman and Committee putting things right." He also claimed that "everyone gave their services free except the late Secretary." Joseph Edmondson's response was published on 15th September: He absolutely denied that he had only attended six out of 32 meetings, while accepting that there were times when he was unable to attend because of work, and he had missed only three matches at Horsley Hill, none of which were competitive. Furthermore, Mr Mouter's statement that "everyone gave their services free except the late Secretary" gave the impression that he was the only person paid for his services. He had, in fact, not been paid in the previous season, but had made it clear to the Committee that he would not take on the Secretaryship for the new season "for nothing." In response he had been offered £2 2s per annum, or 9½d per week, but had refused, indicating that if this was what they thought of the worth of the Secretary then one of them should take on the job himself.

* "The Pilot" was the Gazette's regular correspondent on the Tyneside League

Thankfully the acrimony in the Boardroom did not affect performances on the field; The first team repeated their success, winning the championship with a comfortable 5 points margin over their rivals from North Shields. They also won the James Redhead Cup, better known as the Ingham Infirmary Cup. On the back of this performance the club applied for membership of the Northern Alliance. At the Alliance AGM on 1st June 1907 the retiring club, Rutherford College, was re-elected, so that there were no vacancies. However a proposal from North Shields Athletic to enlarge the Alliance from 13 to 15 clubs was accepted, and in the subsequent vote South Shields Adelaide was elected in second place, beating Blyth Spartans by only one vote. In his pre-season review on 7th September 1907 "The Pilot" waxed lyrical about their prospects; "Adelaide might now be said to have grown out of their childhood, and their evolution from the nursery of the game to a good standard of the code has been abnormal. From juvenile flotsam and jetsam the finished article has been produced." There had also been a boardroom revolution, and Joseph Edmondson was once more installed as Secretary.

The club's stay in the Northern Alliance was brief; finishing third, and flushed with success, they applied for membership of the North Eastern League, which at the time was the premier regional league in the north-east. At the League AGM on 15th June 1908 They found themselves in a group of nine clubs applying for eight vacancies. Their representative, John Edmondson, was questioned by the Committee on the question of changing accommodation at Horsley Hill, which the club did not possess. He was required to give an undertaking that such accommodation would be provided for visiting teams if the club were elected. When the vote was taken Adelaide were elected by a comfortable margin.

adelaide fc in 1908

South Shields Adelaide 1908-09

back row: C Inskip, W Storey, M Owen, H Atkinson, T Peart, W Wilson, H Collins, W Burnside, A Newton, W Lawson, H Walker, J Stoker, J Dobson
middle row: D Hardy, Ford, T Oates
front row: J Sleight, J Davies, P Cassidy, J Lowe, P Howe (capt.), J Atkinson, Davidson
(photograph courtesy of Bob Wray)

Providing changing accommodation was not the only expense the club had to incur to prepare for the new season. An embankment was constructed around the Horsley Hill pitch and a number of ex-Football League players were signed to strengthen the team. This latter measure was clearly successful, as the club finished second in their inaugural season. It was not all plain sailing however, and a nasty affair which threatened the club's future blew up over the winter.Durham FA Inquiry into Adelaide

Following a cup tie against Darlington St Augustine's on 12th December 1908 which Adelaide won 5-2, the Darlington team lodged a protest on the grounds that Adelaide had fielded an ineligible player. 3 A subsequent inquiry by the Durham FA resulted in the tie being awarded to St Augustine's, and broadened into a general investigation into the club's financial affairs. On 4th January a DFA sub-Committee met at the Hotel Metropole in Newcastle and spent 3 hours going through the club's books. Interestingly, the DFA log book for the period records that this meeting took place. but there are no minutes. However, the sub-committee must have been dissatisfied with their findings, for at a DFA Council Meeting on 20th January 1909 the following decisions were recorded: "(1) That the Secretary of the South Shields Adelaide AFC be instructed, that after deducting a sufficient sum to meet the week-end expenses, the Bank Balance must be forwarded by cheque to the Secretary of the Durham FA. (2) A Commission was appointed to meet at the Royal Hotel, Shields, on Tuesday January 26th for the purpose of considering the necessary steps for the reformation of the South Shields Adelaide AFC."

