by Susan Jardine
Two North Eastern clubs who have known difficult times – Hartlepool and Gateshead – appear in the first round proper of the FA Cup this weekend not daring to dream of Wembley but hoping for their scale of glory nonetheless.
Hartlepool had an horrific start to their league campaign this season where they went five league games before finally registering a league goal. Since then Colin Cooper’s team have produced a remarkable turnaround in form as they made the quarter finals of the Johnstons Paint trophy, taking out Bradford and Sheffield United to face another Yorkshire side in Rotherham next week. A five match unbeaten streak in the league came to an end at the hands of Scunthorpe United before Hartlepool bounced back to beat Dagenham and Redbridge at the Vic last weekend.
So what about their draw with Notts County, a team who will have a new manager in Sean Derry in the hot seat on Saturday. County are bottom of league 1 – so a trip to an in form League Two side could be the worst possible tie for them. Combined with the fact that County are yet to win away from home this season and this match has all the ingredients for the proverbial upset.
Hartlepool do have a history for upsetting the form book in the FA Cup too. It was a cold Saturday in January in 1993, little over 20 years ago when they faced Crystal Palace on home soil. Crystal Palace were a Premiership team at the time but found themselves under sustained pressure from Hartlepool before Pools finally broke down the Palace guard when Andy Saville converted a penalty to seal a shock 1-0 victory for Alan Murray’s side.
Of course Hartlepool have also had to face numerous re-election campaigns in their time. Years ago when a team finished bottom of the lowest tier in league football they had to reapply to remain a member of the football league. Hartlepool contested no less than 14 re-election processes, but never actually lost their league status. Sadly the same cannot be said for Gateshead, who lost their league status in 1960 to Peterborough United after just two seasons in the fourth division.
Located on the South bank of the River Tyne Gateshead fans only have to look across the Tyne to see a certain stadium that has the vociferous Toon Army. But while Newcastle have been regulars in the top flight Gateshead AFC as they were known nosedived into oblivion playing in various non leagues before finally going into liquidation in 1973.
1977 saw Gateshead return as Gateshead FC, and compete in the Northern Premier League. They went on to spend a few seasons in the Conference before slipping back down to the NPL again before returning to the Conference North in 2008, and earning promotion to the Conference for the 2009/10 season where they have remained.
Despite not being able to go that one step beyond as yet in winning promotion back to the football league Gateshead for the fourth time in five years secured their passage into the first round draw of the Cup after a 1-0 victory at Chester, thanks to a James Curtis strike.
Gateshead’s reward is a tie against Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium. Oxford have had a strong start to the season and occupy second place in league two. Ordinarily the odds would favour a home victory for the league side, but Gateshead are in the position where they would not be expected to win so might find it easier to play this match than the one against Chester.
But as we all know the FA Cup throws up plenty of surprises and I am sure this weekend there will be some. Gateshead’s club badge features the Angel of the North. The question is who will the supreme deity smile upon this weekend.