Result: Gateshead 3-0 Southport (National League)
Venue: The Gateshead International Stadium (Saturday 4th February 2017, 3pm)
For the first of two weekends I’ve dedicated to my birthday celebrations (it’s neither here nor there between the two, you see), I originally planned a low-key, nearby game ahead of the following week’s trip up to Scotland and Gretna. But once Matt “the celebrity groundhopper” Harrison had put out his intention to head up to Gateshead on account of it being Craig’s much-favoured destination, I decided it’d be rude not to join the ex-pat on his sole journey back in the North of England.
So, having bought my train tickets a while in advance, I was soon heading up to Newcastle where I would meet the two aforementioned partners in crime somewhere along the way. After a, thankfully, largely uneventful trip up past the Angel of the North, I was soon within sight of the towering fortress that is St. James’ Park and from the station it was en route to the Old George pub, which I was told was around Monument. So off I headed only to come across the pair, along with Matt’s friend Tom, heading in my direction from the opposite way. This did save me the best part of ten minutes being lost, fortunately…
We soon arrived in the 16th century establishment, which had apparently been graced in the past by King Charles I on his outings from a nearby open prison, but perhaps a “Punk” IPA didn’t quite fit in with the royal love-in. Regardless, this was the beer of choice, with the added bonus of it being on draught and fairly cheap too. I did feel it’s name was mocking me somewhat for bringing up my quarter-century, but I’ll let it slide this once…just this once!
Soon we were joined by Sunderland fan Andrew going with the full, unintentional “Sami Zayn” look which Tom and I agreed with was pretty spot-on, despite Andrew being, I think, unaware of just who this fella is. Anyhow, I’m beginning to ramble. After one pint in here whilst being regaled by Matt’s hearsay story of the upstairs of the Rose & Crown and some…different entertainment, our sights were set on there.
The story centred around a fabled upstairs area which Matt had been informed about by a fellow Swansea fan and which included, none other than, strippers. Yes, that’s right, strippers. Now, I can’t tell the story, but if for whatever reason you are intrigued by this, then feel free to let Matt take you through the tale right here!
The Rose and Crown, strippers or not, is very clearly a Toon Army stronghold, with the walls being decorated at all angles with Newcastle United merchandise, shirts and photos as well as numerous replica shirts from over the years being worn throughout the establishment. At a guess, I’d say Andrew wouldn’t have felt too at home! Our number was soon completed by another Matt, an Ebbsfleet fan based up in Northumberland and we remained in here for a few pretty easy on the wallet pints (plus my one staple Newcy Brown), before our departure to the Metro station was necessitated by the clock and the ever closing in of the kick-off of the big game on Tyneside: Gateshead vs Southport.
After I had issues with the ticket machine which Craig kindly sorted out with no trouble, but in some disbelief (I stared at it confused and was unable to figure out how to work it), we were soon disembarking at the Gateshead Stadium Metro Stop and a short walk later we found ourselves at the gates of the ground. After the essential group photo, we headed for the turnstile where for £15 I was given a lovely piece of card. Fair deal I’d say.
Once inside, I wasted little time in heading straight for the food bar where I plumped for a mince pie. Not a festive one mind you, but a mincemeat version. I also think this was the only pie on offer, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve had. Anyway, with pie in hand it was up into the seats and the fresh Northumbrian air as the teams were set to take to the field at any moment.
The Gateshead International Stadium isn’t, to me, a bad ground by any stretch. Yes it has a running track around it, but when you’ve been to as many 3G cages as I have, this makes little difference and indeed the view of the game from our stand made it fairly irrelevant in my eyes. Many will certainly disagree with these sentiments I’m sure, but I’d say it’s a better view than other similar stadia. The two stands in use, either side of the pitch, housed one lot of fans each, the home fans in the “Main” Stand with the visiting Sandgrounders housed in the second of the covered stands opposite. Both uncovered seating ends were not in use today and I’m guessing its pretty rare they are required. As for the club itself, here’s a bit of background to Gateshead FC…
Gateshead Football Club in its current form was founded in 1977, but the club can trace its roots way back to 1889 and South Shields Adelaide FC, who played eight miles out of Gateshead. The club eventually dropped the ‘Adelaide’ suffix and became just South Shields and went on to join the Football League Division 2 in 1919. After financial struggles, Shields dropped into Division 3 North in 1928 and after a further two seasons the club moved from South Shields and into Gateshead.
