Gateshead v Southport
Gateshead International Stadium / Conference Premier / 4th February 2017
The change from January to February meant that European football would soon be returning to my part of Central Europe after its winter break. The second weekend of February would see the Austrian Bundesliga and Poland’s Ekstraklasa restart, with most other national leagues in my part of Europe recommencing the weekend after. Clearly though, I had snapped and the winter break was just that little bit too long for me. My 2017 return to football would see me defy the winter break and see me head back to the UK – more specifically the north-east of England – to end my month-long football hiatus.
I’d actually booked my flights to Leeds from Bratislava months in advance with prices for said route scandalously cheap at the time. I was going to be staying with Craig in Huddersfield all weekend and in the weeks building up to my arrival we carefully pondered which football club to grace with our presence on the Saturday afternoon. We both decided that North Ferriby would be our destination, until a fixture change for them scuppered that plan. For reasons I’m still not clear about, we opted to head to Tyneside and Gateshead FC. To be honest, I’d heard mixed reviews of visiting Gateshead FC, largely because of the fact the club play at a rather large athletics stadium. I found an article in one local Tyneside magazine, North East Life, state rather derisively that it was “a fine but inappropriate stadium … as a football ground it can be a soulless home.” Such comments about places have never stopped me before though. ‘Inappropriate’ may possibly be true, but we found joy on our visit and the club seem to be making a lot of what they’ve got and combatting the notion of being ‘soulless’ the best they can.
The Friday night had seen me and Craig hit Huddersfield town for a night involving cask ales (cider in Craig’s case); me somehow losing on FIFA 17 as Swansea with Craig being my much maligned Cardiff City; and some amazing absinthe cocktails called Beachcomber’s Zombie (they really were beautiful). Despite the aforementioned enjoyment of cocktails, we woke up Saturday morning as fresh(ish) as daisies and prepared ourselves for the trip north.
A week before my arrival, Craig had balked at the idea of paying for the train from Huddersfield to Newcastle and so he decided that he was driving us up to Gateshead; this meant a return to these pages for Paddy – Craig’s trusty red Fiat Panda, which he named after Scunthorpe striker Paddy Madden for reasons he himself still seems unclear about.
We were on the road by 10am and soon arriving near Castleford to pick up my pal Tom, who had also agreed to a Lost Boyos jolly while I was back in the country. We were both subjected to Craig’s poptastic playlist, largely consisting of his much-cherished Roxette, en route to the north-east, but admittedly the journey north flew by. It was not long before we found ourselves heading into Gateshead with Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park not too far ahead of us, looking as imposing as ever on the other side of the Tyne.
Gateshead International Stadium was easily found off the main road and so we parked the car there and headed for the nearby metro station to cross the Tyne and head into Newcastle.
I’m a firm believer in Newcastle being the best city in the UK, so I was excited to spend a couple of hours there. Our metro took us across the Tyne, offering that sublime view down river of the fleet of bridges that seem to cross the Tyne, and onwards to Monument station where we alighted.
Fellow groundhopper George ‘The Manchopper‘ Cheetham had arrived in Newcastle by train and so I told George to meet us in the aptly named pub, The Old George. The Old George was the usual boozer of choice for my Newcastle away days with Swansea and I was pleased to see it was still as wonderful as ever. The pub is the oldest in Newcastle and was even regularly graced by royalty thanks to the frequent visits of King Charles I. Apparently the pub still offer a royal service, but I was just content enough with them serving Punk IPA on tap; the most majestic beer there is.
Our numbers were boosted to 5 as Sunderland fan Andrew joined us; he’d even made the effort to wear a flat cap fitting in with the Lost Boyos #NoFlatCapNoParty philosophy. Beers were drunk and discussion turned to where to head to next. I began to tell the others of the wonderfully dingy Rose and Crown up the road and the tale I had heard about the pub on one previous Newcastle away trip. Apparently, some Swansea folk had travelled up from South Wales on matchday with no intention of going to the Newcastle v Swansea game that Saturday. Whilst drinking in the Rose and Crown minutes before kick-off just up the road at St. James’ Park, the barmaid asked would they like to watch the football on the TV in the upstairs bar. They took her up on the offer. Upstairs they apparently found a mix of beer, TVs with Jeff Stelling being as excitable as usual about Hartlepool United and a group topless ladies there to entertain them for the afternoon. Truth or myth, I do not know, but my very dependable Swansea-supporting friend swears the tale is true. On completing my story, I noticed some of the others speeding up their drinking and suggesting we move on to somewhere else. Of course, the Rose and Crown was the only place they wanted to go now.
