Non-League Verdict: Gateshead’s rise deserves more than a little respect

The Heed will be crowned as National League North champions at the International Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, 7th May 2022, 1:27 am

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<p>Gateshead are National League North champions</p><p>Emilio Andres Leal Kirtley.</p>

Gateshead are National League North champions

Emilio Andres Leal Kirtley.

Today is a day where the North East football community should celebrate the achievements of a group of supporters and individuals that would not allow their club to die.

Those people that cast aside worry, stood defiant, shed blood, sweat and so many tears and hauled their beloved club back from the brink of extinction.

It is for those I stood alongside on a sunny day in the away end at Harrogate Town, when thoughts of panic and concern were relayed to me and the only clouds were the dark ones lingering over the future of their football club as a storm continued to grow.

The individuals that formed a collective cause, where the few battled the many and earned their victory when everything seemed lost as the powers that be simply turned away.

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It is for those no longer within the ranks but the ones that performed a dramatic cat and mouse chase around the North East just to secure the future of the club as the sands of time slipped away.

It’s a moment for those that didn’t need a second thought about following Gateshead Athletic, United or Rovers at a far lower level if the worst outcome came to pass with the clock ticking towards doomsday.

It is for those that not only rescued their club, but went through the painstaking early rebuild, took leaps of blind faith and watched on as the green shoots of recovery burst through.

Gateshead supporters started the battle to keep their club alive back in March 2019

It will be a reward for the players that showed belief against the odds when Mike Williamson and Ian Watson pieced together a squad in the aftermath of the takeover as many targets looked away.

Today is the product of the new look squad that stayed true following play-off heartache and battled valiantly in front of empty grounds when a global pandemic forced those that had rescued the club to watch on from a social distance.

It is for gradual, yet spectacular growth on the pitch and behind the scenes as lessons are learnt on a daily basis and constant improvement and development have seeped into the conscious of everyone involved.

It is a strange feeling as I sit and write this piece in the former office of the very individual that took Gateshead to the brink of going out of business.

A room where just over three years ago I received some stern (and unprintable) words from that same person after simply telling the truth about the way he conducted business within the football club.

I am looking out of the same window Scott Barrow angrily gestured towards as he stood pitchside and told this very media outlet that the same individual had tried to force him out of the club.

A quick scan to the left and I can see where an emotional Ben Clark sat and told the Hartlepool Mail he was considering stepping away from the club he holds closest to his heart because of business being conducted behind his back.

Former Gateshead manager and Hartlepool United defender Ben Clark.

If I turn on my seat and look out of the door, I can see the point where the same person was escorted out of his office as the club were thrown out of their home after a series of missed payments.

But these are not the images conjured in my mind as I sit and look across the International Stadium pitch.

These are not the memories I will take into the future or the emotions they evoke when I consider what has been and gone and what is yet to come as they move into an exciting future.

Now, because of the efforts of supporters, coaching staff and players, the memories I will take into the future will be of the International Stadium becoming a hub for a club that has healed wounds with local businesses and reformed bonds with their community.

A club that rallied for those in need by hosting food banks and offering mental health support through a simple phone call during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A club that now boasts successful academy and ladies sides, a thriving corporate hospitality wing, a forward-thinking marketing plan and an internal media team that produces output that should be the envy of many a club higher up the football pyramid.

A club with a management team that has fostered an environment where players looking to bounce back from disappointment can have their confidence restored and can thrive on and off the pitch.

I will not think of players growing concerned over not being paid, threatening to go on strike or being forced out of the club.

Instead, I will think of how players, coaches and supporters embraced in an emotion-laden celebration on Chorley’s suitably named Victory Park pitch in the aftermath of their promotion back to the National League.

Gateshead celebrate their National League North title win

I’ll remember seeing Ben Clark with a smile on his face, chairman Neil Pinkerton feeling emotional and vice-chairman Bernard McWilliams hugging everyone and anyone within reach - including myself!

Now, despite an earlier use of the next chapter, it is time to bookend the troubles of the not-so-distant past and firmly and solely focus on what comes next.

It is time to consider mixing it with the likes of former Football League clubs Oldham Athletic, Scunthorpe United and Torquay United.

Not as the underdog in a glamour FA Cup first or second round tie - but as equals in the same league and dreaming of that one more promotion that would mean so much.

But first and foremost, it is time for celebration as the club that deserves more than a little respect and those that fought valiantly to keep it alive prepare for a landmark moment in their history.