South Shields FC: Where English Abroad Come Home

For a ninth tier club, South Shields FC, based in the town less than five miles away from Newcastle, have had more than their fair share of coverage in the national press lately.

First the club were taken over by successful businessman Geoff Thompson in May 2015, who has ploughed over £1 million of his own money into the club.

They then signed former Sunderland and Middlesbrough star Julio Arca and several other former Football League stars.

Now having been the club’s chairman for two seasons, Thompson has seen his side achieve back-to-back promotions and a historic quadruple, which they completed with victory at Wembley yesterday in the FA Vase. This season also saw the Mariners win an incredible 32 matches in a row.

The club will now play in the Northern Premier League Division One North next season in the eighth tier of English football.

South Shields have an exceptionally strong squad for the level they compete at but what caught my attention was where some of their ex-pros have come from. Four of the Shields’ matchday squad yesterday were Englishmen with experience playing overseas – and to a high level as well.

With the Mariners riding high, I thought I’d take a further look at these four and the stories they had to tell before tasting success in front of nearly 40,000 fans at the home of football.

Darren Lough

Darren Lough. 27. Defender. Previous destination: Iceland
If you are a connoisseur of all things English abroad, Darren Lough will be a familiar name to you. The former Newcastle United youngster spent five seasons playing in Iceland, including two seasons in the top tier.

Now back closer to home, Lough was seen bombing down the flank from left back at Wembley yesterday and has been a crucial addition to the Shields’ defence since his arrival back at the end of January, having made 20 appearances since first donning the claret and blue.

The defender made the move to Iceland in 2012 and went on to make exactly 100 league appearances on the Nordic island.

He first joined second tier side KA where he spent two seasons pushing for promotion, scoring a single goal during that time.

After two years with KA, Lough joined fellow second tier side ÍA who were looking to bounce back from relegation the previous season. Lough and his teammates were successful in achieving their goal and earned promotion back to the top tier at their first attempt. The former Newcastle defender proved his worth following the transfer, playing every single minute as his new side finished as runners-up.

Two more seasons followed with ÍA in the top tier as Lough’s side comfortably avoided relegation on both occasions.

After five years in Iceland’s bitter cold, the 27-year-old returned back to the slightly less bitter cold of the north-east when he joined South Shields in January 2017.

Leepaul Scroggins

Leepaul Scroggins. 35. Midfielder. Previous destination: USA
The oldest of South Shields’ foreign explorers, Leepaul Scroggins spent three years across the Atlantic at Lynn University in Florida.

Having already played non-league football at high standard with Blyth Spartans, Scroggins moved to the US in 2003 to study Sports Recreation and Managment at the Lynn University, combining his studies with college soccer. During his time playing college soccer, the midfielder racked up some very impressive stats, scoring 34 goals and making 10 assists in his 55 matches, including 20 goals in just 18 games in his final season, the fifth best goals per game record nationally across all of the States’ college soccer that year.

After graduation, Scroggins spent the 2006 season with second-tier club Virginia Beach Mariners, making sixteen appearances, scoring one goal but after the club folded following his only season with them, he returned to England to play a different type of Mariners, this time South Shields.

Fast forward ten years and the 35-year-old is still bossing the midfield for Shields as thei captain, albeit with spells away at Whitley Bay and Shildon during that time.

David Foley

David Foley. 30. Forward. Previous destination: USA
David Foley scoring two goals in a match is nothing new for fans of the Mariners but for Hartlepool United fans,  the forward’s goalscoring antics at the home of football would have come as a huge surprise.

During his seven years with the Monkey Hangers, where he started his career, Foley failed to register a single goal in 101 league appearances but this season has fired 33 goals in 44 games to help his hometown club South Shields to the quadruple.

Before his exploits back in England, the forward enjoyed a successful four year playing spell in the US. After terminating his contract with Hartlepool in February 2010, Foley joined the Puerto Rico Islanders, who at the time played in the US’ second tier.

His time with the Islanders was trophy-laiden. His first season saw him pick up the double as he scored ten goals in all competitions to guide his side to the USSF Division 2 title and the CFU Club Championship trophy, a tournament contested by Caribbean domestic clubs.

His second season brought another CFU trophy and in all, Foley fired 33 goals in his three seasons with the Islanders.

Following that, he joined fellow second-tier side Fort Lauderdale Strikers but despite scoring twice in his first five games, injury curtailed his American dream and he returned to his homeland.

A year later, he was back firing the goals for Shields.

Carl Finnigan

Carl Finnigan. 30. Forward. Previous destinations: South Africa and Botswana
Also on the scoresheet at Wembley was Carl Finnigan, a man with over 100 appearances in Scotland’s top two tiers and also a man who has played across Africa.

Finnigan, like Lough, started his career at Newcastle United before moving on to Falkirk where he made over 100 league appearances, scoring 25 goals. He followed that with spells at St Johnstone and Dundee before his African adventure started.

