Gateshead FC saved by supporter-led takeover after dramatic 24-hours brings end to Dr Ranjan Varghese's disastrous spell in charge

Gateshead FC has been taken over by a supporter-led group.
Gateshead FC has been taken over by a supporter-led group.
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A supporter-led takeover at National League club Gateshead has been completed after a dramatic 24 hours on Tyneside.

A four-and-a-half-hour-long meeting between former Heed general manager Alisha Henry and the club’s financial advisor Joseph Cala on Tuesday afternoon ended with the Italian businessman accepting a £25,000 offer after a consultation with owner Dr Ranjan Varghese.

Paperwork was quickly drawn up and funds were transferred into the bank account of the Hong Kong-based businessman late on Tuesday night.

The deal was eventually confirmed on Wednesday lunchtime – less than an hour before Varghese was set to meet with the Football Association at Wembley Stadium.

The confirmation of the deal brings an end to Varghese’s disastrous ten-month spell in charge of the club as off-field controversies marred an impressive performance on the pitch.

There were warning signs early in the season as Gateshead were placed under a transfer embargo by the National League and that left then-manager Steve Watson to contend with a thread-bare squad following the departures of on-loan duo Luke Armstrong and Luke Molyneux.

The former Newcastle United defender chose to accept an offer to fill the managerial vacancy at National League North club York City in January.

Heed legend Ben Clark stepped in to take over as the club’s new manager, but quickly had to contend with a number of serious issues.

Within weeks of his appointment, Clark revealed that top goalscorer Scott Boden and key defender Fraser Kerr was sold against his will and club captain Scott Barrow was offered to a number of National League clubs.

To make matters worse, Gateshead were kicked out of their International Stadium home in late March as Gateshead Council took action over an unpaid rent bill.

On a remarkable day on the South bank of the Tyne, former Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy confirmed that he had agreed to buy the club from Varghese after strenuous negotiations with the controversial Cala – who remains the subject of an FA investigation.

However, the Heed owner delayed the completion of the deal and Dunphy announced that he was finally withdrawing his interest in buying the club last week.

The end of an impressive season on the pitch brought further controversy as the club’s players and employees had to contend with the late payment of their wages March and April.

Last month, Varghese sacked a whole host of key staff, including Clark, Henry and assistant manager Ian Watson as he oversaw a cost-cutting cull.

At present, Welsh wing-back Barrow is the club’s only remaining contracted player – although his deal is set to expire at the end of June.

The last two weeks have been every bit as traumatic as the previous nine and a half months as recently appointed directors Nigel Harrop and Trevor Clark departed and the club avoided a winding up order placed against them by HM Revenue and Customs.

However, there is now some light at the end of the tunnel for Gateshead supporters – although there is work to get the club in a position to start the new season.

The National League and the Football Association have been notified of the deal that was agreed with Varghese and Cala late on Tuesday night.

Former General Manager Henry was at Wembley on Wednesday morning to discuss the club’s situation with the FA representatives.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunderland Echo, Henry said “The deal has been a long time coming.

"Since the end of the season, when many people were let go by the club, there has been a lot of work behind scenes to try and save the club.

“Tuesday was a pivotal moment and we finally agreed a deal just before 11pm, before receiving confirmation from the club’s owner that the funds had been received.

“This is just the start of the hard work for everyone connected with the club and we still need as much support as possible going into the new season.

"There are a few hurdles to get over to move forwards, but this could be the start of something special and hopefully we can create a team on and off the pitch to make Gateshead proud.”

The new Gateshead board will be confirmed in the coming days and their first priority will be to discuss the club’s financial situation with both the National League and the FA.