The Rose and Crown is my sort of pub (the more public downstairs part I mean). I even once delivered a showstopping, standing on the tables, karaoke performance of the Andy Williams’ classic, and Welsh football anthem, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You; a memory that induces laughing to myself and cringing to myself in equal doses, when it comes discordantly belting back into my thoughts. The Rose and Crown is a bit small and a bit grimy and dank, but it has cheap beer, a lively atmosphere – especially when Newcastle are at home like they were today – and lots of Newcastle football memorabilia clinging to the wall; something probably not too appealing to Sunderland fan Andrew. We sat in the far corner amongst some Newcastle fans wearing some rather brilliant retro Toon shirts, although I had noted some eyes from our party scan around the rest of the room for a staircase to the supposed illicit realms of ‘Upstairs’.
Our little troop was completed with Craig’s friend Matt joining us – an Ebbsfleet fan who currently studies at Northumbria University; apparently he almost didn’t join us, as en route to the pubs minutes earlier he’d been almost distracted by an anti-Tory protest. There were plans to have just one drink in the Rose and Crown and move on, but we found ourselves suitably comfortable in our surroundings and we ended up staying for several beers amongst the always lovely, yet sometimes incomprehensible, tones of the Geordie public.
As the time ticked past 2pm, we headed for the metro station to head back across the Tyne to the conveniently named Gateshead Stadium station. As we alighted, we found quite a few fans in the white and black colours of Gateshead walking to the stadium alongside us and we soon got chatting to a few. Like all Geordies, all were wonderfully friendly, although a bit bemused by a Welsh lad, who lives in Slovakia, travelling to the north-east to watch Conference football in a big athletics stadium.
Ten minutes later, we found ourselves outside the stadium and so the usual photos were taken, with the female steward we’d asked to snap for us seeming terrified of my camera phone. I commended her for successfully taking our photo, despite her misgivings towards such technology. I checked my photos and she had indeed taken a good photo, but it was only days later that I noticed that her successful attempt at taking our photo had only come after she had unwittingly taken numerous selfies of herself. The result of her photography lesson are below.
After the smiley steward lady had eventually got through Camera Phone Photography 101, it was then to the turnstiles to pay our £15 entry (£8 for the students amongst us) and receive our rather peculiar business card-like ticket.
On the concourse, we found a small club shop selling the usual merch; Craig and Andrew added to the club’s coffers by purchasing scarves for £8 each. There was only one thing on my mind though: pie. On the car journey up to Gateshead, Tom had asked me what did I miss most about British football and my first answer was the quality of it, before I changed my mind to the pies. The continent just doesn’t do or get pies. Sadly for pie-deprived me, there wasn’t a lot of pie choice at the stadium today, so I was stuck with a mince meat pie – a pie not exactly high up on my favourite types of pie list (edit: just after publishing this blog, a Gateshead fan got in touch to tell me the council run the food and drink at the stadium and to blame the council for lack of pie choice and not the club). Nonetheless, it did the job well without being spectacular either. Then, we headed up the steps and into the large stand of the International Stadium.
Gateshead’s home really is a proper stadium, although definitely not a proper football stadium. I still found the arena impressive. The stadium opened in 1955 and has seen a whole lot of development over its lifespan; the majority of this came in the 70s when the area underwent a sort of decline and so redevelopment of the stadium was seen as a good way to begin bucking further digression in the community.
Obviously, the main purpose of the stadium over the decades has been to host athletics. The stadium has even seen several world records broken there, including Asafa Powell breaking the 100m record there as recently as 2006. As well as athletics, the stadium had also hosted Gateshead Thunder rugby league team until 2015. The rugby team christened the stadium the ‘Thunderdome’ – I felt a far more fun name than Gateshead International Stadium.
Away from sport the stadium has even been visited by some of music’s most elite names: The Police (supported by some upstarts called U2), Bryan Adams, Tina Turner, Guns’n’Roses and Bon Jovi (twice) have all performed at the stadium. But enough of Turner, Adams et al, we were here for football.