Taking on the moniker ‘Gateshead A.F.C.’, the club remained in the Football League through until 1960, when they failed to gain re-election after finishing in the bottom three of the Division 4. Following spells in various regional leagues, the side became founder members of the Northern Premier League. But after a two season spell, the club dropped from this level and joined the Midland League for a further two seasons before being liquidated in 1973. The club was pretty successful during its time, winning five Durham Senior Cups, the 1945 Tyne-Tees-Wear Cup, the Northern Regional League title in 1964 as well as two runner-up spots in Third Division North (1932 & 1950) and were FA Cup Quarter-Finalists in 1953.
After a further, short-lived South Shields FC (latterly Gateshead United) competed for a further three seasons (’74-’77), the current Gateshead FC was formed shortly after the demise of United. They were immediately accepted into the Northern Premier League and took up residence in the Gateshead International Stadium once more. Following a six-year stint in the NPL, Gateshead won the league title and with it promotion to the Alliance Premier League, the forerunner of the Conference.
Here they remained through to 1985 when they suffered the drop back to the NPL, but this stay lasted just one season as they immediately bounced back to the Conference and also added the NPL League Challenge Shield to their cabinet. Again, just one season was spent in the new league and Gateshead found themselves back in the NPL until 1990 when they were promoted as NPL runners-up. After a fairly successful stint in the Conference saw the Heed in the mid-table positions and occasionally higher, they were eventually to fall victim to relegation once more in 1998 and then found themselves in the NPL Division 1 after a further drop in 2003.
Just one season at this level was endured by the Heed as the immediately took a place back in the NPL Premier. 2008 saw them achieve a further elevation up into the Conference North through the play-offs and they were immediately promoted from Step 2 via the play-offs after ending up, impressively, as runners-up. They have remained at Step 1 ever since their promotion, losing out in the play-offs in 2014 after a best finish of 3rd. Last season saw the Heed chalk up a decent 9th placed finish.
The game was a pretty cagey affair for the first 20 minutes or so, though Southport did have the odd half-chance during that time, while Gateshead struggled to create much in reply. Indeed it was with almost their first real chance that the hosts took the lead, Jordan Burrow heading home a floaty cross from close range. The timing of this goal was much to the disapproval of Craig, who’d chosen that very moment to be in the concourse purchasing his own refreshment and bemoaned his luck, or lack thereof, on his return!
This seemed to deflate the visitors and their play seemed to escape them. Gateshead, though, took the initiative and never let it go for the rest of the contest and it is little to no surprise when they added a second just before the break, left-back George Smith fizzing a low drive across the Southport ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net. 2-0 and that looked game over it had to be said.
The break came and went and largely surrounded Andrew’s incredulous delight at his Sunderland being three up at Crystal Palace and this escalated further when they netted a fourth before half-time. It was probably best for his wellbeing that he wasn’t watching that game and could cool off a bit in the surroundings of the International Stadium.
The second half was largely a display of Gateshead protecting their lead against the relegation-threatened visitors and they never truly looked like letting them in. The Heed almost extended their advantage with a shot which cannoned back off the inside of the post and rolled back across goal, just the wrong side of the line from Gateshead’s point of view. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in and went on to tell everyone in our group, and many within earshot around us, that fact multiple times.
Soon after, though, the third did arrive as Danny Johnson broke clear of the defence before firing in via the legs of the visiting custodian who would have been highly disappointed to have let the effort go through him in such a way. It should have been stopped but in the end it mattered little to the eventual result.
After we voted en-masse for George Smith to win the twitter-awarded man-of-the-match award, (on account of him being ex-Crawley and with a fine Christian name), the game came to its conclusion with the Heed running out triumphant.
Plans had already been set out earlier to head to the nearby Schooner pub, which sits nestled down a small lane alongside the Tyne. Another old-school boozer, the Schooner provided a fine end to the day with a further couple of drinks (in my case a Sam Adams bottle and a pint of Pilsner Urquell, I think). I also remember quipping something to do with Elton John and “Sacrifice” in relation to football, but I can’t remember what it involved and, as such, my possible breakthrough comedic moment goes by the wayside…
Before too long it was time to head our respective separate ways and after bidding goodbye to Yorkshire-bound Tom, Craig and Matt “celebrity groundhopper” (he actually had picture requests, so I’m considering copyrighting this statement), myself, Ebbsfleet Matt and Andrew were left to navigate the housing estate lanes back to the Metro, whereupon I went on my seldom way back at Central Station.
It had been a fine day, good to finally visit Newcastle itself and good to meet up with both old and new faces, which all came together to make Gateshead a far better trip than it would have been solo, for sure. As for next week, it’s the second of the “birthday weekend” trips up to Scotland and my first “true” Scottish game, having only done Berwick previously. I’m just getting out my wedding suit (it may be required)…
Value For Money: 6