Gateshead FC boss dreams of derby with Newcastle

PUBLISHED: 14:25 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:37 20 February 2013

Gateshead in action against Telford, at the International Stadium during last seasons pla-off

Gateshead in action against Telford, at the International Stadium during last seasons pla-off

A millionaire North East football club chairman dreams of making it big. Nothing new in that but, as Roger Tames discovers, this experienced football director has his feet firmly on the ground

If Graham Woods dream comes true, then Manchester might not be the only place where City could take on United in a passionate local derby - it could happen on Tyneside as well.

Now, admittedly there are one or two hurdles still to be negotiated before Gateshead City could possibly draw Newcastle United in the Third Round of the FA Cup, starting with city status being granted to the town on the south side of the River Tyne.

That civic elevation could happen as soon as 2012. By that time, Gateshead FC plan to be in their brand new stadium, which is being designed with the ultimate aim being the restoration of the club as an established member of the Football League.

The driving force behind such ambition is club chairman Graham Wood, a Gateshead-born success story who has supported his hometown club long enough to remember the halcyon days when Gateshead was a founder member of what was then the newly-formed Fourth Division.

Under Woods leadership, the club has enjoyed two successive promotions and is now one rung below the Football League. He believes the timing is perfect for the regeneration of Gateshead to extend to its football club.

Theres a definite sense of growing civic pride in Gateshead these days, enthuses the businessman who became a millionaire from making central heating boilers.

Look at the icons we have in Gateshead now.Theres a sense of independence here as well, a belief that were more than just a part of Newcastle.

All this success can rub off on the football club. If Gateshead becomes a city, I would be proud to change our name in line.

Wood chuckles to himself at the idea that his football club can hold its annual dinner in a Hilton Hotel situated in the borough. The Hilton brand was a modern byword for luxury when he was a young fan suffering the anguish of Gatesheads loss of league status half a century ago.

The club had finished third bottom at a time when the four lowest-placed clubs had to apply for re-election. And despite having by no means the worst record, the North East team were dumped in favour of Peterborough United. The unfairness still hurts among senior supporters.

The last half century has rarely been kind to Gateshead, whove flirted with extinction and suffer from poor crowds at the impressive but football-unfriendly International Stadium. But Woods arrival has provided previously-unknown substance where it matters most in football these days - at the bank.

Multi million pound football club owners may have gone right out of fashion on the north side of the Tyne, but the former vice chairman of Sunderland has been his clubs Angel of the North.

I want to establish something at Gateshead that continues after me, thats self sufficient,

insists the man who has already ploughed in a seven-figure sum. But I am spending it on myself really. Its an indulgence, a pleasure. Ive had enormous fun being involved with the club. What else are you going to do with your cash? The businessman in me likes the challenge as well.

Its that commercial acumen that is behind Woods plan to make Gateshead sustainable, with its centrepiece a new stadium built opposite the towns Civic Centre on the site of the old North Durham Cricket Club.

The proposals include commercial space within the ground, which would be let to provide a regular income away from matchdays. The capacity would be 9,000, including 2,000 seats in the main stand. The three sides of terracing could convert to seats if required, reducing the numbers to 6,000.

Its all very sensible, based on a lifetime of business experience and the football knowledge gained from nearly eight years on the board of Sunderland. In fact, its a soccer world away from the madness of George Reynolds and his memorial stadium at Darlington, a millstone which looks set to drag The Quakers down into the same league as Gateshead.

Of course, first Gateshead have to haul themselves out of the Blue Square Premier League and into League Two. Despite outstanding work by team manager Ian Bogie, a former Newcastle midfielder, survival in the top level of the non-league game is the immediate challenge as the team hovers above the relegation zone.

After two promotions, we probably underestimated the jump in standard, admits the chairman. Its very significant. The gap is similar to the difference between the Championship and the Premier League.

Were only part time while 17 of the divisions 24 clubs are full time professionals. We need to go full time ourselves in the summer.
And that would be another major step towards ending the 50 years of hurt. Come on City!

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