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Gareth Bainbridge: The Northern League's Messi

The FA Vase is an annual football competition for teams playing below Step 4 of the English National League System.  The teams that play in this tournament represent small towns throughout the UK, offering them the opportunity to restore local pride.  When Gareth Bainbridge scored the late equalising goal to send the game into extra time, it meant something more. The 29 year-old striker has bagged over 100 goals for North Shields in just 2 seasons. Gareth’s father passed away a few months before the match and, with 5,000 Robins fans in attendance, scoring at Wembley was by far the biggest goal of his career. How did your football career start?

I was 6 years old when I first started playing at North Shields as a Junior until 16. Then I went to Darlington and Middleborough.  I finally got to the Northern League when I was 20 and played for a couple clubs before moving to Ashington City for 5 years.  I was playing every week there, and scoring a lot but in the last couple of seasons I fell out with the manager and realised I needed to move on. How did it feel going back to play for your home town club?

I fell back in love in football when I moved back to North Shields.  It was the club that I was at as a kid.  I knew how well it was run and the great structure of the club. The team that I play with is such a fantastic group.  Not just ability wise, they are just great people.  I am so thankful that I get to play along side them and would never change it for anything.

How do North Shield’s fans effect you?

It's easy as a fan to love a goal scorer but I spend a lot of time with them.  I take time before and after the game to hear about what their ambitions are and what they want for the club.  So when I hear them cheer for me in the game it makes me feel incredible because I understand just how much it means to them. What was it like to score in that game?

It was incredible.  Scoring at Wembley and winning that game has been the greatest achievement of my life.  To reach that stage after so long was massive.  There was so much responsibility on me to win it because I knew how disappointed I might be if we didn’t, so there was a lot of relief in my happiness as well. Before that, the largest ground I had played in was probably St. James’ Park for a cup final, but this was different because it was London.  I used to go see Newcastle a lot as a kid, so that was special in its own way, but every player in the world wants to play at Wembley.

You dedicated the goal to your father…

My father and I were incredibly close.  He used to drive me to every game as a child.  He was such a mark of influence on my football because he never pressured me and just let me enjoy being the player that I was.  I remember being a kid going to North Shields training in my father's car, and dreaming of playing in Wembley. If someone had written this as a script people would say it is too far fetched.  After I scored on Saturday that is a bit how I felt.  It was such a perfect moment, and I could not have been more proud to share it with my family.

What was it like to go back to North Shields?

It was such a great feeling. Mentally we were absolutely drained, and when we saw the streets as we got back on the Sunday we could not believe it.  Families with replica shirts, men crying, the pub was full. They give us something to play for, and they told us that we had given them the greatest day of their lives.  That is the greatest joy a footballer can give someone. After your goals in the playoffs you have a higher goal scoring average than Cristiano Ronaldo. What has that been like?

I love scoring goals!  Whether it's in training or on the field I wake up and it's all I want to do.  I have scored 103 goals now in the past two years but that all goes down to the team and manager that I get to play with.  I have always been quite a prolific scorer, but the two years before North Shields I fell out of love with it.  But being around those fans and the club has allowed me to hit a level now that I have never been at before… I still haven’t been given a nickname. "Northern League’s Messi" got passed around a few times, but unfortunately nothing’s stuck.