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We have another splendid article on a lost football ground for you this morning on Twohundredpercent, and we are pleased to be able to thank Paul Eke, who has some recollections of Redheugh Park, the former home of Gateshead Football Club.
I was coming up on two years old when Gateshead Football Club failed in their bid for re-election to the Football League Division Four in the summer of 1960. It was only the second time they had needed to apply, but, amid rumours of various kinds of skulduggery, out they went. The fuss passed me by I’m afraid, I was too busy tending to my herd of imaginary pigs at the bottom of the garden (I had a vivid imagination as a child). By then the club had been at their Redheugh Park home for thirty years, and they managed to hang on there for a further eleven, but with the benefit of hindsight the move toward leaving began there for Gateshead FC.
In 1962 my parents moved to the Gateshead suburb of Low Fell, and by the mid-60’s I was a confirmed football fan. I’m sure England’s 1966 World Cup win fuelled the general mood of football fever, and it certainly spurred me on to pester my Dad to take me to experience ‘live’ football. This was done but in a very controlled way, so my early football attendances involved trips to Redheugh Park for games such as the Johnny Ingham Testimonial in 1965 along with trips to St James’s Park to watch Newcastle Reserves (yes kids, reserve sides played on their own home ground in those days. Imagine that!), before the real thing arrived in January 1968, Newcastle v Nottingham Forest, Football League Division One, a snow-covered pitch, orange ball and line markings, and a 0-0 draw of course, as all first games are. It’s the law isn’t it?
Then in 1970 one of those random events that change the course of the rest of your life occurred. Sports mad, but respecting the seasons, I spent my summers playing cricket at the Gateshead Fell club, which brought me into contact with a boy called Jeff Bowron, and at Jeff’s suggestion (once the seasons changed) a group of us made the long trek to Redheugh Park to watch Gateshead. Actually, it was more than just ‘watch’. Jeff had written to dozens of League clubs asking for donations of programmes, and had a surprisingly good response, so with the club’s agreement a programme shop was launched. Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many people to sell to, because the 1960’s had not been kind to Gateshead FC.
A firm conviction that a return to the Football League could be achieved had gradually ebbed away, and attempts to join the Scottish League had failed too. (The first season of non-league football had seen Gateshead play fifteen friendlies against Scottish League teams with a good level of success. Most of the opponents were from Scottish League Division Two, which had a spare team every week due to it’s nineteen-team membership. Once the bid failed in the summer of 1961 this idea fell by the wayside apart from occasional games).
Drifting from the Northern Counties League to the North Eastern League then the North Regional League saw interest in Gateshead football dwindling before the club bravely marched into the future as founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968/69, although the stay was a short one. 1969/70 saw the club finish well adrift at the bottom of the league with only five wins all season, so once again – out they went. With no Non-League Pyramid in existence at that time, the club was forced to replace its own reserve team in the lower level Wearside League for 1970/71, so games against the likes of Murton Colliery Welfare and the sinisterly-named Sunderland SS were the backdrop to our programme-selling venture.
Even at a lower level the club still managed to botch the job, leading the league almost all season before finishing second, along with losing two Cup Finals and one Semi Final. Having said that, some of the most exciting football I’ve ever seen was played that season in what was by now a largely run-down structure. The greyhound track was still there forming a barrier between terraces and pitch though racing had ceased in the mid-60’s, the terraces were covered in weeds, the Tote board kept one end of the ground spectator-free, and a giant gas-holder towered over the ground, but to me it felt like Wembley. Built as a ‘sweetener’ to tempt the South Shields club to up-sticks in 1930 and move to Gateshead, bringing League football with them, the ground was and always had been owned by Gateshead Council, and amid accusations of unpaid rent and failure to maintain the ground (denied by the club), moves had long been afoot to get the club out of Redheugh Park, something which finally happened in the summer of 1971.
A move to the Gateshead Youth Stadium was made in time for the new season, which the club marked with another bold venture, this time joining the Midland Counties League. The reasoning behind a penniless club travelling to Worksop, Grantham, Loughborough et al eludes me, but once again it was a brief (2 seasons) interlude concluded by the club going out of business, although the efforts of various local businessmen led to the club, via various incarnations, surviving to the present day. (The machinations of those ‘various incarnations’ would require an article of their own). I confess I didn’t miss having raw eggs thrown at me in Frickley or 5-1 thrashings on dark days in Worksop.
Redheugh Park was systematically destroyed by vandlism before eventual demolition, the Council’s stated need for the land for industrial development proved to be unfounded, and our little band became the programme-sellers at the Youth Stadium, selling a four-page programme wrapped around the Football League Review, interestingly. The club continued to do interesting things too, like join the Vaux Floodlit League despite having no floodlights, and talk of moving grandstands from Redheugh Park unsurprisingly came to nothing. Almost forty years on the now Gateshead International Stadium is an all-seater structure with all the atmosphere of playing football on the moon, although the club is only one promotion away from regaining their Football League status.
