Gateshead is an unlikely place to start, or should I say continue a story. Way back in the post Cisse of the United, I talked extensively regarding my passion for my home town team, and the astonishing 2011-12 season which had just led to Gateshead finishing a creditable 8th, just outside of the playoff places. Predictably the following season didn’t build on this, with the team struggling just above the relegation zone in 17th. By this point the ever present manager through this rebirth Ian Bogie had departed and been replaced by Anth Smith, who just about kept Gateshead up. So the 2013-14 season did not promise much… and after 3 defeats, Anth Smith was gone and Gateshead were rooted to the bottom of the division. The caretaker boss David Rush managed to get a first win and 3 weeks later former York manager Gary Mills was appointed.
To say the immediate difference he made was good, would be an major underestimation. In his first month in charge he won manager of the month after 4 consecutive Gateshead wins. This form continued and Gateshead rapidly climbed the league putting themselves in playoff contention. In the last few months Gateshead found themselves chasing an unstoppable Luton, and a Cambridge side who were so far ahead in 2nd. Worryingly GFC were battling over the 3 remaining playoff spots, with teams having many games in hand. In the end it went down to the final weekend, where 4 teams were battling over 3 spaces. Gateshead were against Cambridge, and won 2-0 securing 3rd place and a playoff semi against Grimsby.
This already was seemed some sort of dream but it was just the start. The first leg at Brunton Park was live on TV, ensuring a first for me. I had seen the little excerpts showing the odd important goal on local TV but not a whole live match. It finished a tense 1-1. The second leg at GIS was mad, a crowd of 8000 turned up (average gate 800), including many from Newcastle and Sunderland. An even more tense game, saw sending offs, keeper errors, witty banter, a number of pitch invasions and a little bit of crowd trouble. My hands were numb as I nervously gripped them, there was a point in the last moments at 2-1 when a goal for Grimsby would have taken them through it was unbearable, but in the final moments Gateshead broke with a sweeping move and scored a third. As I jumped up, all stress left not only me but everyone else on three sides of the stadium. Many of whom invaded the pitch… After order was gained, a few moments later the whistle blew (cue another pitch invasion) and Gateshead FC were going to Wembley.
With it being only a fortnight away, mad organising ensued with tickets bought, trains booked and hotels arranged. I would go down with Chris on the train the day before to have a wander around London whilst my Brother would travel down on a coach on match day.
The Play-off final weekend arrived with an early morning start and a rapid train journey that got us into London just in time for brunch at Borough Market. We had arranged to meet fellow toon people, Gary and Jill who were doing the Bermondsey Beer Mile that day. The beer mile is a number of the most prestigious London craft ale breweries who open up their buildings and sell their alcohol (which can be taken away and/or drank on the premises). We were supposed to meet at the most well known, Kernel but our walk across (which had already taken almost an hour) became increasingly longer as we kept missing the brewery. We did accidentally find Partizan Brewery and have a beer before continuing on our ‘8 mile’ trek. We finally found Kernel tucked away off the main street and our friends inside sampling beers with hundreds of other punters inside arches resembling an underground Beer Kellar. A number of halves later we met with another beery tweeter David, before heading to Partizan again. A tiny railway arch, which amazed me by the quality of ales they can produce in the space. Then onto Four Pure, a bigger brewery, where we got a tour of the canning process and quality tested a few cans. Finally we taxi’d to Anspach and Hobday, who were launching a tea stout with beer writer Melissa Cole, where we shared a bottle of the fab Southern Tier Creme Brule with her mum. From here a dash across to Covent Garden area and another drink at the Cross Keys before sorting out our hotel. Just enough time to get changed before heading over to Beavertowns Dukes Joint for fabulous BBQ food and fine ales. After a great day, I was ready for bed and dreams about the Tynesiders winning at Wembley
I woke up with a slight hangover and a lot of nervousness. Wearing my Gateshead FC top we went for a greasy spoon breakfast, acknowledged our first sighting of Cambridge fans and then went to an exhibition at The British Library. ‘Comics Unmasked’ was a stunning exhibition that detailed the history of British comics. It covered such a wide range of time and subject matter that moved from medieval illustrations to up to date graphic novels, from the NSFW side of comics to their role in challenging sexism and racisim. I loved the journey within this from the Beano/Dandy to Watchmen/Sandman/Judge Dredd. Most of all seeing at first hand the work of Gaiman, Morrison, Talbot and Moore was something to behold. As much as we could not get the feel of the pages of the comics, the exhibition was so well set up with iconic pieces, rough drawings and manuscripts. I was particularly spooked by the shop mannequins which filled the gaps within exhibitions, all dressed in normal clothes and a V for Vendetta mask. I wish we could have spent longer but we had a match to go to.
