Gateshead football club obliterated by Hong Kong businessman

Gateshead Football Club is a North East based club that plays in the fifth tier of the English league Pyramid. The league is called the Vanarama National League for sponsorship reasons and is one of the most difficult to get promoted from in all of the English league structure. 

The club was put up for sale towards the end of the 2018-2019 season and Hong Kong businessman Dr Ranjan Varghese bought the club from previous owners Richard and Julie Bennet. Since the Dr's purchase, the club has been thrown into turmoil and looks like it might not even be a club come next season. This is Gateshead Football Clubs story, hopefully, we can make more people aware of the dire situation the club has been put in by shady businessmen. 

A small passionate club - Gateshead represents its community

Gateshead is a small club, with an extremely loyal and passionate fan base, they draw in some of the lowest crowds in the National League, but the fans they do get, are some of the most passionate you will see anywhere in the whole of the UK. 

Gateshead hasn't had much success over the years, but they have maintained that loyal fan following despite this lack of success. The best success they have had over recent years was getting to the play-off final, where they lost out on securing a spot in the football league by losing 2-1 to Cambridge United, this was back in the 2013-14 season. Even though Gateshead lost in the final, the fact they got there in the first place was a remarkable achievement for the Heed (Gateshead are affectionately known as the Heed in the North East).

Over the years, this plucky fighting attitude from the club, and the players they sign has been maintained regardless of what has been going on off the pitch behind the scenes, and this is why Gateshead manage to maintain their loyal fan base, because they represent the area with a pride and passion that isn't seen in a lot of other clubs. The plucky nature of little Gateshead Football Club represents the attitude of Gateshead and the people who come from Gateshead so well, that the people and the club are one and the same entity. The club is there to represent the people of its community and it represents them very well, at the same time, folk from the North East are the gritty plucky type, and they couldn't be more proud of the fact that Gateshead Football Club is just like them. Gritty and determined to succeed despite the obstacles put in their way, and that was shown again this season with their magnificent 9th placed finish even with all the off-field issues. This was an outstanding achievement from a group of players who resemble the people they represent with aplomb. 

The cracks started to appear, the fans started to worry

It wasn't long for the cracks to appear in terms of the new owners of Gateshead, that was because news came out that a certain Joseph Cala was actually the true owner of the club and not the Dr. Joseph Cala has a past history of ruining football clubs, he spent 11 days at Italian side Salerno Calcio where it was reported at the time that Cala failed to pay the bills despite promising 40 million Euros for the club to invest.

The same problems occurred at Morecambe football club when Cala bought the club and players had to go unpaid. He also attempted to buy Portsmouth at the height of their financial problems, with fans obviously being extremely happy he didn't manage to get his filthy mitts on their club.

Not only does Cala have a history of damaging football clubs, but he also has a criminal record, allegedly he had been caught in the past with 6000 Euros in fake banknotes. It is reported in various outlets that Cala was the original person who tried to buy Gateshead football club, but he failed the FA's fit and proper owners test, so it looks as if he has tried to tout the idea around as a way of getting a hold of the football club through a kind of back door way. Whereby, the Dr. has his name involved but Cala runs the day to day business, and he has again run a club into the ground faster than anyone could imagine.

Gateshead were favourites for relegation at the start of the season

At the start of the season, Gateshead were favourites to be relegated from the National League, peoples reasoning behind the thinking on this was actually sound, level headed thinking. Gateshead had the smallest budget in the league, they began pre-season with very few players, and Gateshead manager Steve Watson had to work hard to assemble a young and hungry squad that he thought would be able to do well in the up-and-coming-season.

Promoting youngsters, signing discarded players from other clubs, and persuading Iron Mike Willamson to play for the club were brilliant pieces of business. Gateshead started the season extremely well and was confounding everyone's original opinion as they hovered either just inside, or just outside of the play-off positions all season long. Only losing out in the last few remaining matches of the season.  

Transfer embargo

At some point in the season, news came out that Gateshead had been placed under a transfer embargo, this was a disaster especially as two of the Heed's loan signings were recalled by their parent clubs, and due to the transfer embargo, couldn't be replaced making Gateshead's tiny squad even smaller.