The Commission duly met, and the following brief note is all that was minuted: "The Bank Balance to be forwarded to the Secretary of the Durham FA on Wednesday January 27th. The gate money, Saturday January 30th; after deducting the expenses of the match to be forwarded to the Secretary of the Durham FA." The Football Chronicle reported on the following Saturday that the club had been instructed to issue membership tickets, and to hold a meeting withing a fortnight to elect new officials to run the club. The Shields Football Gazette carried a more colourful report of the affair; Press and public had been excluded from what was intended to be a public meeting. Those excluded held their own impromptu meeting in the street outside, and passed a vote of censure on the Durham Football Association. When it came to what had actually transpired at the meeting however, the Gazette's correspondent was no better informed. The affair worsened when the club failed, as instructed, to forward the gate money for the match on January 30th. The DFA at once threatened to suspend the club and the ground, causing great consternation in the town. The Adelaide management claimed that this was due "to a misapprehension," and appear to have belatedly complied.

On 13th February the Shields Football Gazette published the Durham FA official report into the club, a transcript of which is reproduced below.

DFA report

The meeting to elect new officials took place on Tuesday 9th February, at which a new committee of twelve members was elected to replace the previous committee of five. Major Swinburne, President of the DFA, who chaired the meeting, complimented the previous management upon the success of the team, but appears to have criticised their general running of the club. So much so, that the Shields Football Gazette did not feel able to publish the details as matters were "getting a little too personal now." It did report however that Major Swinburne's explanation was "highly satisfactory and the Association were perfectly justified in making the enquiries they did."

The affair did not end here however: The old committee refused to hand over the club's books, and on 10th March the DFA acted, suspending Messrs Stoker, Inskip, Edmondson, Peart and Atkinson until the books were handed over. 4 The following day each of these individuals received a letter from the new club secretary, W. Walker, threatening legal action unless the books were handed over withing seven days. When asked to comment by the Shields Gazette, Kit Inskip took a defiant stance, stating that the books were his property, and "useless threats would not better the situation." He followed up with a threat of his own, hinting that he might close down the ground.

Despite the shenanigans at boardroom level, the first team had a very successful season, finishing second in the North Eastern League to Newcastle United. The second team fared much worse; they narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in the Tyneside League and for the following season had to switch to the Wearside League.

44 players were signed up for the 1909-10 season, of whom 25 were new signings, which illustrates the level of turnover in players. 26 members of the squad were professionals, but none of them were big names in the footballing world, and this was reflected in the club's performance. They finished a comfortable 8th in the table, but this was not the sort of achievement that would excite the locals and draw them away from the alternative fare on offer at St James's and Roker Parks.

For the 1910-11 season the club changed its name, dropping the "Adelaide" to become plain South Shields. This was in line with the policy of the North Eastern League, which encouraged its member clubs to drop names which sounded as if they were mere pub sides. Under this policy Seaham White Star had become Seaham Harbour and Sunderland Royal Rovers had become Sunderland Rovers.

South Shields FC in 1911

South Shields FC 1910-11

back row: L Newton, Joe Hall, Thorburn?, C Johnstone, W Walker (Sec.), W Maddick, T Tinn
middle row: R Anderson, J Foord, E Bertram, D Hardie, T Oates, M Owen, A W McGillivray (Fin. Sec.), Davidson
front row: W Osborne, John Hall, McIlvenny, G Hails, P. Howe, G Burrell, A Gordon
(photograph courtesy of Bob Wray)

Both first and second teams improved on their league performances in 1909-10, and in addition the first team secured the Durham Senior Cup, defeating Hartlepools United in the final.

