North East football this season has been nothing short of unacceptable. The two Premier League teams, Newcastle United and Sunderland, have provided lacklustre performances throughout the whole campaign, briefly showing signs of hope and fight. However, the end of the season is where both teams seem to have careered down the wrong path, struggling to win games. Newcastle has been unable to show any passion or desire to win. Whereas Sunderland haven’t had the all-important luck needed. In addition, Middlesbrough is enduring another mediocre season where nothing has been achieved, yet again.
This however, doesn’t apply to all of the North East’s football teams. Gateshead has finished third in the Conference Premier – their highest placed finish in English football for 54 years. The same team who finished 17th last season have been somewhat revitalised. What has caused this sudden resurrection?
Underrated Gateshead started the season by suffering three defeats in the first three games forcing manager Anth Smith to resign as a result of the poor form. Gateshead finally won their first league game at the sixth attempt, a lengthy but worthwhile away trip winning 2-1 against Woking. In their quest to distance themselves off the bottom of the table, they later named their replacement Gary Mills, an experienced Conference Premier manager and ex Leicester City player. Accomplished Mills made an immediate impact, being named manager of the month for October, winning all four-league games conceding only one goal. He later went on to dispel the myth of a poor month after winning the award, obvious signs of improvement were being shown and Gateshead was climbing up the table. Mills’ subsequent impact has been visible in the rise from 19th place to the play-off places.
A team who were unable to play their remaining 12 home games at Gateshead Stadium last season, Gateshead have vastly improved their league form embarking on a 12 game unbeaten run.
The North East’s so-called other football clubs unfortunately haven’t replicated the magnificent form of this battling underdog. It could be argued that Newcastle were as exceptional at the start of the season but have since deflated like a balloon slowly leaking air creating a managerial and boardroom crisis at the club. Could this also be said for Sunderland? Having endured a remarkable Cup run – reaching the final, there is room for remorse.
Current players of Gateshead include former Newcastle midfielder Marcus Maddison, Sunderland striker Ryan Noble and Doncaster midfielder John Oster, all of whom have used their past experiences to advance the ‘Heed Army’ up the table into the playoff places. While in the boardroom, Gateshead has established themselves in the Conference Premier thanks to the input of chairmen Graham Wood, who made the club full-time in 2010.
Wembley is the main aim for the Gateshead players, with the final to be played at the national stadium for the prize of joining champions Luton in the Football League next season. Experienced Mills has been through play-off football before, both as a player with Leicester and more happily as manager with York, who he took back into the Football League in 2012.
Gary Mills describes Gateshead’s chances on reaching the playoffs, by saying, “I know we can get there, but we have to work hard and keep believing”. Hard work and belief are something that Gateshead has certainly maintained towards the end of the season. Unlike Newcastle who have all but gone into reverse ever since the turn of the year. Now for the final push to Wembley. Can they make it to the destined promise land of the Football league?
This has been a remarkable effort from Gateshead considering the position they were in last season, the support from the fans and player’s belief has inspired them to reach the Football League. In what has been an inadequate season for the North East’s teams for a variety of reasons, the clubs unity and hard work has ensured football fans have something to cheer about. Come on the Heed Army!