Athletes forced to make way for footballers at Gateshead Stadium

ATHLETES from the region's top running club claim a football club is threatening to damage the North East's Olympic legacy.

Athletes on the track at Gateshead International Stadium
Athletes on the track at Gateshead International Stadium

ATHLETES from the region's top running club claim a football club is threatening to damage the North East's Olympic legacy.

Gateshead Harriers has for decades enjoyed Tuesday night training at Gateshead International Stadium.

But now the group, which has produced Olympic medalists including Brendan Foster, Jonathan Edwards and Charlie Spedding, is increasingly having to make way for non-league side Gateshead FC.

This season six home games were scheduled for Tuesday nights while a friendly, two FA Youth Cup matches and an extra league game have also forced the athletes on to the streets.

But the football club, which averages crowds of only 673, has no choice in the matter as Blue Square Bet Premier rules say it has to play on Tuesdays.

Olympic bronze medal winning marathon runner Charlie Spedding said a lengthy tradition was being threatened.

“Tuesday nights have been a fixture for Gateshead Harriers for at least 40 years and the football club has not been there anywhere near as long,” the 60-year-old said.

“During that time many international athletes have trained there, though I’ve never seen any international level footballers turning out for Gateshead FC.

“The stadium would not exist as it does without the Harriers. It was refurbished because of people like Brendan Foster and those who came after him, and the football club should be grateful they are allowed to use it and fit in with the athletics club.

“The football club should write to their league and tell them they do not have a stadium available to play in on a Tuesday.”

Runner Chris Parr, who represented England at youth level, said the situation was “embarrassing for the region”.

He said: “After producing Olympic athletes time and time again and hosting the world famous Bupa Great North Run, our Olympic Legacy after London 2012 is to send 300 plus athletes to the streets to train at short notice due to non-league football, their reserves and other mickey mouse league footy clubs.”

In 2009, the football club announced plans to build and move to a new 8,000-capacity arena by the middle of the 2011-12 season, but this was put back until the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

Club spokesman Jeff Bowron admitted it was now unlikely they would be in their new home, opposite Gateshead Civic Centre, before August 2015.

Short of being relegated the situation will not change. If they were promoted, Tuesday is also when midweek fixtures are played in Football League Two.

“It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do,” said Mr Bowron. “In the lower leagues we had the option of playing on a Monday or Wednesday, but Blue Square Bet Premier rules say we have to play all midweek games on a Tuesday. If we can’t we could be kicked out of the league.

“We appreciate the athletics club have been there for a long time, though we’ve also been there since about 1973 and at the end of the day we all have to fit in and get along.”

Mr Bowron said the football club had also had issues sharing the stadium, particularly on bank holidays when visitors to toy and train collectibles fairs left fans with nowhere to park.

Gateshead Council director of sport Ann Borthwick, said even when football is being played on a Tuesday night, some facilities were still available for the Harriers.

She said: “The outdoor athletics track remains available until 6.30pm and athletes can still use the indoor athletics training hall and the floodlit throws area, which are unaffected by football fixtures.”

Cities vying for chance to host World Cup

RUGBY World Cup bosses say Newcastle and Sunderland could both play host to matches during the 2015 tournament.

St James’ Park and the Stadium of Light have made the long-list of potential venues, which was announced yesterday. Seventeen stadia in 15 cities will now vie to become one of the final 12, but sources close to the organisers say the North East is almost guaranteed to see games.

Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson said he was delighted to see the city make the list, as hosting games could only add to the “vibrancy” of the city.

“Sunderland has an excellent track record in delivering a wide range of major events and a fantastic reputation for the warmth of our welcome and the passion we have for sport,” he said.

“We believe being a host venue in 2015 would add to the vibrancy of the city and further develop our reputation as a place where exciting festivals and events take place.”

While good news for Newcastle and Sunderland, the long-list of potential venues has proved controversial and received criticism for including only one club rugby stadium, Gloucester’s Kingsholm. Even Leicester Tigers’ 24,000 seater Welford Road ground, which hosted pool matches during the 1991 and 1999 Rugby World Cups, has missed out, with organisers including the city’s football ground instead.

Other possible venues include Villa Park in Birmingham, the Brighton Community Stadium, Ashton Gate in Bristol, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, Pride Park in Derby and Elland Road in Leeds.

The Pool Allocation Draw takes place in London on December 3, and a final decision should be made by spring 2013.


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