Gateshead: Are Their Heeds In The Clouds?

By on Oct 23, 2009 in Latest, Non-League | 8 comments

We are occasionally reminded that, although the amount of money in football has increased dramatically over the last two decades or so, football isn’t quite the “big” business that we might occasionally believe it to be. Real Madrid’s annual turnover is reported to be over £300m, which sounds like a lot until you start comparing it with other businesses. Edinburgh-based Morrison Construction, for example, have an annual turnover of £500m. Tesco, a company which one might say matches the biggest football clubs in the world in ubiquity, turns over £1bn per week.

Further down the pyramid, we are faced with what are essentially small – tiny – clubs that are struggling to stay afloat. These are organisations whose playing staff and coaching staffs will be the only people paid by them (the backroom staff will usually be volunteers). They are still “clubs” in something approaching the pure sense of the word. In football terms, the grand dividing line over whether you are a proper club or not is whether you are full-time. Do you pay your players a living wage, or do they also hold down jobs elsewhere?

There is something slightly paradoxical about the thin line between the pros and the semi-pros. There are a large number of “professional” footballers that earn no more than you and I. By contrast, there have long been players that have quit clubs when they have turned professional because they won’t earn as they much as they did combining semi-professional football and their day job. Turning professional is also seen as being something of a gamble. In signing up players on professional contracts, clubs are taking a gamble that everything will work out alright. It has to. Their biggest single expenditure is about to increase by forty to fifty per cent, or more.

Twenty years ago, the Football Conference was largely semi-professional. Football’s trickledown effect has not, however, worked as we might have thought that it would. The fundamental principle of trickledown theory is that as the get richer, the benefits of their economic activity will benefit worse off people. It’s a fundamentally flawed theory, and it has applied itself in an extraordinary way in football. Football has chosen to follow the path which says that you have to speculate to accumulate. Clubs have spent much of the last twenty years trying to keep up with the Joneses, which has turned out to be a thoroughly fruitless path for most that have followed it.

All of this brings us to the subject of the recent announcement of Gateshead Football Club that they are to turn professional and build a new 9,000 capacity stadium. The appeal of such a decision to their supporters is obvious. Better players and a better chance of a strong position in the Blue Square Premier, the highly competitive league into which they have just been (somewhat unexpectedly) promoted. However, is it the right decision for a club with a current average home attendance of 685 be making such a decision?

The only rational answer to that question is “no”. The club has already confirmed that they will stay full-time should they be relegated this season. The chairman appears to be a wealthy man, but seldom do modern football club owners jeapordise their own financial positions in order to try and guarantee their clubs a higher league position. The money is usually “invested” in the form of loans. The club has also confirmed that it will stay full time, even if it relegated at the end of this season. Gateshead currently sit two places and one point above the relegation places in the BSP. Relegation would surely make a full time policy untenable, even if they were able to keep their heads above water in the BSP in such a position.

Added to this mix is their proposed 9,000 capacity stadium. This is a fifty per cent increase on the figure that has usually been quoted over the last few years when talk of a new stadium for the club has been suggested. There is no question that their current home, the International Stadium, is wholly inppropriate. With an 11,000 capacity and an athletics track, it is an athletics stadium into which a football club has been shoehorned. However, the question needs to be asked of whether a club the size of Gateshead needs a new stadium that holds that many people. Costs start to spiral when building bigger facilities, and there are no guarantees that better facilities will bring vastly bigger crowds. In addition to this, regardless of the size of the crowds that are there on match days, the day to day running of such a facility is considerably higher than the cost of running a smaller stadium.

Gateshead’s crowds this season might have been higher. With Newcastle United relegated from the Premier League, they might have expected to attract a degree of residual support from those disaffected at the way that they were being run. This, however, doesn’t appear to have happened and, whilst the poverty of the facility that they currently inhabit may explain a degree of apathy towards them in the local community, it seems unlikely that they will ever get anywhere near being able to be self-supportive if they do turn full time or come anywhere near to even half-filling a 9,000 capacity stadium on anything like a regular basis. A more sensible policy might be to build a smaller, higher quality stadium and reach out into the community, spending within their means and developing a support that loves the club because of what the club gives them. It’s a crazy idea, but it might just work.