During the summer of 1911 the club took another step towards its objective of becoming a footballing force, equal in stature to its Football League neighbours in Sunderland and Newcastle. A limited libility company - South Shields Association Football Club Limited was formed, with an issued share capital of 2000 shares at 10 shillings. James Kirkley, a well-known local public figure became Chairman, with A.W. McGillivray as Financial Secretary and W. Walker as Secretary. The town's MP, Russell Rea, was also on the Board. The squad was strengthened by the signing of a number of new players, of whom perhaps the most important was Edward McIntyre at centre-forward. McIntyre had begun his career as a half-back with Newcastle United, before moving south for spells with Fulham, Portsmouth and Plymouth Argyle before returning north. He had the distinction of being the highest scorer in the North Eastern League in 1910-11, with 25 goals scored playing for West Stanley and Hartlepools. Slightly built, (he was only 5' 7" tall), McIntyre had a burst of speed which defenders struggled to match; over 100 yards at the Morpeth Olympics he had beaten Arthur Bridgett, the Sunderland and England winger, having given him 2½ yards. Other new signings from Football League clubs included full-back Joseph Walton from Chelsea, and forwards Harry Snowdon from Newcastle United and Eddie Scanlon from Lincoln City.

The Arthur Bridgett years

In April 1912 Arthur Bridgett was contemplating the end of his tenth season with Sunderland AFC. He had joined them from Stoke City early in 1903, and since then had been a regular figure in the first team, making more than 300 appearances and scoring 112 goals. A talented left-winger, he was described as a "centre-forward's dream" for the quality of his crosses, and his abilities had earned him international recognition in the form of 11 caps for England. He would shortly be entitled to a second benefit match, an important source of income in those days for a professional footballer, and at the age of 30 could look forward to another few seasons at the top before retiring. Things were about to change however.

In 1911-12, South Shields had finished fifth in the North Eastern League, but despite their success on the field the club incurred a loss of £288 and finished the season with overall debts of £353. The main reason was lack of support, but instead of allowing the club to follow its predecessors into a slow decline, the management embarked on a bold scheme to revitalise it, with the stated aim of achieving Football League (Division II) membership. One of the key elements in this plan was the engagement of an experienced player-manager, and in Arthur Bridgett they had the perfect candidate.

His recruitment, however, was not without difficulties. Sunderland still retained his player registration, for which they demanded a transfer fee. On 27th July the Management Committee of the North Eastern League fixed this at £100. This was double the existing record fee for an N.E.L. club. Worse was to come; Middlesbrough, who wanted Bridgett solely as a player, had offered £450, and consequently Sunderland appealed against what they considered a low fee. The matter was finally settled on 17th August when the N.E.L. Committee increased the fee to £175. This caused outrage among South Shields supporters, and when it further became known that Sunderland's decision to part with Bridgett was largely to avoid giving him a second benefit match, there was immense ill-feeling towards the Wearside club. Given the club's indebtedness, and the expenditure it was already incurring on the erection of a new stand, a brave decision was called for on the part of the directors, which they did not shirk. On 20th August it was announced that the club would pay the £175 fee to ensure Bridgett's services as a player as well as manager. It was a decision they would never regret.

During the negotiations over his transfer fee Bridgett had quietly gone about his job of improving the playing resources of the club. One of his first, and probably his most important success, was securing the services of Irvine Thornley, a powerful centre-forward from Manchester City. He also strengthened the coaching staff, appointing John Rowley, formerly with Huddersfield Town. The manner of Bridgett's arrival, and the steps he had taken to build a strong team had thoroughly excited the local population, to the extent that the club's final practice match on 31st August attracted a crowd of 2,000 - more than at many league matches the previous season. Additional financial support was also forthcoming; following the announcement that the club would pay the transfer fee of £175 the town's M.P., Russell Rea, had written to the directors applauding their courage and enclosing a cheque for £25.

south shields fc in 1912

South Shields AFC 1912-13

back row: J Tinn, A Gordon, J Owens, R Rigby, G Youll, G Millet, M Wann
middle row: S Dawson, J Crumble, E McConnell, W Wilson, E Hall, A Cartlidge, E Bridgett, C Johnson, A McGillivray, W Young
front row: R Anderson, J Rowley, W Stephenson, T Ashbridge, G Portlock, I Thornley, G Brooks, A Bridgett, J Foord, W Dodds
on ground: E Bell, A Lambie, E Hindmarsh
(photograph courtesy of Bob Wray)

The season started well with a 6-1 away win at Carlisle United on 7th September. When Bridgett scored his first goal for the club, against Gateshead on 21st September, a "Lover of Football," who had attended the game, wrote an open letter of appreciation to the Football Gazette, enclosing a £5 note, and suggesting that the paper start a "Shilling Fund" in support of the club. This the proprietors happily complied with, and started it off with their own contribution of £5. The owners of the South Shields Empire invested £50 in shares in the club, and many 1s. donations came in from ordinary supporters.

