Council leader hits out against EFL decision to bar Gateshead FC from National League play-offs

Martin Gannon
Martin Gannon -Credit:ncjMedia

Gateshead Council’s leader has said there is “no reasonable reason” to exclude Gateshead FC from end-of-season promotion play-offs after a shock last-minute ruling from footballing authorities.

Coun Martin Gannon hit out at the English Football League (EFL) after insisting that the council had provided the football club with security on the use of Gateshead International Stadium for the next 10 years.

The council is looking to transfer ownership of the stadium to a third party because it is a drain of more than £800,000 each year on the hard-pressed authority’s finances.

But it has emerged that the EFL was concerned that the council was not able to commit to the 10-year period if it couldn’t offload the stadium - a judgement that was backed up by an independent arbitration panel.

The panel recorded that while a letter from Gateshead Council to the club, from March 28, stated the local authority “has committed” to decade-long security, this was “not enough to satisfy the League that the Qualifying Criteria has been met”.

Gateshead International Stadium.
Gateshead International Stadium. -Credit:ChronicleLive

A requirement to have 10 years’ security on a stadium has been a requirement for clubs in the National League - the top level of non-league football - wanting to get promotion into the EFL, though it is not currently a requirement on any of the EFL’s existing teams.

Fans of the club, who helped rescue Gateshead from nearly going out of operation in 2019, have been hitting out at both the council and the football league since the decision to exclude the club from the play-offs was announced at the weekend. The Gateshead Soul supporters group said fans were feeling “disbelief and anger at being let down by the EFL and the local council.”

Coun Gannon said: “The international stadium runs at a deficit of £800,000 a year which is unsustainable. Despite being in the middle of a procurement exercise to get a new operator of the stadium, the council worked with the club and the National League to ensure that the club were able to satisfy the requirements of the EFL.

“The council agreed to give the club a 10-year licence if they gained promotion. The agreement included a break clause to allow the club to negotiate terms if the operation of the stadium transferred to a new operator

“The club sought advice from the National League and provided the council with the wording of a side letter to the club that set out this agreement. The council agreed and provided this letter which was submitted with the club’s application to the EFL. The council, the club and the national league believed that this was sufficient to satisfy the requirement.

“We’re enormously disappointed with the EFL’s decision. We will continue to work with the club. We believe that there is no reasonable reason to exclude the club from membership of the EFL.”

At the weekend, the football club said it was “extremely disappointed” at the decision to exclude it from the play-offs and added that it would “continue to challenge both on their decisions, and we will endeavour to ensure that footballing matters are decided on the pitch.”

But with the first play-off game due to be played tomorrow night [TUES], it appears that time is running out for the decision to be reversed.

Gateshead Council’s Lib Dem opposition leader coun Ron Beadle also vented his frustration over the situation and said: “Gateshead Football Club have been winners all season but their reward has been removed by the losers who lead Gateshead Council. The council is reviewing the future of Gateshead Stadium but should have guaranteed the football club’s future by including their use of the stadium as a condition for any transfer of ownership.

“The fact that we are only finding out about this now, nearly two months after the EFL needed a decision, shows utter contempt for the residents and councillors, who are elected to take decisions like this and were not informed.”

The EFL did not comment on Coun Gannon’s statement.