The club have sort of been around since the 1910s and even played for a few decades in the Football League, but a few names changes, liquidations and location changes mean that the previous club(s) history is a bit skewiff to say the least. The current club really came into being in 1977 as Gateshead FC and began immediately playing in the International Stadium, which changed its name from the Youth Stadium,. Since then, the club have yo-yoed between the top four divisions of non-league football, before being one play-off final victory away from the Football League in 2014 (they lost the final at Wembley to Cambridge United). We’d be watching the club in the Conference today take on struggling Southport.
The stadium consists of two large stands on either side of a running track with two smaller uncovered stands going around each of the curves of the track; the two stands behind the goals were not in use today, but I can imagine that the views are spectacularly bad from there when/if they are ever used. In fact, it occurred to me that I had arrived back in the UK for some good, old-fashioned British football, yet I somehow found myself at a fairly European-esque stadium; I’ve been to several bowl-shaped, athletics stadiums to watch football since I moved onto the continent – some good, some bad.
The game was a slow burner, but Gateshead began to dominate proceedings without creating or threatening too much in the early stages. I htought maybe they could have done with a new striker to replace Sam Jones, who had just moved to Grimsby Town days before. Actually, I was a bit disappointed not to see an African playing up front for them, after the club had tweeted that an African player had arrived at the club claiming to be a ‘good striker’. It seems they didn’t take his word for it.
There were a few half chances for Southport, but they were denied by James Montgomery making his debut in goals for the Heed. Interestingly, James is the grandson of Jimmy Montgomery – the legendary Sunderland goalie who made probably the most famous (double) save in FA Cup Final history, as he helped Sunderland lift the famous trophy in 1973 as they beat Don Revie’s then all-conquering Leeds United.
Craig headed off down to the concourse to grab some food just as we were reaching the half hour mark, but it seemed that he’d time his trip badly. In the 27th minute, a cross from the left led to a great chance for Gateshead to take the lead, only for the attacker’s shot from just outside the 6 yard box to be well blocked. No worries though, Gateshead had the chance to go again with the rebound, as a dinked cross was played into the 6 yard box for Jordan Burrow to easily head home. 1-0 to Gateshead. Craig emerged from the concourse unimpressed that he’d missed a goal.
Days before, once we’d decided on Gateshead, I’d done my usual thing of scouring through the club’s squad on Wikipedia to find anything or anyone of interest or any weird career paths. There wasn’t much but I did notice that defender George Smith had made one single appearance on loan at Crawley from Barnsley. I mentioned this to Crawley fan Craig, but he had no recollection of him. Nonetheless, for some reason, I repeatedly referred to him as ‘the Crawley lad’ for the whole game – despite him playing most of his career thus far at hometown club Barnsley. Anyway, ‘the Crawley lad’ was probably the best player on the pitch having repeatedly got forward well and whipped in a host of dangerous balls throughout the first half. He thoroughly deserved his goal – and what a goal too.
Smith cut in from his place out on the left and this time, instead of whipping another ball into the box, he went for goal himself. From the edge of the box, his shot arrowed straight into the far bottom corner. A brilliantly clinical finish.
Half-time: Gateshead 2 – 0 Southport.
Throughout the first half, we’d been keeping a close eye on the scores around the country and it seemed Sunderland had gone on some sort of late first half scoring spree with them scoring 3 goals after the 43rd minute to go 4-0 away at fellow relegation battlers Crystal Palace. This made Andrew an excitable wreck during the half-time interval as he began listing the very rare occasions he had seen Sunderland score 3 or more goals.
At half-time, I also got to meet up with Kidderminster fan Ben and fellow Swans fan Katie. Ben and Katie were visiting friends in Gateshead so they decided to take in a local game too. A couple of days before, Ben had tweeted that it was his aim to grab a trademark double thumbs up photo with me, so I assured him we’d make that happen later.
The second half was a rather laid back affair with Gateshead seemingly cruising with their 2 goal advantage. Southport had one good chance in the opening minutes, but then it was all very comfortable for the Heed.
