Julio Arca rediscovers passion for game as he prepares for FA Vase final

18 May 2017 01:09

Julio Arca was angry with football when he retired three years ago.

The midfielder who had captained Argentina's Under-20s to World Cup glory, and made in excess of 350 appearances for Sunderland and Middlesbrough after heading for England, turned his back on the game in 2014 which had given him his living after finally succumbing to a lingering toe injury.

Arca said: "When I stopped playing professionally, I was. I don't know if you would call it depressed, but I didn't want to know about football for some reason.

"I think I was angry with football because I had to stop playing through an injury. I didn't really want to stop playing.

"I was asking myself why this had happened to me. I was still hungry to play, I was fit to carry on playing, so I kind of fell off a little bit."

On Sunday, 36-year-old Arca will pull on his boots once again to walk out at Wembley Stadium as Northern League South Shields bid for Buildbase FA Vase glory against Cleethorpes Town, having rekindled his love affair in very different surroundings.

Still living in Sunderland, where he had settled with his wife and family, he was persuaded by a friend a year or so after his retirement to sample Sunday League football with pub side Willow Pond FC - a far cry from the riches and profile of the Premier League.

He said: "It was another chapter in my life. It was exciting, it was nice to see how much people love football even at that standard.

"I know everyone calls Sunday League a day out but I was more competitive than anyone else in there. I wanted to win every game and I was shouting at the lads every Sunday."

The presence of a genuine star on the city's playing fields caused something of a stir.

Arca said: "Some people probably have the wrong idea about some footballers. They always think, 'He's going to be a big arrogant player, an ex-footballer', and that's what happened when I went to play for the Willow Pond. They thought I was going to be one of those.

"After a couple of weeks, they started to know me, I started to know them and I was one of them.

"I always show respect. No matter who you are or where you come from, I show respect and I like to get respect back."

News of Arca's exploits alerted South Shields to the fact they might be able to get their hands on a man who could help to spearhead their ambitious plans in September 2015. And the partnership between the two has proved to be hugely successful.

Sunday's final will see Arca and his Mariners team-mates attempt to complete a remarkable quadruple, having already lifted the EBAC Northern League Division One title, the Durham Challenge Cup and the League Cup.

Asked how he had found life at Mariners Park, he said: "Competitive, of course, because everyone wants to win against South Shields, not against Julio Arca.

"South Shields is a club which has grown up very quickly in the last 18 or 24 months, very quickly. When people see you growing up and they see you doing well, everyone wants to win against you - in a good way.

"But the competition is always there. Sometimes, yes, you get naughty tackles - it happens in the Northern League, it happens everywhere - and you get on with it.

"Whatever happens out there happens out there. After the game you forget, you move on, shower, go home and then think about the next game. That's the way I treat it. I never take it personally."

The Vase final will also belatedly hand Arca his first chance to play on the famous Wembley turf, something which eluded him as a professional having suffered FA Cup semi-final defeat by Millwall in April 2004 during his time at Sunderland.

He said: "It was hard even when I was a professional and then somehow this has happened. I always say random things happen in life but it's great, great to be part of the club, great to achieve something like this, to be in the final.

"But it's just half of the show. I want to go there and win it. Yes, I'm sure the fans are going to have a great weekend no matter what happens, but as a player the way I am, I just want to go there and bring the cup back."

Source: PA


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