Things did not always go smoothly; on 5th October 1912 Bridgett returned to Roker Park for the first time since leaving Sunderland, and his side suffered their first defeat under his leadership, going down 1-0. He later had the satisfaction of returning the compliment when Sunderland visited Horsley Hill on 5th April 1913. Earlier that year, on January 2nd, a record attendance of 11,400 was recorded at Horsley Hill for the visit of their rivals from across the Tyne, North Shields Athletic, whom they dispatched 4-0.

The club finished the season as very creditable runners-up in the North Eastern League, despite being plagued by injuries, and having to call upon the services of no less than 34 players. They also lifted a trophy, the Black Charity Cup, beating North Shields Athletic 1-0 at Hawkeys Lane. They were unbeaten at home in the league, their only defeat at Horsley Hill coming in the 1st round of the English Cup at the hands of Gainsborough Trinity. The clubs first met for this tie on 11th January 1913, but the game was abandoned at half-time owing to a blizzard which made play impossible. A crowd of 11,400, a new record for Horsley Hill, turned up to watch the replay a week later. The game was a hard-fought and dour contest, which Gainsborough managed to win by the only goal of the match.

Arthur Bridgett played in 47 of the 49 games played, scoring 12 goals. Another family member was also represented in the team - his younger brother Edwin, who made 24 appearances in total, scoring 1 goal. Edwin had previously played for local Wearside League club Whitburn.

During the summer of 1913 Bridgett continued to work at strengthening the team. One of his more interesting signings was that of local man George Keenlyside, who had been the star player for Jarrow Croft. Like Bridgett, Keenlyside was a skilful outside-left, but South Shields were to play him very successfully on the other wing. Key figures such as Thornley and trainer Rowley were also re-engaged for the 1913-14 season.

south shields fc in 1913

South Shields AFC 1913-14

back row: W Young, B Hall, J Hall, J Hood, T Naisby, E Hindmarsh, E Hall, C Johnson, R Davidson
middle row: A McGillivray, J Smith, A Chapman, J Wood, A Cartlidge, E Bridgett, J Grieve, J Young, F Hall, J Foord
front row: J Rowley, G Keenlyside, G Portlock, J Arthur, I Thornley, S Anderson, A Bridgett (capt.) G Brooks
(photograph courtesy of Bob Wray)

South Shields opened the 1913-14 campaign with a fine 4-0 win away to North Shields, swiftly followed by a 7-0 home win against West Stanley. Their unbeaten home record went early in the season, when Sunderland beat them 2-0 on October 4th. This was however a minor blemish in what turned out to be a fantastic season for the club and their supporters. In addition to finishing as champions of the N.E.L. by a margin of 15 points, they won the Durham Senior Cup, the Ingham Infirmary Cup, and retained the Black (Tynemouth Dispensary) Cup. The reserve team also got in on the act, winning the championship of the Tyneside League and the Tyneside League Challenge Shield. Other highlights included an 11-4 away win at Gateshead on 14th February, and a dramatic run-in to the end of the season when it appeared they might beat the record for goals scored (134, set by Newcastle United in 1909-10). With one game left they needed to score ten goals to establish a new record. Gateshead once more provided the opposition, and in an exciting match Shields managed to find the net 8 times, just failing to equal the record by one goal. They did however set a new record of 69 for points scored in a season. During the season Arthur Bridgett personally made 47 appearances for the club, and scored 30 goals.