Still, the fight for a playoff spot went on, as this determined squad continued to defy the odds, and represented Gateshead heroically. Then more bad news was to follow through, with Gateshead agreeing to sell top scorer, Scott Bolden to Chesterfield for 12,000 quid, even though the club knew there was no way he could be replaced due to the transfer embargo. The club didn't stop there though, important defender Fraser Kerr was sold to Hartlepool United for a paltry 4000 quid. This was all done at the time more bad news came out involving the club, that HMRC was owed £10,000 from the club, but the bill went unpaid. 

The sale of these players was the straw that broke the camels back for those loyal Gateshead fans, who set up supporters group Gateshead Soul. 

Gateshead for sale for 1 pound

The Gateshead football club owner released a statement after protests against his ownership of the club, stating that he would be willing to sell the club for 1 pound with fans of the new supporter's group Gateshead Soul getting to meet the new owners before the transaction was completed. 

Interest was confirmed as coming from former Rochdale owner, Chris Dunphy. He met with the fans and agreed in principle to buy the club, however, he had problems in contacting the current Gateshead owners in order to check over the books. Without being able to see the books, Dunphy would never buy the club, and again Gateshead was right back at the beginning of this whole mess they found themselves in. Gateshead Soul gives their backing to Dunphy and it seems like there could still be the hope of him getting involved in the proposal from Gateshead Soul of creating a new club comes to fruition.  

Off the field, problems keep mounting for Gateshead 

The problems continue to stack up as the season goes on, and unbelievably Gateshead remained in the playoff fight throughout all this chaos, showing what a great squad of players Steve Watson assembled. From here on in, I will sweep over the issues briefly, otherwise, this post could turn into a novel sized book.

Steve Watson left the club, to join York City who is playing a level below Gateshead because he has become disillusioned at how the club is being run. Watson was doing an amazing job at the club, and he had become a very popular manager among the Heed Army (Gateshead's loyal fans).

Players had to go weeks without pay or were paid late. The youth team sometimes didn't receive any pay at all. The players deserve great credit for their professionalism in this situation, because most squads of players would have downed tools and refused to play, Gateshead, however, kept carrying on the good fight in the aim of getting into the Football League. 

The club stopped organizing match day travel a day or two before the game to save money on accommodation costs. That meant the team would travel on the morning of matches by bus, for a lot of matches that are some travel time. Considering Dover are in the same league as Gateshead, travelling all that way by bus to then play a professional game of football and still manage to compete.

Not only did the club stop paying for accommodation, but they also stopped paying for pre-game meals for the players. Gateshead Soul intervened here and had a whip around to ensure the players got pre-game meals. 

The launderette who washed Gateshead's match kits refused to do so because the club had an unpaid bill of 1000 pound. The Gateshead supporters took it upon themselves to help the team, and wash the clubs kits for the players. 

The club had stopped paying their rent money on Gateshead International Stadium, where the team play their home matches. Gateshead council who own the stadium then decided to kick the club out of all office spaces but allowed the club to finish their season. As of now, Gateshead Football club still doesn't have a home stadium. 

There have been rumours that the owners intend to move the club to Newcastle's Kingston Park, where the Newcastle Falcons play Rugby. This rumour has been met with expected resistance from Gateshead Soul.

When the season finished, all the playing squad and staff members were sacked by email or text. The Club as of now, have no staff members, no stadium, and 1 contracted player until June. Once his contract is up though, it is expected that he will also be let go, meaning the club won't have any staff, a playing squad or a stadium. 

Gateshead is a club close to my heart, as most North East clubs are (especially the smaller ones who struggle for support because of Newcastle and Sunderland) with me coming from the area. I have never watched Gateshead as much as I likely should have, but when Newcastle didn't have games I would often either go to see Dunston Fed (my most local of local teams) or go to see Gateshead.

Gateshead Soul has now proposed that they will put all efforts into making a new breakaway club, that is most likely going to be entered into the Wearside League, which is a local North East League, and is level 11 which is the bottom rung of the football league pyramid in England.  

Gateshead fans have created a Go Fund Me page in order to raise funds for the creation of the breakaway club. The Go Fund Me page has raised £6723 in 2 days as the football community rallies around another group of football fans doing all they to save their club from ceasing to exist. Just because they are outside the top two divisions does not mean they are any less important to their fans or the community. 

Like a lot of other clubs before them lower down the divisions, Gateshead plight doesn't get the publicity it deserves, if you support football and hate the way it is headed then donate to the Gateshead Go Fund Me page if you can afford too. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated. Save the Heed!


  1. Brilliant article, thank you mate a true Gateshead Soul

  2. Thank you for the kind words. I hope Gateshead survive!

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