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.