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Why Gateshead are the talk of the Tyne

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Chris Bevan | 08:25 UK time, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Local, loyal, likeable... and loaded. In many ways self-made Geordie millionaire Graham Wood would have been the perfect choice of owner by many disaffected Newcastle United fans fed up of life under Mike Ashley.

But, sadly for Magpies supporters, Wood is already following his dream of bringing back the glory days to another famous name in north-east football. He is chairman of Gateshead, who play just a couple of miles away from St James' Park but on the opposite bank of the Tyne.

I spoke to Wood last week and could not help but be impressed by his ambition and his genuine love for his club, not to mention his pragmatic approach to improving Gateshead on and off the pitch or his willingness to spend his own money to see those plans come to fruition.

And you would not begrudge him bringing success back to 'The Heed' either; as I found out, he has had a long enough wait.

The Blue Square Premier side's FA Cup first-round tie with Brentford on Saturday is the latest chapter in a story that, for the lifelong fan turned generous benefactor, began as a boy in the 1950s when he followed his hometown team in the old Third Division North and the newly formed Division Four.

Wood was there too when the Tynesiders controversially lost their Football League status in 1960 - something that still rankles with him, although you would never in a million years describe him as resentful. Still, almost 50 years on from his childhood disappointment, he is determined to lead the club back to where he feels they belong and is willing to help bankroll them to do so.

gatestad595.jpgGateshead's planned new Prince Consort Road Stadium

I should explain that, technically, the current Gateshead FC are not the side Wood watched from the terraces of their former Redheugh Park home. Persistent financial problems mean the club is in its third incarnation since a half-century or so ago when the old Gateshead AFC could attract up to 20,000 fans for League football - when AFC collapsed in 1973, Gateshead Town and Gateshead United quickly came and went before FC were formed in 1977.

These days, Gateshead's attendances at the International Stadium struggle to break into four figures but Wood's presence means money is no longer an issue and, after only three years at the club, his vision is already taking shape. Back-to-back promotions mean they are only one level off regaining that Football League place he covets.

Saturday is an important milestone too - it will be the first time the club has hosted a League side in a competitive match in the 32 and a half years since it was reborn.
"Can we win? We will give it a go, but the real aim is to be playing these sort of clubs on a regular basis," Wood, who made his fortune making central heating boilers and owned companies in Sheffield and Massachusetts, told me.

Not that Wood, a former vice-chairman of Sunderland who still has a soft spot for the Black Cats - another reason why Newcastle were never going to be his club of choice - would say no to a Cup run. He can recall only too well the days when Gateshead had a good go at winning the famous old trophy.

In 1953, Gateshead beat Liverpool, Hull City and Plymouth before losing out to a late Nat Lofthouse header in their quarter-final at home to Bolton - with Wanderers going on to contest the famous 'Matthews final' against Blackpool at Wembley that year. Wood explained: "I was only nine years old, so I didn't get to that one - I just remember my mother queuing up at Gateshead Town Hall to buy my dad's ticket. But I went to the third-round tie against Tottenham in 1955 and I can recall that quite clearly. There were close to 19,000 fans there, the second biggest crowd we ever had - unfortunately we lost 2-0."

There are more painful memories for Wood from the seasons that followed; most notably when Gateshead failed to win re-election to the Football League after finishing third-bottom of Division Four five years later. Back then, with no automatic promotion from non-League, the rest of the League voted on the fate of the bottom four and whether any of them would be replaced. On that occasion, Gateshead lost out and the spot was taken by Peterborough.

"It still hurts - it was really most unfair," added Wood. "Gateshead had been in the League since 1930 and had only applied for re-election once before. Southport were one of the other teams and it was something like the seventh time they had reapplied, and the third year running. From a results point of view it didn't make sense and you can hardly argue that there was a geographical issue either because the team that finished bottom were Hartlepool. I don't really know why it was that Gateshead didn't find favour but, having said that, Peterborough were going great guns in the Midland League. They very much deserved it but conversely we very much didn't deserve to being thrown out."

gateintstad595.jpgGateshead International Stadium is better known as an athletics venue

Thanks to Wood, Gateshead are a long way down the road to righting that particular wrong - and he is keen to finish the job. Under highly rated manager Ian Bogie, a former team-mate of Paul Gascoigne in Newcastle United's 1985 FA Youth Cup-winning team, they are still finding their feet in the Blue Square Premier but unveiled plans last week for a new 9,000-capacity stadium and will go full-time for the 2010/11 campaign - neither of which will come cheap - and Wood has pledged to make local talent a part of the club's future too.