With plans announced for a new stadium in the town centre and an ambitious (and wealthy) Chairman to fund it, the future could be bright for Gateshead. The new ground will be the first owned by the club in it’s history, and will obviously be key to the future. Jeff’s still there too, as Press Officer or Website Administrator or somesuch, and I wish both him and the club well. And if it’s true that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, could we please call the new ground ‘New Redheugh Park’?
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
The new ground will probably get named after some faceless corporation – this now being the trend in football (i.e. selling your soul for 30 pieces of silver).
You could well be right John, but I’ll remain optimistic on the grounds that the Chairman who’s driving the project used to watch Gateshead at Redheugh Park in times past. On the other hand, if someone offers to pay, how could a non-league club turn it down?
You’re probably right in what you Paul, but how long before teams have sponsor’s names incorporated into their title e.g. Newcastle ‘Northern Rock’ United.
The trend has went from naming football stands after a sponsor to football grounds having a sponsors name. It’s only a matter of time before it happens to team names (remember when Stirling Albion were nearly renamed Stirling Meerkats).
Good old Stirling Albion, always ahead of the pack when it comes to new ideas to make money. Now they’re charging players 200 quid for a trial up there! And there’s plenty of people taking up the offer, I just hope the club is doing it for the right reasons and not inviting people with no chance of making the cut just to get their cash….
As a long time (suffering?!) supporter of Oldham Athletic, I well remember the summer of 1960 when the Worst Team Ever in the history of the club had finished 23rd in Division 4, below 22nd placed Gateshead – but the reason they survived the re-election process to go on and be Premier League founder members 32 years later was simple – they had average gates of nearly 5000 and Gateshead’s were barely 3. And still to this day I see that Gateshead can’t get 4 figure gates despite having what must be their best team since the early 50s. So how can they move on and up any further? But I wish them well all the same.
This may be of interest Paul, from the club’s official website; Gateshead chairman Graham Wood is confident the Blue Square Bet Premier club will be playing in a new 7,000 capacity stadium in the centre of town within the next few years.
Proposals for the Prince Consort Road development were unveiled some time ago but hopes that the club would kick-off the 2012-13 campaign in their new surroundings may now be a tall order.
The construction of the new stadium goes hand in hand with Wood’s other vision of taking Gateshead back into the Football League.
Wood said: “It would not be possible to sustain a team in the Football League without the benefits that a new stadium would provide.
“In each of the past five seasons we’ve finished higher up the football pyramid than the previous term, including two promotions, and we’re now only one promotion away from achieving our ultimate objective.
“Our average gates have risen in each of those five years from 176 to 753 and we are now looking to push on next season when the target is a top five placing.
“Off the pitch we are working hard towards our other principal objective of building a new stadium. However, progress has not quite kept pace with that on the pitch.
“The enabler for the new stadium, as well as for the club’s ongoing sustainability, is the inclusion of a significant element of non-football, or lettable, space within the development.
“The original intention was to follow the successful model used at stadiums elsewhere in the country, and include medical facilities.
“All was going well, with significant interest from GPs and other medical providers, until the government announced its plans to slash spending.
“The Primary Care Trust, which would have been the principal tenant, had its funding withdrawn and will be disbanded in 2012.
“We have since redirected our efforts and hopefully are now very close to securing an alternative and equally suitable tenant which will allow the project to proceed
“The new stadium will be covered on all four sides and will be a tremendous facility, one that will help to increase crowds and the profile of the club.”
Gateshead meanwhile will benefit from significant redevelopment at the International Stadium from next season with the introduction of much needed corporate facilities and a new and larger bar on the south east corner.
It’s heartening to know that people still remember Redheugh Park. As a kid I remember exploring the ground as a player’s guest. I had great pride in my uncle (John Ingham) being a footballer full-stop. For all I knew then (circa 1962), Gateshead were the equal of our neighbours Newcastle, Tottenham or Real Madrid.
I am sorry that Gateshead didn’t do a Wimbledon or Charlton and win the cup (in the 1950s as a small club). Instead they went into decline at the same time as money came to dominate the game. At least Gateshead were spared their own Bradford Fire–Redheugh badly needed upgrading. Gateshead will get their own stadium and hopefully taste success. There is a place for clubs with affordable tickets and loyal local support. Gateshead is a real club.
I played for Gateshead not long after they came out of Football League.I had been released from Newcastle u/t.,and when I joined them they had some great players including joe Armstrong ,whose brother George played for Arsenal,Harry Godbold ex Sunderland player and Peter Wilson who went on to captain Australia in the 1974 World Cup finals.Peter and I had grown up together and he joined. Middlesbrough and i joined Newcastle u/d.Another great player at the time was Gerry Coyne.During my time their I played under great managers including Johnny Campbell, and George Hardwick. Great days,my happiest in football.