Off the field however it had not been such a good season, the club finding itself in hot water with the Durham Football Association. The circumstances were as follows: the club had received 20 complimentary tickets for the final of the Durham Senior Cup at Roker Park on 4th April, the opposition being Willington. On the day of the match further complimentary tickets were requested for reserve team members, and when this request was refused, it was alleged that offensive remarks were made to the Durham F.A. secretary, and that one of the club directors referred to the Council as "an ignorant and pig-headed lot." The club was summoned to a Durham F.A. Council meeting to explain itself, but its representatives failed to arrive due to a car accident. The Council thereupon suspended the club. The suspension was lifted a day later, and a further meeting was convened on 16th April which was attended by four directors - J. J. Foord (club chairman), W. Stephenson (vice-chairman), Jack Tinn and J. J. Grant. The financial secretary Mr McGillivray and Arthur Bridgett were also in attendance. At this meeting the explanation of their non-arrival at the previous meeting was not accepted, and the club was find £25. With regard to the alleged offensive remarks, Jack Tinn, who had admitted losing his temper, was suspended until the end of the following season, J.J. Grant was suspended until December 1914, J. J. Foord was exonerated and the club as a body was severely censured. During the meeting a further complaint was heard from Mr Grundy, who had presented the cup to the winners. He claimed that Arthur Bridgett had taken his team off the field after the game and had kept him waiting several minutes. Bridgett's defence was that no-one had informed him of the arrangements for the presentation, and he had hurried out of the dressing room as soon as he had heard that Mr Grundy was waiting. Evidently his explanation was accepted as no penalty was imposed upon him.

The summer of 1914 saw Arthur Bridgett making further new signings, including forwards Albert Lewis from West Bromwich and Bob Whittingham from Chelsea. The fate of the club however, and indeed all football clubs during season 1914-1915 was determined not by decisions made in the dressing rooms, but by that taken by H.M. Government on 4th August when it declared war on Germany.

The Great War

From the beginning of the War the Press attacked professionalism in sport. It was considered unpatriotic for able-bodied men to be earning money playing football during a time of national emergency. C.E. Sutcliffe, a member of the FA Council, attempted to inject a note of rationality into the debate, pointing out that there were at most 7,000 professional footballers in the country, with wives and children dependent upon their earnings. There was, in fact, little fear of football holding back any young man who wanted to enlist. A patriotic fever had swept the country, the war was expected to last only a couple of months, and the young men were joining up in droves. So much so, that the major crises that football clubs were to face were (a) a loss of revenue from reduced crowds, and (b) constant difficulties in getting a team together. Players and spectators alike deserted the playing fields for the killing fields, and average Football League gates fell to 50% of normal as early as October.

Most clubs managed to struggle through to the end of the season, and from a footballing point of view it was another good season for South Shields. They retained the N.E.L. championship, setting a new record for goals scored of 160 (a record which remained in place until the N.E.L. was wound up in 1958). Financially it was a disaster, the club making a loss of £1145 on the season.

Something had to be done: the Football Association announced that for season 1915-16 only amateur football could be played, and all matches would be regarded as friendlies, with no cups or medals to be awarded. Shortly afterwards the Tyneside League and the Northern Alliance announced that they would be ceasing operation for the duration of the war. The North Eastern League seemed set to follow suit, but instead sponsored a competition known as the "North Eastern League - Tyneside Combination." This comprised only 8 clubs, and played two half-seasons. South Shields were champions in both of these, but it was not the pre-war team. For their opening match against Jarrow on 11th September 1915 only 3 players - Keenlyside, Thornley and McCullough remained of the previous season's squad. All the players were either munition workers or members of the Armed Forces.

When the North Eastern League held its AGM on 5th August 1916, the secretary reported a loss of £25 4s 5d for the year. Delegates from the 16 clubs present agreed that the League itself should remain suspended for the forthcoming season, but that the Tyneside Combination should continue as before. However, when they met on 14th August to discuss fixtures only six clubs were present, North Shields and Hebburn Argyle having dropped out. Houghton Rovers followed them after playing only three games, and their place was taken by Tyneside Electrical Engineers - a team comprised of soldiers operating floodlight batteries.

Because of the reduced number of clubs the first half-season was completed earlier than anticipated, and it was announced that the second half would commence on 9th December 1916. The difficulties of getting a side together were increasing however - most able-bodied young men who were not at the Front were engaged on "War Work", and Munitions Tribunals had been established, with the power to fine workers for any unauthorised time lost. Faced with these difficulties, South Shields decided to withdraw from the competition before the second half-season commenced.