"You could call it all an indulgence on my part but it is also great to do something for the town as well," stated Wood. "To me personally, it is my greatest ambition to get the club back into the League. So far as the town is concerned, I think it has been a little bit indifferent towards the club since our Football League days, or not long after that. We need to rekindle the interest.

"I think the turning point was when we went to the International Stadium in the early 1970s. It's not a football ground, it's an athletics track - and it has never attracted the crowds. To get back into the Football League it was a prerequisite for us to get ourselves a purpose-built stadium. The total population of the Tyne and Wear region is something like 2.5m so our support base is plenty big enough, even with Newcastle and Sunderland on the doorstep. Given the right environment, and obviously the right performances on the field, we can recreate the attendances of the 1950s, which averaged around the 10,000 mark.

"So far as the junior sides go, we've now got something like 16 teams of boys and girls from age six upwards, right up to under-18s. We are going to set up a reserve team too so you can envisage, in theory at least, someone coming in as a six-year-old and working their way right through to the first team - that will certainly help strengthen our links with the community."

It's impressive stuff, and this would be no kingdom built on sand either, as Wood intends the revamped club to be a lasting legacy. It leads me to my final question - how far does he dream Gateshead can go, and what would be a realistic achievement? Typically, he does not let fantasy cloud his judgement.

"I'd like to think that in this case they are not two separate things," Wood told me. "The dream would be first and foremost to get Gateshead back into the League and I think it would be possible to get as high as League One. Beyond that it would be unrealistic. You might get the odd season where you could get up to the Championship but I don't think staying there is sustainable - not in my lifetime anyway."

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  • Comment number 1.

    great blog mate, very interesting historical view on football in the North East.Well done

  • Comment number 2.

    It's a shame the attendances are still so low at Gateshead, especially with a great product on the pitch. How Ian Bogie is still managing in non-league is beyond me!

    The comments about the Gateshead International Stadium are fair mind. It is poor for football and the council takes most of the match day revenue.

    Great to see a blog on my hometown club!

  • Comment number 3.

    Yeah, well done on a great blog. Not too familiar with the club - but it sounds like they could be challenging us in a few years....(

  • Comment number 4.

    Excellent blog, I am from Newcastle and like most others up here am an ardent Newcastle fan. Many fans of both Newcastle and Sunderland seem to have soft spots for Gateshead, and several I know go to watch them on occasion, perhaps I'll join them this weekend.

    The attendees I know talk of it as a more pure form of the game and find it as entertaining as the Premier League and now Championship. Anyone sick of the corporate nature of top tier football should check out a club at this level. Endeavour is rewarded and the players are talented, indeed some at Gateshead I would argue are capable of playing at a much higher level if they could get their heads right.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hmmm, a non-league club having financial problems in the 70s and ending up playing at an athletics ground. Sounds familiar!! Just like Chelmsford in the Blue Sq South, only no rich sugar daddy more's the pity!! :-D

    It's always good to see a non-league club (whether former league club or not) with some ambition and the means to go further. Hopefully the momentum can be sustained. I lived in Northampton and worked in both Wellingborough and Rushden shortly after Rushden Town and Wellingborough Diamonds had merged and had a new stadium built... their momentum took them to what is now Lge1, but alas it didn't last.

    Good luck Gateshead FC. I'll be keeping a closer eye after reading this blog.

  • Comment number 6.

    My hometown club too, and believe it or not I used to play for them after leaving school and being rejected by others. Big Jim Pearson and Jinky Martin Henderson will never be forgotten! Anyway...
    I watch them on occassion and think that they are going in the right direction (they couldn't beat themselves with a big stick at the start of the season but they're getting thier mojo now). The new ground will definately help. Back to the old Redhuegh days I reckon.
    As for the FA Cup? Let's keep our fingers crossed.
    C'mon the HEEEEED!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Good to see the Heed getting a mention. Been going along fairly regularly now for the past year or so and it's very exciting seeing them taking positive steps. They try to play pretty good football and it seems to be coming together for them after a slow start. Looking forward to seeing them on Saturday and hopefully getting an upset!

    Well ran too, excited about the new stadium and plans. Moving in the right direction with a sensible but ambitious chairman.

  • Comment number 8.

    It would be a great day if every one from gateshead who support newcastle, and there are thousands and thousands, came to one game then the stadium would be full. One game is all we ask. Go on, give it A GO.


  • Comment number 9.

    Great article Chris, it’s good to see Gateshead getting some publicity at long last.

    Well done & Thankyou Graham Wood, without your vision and enthusiasm the dream would be dead!!


  • Comment number 10.

    As a Leyton Orient fan I wish Gateshead good luck. Hope you have continued success (well until we meet at Brisbane Rd or your new stadium in League One).

  • Comment number 11.