The forward first joined South African second-tier club Chippa United after a recommendation from his former Newcastle teammate Matty Pattinson. There he scored two goals in nine games before a club further off the beaten track caught his eye, this time in Botswana.

Finnigan’s move to play for Township Rollers was short-lived however, and despite playing in front of crowds as high as 20,000 and scoring in one of his three games, the sheer heat of his new home was enough to see the former Falkirk man longing for home comforts.

He joined South Shields at the start of this season and has gone on to score 30 goals in 47 games.

Six reasons why you should watch US soccer

With just a month to go until the new season begins across the Atlantic, now is the perfect time to surround yourself in all things soccer.

The United States is home to a plethora of English talent and with the MLS completing its annual Superdraft only last month, more prospects have been added to the league’s rosters.

Here’s my top six reasons why you should keep an eye on American football this year.

1. A host of English stars are making the move to America
This summer will see two of England’s most decorated internationals make the move to Major League Soccer. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard has agreed a move to current champions LA Galaxy, whilst goal-scoring midfielder Frank Lampard will join expansion side New York City, once his projected move is complete in the summer.

This means two stalwarts of the English game will no longer be starring in the Premier League. However, despite both players now entering their twilight years, they still have plenty to give and their experience and reputation will not only benefit their respective sides, but the nation’s football as a whole.

2.  The MLS is easily accessible via British media
The United States’ premier football league is broadcast across the world. When ambitious sports channel BT Sport was launched in August 2013, they announced exclusive coverage of the MLS, a deal which would see them broadcast up to 99 live matches a season, including extensive coverage of the end of season MLS Cup playoffs.

So long as you have access to a platform which broadcasts BT Sport, catching up with your favourite Englishmen across the Atlantic has never been easier.

EDIT (06/03/15): Sky Sports now have the UK TV rights to the MLS.

3. Three tiers of professional football
In England we are accustomed to having four tiers of fully professional clubs, with additional full-time sides in the Conference. Abroad though, most countries have just two professional leagues, with lower divisions split into regional amateur divisions.

The US, however, has three professional divisions, keeping standards high across the country. After the MLS, the country also has the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the United States League Professional Division (USL Pro).

With no promotion or relegation active in America, these three divisions are run on a separate basis but that does not mean sides cannot move between the divisions. Orlando City will be competing in the MLS for the first team this year after they were awarded MLS franchise spot. The club had previously been playing in the USL Pro division.

All three leagues are well covered, with American’s fondness for statistical data analysis coming into its own, and there are Englishmen plying their trade in each tier, so it should be easy to find a club to support.

4. The playoffs
American sport is renowned for its post-season showdowns and football is no different. Twelve teams will enter this year’s MLS playoffs, six from each conference, meaning every team has something to play for right until the end of the regular season. This means there are no pointless end of season mid-table battles.

The NASL and USL Pro leagues both have their own playoff systems, with the former elaborately naming their grand final the Soccer Bowl. Who wouldn’t want to watch the Soccer Bowl?!

5. Fanatical support

With the growing popularity of football in the States, fans are becoming increasingly passionate. For just a glimpse of these fanatical fans, look no further than MLS side Portland Timbers.

English defender Liam Ridgewell stars for the Timbers, whose fans regular pack out the 20,000 capacity Providence Park, displaying giant tifos, setting off flares and even chainsawing tree trunks every time they score.

6. Gives you an excuse to stay up all night and something to watch in the summer
If you live in the UK or most of Europe, then the majority of the matches played in the US are in the evening or throughout the night. Although at first this may seem an inconvenience, it gives any football fan the perfect excuse to stay up all night and have sole control of their telly. No more depressing evenings once Super Sunday has finished, extend your weekend with a double helping of MLS action on BT Sport.

The US football season also runs throughout the year, especially important this year with no major football tournament to keep us entertained. Gone are the summers where a football fan longs for the return of Premier League football, let soccer fulfill your footballing needs.

2014: A Year in Review

2014 was an impressive year for several Englishmen abroad. Two more England internationals moved overseas but there were several other lesser known names who made a big impression.

Over the next week, I will be reviewing the last year, focussing on the ten top expatriates who made 2014 their own.

 

 

Peter Gregory leaves Beira Mar

English defender Peter Gregory has today confirmed he has left Portuguese side Beira Mar.

The 22-year-old made six appearances in the Segunda Liga and also one in the League Cup during his time with the club.

In a statement on his official site, the former Portsmouth player announced he had terminated his contract with Beira Mar.

He added:

I hold no personal animosity towards the club, players or staff and wish them good luck for the remainder of the season.

The full back joined the Portuguese second-tier side in July from United States side Ventura County Fusion.

Gregory has also had spells with Nottingham Forest and English non-league sides Eastbourne Borough and Lewes.

 

Welcome to English players abroad!

We all now how many foreigners there are playing football in England, but what is it like the other way round?

Well this blog intends to find that out. There will be (hopefully) news, updates and interviews with the few English players playing their football away from their homeland.

Follow us on Twitter @EnglishAbroad1.