Gateshead FC nearly went out of existence three years ago but now the Tynesiders have bounced back on and off the pitch to clinch promotion alongside recognition for their work in the community, writes Sportsbeat's James Reid.
The Heed won the FA Community Club of the Year at The Non-League Paper’s National Game Awards 2022 in association with Buildbase in recognition of the terrific work the club does in its local area.
The Vanarama National League North champions set up support phone lines during Covid, work closely with local foodbanks, and run walking football sessions as part of a wide range of community programmes.
“It’s brilliant,” said Community Officer Ben Clark. “The hard work that we all do, to get the rewards for it is fantastic.
“This is for everybody at the club, at the foundation. I’m here to collect the award but this is for everybody at the club.”
Clark is part of the team at Gateshead that have worked tirelessly to rebuild the club after financial difficulties three years ago that saw them relegated from the National League.
This season saw the Heed return to the fifth tier as they won the National League North by seven points, but Clark is focused on ensuring the club stays at the heart of its community.
“Three years ago, we nearly didn’t have a club,” said Clark.
“Over the last three years, we’ve worked really hard to get the club back out in the community, getting the community involved.
“We’re very much a community-based football club. Our supporters have a seat on the board, our local businesses put money into the club – it’s been a hard two years but it’s been something we’re really proud of.”
The award is well-earned recognition for the work the Tynesiders do but Clark isn’t prepared to rest on his laurels as the club moves up the football pyramid.
— Gateshead FC (@GatesheadFC) June 14, 2022
Gateshead fight for fans with Newcastle United and Sunderland but Clark is already seeing the difference the club’s work is making.
“A few years ago it was just Newcastle shirts completely but now I come to sessions and there are people with Gateshead shirts,” added Clark. “It’s hard work but we’re getting the rewards for it now.
“Football is the best game in the world. Especially up in the North East, they’re football daft and it’s been great for me to see Gateshead shirts when I’m out there now.
“It helps when we’ve had success on the pitch as well, I go out in the community, into the schools, football camps. When the club is doing well, it’s easy to promote.
“It’s something we’re really proud of and we want to keep going.
— The Non-League Paper (@NonLeaguePaper) June 14, 2022
“Newcastle is a fantastic football club, well supported. We’re something completely different, a lot of people’s second teams.
“When Newcastle aren’t playing, some of the supporters come across and watch our games which is fantastic. It helped us get promoted and something we’re trying to build on.
“We want to grow the fanbase and grow our community projects. It’s going to be an exciting time for the fans and one we’re all really looking forward to.”
The Non-League Paper, is the only paper that covers Non-League football from top to bottom - from the National League down to grass roots. It is the recognised authority on non-league football. Available every Sunday, in newsagents and supermarkets nationwide, or subscribe online at www.thenonleaguefootballpaper.com