Gateshead's success story proves that League 3 would be a disaster for English football

A hot Sunday at Wembley illustrates why League 3 is bad for English football, writes Chief Sportswriter Mark Douglas

Action Images / John Sibley Gateshead manager Gary Mills with players
Gateshead manager Gary Mills with players

There was no sign of Greg Dyke perspiring in the searing Wembley heat on Sunday.

The most vocal member of the Football Association’s commission to correct English football’s ills Danny Mills also gave it a miss. So, too, did Glenn Hoddle, another of those who was happy to put his name to proposals for a new quasi-league to be inserted into the pyramid to prop up Premier League ‘B’ teams.

Richard Scudamore, who has gone to ground following the email controversy whipped up by the Sunday Mirror, was not in the crowd for Sunday’s dramatic Conference play-off final either.

It is a shame, because had they been among the 19,613 who did click the Wembley turnstiles maybe they would realise why most ordinary football folk had been so offended by their preposterous League 3 proposal.

Perhaps they also might have bumped into Newcastle United and Wales full-back Paul Dummett, the kind of player who would supposedly benefit from their off-the-wall idea. Dummett is 22 and until last season had his path to the first team blocked by an expensively-acquired Italian international, who – in turn – replaced an expensive Spanish import.

Dyke’s response to this logjam is for clubs like Newcastle to field ‘B’ teams that might be scrapping with Cambridge and Gateshead, two clubs that shared decades upon decades of history and saw dreams and aspirations both dashed and delivered over the weekend.

Dummett, however, is a rare homegrown success story.

Against odds that Dyke rightly points out can be insurmountable for many, he broke into the Newcastle team and made 18 appearances in the Premier League last season. He is now rubbing shoulders with Gareth Bale in the Wales squad and even scored for United last season.


And why was he at Gateshead on Sunday? Ten games at the International Stadium outfit in 2012 – an absolutely vital part of his progression as a professional footballer – had everything to do with it. It was a lesson that informed Dummett’s career to this point.

Sunday afternoon was 90 minutes of proof that Dyke’s proposal is complete poppycock. If anything, the Football Association should be doing more to support the Conference, not trying to undermine it with policies that offend the sensibilities of the vast majority who ply their trade away from the glare of the Premier League.

When The Journal contacted Gateshead chairman Graham Wood on Sunday he was finishing a meal in London, the final act of a historic weekend that had seen the Tynesiders taste the big time but ultimately come up short. Now, he promised, they have an appetite for it.

“Of course it was a fantastic occasion but it was so very disappointing to just miss out,” he said.

“The disappointment comes when you look at the fixture list next season. Dover, Torquay... There’s a lot of long trips in there.”

Don’t take that as a criticism or grumble about the division that they are proud to be a member of, though. “The Conference is thriving,” he says, emphatically.

“The idea for League Three is absolutely appalling. I can’t believe someone came up with such an idea. I think it demonstrates the Football Association are losing more and more of a grip on the game.

“The Premier League is getting stronger and stronger and they were probably grasping with something to improve the England side – or at least to look like they are doing something about it. The whole thing was so poorly thought through and I just can’t believe that it will happen.”

Dyke’s idea was to radically shake up the lower leagues to try and help young English footballers to break through the glass ceiling but it ignores a better solution: helping the non-league game to grow organically and encouraging closer links between top-flight clubs and their lower league bretheren.

A strong Gateshead playing in a league that is better funded and supported by the authorities is a huge benefit for Sunderland, Newcastle and even Middlesbrough. Not only can they loan players to the club but they might also be able to recruit players who fall through the professional football net – if they help to support the rising of standards at that level.

Sunday was certainly one in the eye for those who believe football in the lower reaches has to be direct and physical. Mills’ Gateshead are patient purveyors of passing, possession-based football and they were so close to ending 54 years of Football League exile. Wood feels their philosophy proves the quality of the league.

“The Conference now is unrecognisable from where it was five or six years ago,” he says.

“We play good football and Gary has made us excellent to watch but we’re not the only team in that position. We played Barnet earlier in the season and it was one of the best games you are likely to see this season.

“As a league it is as strong as League Two now and getting better.”

Let’s hope Dyke and company take note and kill off their pet project quickly and with the minimum of fuss.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer