Mark Carruthers: Charlton Athletic FA Cup draw is just reward for those that remained unrelenting in their efforts to keep Gateshead alive in the darkest of times

Faces contorted with a disturbing mix of anger and concern filled the room as Gateshead hurtled towards the precipice.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 2:21 pm

The actions of owner Ranjan Varghese and his controversial financial advisor were edging the club to the brink of going out of business.

Action was required, urgent and decisive action.

Supporters of all ages packed into an upstairs room at Pelaw Social Club to discuss what could be done to resolve a situation that was becoming more serious with every passing day.

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Mark Carruthers' non-league column.

An initial meeting produced forward-thinking ideas and revealed a determination to take on the duo, wrestle the club from their grip and develop a club to make the town and region proud.

Emotions continued to be polarised with the passion for their club mixing with a genuine belief that the end was rapidly approaching.

Standing in the away end at Harrogate Town in the final away game of the 2018/19 season opened my eyes to the turmoil supporters were experiencing.

An emotional Ben Clark - at that point in charge of first-team matters - assessed the situation in the aftermath of a defeat that ended any hopes of a successful conclusion to an unlikely play-off bid.

The situation became so severe that I drafted an article about the death of the football club, but, thankfully, it never made it to print.

Things were moving and the Gateshead Soul supporters society had been born in anger, would be nurtured in determination and flourished in adversity.

I was honoured to be asked to speak at one of the follow-up meetings and stated - somewhat optimistically - that Gateshead Football Club was special because the supporters will be the ones to rescue it.

That feat was achieved with just 72 hours to spare after a turbulent period where the club were kicked out of the International Stadium, players and staff went unpaid and plans to reform in the Wearside League were heavily discussed.

A late-night phone call from the club’s former General Manager Alisha Henry revealed the news that the takeover had been completed and a supporter-led consortium was now in control.

There was to be one last sting in the tale as Gateshead were relegated into the National League North as punishment for the financial irregularities of their now-former owners.

It was a setback but the hard work was now only just getting started.

It has been a hectic two and half years disrupted by the unwelcome arrival of Covid-19 and the learning curve has been steep.

Despite the hazardous environment caused by the pandemic, Gateshead have moved forward slowly, but surely.

The meticulous planning and process overseen by player-manager Mike Williamson and assistant Ian Watson has produced the most talented Gateshead squad since the side that walked out at Wembley in the National League promotion final under Gary Mills.

Continuous improvement and development at every level is the mantra they work towards.

Tuesday night brought a new high and a rich reward as the Heed produced a stunning display to send National League side Altrincham out of the FA Cup and set up a second round home tie against former Premier League club Charlton Athletic.

A club that came within three days of being consigned to the history books will host a League One side live on television in front of what will surely be a big crowd at the International Stadium.

The financial benefits are all too obvious with the Heed coffers already swelled by a £60,000 broadcasting fee provided by ITV4’s live coverage of the tie.

Radio coverage will increase and more supporters will make their way through the turnstiles in the hope of seeing an upset that would go down as one of the greatest in Gateshead’s history.

All focus should be on on-field success with the lure of another possible glamour tie in third round in the offing - but it would be foolish to ignore the other benefits provided by what will be an exciting night on the south bank of the Tyne.

I have written before that it is time to move on from the events of the 2018/19 season as the former owners caused almost irreparable damage to Gateshead.

This is a new and exciting chapter in the club’s history and Varghese and Cala should be no more than an unwanted footnote.

The emphasis should be on the future and taking the next step under supporter-led ownership - but the meeting with Charlton Athletic is reward for those that remained unrelenting in their efforts to keep their club alive in the darkest of times.

It is reward for the unseen hours, days and months of toil that led the Heed away from the precipice and the remarkable attention to detail that is driving them forwards on the pitch and behind the scenes at the International Stadium.

It is reward for those that put their own agenda aside to rally behind a common cause, united by determination, devotion and passion.

The club is unrecognisable from the chaotic and unstable environment caused by the former owners and the air of positivity is evident the minute you walk through the door.

That is not to say it has all been plain sailing and issues have been met head on.

But this is a stronger and more robust Gateshead and one that deserves its moment in the sun when the TV cameras roll into town on the first Friday of December.

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