Gateshead fans stage protest after being excluded from National League play-offs

Fans outside Gateshead Council make their disappointment known. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Gateshead supporters have staged a protest outside the council's HQ over the circumstances leading the club to be barred from the National League play-offs.

A failure to guarantee the club's ten-year tenure at Gateshead International Stadium means they fall short of the English Football League's (EFL) rules, preventing them from facing Solihull Moors as scheduled on Tuesday.

On Monday (22 April), a week on from celebrating securing a place in the play-offs, fans made their disappointment known outside Gateshead Council.

Among them were fans who lamented the club were "on the cusp of something" but were "playing for nothing".

Gateshead supporters are reeling from the lost opportunity for the club. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

For fans like David Gaddess, who also hosts The Heed Army podcast, the evaporating chance of promotion is leaving the club’s fairytale season in tatters.

He said: "As a football fan you want to hopefully progress through the leagues and Gateshead have been told 'this is your glass ceiling - you can't go any further forward'.

"This season's been amazing. We would have loved to have had a chance to get into the playoffs.

"As a non-league club, you look at the football league as the promised land. We are a proper club but you would feel like a proper club and everything that comes with that."

The stadium is owned by Gateshead Council which is in the process of finding a new operator for all of its leisure venues as part of cost-cutting measures.

The authority said the procurement process meant it could not guarantee the club a ten-year tenure for the stadium without a break clause to renegotiate with the new operator.

A failure to guarantee the club's ten year tenure at Gateshead International Stadium means they fall short of the EFL's rules. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Opposition parties have said the council has let down residents and fans.

But the council leader insisted the authority had done everything possible - and put the blame at the feet of the EFL.

Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, said: "I think it is unfair. I think in reality the villain here is the English Football League.

"The requirement for an absolutely unqualified ten-year licence is impossible at the present time for the council to deliver and probably is impossible for many non-league, small, community clubs to satisfy.

"It's uncompetitive and that'll be the basis of the challenge that the club will take against the English Football League, which will be supported by Gateshead Council."

Podcast host David Gaddess said the circumstances are Gateshead's 'glass ceiling'. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mark Carruthers is a writer who specialises in non-league football. He believes there is no easy way out of the situation.

"It's a mess that isn't going to be easily untangled," he said. "The most heartbreaking thing is the effort that's been put in to get the club to go from the brink of going out of existence to where they are now when they have a very real prospect of being a Football League club for the first time since 1960.

"And the opportunity to be taken away by red tape and bureaucracy is heartbreaking."

The EFL have also expressed their disappointment at the situation but had tried to work with the club to help them meet the relevant criteria earlier this year.

In a statement released on its website on Sunday, it said: "All National League Clubs are required to apply annually to the EFL should they wish to be eligible for promotion, which Gateshead did alongside other clubs by the 30 November deadline.

"Working with the EFL, clubs then had until 1 March to ensure that all the relevant criteria of EFL Regulations were met.

"As Gateshead failed to meet the security of tenure requirement, the EFL rejected its application.

"The club appealed the League's decision claiming that it was irrational or unreasonable, but that appeal has now been rejected after consideration by an independent arbitrator.

"As the EFL strongly believes in the principles of promotion and relegation it is therefore highly disappointing that appropriate solutions have not been put in place over the previous two-year period, as avoidable circumstances are preventing Gateshead from progressing up the pyramid even if the Club achieves success through sporting merit.

"The League hopes that Gateshead and the relevant stakeholders can address this matter so that the Club can meet the obligations of EFL membership and be eligible for promotion in future seasons."

While the play-off disappointment looms large, Gateshead still have something to play for this season as they are due to face Solihull in the FA Trophy final at Wembley on 11 May.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...