Why Newcastle United should invest in Gateshead FC

Posted by Marc Duffy

Barry Pells/The FA/Getty ImagesPhil Turnbull, front in white, of nearby Gateshead FC goes up for a ball during a 2011 match.

Over the past week there has been a lot of talk across the UK sporting media about Premier League clubs wanting to set up a 'B' team or feeder-club system similar to that in Spain. At present, there are strict rules prohibiting the ownership of two clubs in England and against feeder-clubs, but influential parties are pushing for a change to the system, hoping to find a better way of developing young players.

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Reaction to this has been mixed. Supporters of lower league clubs voiced fears about their clubs losing their identities should such a system come into play.

Personally, I would love to see it.

Over the past few years a link has formed between Newcastle United and Gateshead FC. Players including James Tavernier have made the short journey across the River Tyne to turn out for the Tynesiders on loan in the fifth tier of English football. And this year a scheme is in place to allow Newcastle season ticket holders discounted entry to Gateshead games.

Now imagine Newcastle bought in to Gateshead FC. The Conference National League might not be the ideal league to blood promising young players en-masse, but over time Newcastle could help Gateshead to achieve their goal of making a return to the Football League (they were voted out in 1960 in favour of Peterborough United for geographical reasons).

Gateshead would offer competitive game time for the most promising young players. The team could be made up of six or seven under 23's and supplemented by a few senior heads. The FA have recently attempted to improve the reserves set-up at clubs with the introduction of the Under 21 league. Having attended several of these fixtures, I don't think it is enough. Playing in an established league would be more beneficial.

With a thorough, mutual coaching structure, players could train and line up in the same way as their senior counterparts at Newcastle. Obviously for this to work it would be dependent on consistency and ability in the management setup at Newcastle but that is a whole different discussion! They would work to the same general match-day tactics and style -- something that is not necessarily possible when players head out on loan.

The young players would also be allowed to carry on their development together, knowing each other's game inside-out. In the current setup they meet each other at 12 or whatever, then they play alongside each other for seven or eight years. Then they find themselves broken up and sent out on loan here there and everywhere. Those who remain turn out for the Under 21 side in a competition that does nothing to develop them any further than the younger age groups. And then, with the very rare exception, they find themselves looking for clubs in the lower reaches of the leagues having failed to break through to the senior side.

Other clubs have already gone further than the 'B' team system.

Manchester City recently announced that they were taking on an MLS franchise in a joint venture with the New York Yankees. New York City FC will join the MLS and although this is an obvious branding exercise, it will also allow Man City the chance to send their players over to develop in a rapidly emerging league. It will also help them to keep a close eye on promising young players coming out of one of the world's most quickly developing 'soccer' nations. It won't come cheaply though!

In 2012 the Pozzi family added Watford FC to their portfolio of football clubs which already included Udinese (Italy) and Granada (Spain). They sent ten players on loan to Watford last season and the Hornets came very close to reaching the Premier League, losing to Crystal Palace in the playoff final. This year they've taken in seven new players, albeit on permanent deals after the FA closed the loan 'loophole' and look very good once again. Watford have certainly improved with this setup.

As things stand, Newcastle United are failing in their youth development. The region that produced players such as Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Chris Waddle and so many more now has its chief football team fielding an XI containing no English players, let alone Geordies. I know nationality is irrelevant to most but there is something special about seeing a lad from your local town scoring a goal.

Something has to change. Unfortunately, for any of the above to ever happen, Newcastle would have to have an owner who gave a damn. Mike Ashley is already the third biggest shareholder at Rangers FC but I think it's safe to say that is only for commercial gain.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy


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