'Rome wasn't built in a day': Gateshead start the long road back to recovery
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”
Gateshead supporter Anth Scurfield couldn’t have chosen a better setting to make that statement when he was assessing his club’s recovery process after the disastrous ownership of Dr Ranjan Varghese.
Scurfield stood alongside over 300 members of the Heed Army in the sun-kissed away end at Bootham Crescent, in a city founded by the Romans in 71AD as they identified their new surroundings as the perfect site to establish a fortress.
These days, the home of York City is something of a modern-day fortress, where former Heed manager Steve Watson is hoping to plot a return to non-league’s top tier with a squad full of skill and experience.
His former club are still in the midst of a transitional period with a new supporter-led ownership seizing control of the club during the summer and player-manager Mike Williamson still in the early days of life in the dugout.
A new-look Heed squad travelled to York on the back of a 3-0 home defeat against newly promoted Farsley Celtic and looked set to be on the end of a similar scoreline when former Gateshead striker Jordan Burrow fired the hosts ahead in the early stages of the game.
There were some dissenting voices in the away end, as the Minstermen controlled the pace and tempo of the game over the opening 30 minutes.
Those voices were a continuation of some online criticism of the on-field performances that have seen Gateshead win just one of their opening six games ahead of the trip to York.
Ahead of kick-off, long-time supporter Scurfield addressed the criticism, telling the Echo “I am surprised by the online criticism, but that’s football isn’t it? Everyone has an opinion and that’s why we love the game.
“We need to invest wisely in players and around the club, and it’s still very early days.
“It’s only the third or fourth week of the season and we have brought in some very good players.
“There is still a strong bond between the supporters and the club as a whole.
“We had a few years where that didn’t quite happen, but now it feels like a community club.
“It will take time, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
It should be added that Williamson’s side have only lost one and drawn the other four games – so there is an argument to suggest that they are hard to beat.
And that was proven at Bootham Crescent as Gateshead slowly started to find their feet in the game and starting to trouble their hosts.
Their attacks finally paid off when Connor Oliver converted a penalty in first-half injury-time after on-loan striker Joshua Kayode had been hauled down in the area.
The early stages of the second-half saw the Minstermen fail to make the most of a sustained period of pressure on the Heed defence, but, just as they had before half-time, Gateshead broke free of the early pressure and could have won the game when goalscorer Oliver and new signing Nicky Deverdics went close in the last 15 minutes.
So, the fort of Bootham Crescent remains unbreeched this season, and the Heed Army reflected on a heartening display that went some way to putting their first defeat of the campaign behind them.
Challenges lie ahead, but they are a very different type of challenge to the one that took Gateshead to within 72 hours of going out of business.
And this week brought an even more stark reminder of what could have been when the club’s former financial advisor Joseph Cala declared an interest in taking over at Bury just hours before they were expelled from the Football League.
The controversial Italian failed a fit and proper persons test with the Football Association, but was seen by many as the one pulling the strings behind the scenes at Gateshead – with Hong Kong-based businessman Varghese acting as a nominal figure.
During their 11-month tenure at the International Stadium, the duo oversaw a number of controversial events including the club being kicked out of their home ground, staff not being paid, and two key players being sold behind the back of then-manager Ben Clark.
They were eventually ousted from the club when a supporter-led consortium took control of Gateshead – although not before the club were relegated into the National League North as a punishment for financial irregularities under the previous regime.
Heed season ticket holder John Andrews reflected on the events of the summer, as Cala and Varghese were finally ousted from the club.
He explained “We know we are lucky to have a club, so we just need to consolidate this season and look to kick on next year.
“It’s a rebuilding process on and off the pitch and it’s the second year in a row where we have had to do that.
“I am happy, it could have been better, but it could have been so much worse too.”
There are challenges ahead for the new owners.
Bridges will have to be built after several relationships with local clubs and authorities were damaged over the last 12 months.
The local community needs to be re-engaged – something that was quickly addressed by chairman Neil Pinkerton and vice-chairman Trevor Clark.
Progress – on and off-the-pitch – may be slow, but patience is required in the boardroom and in the dressing room according to supporter Will Gibson.
He told The Echo: “The right people, the ones that care about the club, they are the ones making the decisions and guiding the club now.
“They choose the way forward, and that’s so much different to where we were heading last season.
“We have to be patient; I understand that there is frustration.
“There will be a time when there has to be more of a focus on the on-pitch progress, but it’s early days, and we have to get everything right off the pitch too.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day – but foundations are slowly being put in place for a revitalised Gateshead Football Club.