Four weeks in to the new season and a club from the North East is sitting proudly above all the other clubs in their division. It is not one of the big three clubs of Newcastle, Sunderland or Middlesbrough, nor is it Hartlepool or Darlington. The club in question is Gateshead FC who are joint top of the Blue Square Premier after 7 games.
The club are reaping the rewards of a second full season of full time status after turning professional for the start of the 2010/11 season. This move has allowed manager Ian Bogie to assemble a squad of professionals rather than being limited by the part-time status the club had formerly. It is estimated that the switch from part-time to full-time lead to a 40% increase in the playing budget available to Bogie.
Gateshead has had a football club in various different guises since 1889 when Gateshead NER FC was formed. However, when South Shields moved to Gateshead to form Gateshead AFC in 1930,Gatesheadhad its own Football League club. In their second season of league football in the Third Division North Gateshead were only pipped to promotion to the second tier of English football by the superior goal difference of rivals Lincoln City. Gateshead AFC were a league club for 30 years but perhaps their finest achievement came in 1953 when they reached the quarter final of the F.A Cup, beating Liverpool en route. Gateshead were denied further glory as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers. However in 1960 Gatesheadwere denied re-election to the new Division Four and were replaced by Peterborough United, a decision some felt to be based more on geographical factors than footballing reasons. For thirteen years Gateshead AFC played in various regional divisions and even unsuccessfully applied to join the Scottish league. Gateshead AFC ceased to exist in 1973 after leaving Redheugh Park and being placed in to liquidation.
Gateshead Town and Gateshead United both tried and failed to fill the void left by the collapse of Gateshead AFC, but both were ultimately doomed to failure.
In 1977 Gateshead FC were formed, and an agreement was reached with the local authority for the new club to play at the recently developed Gateshead International Stadium. The club rapidly rose through the Northern Premier League and Alliance Premier League and spent several seasons in the Football Conference. However, long time sponsors Cameron Hall withdrew their support in 1998 and the club began to decline again. Gatesheadwere relegated from the Northern Premier League, but were reprieved when this league introduced a geographical split.
Local businessman Graham Wood then took over the club and appointed coach Ian Bogie as the new manager following the sacking of Tony Lee. Bogie lead the team to 9th place in the Northern Premier League before finishing 3rd in his first full season, securing promotion to the Conference North after beating Buxton 2-0 in a play-off. The following season Gateshead continued where they had left off and again won a promotion play-off, this time against AFC Telford United. With two successive promotions Gateshead once again found themselves in the top division of non-league football.
Gateshead’s first season was a struggle and they only stayed up on the final day of the season. Their second season, the first as a full-time outfit, was more tranquil, safely finishing in 14th place, avoiding any relegation worries. During this season they were involved in a record high-scoring game when they beat Wrexham 7-2 away from home.
With their Blue Square Premier status secured, Bogie began reshaping the squad for a tilt at promotion with the Tynesiders. With eight players leaving the club, Bogie was left with space in his squad to bring in the players he envisaged will improve the squad. Bogie brought in eight new players, five of whom have league experience. With the new signings gelling even quicker than the most ardent ‘Heed’ fan could have hoped for, and Paul Shaw in a rich vein of goalscoring, Gateshead have won six and drawn one of their opening seven games.
Ambitious Chairman Graham Wood has made moving the club in to its own ground away from the International Stadium a top priority under his stewardship. As fans of Brighton are all too aware, and fans of West Ham will soon discover, playing football in an athletics stadium is not conducive for creating a good atmosphere, with the fans separated from the pitch by an eight lane running track. In addition to this, the majority of match day revenue at the International Stadium is made by Gateshead Council rather than the football club. Gateshead have secured a site at Prince Consort Roadin the town centre, close to the transport interchange and the Civic Centre, where they plan to build their own 7,000 capacity stadium. When the plans were formulated Gateshead planned to share the main stand space with the Gateshead Primary Care Trust, but this has since broken down due to funding issues following the government spending cuts. On September 2nd Chairman Graham Wood told BBC Radio Newcastle that he has new tenants lined up for the space allocated to the PCT, but that this change in plans will likely delay the new stadium for two years. ‘Heed’ fans are less then enamoured at the prospect of a further two seasons at the International Stadium, but are realistic and know that the club are moving forward steadily at a time many other clubs are struggling in the economic climate.
Who is to say that when Gateshead do kick off for the first time at Prince Consort Road, it won’t be as a Football League club?
Thank you to Gateshead FC for allowing the use of the images in this piece.