Unibond Premier League Play-off Final
3rd May 2008
I’ve been frequently asked by the Heed Army ranks when the International Stadium will feature on the website, as I tend to concentrate on previous uncharted grounds along with the odd revisit, then it would need a fitting occasion to give the stadium the ‘My Matchday’ treatment. So the play-off final fit’s the bill, the last home game of an outstanding season and the last game at the International Stadium in the Unibond League(hopefully for ever)
Gateshead’s International Stadium is probably the best stadium within the Non-League Pyramid, but on the other hand maybe the worst football ground, because it isn’t a football ground at all, it’s a world class athletics stadium, one of the top venues for multi-faceted sport in the UK, hosting a number of top athletics events that attract the best of British talent as well as athletes from around the world.
Most stadiums with a running track are unpopular with supporters, the ground has only one stand open on match days so ground hoppers aren’t able to do the traditional lap of the ground, but worst of all the residents of Gateshead are put off going to see their home town club because of the home venue, this is the primary reason why a new ground is essential for the club, not only to accommodate the current Heed Army but to generate interest in the town and bring in more support. Manys a time I’ve tried to encourage folk to come and give Gateshead FC a try and the usual response is* “Ah would, but ah divvent like that staydyim” so this is the target audience the club are aiming at, the International Stadium no longer an excuse for neglecting the club.
However the facilities at the Stadium are first class, where you can watch the game in comfort with a great view of the game, although it can get very cold in the winter with the fog off the Tyne and the draft from The Felling.
* Geordie translation; “I would, but I don’t like that stadium”
The ground was opened in 1955, originally known as Gateshead Youth Stadium with one small main stand and grass bank terracing. The stadium developed through the 1980’s, the Tyne & Wear Stand was opened in 1981, a steep single tier cantilever stand which gives cover to 3,300, but usually the first 3 in that figure isn’t really necessary. The ground has a bowl shape, made up of uncovered terraces of red seats, taking the capacity to 11,795, the East Stand which faces the main stand has GMBC picked out in black seats, a reminder that it’s Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council who own the stadium, with the football club merely tenants, another reason why a new ground is vital, to generate self income. The only time the ground has been full for football was in 1995, when King Kev brought his first team over the Tyne for a pre-season friendly, a season that produced Gateshead’s highest Conference finish of 5th and United just miss out on the Premier League title to ManYoo.
The current Gateshead FC is the third reincarnation, after a much chequered history the present day Tynesiders were formed in 1977, reaching the 30 year milestone prior to this seasons kick-off. The club took Gateshead United’s place in the Northern Premier League and won the title in 1982/83, lead by skipper Terry Hibbitt one of my all time football heroes. The Heed had three spells in the Conference, with the team from the mid nineties recognised as the best team in the present club’s history. Relegation to Unibond League followed in 1998 and the club struggled on and off the field, disaster struck in 2004 when the clubs main sponsors pulled the plug and the club nearly went(as we say in these parts) tits up! It took hard work behind the scenes from then Club Chairman Derek Bell to keep the club afloat, the possibility of the 2004-05 season almost began without a team, the club were very close to going out of business and will always be indebted to Derek Bell, for still having a primary football club in the town.
Gateshead finished the season in sparkling form, winning nine and drawing one of the last ten games and then an outstanding performance on Tuesday night, beating Eastwood Town 4-0 in the Play-off Semi-Final to take the goal tally to 33 with only 2 conceded in those eleven games, also The Tynesiders are joint leading scorers in the Top 10 divisions in England with 93 goals league goals.
Buxton have had a great season, after winning promotion just last season, making the playoffs is a fine achievement, taking out Witton Albion in the other semi-final on penalties was a great result, not only for The Bucks but great news for the Heed Army, giving us home advantage for the final.
The Tynesiders were backed by a bumper crowd, with ‘the clothesline’ in fine voice, with also a good away following from Derbyshire, after an aggregate score of 9-0 in favour of Gateshead over the two regular season games, then obviously Buxton’s approached the game cautiously, defending deep and cutting off space, stopping the Tynesiders playing there traditional free flowing football, good chances fell to Armstrong and Southern but the Buxton defence held firm producing a goalless first half.
An early second half goal was needed to calm the nerves, I had the breadknife with me and she couldn’t handle the pressure, asking if she could go and sit in the car and she’d see me after the game, but I managed to persuade her to stay and we were rewarded with two second half goals. After Carl Jones saw a header cleared off the line in the opening minute, the deadlock was broking just three minutes later, a Jones pass found Kris Gate who evaded a couple of tackles before shooting past the keeper, the goal was greeted not just with passionate celebration but also with a huge sense of relieve, the breakthrough was made and we were on our way. Victory and promotion was sealed on 79 minutes, a long ball from Salvin saw Paul Brayson beat the offside trap before racing away and coolly lifting the ball over Hartley, the goal greeted with sheer pandemonium from the supporters and the Gateshead dugout.
A fantastic crowd of over 1400 stayed behind to share in the celebrations with the players, the lads also got Gateshead Chairman Graham Wood out onto the track to take the applause, if it wasn’t for him then maybe this fantastic season may not have been possible, his dream is to give Gateshead a new ground and regain their Football League status, well the first part of the job’s done, just another two promotions and we’re there, it may sound easy enough, but we all know there‘s still a lot of hard work to be done, nevertheless it is now a possibility with a man like Mr. Wood at the helm.
Gateshead FC can look forward to a next season in a new league, step 2 of the Non-League Pyramid or if you like; League Division 6, Conference North with Bogie and Jeff. The Heed Army ranks will be excited over this football free summer, personally there’s plenty of new grounds to explore in the Blue Square North, so come next August Private Smith amongst the rest of the Heed Army will be reporting back for duty.. can’t wait!
Home of the Heed
Gateshead International Stadium - Matchday Web album (18 pictures)