Gateshead won't destabilise the club’s future in search for a return to non-league top tier
Gateshead will not destabilise the club’s future in their search for a return to non-league’s top tier.
That was the verdict of vice-chairman Bernard McWilliams after he was invited to give a presentation to the panel conducting the government’s supporter-led review on football governance.
This month marks the three-year anniversary of a dramatic supporter-led consortium taking control of the National League North club following the error-laden ownership of Hong Kong-based businessman Dr Ranjan Varghese and his controversial financial advisor Joseph Cala.
The Gateshead Soul supporters society was formed at the height of the problems caused by the former owners and they played a significant role in hauling the club back from the brink with just days to spare.
Gateshead has gone through something of a transformation since those dark days with a newly revamped academy now providing several members of manager Mike Williamson’s first-team squad.
Last summer saw the introduction of a new ladies team and they enjoyed a fruitful first season by securing promotion as champions of the Durham FA Development Division.
The club has also provided an invaluable source of support to the local community during the Covid-19 pandemic with Gateshead Foundation supporting people in and around the two over the last 14 months.
Focus turned back to on-pitch matters last week the Gateshead first-team squad returned to training ahead of the 2021/22 National League North season.
Former Newcastle United defender Williamson has boosted his ranks with impressive additions such as former Magpies team-mate Adam Campbell, Carlisle United striker Cedwyn Scott and the return of former Heed favourite Robbie Tinkler.
The Heed will be seen as one of the front-runners for promotion into the National League – but McWilliams insisted the club still need the backing of their supporters as they come out of a challenging 12 months.
He told The Echo: “We are in a better place now than we ever have been as a club.
“The consortium of supporters and local businessmen truly work together for the benefit of the club and Gateshead FC takes its place at the heart and soul of the local community.
“We were lucky in our endeavour, we managed to take the ownership of our club safely into the fans of us, the supporters and a group of local businessmen.
“But we need to maintain our financial support as owners of the club and maintain the soul of the club for generations to come.
“We have been through difficult period with Covid-19 and seeing the supporters getting back into the stadium when the season gets underway will be a major step forward for us as a club.
“We have launched a budget booster for a second consecutive year after the success of last season’s.
“We need our supporters back in numbers, the financial and emotional support they offer us is as important now as it was when the takeover was completed three years ago.
“It’s a big year in the ongoing development of Gateshead as a supporter-owned club.”
McWilliams shared the club’s recent past with a supporter-led panel made up of several different parties including Tracey Crouch MP, former PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle and Football Supporters Federation chief executive Kevin Miles.
The latter body played a key role in helping in the formation of the Gateshead Soul Supporters Society in the early part of 2018 as their club edged further towards the precipice.
McWilliams, who is chairman of the Soul group as well as vice-chairman of the club, expressed his desire to see the fan-led review lead to supporters having a bigger say at all levels of the game.
He said: “I hope the review of the governance within football leads to more supporter involvement, not just in the board at every club, but within the boards of the National League, EFL, Premier League and Football Association.
“Football is for the fans, and as such fans should be at the very heart of the governance.”
The Sunderland Echo has been given access to the presentation McWilliams gave to the panel undertaking the review of the game.
The Soul group have made several recommendations including supporters having representation on the board of every club, league and governing body within the game.
They also believe supporters should be able to veto “issues that are detrimental to the club, such as the disposal of assets or the sale of grounds” and for governance surrounding finance and sustainability to be tightened to avoid clubs going to the wall.
Those recommendations are based on the issues experienced by Gateshead according to McWilliams.
“The club would not be here today if it were not for the supporters standing up and saying enough is enough.
“And it would not be here today if business people within the town did not stand alongside supporters, not to play Football Manager in real life, but to support what is a community asset and to look to help the club reach full sustainability.
“We were faced with the prospect of losing our football club, we reached the brink, and it is a hard, long road to being really self-sufficient.
“This has all be done with the support of the Football Supporters Association, fans helping fans.
“We are the lucky ones, we ended up with full representation on the board and business partners that are not interested in asset stripping or for a quick buck.
“Hopefully the review will lead to more clubs being able to have similar ownership and be governed by supporters because it is their game.”