It looked certain that Gateshead had made it 3-0 just before the hour mark as a pass across goal found James Bolton to seemingly fire in from close range. Instead his shot across goal hit the inside of the far post and came back out again. The 400+ crowd were already up celebrating too.
It wasn’t too long though until it was 3 as Danny Johnson fired in in the 62nd minute. Johnson ran onto a pass, before firing through the Southport keeper’s legs. This time the crowd got to celebrate the actual killing off the game.
The rest of the game was fairly bland as Gateshead saw the game out comfortably. We were all big fans of the concept of voting for Man of the Match via a Twitter vote. As the PA announced the opening of the MOTM voting, we all took to Twitter to vote for George ‘the Crawley Lad’ Smith after his superb performance during the game. With minutes left, it was announced that he had deservedly romped to victory in the poll and was named Man of the Match.
Full-time: Gateshead 3 – 0 Southport.
George recently dubbed me in one of his blog’s as a ‘celebrity groundhopper.’ Now, I certainly don’t feel that way, but I do take the piss out of the idea in a tongue-in-cheek manner a lot. Following the final whistle, I found myself at the front of the stand with a small queue wanting a double thumbs up photo as Ben, with Katie, got his sought after photo and then Gateshead fan Dan, who had spotted and recognized me in the stand, got his too. I turned to Craig and jokingly stated, “See, I am a celebrity.” He didn’t look too impressed really; although he then expressed his annoyance that he hadn’t had a proper photo too (something remedied outside the ground).
We exited the stadium and made a beeline for an establishment which had been recommended to me by many. If someone was to tell me they were going to watch Gateshead, I too would insist on them visiting The Schooner too. What a pub! The Schooner can be found down a rather nondescript road alongside the Tyne, a mere 5 minute walk from Gateshead FC’s home. ‘Old school’ is the best way to describe this proper pub, although the bar is stocked with a whole host of funky ales on tap and in bottles too. I was very surprised to find Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen on tap – the two most ubiquitous beers across the Czech/Slovak part of Europe (if you are ever in Central Europe though, dodge the Czech-brewed Staropramen – it’s awful). I avoided beer I could get anytime in Slovakia and instead I opted for some lovely golden ale from the always excellent local brewery Wylam.
I could have happily stayed in The a Schooner all evening, but I wasn’t the one driving us back to Huddersfield (thankfully after a day of boozing on Tyneside). I did well to persuade Craig to postpone his driving back to Huddersfield so we could have one more beer, but after that second Wylam ale it was time to roll on out.
We said goodbye to George, Andrew and Matt in the stadium car park and me, Craig and Tom got into the ever (well, usually) reliable Paddy. We’d moved away from Roxette for the journey home and Avril Lavigne and a couple of other pop-punk classics serenaded us all the way back to back to Yorkshire.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t ever visited Tom’s new abode in Leeds; a say new, but he had lived there for years. And that’s how I found myself on a spinning comfy sofa chair, being served Budweiser by Tom’s girlfriend, Rachel, in their lovely, little home on a lovely little housing estate in Castleford. Once again, I was content again in my surroundings but figured we should move on back to Craig’s Huddersfield. If there’s one thing they just don’t do in Slovakia, it’s curry and so I was happy to finish my evening with a lamd madras from the keba shop near Craig’s house.
I had had my apprehensions about Gateshead beforehand, but I very mcuh enjoyed my time at the club. Everyone seemed friendly enough and there was more of a fanbase there than I expected (although admittedly far smaller than most at the top table of non-league football). There was nothing really wrong with the stadium either and despite the presence of the running track, I felt we had a decent view high up in the stand. However, I do feel that the club will have to move sometime in the near future to really secure a truer identity.
Most of all, it was just fun to be back in the UK watching football and drinking beers with my mates – even better as at my much-adored Tyneside. And that’s really what this whole Lost Boyos thing is all about.
I’m back in Slovakia now and I can’t wait for my European football adventures to restart this upcoming weekend at one of the oldest derbies in world football…
Highlights: Newcastle is brilliant isn’t there, The Old George and Rose and Crown still great, stadium easy to get to, friendly fans, George Smith performance, The Schooner.
Low Points: stadium not totally ideal, lack of pie options.
See all my photos from our trip to Gateshead here.
Also check out George’s blog – The Manchopper – where he’ll be posting his blog about the day soon. Click here.