The calendar year is now over in terms of match action for the South Shields FC Academy.
2022 was another 12 months of growth for the club’s youth system, throughout the age spectrum.
A new performance pathway was opened up between the ages of nine and 16 with the addition of several new teams, while the club's Futures Academy at Mortimer Community College continued to go from strength-to-strength.
In this review of 2022, we focus on the progress made by those in the 16-19 Academy, which is run in conjunction with Sunderland College.
The first half of the year saw the young Mariners challenge for the league title in Division I of the National League Under-19 Alliance.
They finished a very respectable second, sandwiched between North East neighbours Gateshead, in first, and Hartlepool United, in third.
With 91 goals scored in the 24 league games played last season, the Under-19s certainly knew where the back of the net was, and they still do, having netted 31 goals in the opening eight games of this campaign’s fixtures.
There was also a memorable National League Academy Cup run, with Shields reaching the semi-final, which was played at 1st Cloud Arena. Over 200 fans watched on as the young Mariners suffered a heartbreaking 7-6 defeat on penalties to FC Halifax Town after drawing 0-0 over the 90 minutes.
This year later saw a fine challenge in the FA Youth Cup, with the young Mariners beating Whitley Bay, Billingham Town, Gateshead and AFC Liverpool before heading out of the competition in the first round following a narrow defeat by Chester on a bitterly cold night in Cheshire.
An 8-0 win at Whitley Bay put the Under-18s in good stead ahead of a trip down the A19 to Billingham, where a 4-1 victory gifted a home tie against Gateshead.
A 7-1 triumph at 1st Cloud Arena made it 19 goals scored in three games in the Youth Cup, a record they took to Merseyside and a match against AFC Liverpool.
The young Mariners faced a tougher test but prevailed winners again, taking a 2-0 victory back to South Tyneside.
The first round proper was up next, and a long bus trip to the England/Wales border had Shields playing at the Deva Stadium, of National League North outfit Chester.
It was a difficult test, but Shields played brilliantly, clinching the opening goal and defending well, only for heartbreak as two thunderous strikes in the last five minutes of the game put Chester through to the second round.
Alfie Marriott – who has since made his first-team debut – was a key part of the Youth Cup run.
Reflecting on the journey in the competition, he said: “The FA Youth Cup was a very good experience for the lads, and the highlight that sticks out would be beating Gateshead at home. We played very well in that game.”
Looking ahead to 2023 and the rest of the campaign, he said: “The main goal for me this season in the Academy is to try to develop as much as I can by listening to the coaches every day and applying myself in training.
“The group want to win the league and get as far as possible in every competition we’re involved in.”
The young Mariners are top of both the National League Under-19 Alliance and Youth Development League after a sterling start to the 2022-23 campaign.
In the Under-19 Alliance, they are next due to be in action on January 11th, when they make the short trip north to face Morpeth Town.
It promises to be another exciting year for the Academy at all levels.