gateshead revisited

Well, not on the pitch of course. We have never played them before. But, in terms of ownership shenanigans, the recent history of "The Heed"  provides plenty of parallels with our own.

Two years ago they were an established National League club competing for a play-offs place for promotion to the EFL. Behind the scenes, however, all was chaos and, despite finishing ninth at the end of the 2018/19 season, the club was demoted to the National League North for "multiple breaches of League rules". The story does sound wearily familiar, doesn't it?

Owner Dr Ranjan Varghese had offered to sell the club for £1 and the supporters trust - Gateshead Soul - were fundraising to set up a supporter-owned club. Varghese was based in India but was assisted on the ground by Joseph Cala - an Italian American who had previously tried to buy Portsmouth and Morecambe. He had also had a go at buying Belper Town FC but had managed to fail the National League's Fit & Proper Persons Test. Unofficial Pompey site Fratton Faithful described him as "a slightly deluded daydreamer" and his was one of many names linked with our club in the dark days of 2020.

The game between the two clubs this week is a timely reminder of the importance of the recommendations of Tracey Crouch's review of football governance:

However, as with CAFC, there was a silver lining. A supporter-led consortium under Neil Pinkerton took over the club ahead of the 2019/20 season and appointed former Newcastle defender Mike Williamson as player manager. Two Covid-interrupted seasons of consolidation have followed and The Heed now sit comfortably in the play-off places with games in hand on their rivals. They are in a good run of form and have won all five of their home league games so far. The only team not to be beaten at the International Stadium are Altrincham who forced a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup first round before being knocked out 2-3 in the replay.

The winning goal at Altrincham was the second of the match for striker Macauley Langstaff who has ten goals already this season alongside Cedwyn Scott who has seven. Manager Mike Williamson is still playing at 37 and scored the goal that secured them the three points at Curzon Ashton last week.

As Mark Carruthers says in The Non League Paper:

"The story of Gateshead’s recent plight has been well-versed. As such, it is easy to frame this week’s second round tie with Charlton Athletic as a sign of how far they have come since their former owners took them to the brink of going out of business.

However, the unscrupulous individuals that held the Heed in their grip three years ago have already been given more column inches than their callous actions deserve.

No, Gateshead’s moment in the limelight should be a celebration of the momentum they have gained under the control of the supporter-led consortium that hauled them back from the precipice. It should be a celebration of the stability they have put in place, despite the unpredictability cast by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It should be a moment to honour the healing of relationships with their local community and with businesses across the north east that had been damaged almost beyond repair.

It should be used to mark the introduction of a successful academy that has already produced players of first-team quality and the ladies’ team that earned a promotion during a historic first season.

It should be used to hail the brave decisions to remain as a full-time club, to hand Mike Williamson his first opportunity in management and keep faith with the backroom staff that served the likes of Steve Watson and Ben Clark so well.

The rewards are already being reaped with the Heed being viewed as one of the most attractive sides in Non-League’s second tier and a challenge for a return to the National League looks very much on the cards.

But most of all, Friday night should be a celebration of the reconnection of the Gateshead supporters with their beloved club after a period of disconnect.

I witnessed at first-hand the relief and delight that washed over the Heed Army as the supporter-led consortium took control of the club and the rebuilding process got underway. Even being kept at a social distance throughout the pandemic could not dwell their reinvigorated enthusiasm.

Friday night’s tie also represents an opportunity to showcase the new Gateshead to not only the north east region but to the nation as a whole with the game at the International Stadium beamed out live on ITV4.

It promises to be a celebration for all of the right reasons, not the ones that should be long forgotten."