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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