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    8 Comments

  1. No it won’t work……….do you want to write the hardluck story now – 18 months in advance

    They will be bleating on about a lack of support from the town etc and asking for charity when they enter Adminstration.
    They will of course be just as deserving of support as the circus that is Accrington, only Gateshead will not be able to ‘cash-in’ on a milk advert and will be unable to fool the public and other clubs into believing that they are not to blame for their large debts

    Mick

    October 23, 2009

  2. I think they’d be OK if it wasn’t for the stadium bit. There’s teams in Scotland, in the grey zone where they yo-yo between Div 1 and 2, who move between full and part time and mix of the two as finances dictate- generally you can’t stay 100% full time if you spend more than one season in the 2nd (gates too low) but if you’ve got serious ambitions in the 1st you need to (and can) be full time.

    It seems to work- it’s worked for as long as I can remember. There’s usually a bit of wailing from fans when a team isn’t able to field a starting XI who’re full time any more, and it must be a bit odd at the mixed-status clubs, but it keeps the sensible clubs afloat. The clubs that go bust are those that try and break out of this by paying above their means.

    Al

    October 23, 2009

  3. I would have expected that their attendances to have improved this season playing in a higher league and with the goings on down the road with the Toon but I guess that those that stopped watching Newcastle are not interested in watching live football at a lower level and certainly not in an athletics stadium therefore Gateshead’s plans, in the current climate, for a 9,000 capacity stadium and full-time status seemed somewhat flawed.

    Does any one know whether other non-league clubs attendances in the Tyne area have improved this season with the demise of Newcastle United?

    Paul

    October 23, 2009

  4. You fail to note that Gateshead are currently 1 of only 7 semi-pro teams in the 24 team Conference Premier League, and that’s likely to be down to about 4 next season. Will a semi-pro team be able to do much more than try to keep their heads above the water, doubt it.

    From the money side of things. The club isn’t self sufficient at the minute and may never be, but one things for certain is that it has zero chance of being that whilst playing at the council owned International Stadium. The majority of money made on match day through food/drink etc goes straight back into the councils pocket. The club can’t make any none matchday revenue off the current stadium neither. Most non-league clubs are massively supported by their clubhouse/bar takings matchday and non matchday, Gateshead have none of this.

    Regarding the 9,000 capacity. This surprised me too, however this is 9,000 because 3 sides don’t have seats in. Put the seats in and it drops to 6,000 and most Conference stadiums are about that capacity so is it that big of a deal?

    It’s all funded by the Chairman at the minute and to outsiders Gateshead are an easy target for unbalanced lazy snap judgement cheap shots, but as a supporter I know the build it slow and steady plan will never work for Gateshead in its current state. These things need to put in place so the 80,000 people of Gateshead are slapped in the face with the evidence of the football clubs existence.

    If it doesn’t work in 3 years time then you can have your chuckle. But for the minute this article is poorly balanced, it reads as someones instant thoughts without asking any questions to gain a balance.

    Dan

    October 23, 2009

  5. It’s probably yet another daft money-laundering operation or tax dodge.

    File under seen it all before.

    Martin

    October 23, 2009

  6. Dan’s penultimate paragraph sums up exactely Gateshead’s situation.

    Anyone knowing Gateshead’s financial history over the last 20 years
    can only be too aware that the current owner offers the best and probably only chance they have or as ever likely to have of progressing onwards and upwards.

    There is no other option but stagnation at the very best and at the worst I hate to even contemplate.

    So if the chairman wishes to take, what is an extremely risky course of action, it is his own money he is puting in jeopody whilst we as fans are the ones who benefit, with no risk to ourselves. From a fan’s point of view it is be a win – win situation with a downside we have all experienced to some extent before.

    The concensus is that the Chairman is and has proved by his actions to-date to be a genuine Gateshead fan with the club’s best interests at heart is and worthy of all the support he can be given so lets be thankful he is prepared to take the gamble on.

    Finally I think the greater Gateshead population is closer to 120,000 which is a solid enough number , even excluding the Newcastle fans, on which to support Gateshead FC as they progress. However how to build on this base a well supported club is the non-football challenge the Chairman and the club face and I and many others wish them all the luck in the world in this endeavour.

    bob

    October 23, 2009

  7. How much is this new stadium costing ?

    Darlo Fan

    October 28, 2009

  8. In 2010 the population of gateshead was near enough 215,000 believe it or not!

    Bob

    July 16, 2012

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