The 1968-69 season was a good one for football in the far north. Newcastle United won the Fairs’ Cup and North Shields secured the FA Amateur Cup at Wembley. Such days.
North Shields were also Northern League champions in 1969 but interestingly, they also enjoyed success in Europe – winning the Coppa Ottorino Barassi, the European Amateur Cup-Winners’ Cup. They actually shared the cup with Almas Roma, as both teams had won each home leg 2-0 in the final. North Shields received the Gold medals from a flip of a coin.
The town of North Shields was ecstatic at the success of their club in 1969, crowding the streets to welcome their heroes home. The team was managed by Frank Brennan, the former Newcastle United centre half who won the FA Cup twice in the early 1950s. He was in his second spell as manager of the club, having spent more than six years in the dug-out between 1956 and 1962. He returned in 1967 and built a team that became genuine champions.
North Shields won the Northern League by a single point. They won 26 of their 34 league games, notching-up 54 points. Whitley Bay finished on 53 and Tow Law Town on 50. Brennan’s side was goal-happy, scoring 106 and conceding just 29.
In the FA Amateur Cup, North Shields disposed of fellow Northern Leaguers Spennymoor United in the first round by 4-1 with goals from Ray Wrightson, John Rutherford (2) and Alan Driver. The following round saw them comfortably get past Coventry Amateurs 3-0 (Mick Lister 2, Rutherford) and then came a tough test against Isthmian League Hendon. The first game ended 1-1 at home with Wrightson scoring. Down in the capital, on a frozen Claremont Road pitch, North Shields pulled off a shock 2-0 win, with goals from Brian Joicey and Wrightson.
The Robins than faced another tough London-area team in Wealdstone, who had won the FA Amateur Cup in 1966. A later header from Richie Hall won the tie, to send North Shields into the semi-finals, where they would face Skelmersdale United of the Cheshire County League, a team that had reached the final two years’ earlier.
The tie was played at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park and “Skem” led for most of the game. But in the closing minutes, the popular Tommy Orrick, who had come on as substitute, netted an equaliser to earn a replay. The second game was at Southport, and once more, the Robins showed their determination and came from behind to win 2-1, thanks to two Joicey goals.
And so, the final against Sutton United of the Isthmian League. The Surrey side opened the scoring after just four minutes through Mick Mellows. For a while, it looked as though the Robins were overawed by playing in front of 47,000 people and goalkeeper Mick Morgan kept Sutton at bay. The game changed with the introduction of the shipyard worker from Byker, Orrick. He came on and created two goals, a corner that was headed home by Hall and then he set-up Joicey who slalomed his way past the Sutton defence to score with a low left-foot drive past Sutton keeper Bill Roffey.
Joicey’s performances in 1968-69 – he scored more than 40 goals – earned him a move to Coventry City. He would go on to make almost 300 Football League appearances and score more than a 100 goals.
North Shields, meanwhile, still had to play 13 games in 26 days to the end of the season. They showed their determination in coming through that punishing schedule to be crowned league champions and also won the league cup for good measure. The names of the team that brought football glory to a small town on the north bank of the River Tyne have never been forgotten: Mick Morgan, Alan Driver, John Twaddle, Richie Hall, Ronnie Tatum, George Thompson, Ray Wrightson, Mike Lister, Brian Joicey, Tony Cassidy, John Rutherford, Tommy Orrick and Bobby Wake.