AMBITIOUS Gateshead chairman Graham Wood believes he can help return League football to the borough – almost 50 years after what he brands the “injustice” of the club being thrown out of the Football League.
Wood, Gateshead born and bred, is one of the club’s stalwart fans who believes the club unfairly lost their place in Division Four in 1960 when their application for re-election was surprisingly voted down.
That decision came less than a decade after the Tynesiders’ most famous season, when they reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and lost to Nat Lofthouse’s Bolton Wanderers in front of a record crowd of 17,692 in 1953.
Memories of that era are still fresh in Wood’s mind and have fired his belief the borough can sustain a thriving professional team, a vision that will come one step closer to reality if the club beat Buxton in tomorrow’s Unibond Premier play-off final.
“This club was a thriving, well-established Football League club not long ago – we believe there is the potential to return it to that,” said Wood, a former vice-chairman at Sunderland.
“Obviously it is ambitious but I believe the hunger is out there. This is the biggest game in the club’s recent history and I’m hoping the people of Gateshead will show their appetite for getting the club back into the league by turning out in force. A five-figure gate would be a huge sign of intent.”
Self-made millionaire Wood’s plans include a new 6,000 all-seater stadium and turning the club full-time to help them compete with clutch of clubs with recent Football League experience. The 64-year-old businessman has hinted he may be ready to do that as early as next season, if the club are promoted to Conference North, and he hopes to have a new stadium constructed by 2011.
“I don’t believe that the International Stadium is conducive to watching football and I do believe that it is one of the reasons why attendances are lower than we believe they should be,” he said.
“The stadium is a terrific athletics venue but it just isn’t good for playing or watching football in.
“If we can build a new stadium, with all the fixtures, fittings and facilities that go with it, it’ll be a big help for us in getting back to the Football League.”
Gateshead’s fortunes have been on an upward curve since Wood appointed Ian Bogie as manager almost exactly a year ago – a move that prompted the club to go 12 games unbeaten at the end of last season.
They’ve fared even better this season, finishing third, racking up the most goals of any team in English football and ending the season with ten wins in their last 11 games.
It has established Bogie as one of the non-League game’s brightest coaching prospects and Wood believes his manager is capable of stepping into the League and making an impact. But he hopes to persuade him to do that with the Tynesiders.
“On the evidence I’ve seen so far, I believe he can be a Football League manager and go very far,” said Wood. “He’s got the right sort of attitude, he comes across very well and he commands the respect of all of the players.”
“I cannot fault him at all. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to keep hold of him and that he’ll stay with us for a very long time and help us get back into the Football League.”