A united Gateshead are set for their return to non-league’s top table

The Echo looks ahead as Gateshead prepare to return to the top tier of the non-league game.

Friday, 5th August 2022, 9:23 pm
<p>Greg Olley lifts the National League North trophy for Gateshead FC (photo: Charles Waugh).</p>

Greg Olley lifts the National League North trophy for Gateshead FC (photo: Charles Waugh).

Division coursed through the ranks when Gateshead prepared for their last game in the National League.

Anger, frustration and concern rankled through every player, coach and supporter as an emotionally and physically draining season came to a close with a 2-0 home defeat against Barrow.

Controversy, uncertainty and destructive leadership in the boardroom seeped through the club and was only washed away by a last-minute takeover deal put together by a supporter-led consortium that rescued the Heed at the eleventh hour.

Now, just over three years later, after a painstaking and methodical rebuild on and off the pitch, a united Gateshead are finally ready to make their return to the National League.

Under the guidance of the cool, calm and collected Mike Williamson and Ian Watson, and backed by a board of directors with the club’s best interests at heart, the Heed romped to the National League North title last time out and earned a return to non-league’s top tier.

There is undoubted pride from those involved after lifting the club from its knees and allowing it to stand alongside the likes of Notts County, Wrexham and former FA Cup opponents Oldham Athletic.

But there is also a distinct warning from the man in charge of their on-field fortunes throughout a new season that will present many challenges for his side, starting with Saturday’s opener at Dagenham and Redbridge.

Gateshead player-manager Mike Williamson in action last season.

Williamson told The Echo: “Whether we need to prove ourselves at this level again isn’t a question for me to answer.

“Gateshead have got a history at this level, but I am focused on the present and we want to maximise every opportunity to achieve maximum points throughout a challenging season.

“Losing the players we lost in pre-season was a blow, it always is but that’s football and you just have to move on and do what you can.

“It made us determined to improve and put into place plans we had because we knew we had to come back stronger after promotion.

“The board have backed us and we have brought in a number of targets.

“It’s a different puzzle to solve and we had to find the solutions as a club ahead of the season.”

The departures mentioned by the former Newcastle United defender included free-scoring forwards Macaulay Langstaff and Cedwyn Scott after they were tempted by offers from promotion candidates Notts County.

Gateshead striker Macaulay Langstaff moved to Notts County for an undisclosed fee in June 2022.

The loss of the 58-goal duo left many to speculate whether Gateshead’s return to the National League could be short-lived and many onlookers have suggested Williamson’s men will be amongst the favourites for relegation.

But external talk means little to the men from the International Stadium after they swiped aside pre-season odds of 20/1 to claim the National League North title last time out.

And captain Greg Olley is determined to prove the doubters wrong once again during the new season.

“Last season, we were written off before the season had even got underway,” explained the Heed skipper.

“We knew what we are capable of and we proved what we were about throughout the season.

“I think our team then could have competed at the level above and I think the team we have now knows we can compete at that level.

“It’s down to us to show what we can do during this season.”

There has been a feel of evolution, rather than revolution about Gateshead’s transfer business during the summer.

A striker department weakened by the sales of Scott and Langstaff has been enhanced by the arrival of Harrogate Town’s Aaron Martin, Newcastle United youngster Tom Allan, Sunderland striker Will Harris and Notts County forward Lewis Knight - although the latter is facing a spell on the sidelines.

Former Newcastle United forward Tom Allan has joined National League club Gateshead

On-loan goalkeeper Filip Marschall has returned to parent club Aston Villa but has been replaced by Newcastle United stopper Dan Langley after he arrived on a season-long deal.

Wrexham’s highly-rated midfielder Dan Jarvis and former loanee Lirak Hasani will provided competition in the middle of the park and the defensive ranks have been swelled by the signings of Stockport County full-back Ethan Pye and former Sunderland youngster Kenton Richardson.

It has not taken long for the new arrivals to sense the mood around the International Stadium with the new season now just hours away.

“The club is looking to improve season-by-season after winning the league last year,” said on-loan defender Pye.

“There are a lot of very good players that can cope in this league and I could see that playing against them when I was at Spennymoor last season.

“The excitement over what happened here and what lies ahead is still there and it’s clear to see that around the place as the season gets closer.”

Existing members of Williamson’s squad have been enthused by the new arrivals and the return to the National League.

Goalkeeper James Montgomery knows all about what representing Gateshead in non-league ’s top tier is all about after making 34 appearances for the Tynesiders during a 16-month stay ended by a move to Forest Green Rovers in July 2018.

Gateshead goalkeeper James Montgomery is back after an injury nightmare (photo Jack McGraghan)

Now back at the club as a player-coach, Montgomery is in line to start Saturday’s game at Dagenham and Redbridge after on-loan stopper Langley suffered an injury in last weekend’s friendly against Middlesbrough Under-23s.

The former England C keeper is relishing the prospect of seeing a club that has ‘a special place in his heart’ taking their place back at non-league’s top table.

“It’s been a very mentally tough year, one the my happiest in football, but also one of the most challenging.

“It was lovely to end it on a high, winning the league with the lads, all great people and getting promotion.

“Everyone knows Gateshead has a special place in my heart, the club means everything to me and has done since I came here.

“Seeing the club back where it was is really special and we can’t wait to get going.”

With the big kick-off just hours away, the contrast in moods from their last National League fixture could not be more different as a united Gateshead prepare to compete with the great and the good of non-league football.