September 4, 2019
Neil Pinkerton is in a bullish, optimistic mood. The new chairman of Gateshead Football Club is aiming for promotion from the National League North this year – which would be a remarkable achievement for a club that nearly went out of existence a few months ago.
Now, though, following a successful supporter- led takeover fronted by Neil and backed by local investors, he wants to make great strides forward both on and off the pitch. Not only has he assembled a squad capable of competing for promotion, but he’s also busy establishing a football academy with Gateshead College; one that will develop home-grown talent who can go on to make their name at the Heed – or potentially secure a place in a Football League side.
This pioneering venture is part of a long-term plan to create a fresh, vibrant new club with its roots firmly embedded in the local community – and Neil is keen to get individuals and businesses on board for the ride.
He says: “Naturally, we’ll benefit if we bring more young, hungry players through the ranks but we want to do so much more than that. The academy structure we’ve developed with Gateshead College will allow more local people to pursue a career in the industry, so even if they don’t become an elite footballer, they have the skills and qualifications to go into coaching, sports science or a job in another industry.
“We want to engage with local schools – children, teachers and parents – and build partnerships with local businesses that want
to get more involved in the community. They could provide mentoring and work placement opportunities for students who perhaps don’t make the professional grade but want to pursue a career in sport or a related industry, such as health, fitness and leisure. That would allow them to bring new talent and ideas into their business; they might even look to hire someone permanently if they can fill a skills gap or add something new to the business.
“I’ve been clear all along that I want to develop a sustainable football club. Working alongside the college, who are completely on the same page as us, we can build lots of different partnerships to make this happen.”
The new academy provides a clear pathway for players to progress into the reserve (under-19s) side and eventually into the first team.
There are also two academy sides for 16-18 year-olds, which enable the club to attract and develop players who’ve come from local boys’ clubs or been released by the likes of Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle. The plan is to create an under-17s and under-18s team, as well as a ladies’ side, creating more opportunities for budding footballers to hone their talents. Crucially, though, with Gateshead College on board, students will not only get the best professional training but a recognised qualification that will set them up for a career in whatever industry they choose to work.
Gary Middleton, head football coach at Gateshead College, says: “We’re giving them life skills that they can take into their career, whether that’s the sports arena or somewhere else. They’ll learn about leadership, good communication, management and other transferable skills that are really valued by employers.
“We’re giving them life skills that they can take into their career, whether that’s the sports arena or somewhere else. They’ll learn about leadership, good communication, management and other transferable skills that are really valued by employers”
“The great thing about this academy set-up is that it caters for people of all abilities. If some of them make it in football, fine; if they don’t, they have something to fall back on, talents, skills and qualifications that make them attractive to employers.”
The longstanding college-football club partnership has already produced some notable success stories – both in a football sense and outside of the game. Former Heed players Jon Mellish and Tom White have gone on to play for
Carlisle and Blackburn respectively, while Elliot Forbes is now a regular in Gateshead’s first team having impressed for the reserves. Others have taken up coaching roles at local sports clubs or gone on to work in the broader health, fitness and leisure industry.
“Because we work closely with employers, we know what skills they’re after,” says Gary.
“This means we can adapt our course content and produce students who’ll be useful to these companies. Within this academy set-up, we must build bridges with employers and get them to understand the football club’s vision for the future.”
At the centre of this vision is the desire – shared by the football club and college – to create a community asset that educates, informs and inspires, one that engages with and creates opportunities for individuals and businesses.
“We want to create a sustainable club that the whole region can celebrate – and the academy is an essential part of that,” says Neil. “It’s great to have the college on our doorstep as they really get what we’re trying to build here and are there to support us every step of the way.”
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