Next Up: Hereford vs Gateshead – Match Preview

Following the Bulls 3-0 capitulation at Guiseley yesterday the new Hereford manager Russell Slade stated he wanted to see “a huge reaction from the players” on Tuesday when Edgar Street is the venue for the re-scheduled match against Gateshead.

It could be a big test as Gateshead are yet to lose an away game this season, and have become the divisional draw specialists having gained a point in five of their ten matches played. Simon Wright looks ahead to the game.

Gateshead FC

When the owner of a football club lives in a different country, there’s always a concern. When that owner makes a series of poor decisions, then time to become really concerned. Hong Kong based Dr Rajan Varghese ran Gateshead into the ground, step by step. By May, every player bar one had left and the club physio, PR manager, Secretary, the club cat. everybody was sacked. Debts continue to mount and the local authority took away the ground due to unpaid debts.

With the club about to fold, a submariner based in Plymouth stepped in. There’s always a submariner around when you need one, apparently. Neil Pinkerton bought the club for £25,000. Sounds modest but the Heed had assets worth £4,000, no staff, no footballers and no ground. What they did have was debt – over £400,000 is owed. As a business, it’s a basket case. Neil teamed up with local businessman Trevor Clark and together they persuaded the National League to only drop the club one Division. It could so easily have been two Divisions given the length of the case sheet. Presumably the persuasion involved much debt settling.

Life will still be a struggle for Gateshead FC, as it has been for a long, long time. People startled by the director turnover at Edgar Street should note 41 Heed directors have resigned over the past 15 years. The current version is the third senior Gateshead club. The original model was a Football League club until they were voted out in the 1960’s. They folded in 1973. Gateshead United replaced them immediately but they only lasted 4 years. The current version has had 6 promotions and the same number of relegations since 1977. Their highlights were a Conference Play-Off Final at Wembley and reaching the FA Cup Third Round in 2015. I was at the game which was most memorable for Saido Berahino scoring more times in 90 minutes than he did in two years at Stoke. The Heed, with Adam Bartlett in goal, lost 7-0.

Even being in the football hotbed of the North-East and being based in a town of 120,000 people, the Heed are not great box office. Their biggest problem – as we shall rediscover in January 4 – is their moribund home ground, the most wretched place in England to watch football with the sole exception of the away end at Luton. The football club came within days of closure during the summer and in times of peril, people are normally shocked into understanding what they could lose and rally around. For the first home game, the attendance rose only by 100 on last seasons average. As the Non-League paper put it “to all but a diehard few, supporting Gateshead is like trying to convince yourself a blind date will blossom into romance when, deep down, you know there’s no chemistry…

Gateshead have a new manager, assistant and a coach. All 3 have beards, obviously linked by loving so close to the “Wall.” Or maybe they are just ZZ Top admirers? Anyway, Player Manager Mike Williamson is a 6-foot 4 central defender in his first managerial post. He’s best remembered for his 170 games for Newcastle United though depressingly also spent two seasons with the Dingles. Williamson is the Heed’s fourth manager in 2019.

He hastily assembled a 19-man squad including 4 loaners and like every other senior North-East club, dived in for Blyth Spartans players going cheap. On paper, they looked notably weak up front with only 3 strikers, two of which are raw kids. But recently, goalscoring has become far more frequent, which was allied with several clean sheets. The back four simply don’t concede many goals. They don’t have much choice with their player-manager and their player coach both regular members. Both are well into their thirties. Of their 10 games Gateshead have drawn five, won four while losing only to new boys Farsley. As Williamson, noted, he was on the side lines every time the Heed have won this season and feels he may have to leave the playing and defensive organisation to his player coach, 39-year-old Michael Nelson.

The Heed have a player manager, player coach and even a player kitman in JJ O’Donnell He was given the role to keep him involved during a very long-term foot injury and he took to it so well he’s still in charge of sorting smelly socks. For the rest of the week, he’s an assistant Academy Director at Pro Player Football Academy which doesn’t involve getting up close and personal with discarded clothing. Busy guy! Midfielder JJ scored four times for the Heed. With cash tight around Edgar Street, Bulls kitman Stuart Whitehurst is already in Walking Football training just in case. Oh and Stu, your Gateshead counterpart does media work as well. Answering Questions

Our own issues of integrating 13 new players to Edgar Street pale against a rookie manager at Gateshead signing an entire squad in July. Just a few re- signed from last season. The majority departed in search of more stable employment. The two most popular players to stay were left back Scott Barrow (30) now starting his third year with the Heed and attacking midfielder Greg Olley. Greg is 23 but didn’t play first team football for anyone until 2018. Making up for lost time, he made 38 appearances last term, scoring 7 times in central midfield. He’s started the new term wide on the left much to supporters’ bafflement. Just returning to defender Scott Barrow, he endured the type of on-field injury which gives any ‘baller nightmares. December 2017, FA Cup Round 2 at Luton. Barrow collided with his goalkeeper, the ex-Hereford man Dan Hanford. Both went down but the defender was more serious because he lost consciousness for several minutes. Very carefully, he was put on a stretcher and taken to hospital. Thankfully, he recovered quickly. We do live in more enlightened times. I remember researching a footballer, a striker in the 1960’s, for a book wot I wrote. On 3 different occasions, that guy was knocked out during play. Treatment was smelling salts, a wet sponge and being told to play on. Those were apparently the “Good Old Days.” Estimates of 1960’s footballers enduring Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as a result of ignorance and heavy balls is estimated to run into the many hundreds.

Anyway, Gateshead do have two advantages. Firstly, they are deemed to be full-time. Not sure how given their attendances of 800 and their debts. Maybe it’s a Basingstoke-style full time with the players on £100 a week? Or perhaps more likely, they consider 3 sessions a week as being full time. Being full-time in theory allows far more contact time. Also, most of the squad are local, if not born in Gateshead itself, then they mainly hail from nearby Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham etc. The Gaffer was a Stokie but has spent most of his life in Newcastle. There is a token Welshman in the squad who, no doubt, gets dogs abuse for being different and having an inability to speak fluent Geordie.

Gateshead, with their organised defence and their “No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care” mentality, concede very few goals so we’ll need to be patient for their evening visit to the Street. See you there?

Simon Wright

 

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