    As an exiled Newcastle fan, I used to watch the local non-league sides (Gateshead, Whitley Bay & the like) whenever NUFC werent playing, along with other Newcastle based teams like the Rugby Union Falcons. To me, it is about putting something into other local teams when the chance arises.

    HOWEVER, how sad it is that Brentford don't feel the same way..... With Newcastle at home to Peterborough at 3pm on Saturday, Gateshead asked Brentford if they would agree to move their FA Cup tie to Sunday, to increase the attendance. Sadly, they declined.

    So much for camaraderie in the lower divisions of English football. If Brentford are ever struggling, I hope someone out there remembers this & does the same to them.....

  • Comment number 12.

    Well said WeAreTheMags, it's an absolute disgrace that Brentford wouldn't move the tie. It's not like they've got a game midweek to think about. They should be ashamed of themselves. I hope they get some stick for it at Gateshead.

    I would love it if we beat them on Saturday, LOVE IT!

    Heed Army.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm a Chelsea fan in exile, who used to go watch Brentford back in the days, whenever we were away, so have a soft spot for them.

    But agreed - sounds like bad form on the Bees part.

  • Comment number 14.

    Gutted I can't be there on saturday to watch Gateshead play but I will be on the phone to my mate whos going every 5 minutes to find out the score.

  • Comment number 15.

    2/ Yep I've heard some very good things about Ian Bogie the manager... he wasn't a bad player in his day either, of course!

    It's a shame that, for whatever reason, this game couldn't be switched to a Sunday... on a similar note, if Gateshead could switch their home games to a Friday night (in the same way Stockport used to, to avoid clashing with Man Utd and City), then they could tap into the Newcastle/Sunderland fanbase a lot more.

    As it is, I'm sure there a few people out there sick of paying Premier League prices for football... if Bogie gets 'em on a bit of a roll then hopefully people will come - as Wood says, the club needs to get back in touch with the town, and the new ground will hope.

    All in all, he sounds like the sort of chairman you want running your club, and good luck to him.

  • Comment number 16.

    Very good blog. I will be there on Saturday. I live in Gateshead and have done all my life. I have already seen them 5 times this season and watch them when I can.

    However, I am a Sunderland season ticket holder and therefore my visits are limited. This is the crux of the problem - nearly everyone in the town supports NUFC or SAFC.

    This weekend though Graham Wood deserves to have a large crowd at the stadium. There were over 4.000 at the Telford play off final and it would be great to see a crowd of that size again. I think if they had played on the Sunday it would have given them a better chance though.

  • Comment number 17.

    Bees fan here, i do sympathise with any loss of revenue, that a sunday match would attract, but im sure Brentfords thinking is less home support the better, no doubt about it this is going to be a very tough game for us, we are under no illusions, we have no money, so a good cup run would be a bonus, so im affraid im sorry your gate recipts will be down but Brentford are coming to win, good luck, and yes im coming up to watch arriving fri nite :-)

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks for your comments... somebody has just sent me some fantastic footage of that '53 quarter-final between Gateshead and Bolton...

    Enjoy, although you don't see Nat Lofthouse head the winner - just the ball crossing the line!

    By the looks of things, Redheugh Park had one of the biggest scoreboards known to man!

    And, as the Pathe commentator says, they pushed Bolton all the way.

  • Comment number 19.

    Brentford probably refused to move the game as last season they had to travel up to Barrow on a Friday night for the TV cameras and came unstuck!!

    This talk of them being 'mean' (for want of a better word) for not moving it, why should they move it? A Sunday game would mean far fewer Bees fans getting to see the game and if the Gateshead fans/locals can't be bothered to get down to watch the biggest game they'll see in a long time on a Saturday, why would they bother on a Sunday?

    Fact is, the International Stadium is a massive hindrance to them, a new stadium may help but I can't see them getting any higher than they are now.

    That said, good luck to them on Sat, always like an underdog, me.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great blog. Really looking forward to the match. It's the fifth on my FA Cup trail this season. See blog, attached, for report and pics on the matches so far:

  • Comment number 21.

    Great footage.

    Redheugh Park was also a greyhound stadium, hence the large scoreboard!

  • Comment number 22.

    #18 - no-one saw Lofthouse head the winner - many people saw him punch the ball into the net, something he admitted post-match. That's why all Geordies supported Blackpool in the Cup Final against Bolton.

    I first saw Gateshead at Redheugh Park in 1952 - we lost 7-2! We moved over the river in 1954, my first game at St James' didn't have quite so many goals - 4-4 against Tottenham, with captain and centre-half Jimmy Scoular becoming the shortest ever top-flight goalkeeper (5 ft 4/162 cm) after Simpson was injured.


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