The journey to Wembley started a strange afternoon. On the Tube we thought we were the only Gateshead fans on board, so much was the sea of Yellow Cambridge shirts. Taking pity some started to talk to us with the question “Where is Gateshead anyway?”. After giving a polite answer, we were happy to quickly arrive at Wembley Park station. Getting through the barriers and into the sunlight of the main entrance, you are met with the iconic view of the arched stadium. I remember distinctly the same view (but with twin towers) 30 years earlier. (My only other time at wembley was in the early 80’s when we went to see local team Wickham win 3-2. It was the only time we saw Wickham play). The wander down stairs and through the tunnel that leads to Wembley way builds the excitement. Then a slow walk up wembley way taking in the sights and noises whilst trying to find my brother. On the way we bumped into a journalist we know Michael who was reporting for a local Newcastle paper. He took our photo and then asked for a comment. I reluctantly gibbered on, saying ‘It is surreal, I have supported my hometown team since the 1970’s and I would never have dreamed, I would be on Wembley Way wearing a Gateshead Shirt’. (This sort of appeared in the Journal newspaper the next day). Very soon afterwards we found my equally bewildered brother, took some photographs and made our way in.
It was 2 hours before kick off and we went to find our seats on the first tier right above one of the goals. The sight that met us was breathtaking and again a little weird. We stared at this amazing sporting venue, that was about to host the biggest match in my teams history and it felt like bar a smattering of fans and players warming up on the pitch, that we were the only people there. Strangely one of the fans there early on, was our friend Rod who we drink with in Newcastle. Cue more photographs of us standing around with the Wembley backdrop. These are great, but it was difficult gauge the epic size of the venue, so I decided to take a panorama shot. After the third attempt of nervous shaking and rubbish bendy photos, I thought I would have one last go. Slowly and precisely I moved the phones camera in an arc, not realising that my brother had accidentally wandered into the shot. Initially I thought I would need to take another, but Micci’s intervention really makes this picture. My brother looking wistfully out onto an almost empty Wembley. I love this photograph.
These pictures formed the basis for this posts paper engineering project. A basic collage of photographs built around the sweeping panorama of shot. I originally wanted this to be a tube but the extreme bending did not do justice to the pictures. The scattered collage is curved slightly to accentuate the panorama and to allow it to stand up. Most of the pictures are of the meander up Wembley Way and when we first entered the stadium. They include a number of images of 40 plus year old men wearing football shirts. On the pictures of me, I have printed another picture, cut me out and then using a spacer, stuck the doppelgänger above the original version on the collage. I wanted to give the impression of the surreal and out of place feeling I had all afternoon. Its very simple but effective.
And thats it… oh wait, you want to know about the match…. well, okay then. As much as I hoped Gateshead would win, I wasn’t that confident. Cambridge were the second best team in the league, and although they had a dip in form they continued to be a good team. Gatesheads recent form had been excellent, but as I said above I never expected at the start of the season, we would end up at Wembley and be 90 mins away from League Football. To be honest, I can’t remember that much of the game (I have not dared watch it back on the TV). I was so nervous during the first half, which Gateshead played well in with their renowned passing football. Cambridge looked pretty ordinary and resorted to long balls to tall forwards. At HT at 0-0 with few clear cut chances, it was anyones game. The winning move came from Cambridge’s manager who brought on another midfielder, changed formation and style of play with more clever fast passing leaving Gateshead in their wake. And soon afterwards Cambridge were 2-0 up. In the final minutes Gateshead rallied got a consolation goal and were so close to an equaliser in added time. Almost immediately the whistle went, Cambridge celebrated, I cried a little and we were to spend another year in non-league football. Also me, Chris and Micci would have a slightly depressing journey back north.
Besides the game, I loved the weekend and visiting Wembley with my friends and brother. The stadium and staff were excellent. The Heed Army turned out in force (bolstered a lot by our Newcastle and Sunderland neighbours), and were in fine voice and bar the odd flare behaved themselves. The Cambridge fans were also great and consolatory on the way back. The team looked devastated on the final whistle as they came over to clap the Heed army, we saluted them back, and I just wanted to say to them:
“Hey lads, don’t be down, you did us proud. You played amazing all season and most of all at that moment, you made me, my brother and my hometown proud of who we are…
and besides that theres always next season… or the season after…..”