Photo by Martin Avery

Susan Jardine reports on a potentially famous season for the Heed

Fifty three years after leaving the football league Gateshead now stand on the verge of returning.

Back in 1960 Gateshead dropped out of the football league after losing their place to Peterbrough United. It could be viewed as a harsh vote, given that it was the first time Gateshead had to apply for re-election. But there is something very inspiring about how Gateshead have fought their way through difficult times. They played various non-leagues in the North East before fighting their way back to the verge of a return to the football league.

Yet if people look back at this season’s results Gateshead suffered a terrible start, with no points from their first three games. Manager Anth Smith had resigned following the home defeat against Barnet. David Rush was installed as caretaker manager for matches against Southport and Macclesfield. Defeat at Southport and a draw against Macclesfield followed leaving Gateshead with just one point at the end of August.

But in September came the news that a former European Cup winner would be Gateshead’s new manager, and this man had played under one of the best exponents in football management.

He is Gary Mills, who had been managed at Nottingham Forest by Brian Clough who was renowned for his ability to instil confidence and self belief in his players. Could he work the same magic on Tyneside that Clough had done at Forest.

A solid September was to prove the catalyst for an October where Gateshead collected four league wins, and backed it up with two other victories in cup competitions. Slowly but surely Gateshead rose up the table and as 2013 gave way to 2014 the Tynesiders gained victories over Hyde and Nuneaton together with draws against Halifax, Aldershot, Grimsby and Welling.

While February yielded only one league victory it was to be tempered by an amazing run of form which began in March from which they where to remain unbeaten. Victory over Barnet and a creditable draw against Salisbury was prelude to a run of five straight victories that saw them propelled towards the play off places. Two draws against Southport and Braintree maintained their play off charge before beating Macclesfield and making sure of a place in the play offs on the final day of the season with victory against Cambridge.

That sent them into a two legged semi final against Grimsby, with the first leg in Cleethorpes. A Colin Larkin opener was cancelled out by a Grimsby equalizer which left the tie poised at 1-1 for the return leg at the International Stadium.

A James Marwood strike left Gateshead leadinjg 1-0 at the interval, before the match caught fire in the second. Scott Nielson was given a straight red card by referee Kevin Johnson, leaving Grimsby down to 10 men, before Craig Disley equalised for Grimsby. With the tie poised at 2-2 on aggregate there was the possibility that it could be heading for extra time.

But the tie swung decisively in Gateshead’s favour with Grimsby then reduced to nine men when Sam Hatton was sent off for a second bookable offence. Minutes later and Gateshead snatched back the lead when Marwood struck again to put the Tynesiders 3-2 up on aggregate. There was no way back for Grimsby and deep into stoppage time JJ O’Donnell completed the scoring for a 3-1 victory and a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

So to Wembley, and a clash with Cambridge. Is an exile of 53 years about to come to an end for the North Easteners? Sunday 18 May will provide the answer.