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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Fans protest over club’s play-off removal

Gateshead FC fans stage council protest over 'sickening' decision to block club from play-offs

Devastated Gateshead FC fans have hit out at the “sickening” decision to block the club from the National League play-offs.

The Heed have been denied the chance to compete for promotion to the English Football League (EFL) in the end-of-season contest amid a dispute over their lease at Gateshead International Stadium.

News broke on Sunday that Rob Elliot’s team would be kicked out of the play-offs after being deemed ineligible for promotion as the club was unable to meet an EFL requirement to secure a 10-year lease on their ground, which is owned by Gateshead Council.

The council is in the process of seeking a new operator to take over the stadium in an effort to cut costs and, despite civic centre leaders insisting that they offered assurances that the club would be granted the 10-year lease if promoted, the uncertainty over the venue’s future has proved too great for the football authorities.

Dozens of loyal Heed supporters staged a protest outside Gateshead Civic Centre on Monday afternoon and are planning another at the stadium on Tuesday evening, the night when their team should have been taking on Solihull Moors the play-off semi-final.

Fan Stuart Allan told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that he felt “let down” by the club, the EFL, and the council.

The 67-year-old, who lives in Bensham, said: “I was totally devastated. I had only just booked my ticket for Solihull on Tuesday in the play-offs, then suddenly we got this news.”

He added: “Who do you pass the blame to until we get the whole story? We have bits and pieces from different statements.

“This has been going on for months or even years and I don’t know who to hold responsible.”

As had been the case for many locals when the council was shutting down Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley’s pool last year, Mr Allan questioned why the Gateshead International Stadium’s future was at risk due to funding problems when major plans are in the works for a £350 million arena complex on the Quayside.

He added: “It is the fans and players who suffer. My heart goes out to the players, they have grafted so hard to get to this position and they might never get the chance again.”

Johnny Gray, who began taking his young daughters to Gateshead matches after the Lionesses’ Euros win inspired them to get involved with football, called the EFL decision “sickening”.

Mr Gray, from Felling, said: “It is a lovely local club on our doorstep and we have been welcomed into the club by all the fans, the staff, and everyone involved.”

He added: “I am absolutely devastated. We have been to every home game this season, we have gone away up and down the country.

“To have the rug pulled out from under you for non-footballing reasons… you can take getting hammered 5-0 or whatever, you just hold your hands up and say you weren’t good enough on the day. But this has happened through bureaucracy and paperwork.

“I was at the end of season awards on Saturday after the game and there was such a good atmosphere and positivity around the place. But now this has happened.”

Stephen Frost moved to Gateshead from Kent three years ago and adopted the football club as his local non-league team.

He told the LDRS: “Gateshead is a smashing, family club. I do feel that different parties are to blame for what has happened here. We are living in an area that has one of the biggest mental health epidemics going on.

“I know some young guys through the club and the only thing that keeps them going sometimes is Gateshead FC. One guy in particular I know has really had his mental health affected by this. It is absolutely shocking.”

Council service director Michael Lamb said the authority had “recently provided a letter which would give the league the assurances they were seeking, whilst at the same time protecting the interests of the council” – including a 10-year lease agreement containing a break clause to enable a new stadium operator to negotiate fresh terms with the club.

He added: “Unfortunately, this does not seem to be enough for the English Football League.

Whilst the announcement by the league is extremely regrettable and we understand the club’s disappointment, our priority is to ensure that we can provide sustainable and accessible leisure services for all our communities.

We remain committed to working with all interested parties to achieve a positive resolution and will continue to advocate for the success of Gateshead Football Club.”

Gateshead FC has vowed to challenge the EFL and National League and would not be commenting further “due to the legality of this matter”.

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