Storey puts injury aside to put Gateshead on path to Wembley glory

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Gateshead claimed the FA Trophy for the first time in their history with a penalty shoot-out win against Solihull Moors on Saturday.

The emotional strain of Gateshead’s push for Wembley success was written all over Louis Storey’s face as he made his way into the mixed zone in the aftermath of their FA Trophy Final win against Solihull Moors.

For a man that has experienced both sides of a cup final at the home of football, you would assume there is a resistance to emotion and pressure - but this win came with personal sacrifice that was kept under the radar until 24 hours after Dajaune Brown has scored the penalty to claim a shoot-out win and bring the trophy back to the North East for only the second time.

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In the fortnight prior to their historic Wembley win, Heed player-assistant manager Storey suffered a stress fracture of his foot and was nursed throughout training before being named as a substitute of Saturday’s final with the intention of only being introduced into the action ‘in an emergency’. With an epic final being played out and players suffering injuries, the former Newcastle United academy defender replaced Luke Hannant on 79 minutes and played the entirety of extra-time before scoring during a nervy shoot-out.

Perhaps the personal sacrifice should not be a surprise as Storey defies the odds and continues on a remarkable upward trajectory in the latter years of his career. After returning to full-time, professional football at the age of 27 when he penned a one-year deal with the Heed in the summer of 2021. After captaining Hebburn Town to promotion and the FA Vase just months earlier, Storey went on to secure the National League North title during his first season at Gateshead before forming part of the side that walked out at Wembley in last year’s final defeat against FC Halifax Town. He has become the epitome of Gateshead’s success in the face of adversity in recent years.

“I broke my foot two weeks ago and we tried to manage the load over that time,” he told The Echo.

“We would have went with Joe (Grayson), Kenton (Richardson) and Tinks (Robbie Tinkler) anyway from a point of ability, quality on the ball and performance levels and sometimes as assistant manager, when you’re playing and coaching at the same time, you can take a holistic view of decisions. Me, Rob (Elliot) and Mags (Carl Magnay) spoke about it and we thought it was the right thing.

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“It was really about resting just in case I was needed if anything happened in the backline and I was glad we did it because I had to come on and it was great to contribute to a magnificent achievement for this football club. I just feel so happy for the boys and this group for what they have done. We were relentless and we thrive in adversity. We have had the biggest serving of adversity this season and what I would like to think it Gateshead Football Club helps people because more robust versions of themselves and I think today proves we have done that.”

Gateshead’s triumph in adversity came just months after the departure of former manager Mike Williamson to League Two club MK Dons and a January transfer window that saw their squad decimated. With an ongoing battle against injuries and their removal from the National League play-offs in controversial circumstances added into the mix, their Wembley win seems to grow in stature.

One key factor has been the cool, calm and collected leadership of interim manager Rob Elliot as the former Newcastle and Watford goalkeeper has provided a steady hand to guide the Heed through the choppy waters that threatened to throw their bid for success off course on a number of occasions. Storey hailed the former Republic of Ireland international’s ‘selflessness’ and identified the qualities that have helped his side to a historic end to a draining season.

He said: “Rob has done a fantastic job and he came in with the previous management team but he made the club so much better behind the scenes with the little things people couldn’t and wouldn’t have noticed. Rightly so, he was the right man to step in when Mike moved on and we knew he would succeed because there was a continuation of selflessness and Rob just never thinks about himself.

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“He has been a mentor and a best friend to me for a number of years and he just brings the best out of people because he makes a connection where they feel he wants the best for people. I am so genuinely happy he got his moment today because he always puts everyone else first but he has brought this success with hard work, success, details and his qualities as a human being.”

Gateshead interim manager Rob Elliot (photo Charlie Waugh)Gateshead interim manager Rob Elliot (photo Charlie Waugh)
Gateshead interim manager Rob Elliot (photo Charlie Waugh)

Remarkably, Storey’s involvement in the post-match celebrations was somewhat limited - not by his injury but by prior commitments. Within hours of the conclusion of media duties, the Heed defender was making his way to Stansted airport for a pre-planned holiday with a group of friends - but there was still time for an emotional reflection on the latest step in a remarkable period in his career and the men he achieved it alongside.

He said: “It’s all a bit surreal but I feel very privileged, I couldn’t have imagined playing here so many times, never mind winning here.

“But I think the most satisfying thing is having the hurt from last season, then coming back here twelve months later and going that one step further. We talk about life, this is what we are so passionate about and that group of human beings have just been tremendous from day dot and sacrifice themselves for the greater cause. Watching them going and playing the way we play was a joy. The one thing we demanded from them was for them to enjoy themselves, to go and enjoy everything about the occasion, believe in themselves and attack the game - I think we did that.”

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