By Mark Carruthers
Wily Julio Arca has set his sights on a trophy-laden twilight to his glittering 20-year career.
It has been two and half years since the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough star joined ambitious South Shields after a spell playing Sunday League football.
The move was brushed off as a publicity stunt by some cynics, but Arca and the Mariners have gone on to achieve unprecedented success.
Two promotions in two years have seen the Mariners progress from the Ebac Northern League’s second-tier up to the Evo-Stik North, where they currently lie top of the table.
And last season he helped the club complete an unprecedented quadruple, adding the Durham Challenge Cup, the Northern League Cup and the Northern League title to their 4-0 FA Vase Final win over Cleethorpes Town at Wembley in May.
Naturally, those cynics have been made to eat their words.
“I think there were people doubting why South Shields signed me” the 37-year-old Argentinean admitted.
“I was playing Sunday League; I was just playing with friends and trying to keep myself fit.
“Then things developed. South Shields called me and said they wanted to have a look at me. Then I signed, but the publicity started.
“That wasn’t why I signed, I didn’t need that, it was just to get back playing again. It was to be back in the changing room, to have that banter again because you miss that when you stop playing.
“I am playing for the love of the game and I am really enjoying it.”
After spending all of his professional career in England playing in the top two tiers with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, a move to the tenth tier of the pyramid came under scrutiny by critics, but Arca believes his experience has taught him to enjoy it even more.
“It has been great and the last two-and-a-half years have been fantastic for South Shields and for myself.
“I have enjoyed every minute and when things go well, as they have done, you enjoy things even more.
“I always say people up here are great, the way they treat me, I think I gained respect for things I did with Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
“As you get older, you see the end so you just try to enjoy things as much as you can and I am certainly doing that.”
Now, a third consecutive promotion could be in the offing for South Shields.
They currently sit at the top of Evo-Stik North, a point clear of Hyde United and they hold a game in hand over Darren Kelly’s side.
Scarborough Athletic are also seen as promotion contenders by Arca, whose big-game experience will be vital if they are to make it three in a row.
“Last season we had seven or eight games in hand over North Shields and I said every one of them was a cup final,” he added. “It is the same this season.
“We don’t have games in hand like that, but if we win every game we should get promoted.
“We have Scarborough and Hyde just behind us and they keep picking up points too, so it is important to keep winning and hopefully achieve another promotion”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday