Saturday 2 March 2019

South Shields and Gateshead, the Football League Years - PART TWO

On the 28th day of May in 1960, Gateshead Football Club was kicked out of the Football League, they had failed to secure re-election meaning for the first time in just over 40 years there would no longer be league football taking place on the southern banks of the River Tyne. A compelling story that had begun four decades earlier further down the river in the town of South Shields had now come to an abrupt and rather sad end.

Whilst on the northern side of the River Tyne Newcastle United have been a massive institution in the world of football for well over 100 years, and regularly draw crowds of 50,000+ to watch them play. However, across the river, for their one-time football league rivals, things did not fare so well. The story of South Shields FC and the Gateshead side they became when after 11 years they moved upstream is largely forgotten. But this is a fascinating tale nonetheless, and in a two-part piece, we look back at these fascinating years and in the second part we look at the story of Gateshead Football Club, ups and downs on the pitch, a historic cup run, and a sad end to thirty years of league football. (You can read Part One here)

Although there were fairly big crowds on occasion, in general, South Sheilds' move to Gateshead did not see a massive upturn in support, in fact, Newcastle Reserves often drew bigger crowds in the North Eastern League than Gateshead did in Division Three North, just as Sunderland's reserve side had drawn bigger crowds than Shields did in their later years. This was the case for most of the 1930s and Newcastle's first team were actually relegated to Division Two in 1934. But nonetheless, there would be no more moves. The club stayed in Gateshead with a wealthy businessman named Willaim Tulip at times keeping them afloat financially.

On the pitch, Gateshead finished 9th in their first season and managed two wins in the cup. Their first league game in Gateshead had attracted an impressive 15,545 with the local town mayor and the President of the Football League both in attendance. With nine players from the old Shields team in the lineup, they beat Doncaster Rovers 2-1.

Gateshead's second season as a Football League team proved to be one of their best, and they did for a short while manage to draw large crowds of locals to watch them play. The club won all five of their opening matches whilst an excellent unbeaten run towards the end of the season saw them finish as high as second in the final table behind champions Lincoln City. Sadly for Gateshead, the second of only two promotion spots went to the Champions of Division Three South, so there would be no promotion party on Tyneside. 

In that second season, a player called Bill McNaughton scored four times in two successive games for Gateshead against Barrow and York City. He was transferred to Hull City the following season and ended up scoring 41 goals as they cruised to the Third Division North title. Another high scorer in those days was Jack Westley who scored 26 goals for Tynesiders in the 1933/34 including four against Hartlepools United in one match. The following year he moved to Bradford (Park Avenue).

After finishing second in 1931-32 Gateshead didn't finish so high the following season, ending the campaign in 7th place, whilst an impressive 1-1 draw at home to First Division Manchester City in the cup was followed by a 9-0 defeat in the replay. Two 19th placed finishes (out of 22) followed, and the club continued to struggle financially with the usual issue cropping up once again - poor attendances. Two seasons later the club finished second bottom and had to reapply to stay in the league. They were successful on this occasion, but it was hardly something to shout about with the club struggling near the bottom year after year.

In the summer of 1937, it was announced that Redheugh Park would be transformed by installing a greyhound track. The greyhound racing company who would use it outside football matchdays would pay the rates and ground rents, and this was something that was bound to help the club at least a little financially. 

On the pitch, things did begin to improve. An excellent start to the 1937/38 season saw Gateshead top of the league in October, and the locals clearly took note with over 20,000 in attendance for one game. Sadly this excellent form did not last all season and the club ultimately finished 5th. 1938/39 saw Gateshead finish 10th whilst following season only managed to last three games before world war two brought proceedings to a halt.

From 1941 onwards Gateshead played in the wartime leagues, and in 1945 they actually claimed a piece of silverware winning what was called the Tyne-Wear-Tees Cup, beating Sunderland 6-3 in the final.

Several Gateshead players went on to play First Division football over the years but few made much of an impact in the top division, one who did though was Billy Cairns. Cairns moved to Grimsby where in the first two post-war seasons he scored 34 goals in 59 top flight games before Grimsby dropped back down the divisions and soon ended up in Division Three North. Another Gateshead player to make it to the First Division was Cecil McCormack who scored 100 goals for the Tynesiders during and after the war. His First Division stint was brief but he did manage to score a hat-trick for Middlesbrough in a 7-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers.

In the seasons after the war, Gateshead had several mid table finishes, but also managed to finish as high as fourth and fifth in two campaigns. Matches of note over this period included a 7-0 Christmas Day victory over Hartlepools United and a 3-1 fourth round FA Cup defeat against a West Brom side who would finish that season runners up in Division Two.

1949/50 was a season of note for the Gateshead boys as for the second time in their Football League history so far they came rather close to promotion. An excellent start to the season saw the hope of promotion seem to fade away as they headed towards Christmas, but then things began to then turn around. A win and a draw against North East rivals Darlington over the festive period was followed by four straight victories as Gateshead began to climb back up the table. A couple of draws and a defeat in February and March were surrounded by victories, and then seven straight wins at the tail end of the season saw Gateshead in second place, but earlier losses proved fatal and Doncaster won the league with two games to spare. Promotion sadly denied for Gateshead.

The 1952/53 season was another one worth remembering, but more so for Gateshead's FA Cup fortunes rather than their league form. Rounds One and Two of the 1952/53 FA Cup saw Gateshead defeat Crewe Alexandra and Bradford (Park Avenue), and this set up a mouthwatering Third Round home tie with First Division Liverpool. Liverpool visited Tyneside on an afternoon covered in fog and this saw the abandonment of the game between Newcastle United and Swansea Town across the river at St Jame's Park, but over at Gateshead's Redheugh Park ground the full 90 minutes took place. An excellent performance from Gateshead culminated in an 84th minute winner for the home side thanks to an Ian Winters header, a goal which because of the heavy fog many in the 15,000+ crowd did not see. 

A remarkable victory over a top First Division side saw Gateshead drawn away at Hull City in the next round and more than 4,000 supporters travelled down from Tyneside to cheer on the lads. The visitors took the lead after just four minutes when John Ingham slotted home after Johnny Campbell corner. 1-0 become 2-0 on 29 minutes a Winters shot deflected into the net of a Hull City defender, and whilst the home side pulled one back three minutes later, resolute defending saw Gateshead hold out for another impressive win.
The next round saw Gateshead drawn away against Plymouth Argyle and in the 53rd minute Winters headed home from 10yds to seal another famous victory and set up a delicious quarter final home tie with First Division Bolton Wanderers. Plymouth, on the other hand, became the only team to be knocked out of the FA Cup by not only Gateshead in their then current guise but also by them in their previous incarnation as South Shields.

17,692 were in attendance at Redheugh Park for the Quarter Final tie and for over half the game Gateshead managed to keep Wanderers at bay, but on 55 minutes Nat Lofthouse put Bolton ahead and Gateshead lost the game 1-0. Bolton, on the other hand, ended up making it to the final where they faced Blackpool in what many consider one of the greatest cup finals.

In 1955 the FA Cup once again saw First Division opposition return to Gateshead as the club faced Tottenham Hotspur in round three. Unfortunately, however, the 18840 spectators in attendance saw the visitors win 2-0. 

A 7th placed finish that season marked the end of what had been a moderately successful period for the club, though on too many occasions early season promise had faded away and attendances had dropped. One Wednesday afternoon home game towards the end of the 1951/52 season had even sen the humiliation of a three figure crowd. With Gateshead's season going nowhere only 622 people bothered to take an afternoon off work for what was basically a meaningless end of season match. By the 1956/57 however, the introduction of floodlights helped stop further embarrassing afternoon crowds.

6 and 7-0 defeats against Chesterfield and Darlington in the 1956-57 season saw Gateshead end the campaign in a miserable 17th place with attendances getting lower and lower. Although a slight improvement on the previous season, an average home attendance of 3,875 for Gateshead in 1956/57 was still the lowest in the entire Football League. Interestingly the following season Gateshead were one of the few teams to see their attendances significantly increase as the club finished 14th.

The 14th placed finish in 1957/58 saw Gateshead effectively relegated to a new Fourth Division. Regionalised football was disbanded in the Football League with top half of the Division Three North and South leagues merged into a nationwide Third Division for the following season and the bottom half, including Gateshead, dropping down to a new Division Four.

1958 saw the arrival of Scottish centre forward Hughie Gallagher to the club. Gallagher was already a hero on Tyneside thanks to five hugely successful years at First Division neighbours Newcastle United between 1925-30 where he scored 133 goals in 160 games. He only played 34 times for Gateshead however, scoring 18 goals in the process, 5 of which came in one single game against Rotherham United.

Gallagher's retirement from football in 1939 came the year before 30 years of league football at Redheugh Park came to a very sad end. Having finished as low as 20th (out of 24) in 1958-59, the following season was even worse. Completely disastrous in fact. Gateshead did not win a single game away from home finishing second bottom and for only the second time in 30 years, suffering the humiliation of having to apply for re-election. Unlike in 1937, Gateshead were this time unsuccessful. On May 28 at the Football League's Annual General Meeting their application was rejected. Gateshead gained only 18 votes in their bid for re-election whilst Oldham reapplying for the second successive season gained as many as 39, behind them Midland League side Peterborough United, Hartlepools United, and Southport all gained more votes than the Tynesiders. After 30 years Gateshead Football Club was no longer a Football League club.

Gateshead have not played in the Football League since, the closest they've come was reaching Conference Premier play-off final in 2014, where a 2-1 defeat to Cambridge United saw them miss out on promotion back to the Football League.

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