Following the declaration of an Armistice on 11th November 1918 moves were made to restart first-class football in the north-east. Representatives from six northern clubs (Durham City, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Scotswood, South Shields and Sunderland) got together on 6th December at the Grand Hotel in Sunderland to discuss the return of first-class football to the area. On a motion proposed by John French of Middlesbrough, seconded by Robert Kyle of Sunderland, they agreed to form a league of eight clubs to be called the "Northern Victory League". In addition to those present, it was anticipated that Hartlepools and Darlington would wish to join the competition, which would commence on 11th January 1919. Hartlepools signed up as expected, but Darlington were unable to get themselves organised in time, and their place was taken by Darlington Forge Albion, a scratch team from the Forge Tavern. South Shields finished in third position, behind Middlesbrough and Sunderland but ahead Newcastle United, much to the delight of their supporters.

Victory League 1919

Northern Victory League - 1919 half-season

Finally, on 10th March 1919 South Shields realised an ambition that had eluded the Championship-winning pre-war side; their application to join Division II of the Football League was successful. As mentioned in the introduction, the subsequent history of the club has been covered in "South Shields FC: The Football League Years - A Complete Record of a Forgotten Club" by George Thompson.


A "cigarette silk" (early form of cigarette card) showing the team colours : date uncertain, probably 1920's


1. Both the Northern League and the Northern Alliance are still in operation today.

2. It is said that a group of young men, who alternated on a weekly basis between rugby and soccer, decided one day in 1875 to concentrate on one form of the game only. A meeting was subsequently held in the County Hotel, at which a majority opted for the handling code and Westoe RFC was born. The club they founded is alive and well and still plays at its original ground in Wood Terrace.

3. St Augustine's themselves were far from being squeaky clean; on 20th April 1909 they complained that Bishop Auckland had fielded an ineligible player in the semi final of the Durham Benevolent Cup. The complaint was initially upheld, only to be reversed two days later when it emerged that St Augustine's too had fielded an ineligible player in the same match. The clubs were ordered to replay the tie on 24th April.

4. The DFA considered applications from Peart and Edmondson for the lifting of their suspensions on 5th July 1911. Peart's was granted immediately; Edmondson's was granted with effect from 1st January 1912.

South Shields AFC League Record

South Shields
1895-96Tyneside League301251519/10(a)
South Shields
1897-98Northern Alliance2691164744294/14
Northern Combination*151212155849/9(b)
1898-99Northern Alliance2613586037315/14
Northern Combination*
1899-1900Northern Alliance2611694335266/14
Northern Combination*
South Shields Athletic
1900-01Northern Alliance26841438572010/14
Northern Combination*2325161968913/13
1901-02Northern Alliance24351523681114/14(c)
Northern Combination*--------(d)
South Shields Adelaide
1905-06Tyneside League1410134422211/8
Shields and District League*2018116217371/11
1906-07Tyneside League2117317614371/12(e)
Shields and District League*22351428551111/12
1907-08Northern Alliance3019388138413/16(f)
1908-09North Eastern League3422488041482/18
Tyneside League*26581339631813/14
1909-10North Eastern League32145137763338/17
Wearside League*2415276129324/13
South Shields
1910-11North Eastern League33185105633415/18(g)
Wearside League*241626?22342/13(h)
1911-12North Eastern League36214117343465/19
Wearside League*2410594832256/13
1912-13North Eastern League38277410330612/20
Tyneside League*28117105951298/15
1913-14North Eastern League38325113329691/20
Tyneside League*2822428525481/15
1914-15North Eastern League38314316034661/20
Tyneside League*2016146319311/11
1915-16NEL-Tyneside Combination1410133718211/8(i)
NEL-Tyneside Combination149233819201/8(j)
1916-17NEL-Tyneside Combination10244101384/6(k)
1919-19Northern Victory League145542725153/8(l)
* Second XI
(a) resigned after 3 games
(b) one fixture not completed
(c) 2 matches to play
(d) resigned on 12th February 1902
(e) no second XI this season
(f) 1 match to play
(g) "Adelaide" dropped from the club name
(h) 2 points deducted; goals for illegible in copy
(i) 1st half-season
(j) 2nd half-season
(k) 1st half-season
(l) this competition ran for a half-season from January 1919

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