BARRY PIKESLEY: The Gateshead Mastery Ritual

The following article is reproduced from "The Robins' Review" of 25 August 2014.


“Make Us Dream” implored the inscription on one of the large flags that some of the travelling Bristol Rovers supporters had draped across the wall at the rear of the away end during their club’s recent ill-starred visit to the J Davidson Stadium.

Well, unfortunately for them, on the evidence of their team’s abject performance in that 2-1 defeat, the only dreams that such displays might evoke would contain nightmarish visions of Freddy Krueger.

It’s subsequently been fascinating to observe the repercussions and aftershocks arising from Alty’s merited and hugely gratifying victory over the Gas.

The Pirates’ midfielder Lee Mansell acknowledged that they had underestimated the Robins. “It was an embarrassment of a game. We turned up and thought, because we were Bristol Rovers, that we were going to turn them over. Altrincham had other ideas and they got two well-deserved goals from mistakes from us.”

Meanwhile, his shell-shocked manager Darrell Clarke issued a public apology for his misfiring team’s showing and tendered the following synopsis, “I expected to win here but we orchestrated our own downfall, as there were so many individual errors. We gave goals away again and we could have given away even more.”

The aftermath has also witnessed the unanticipated resignation of Rovers’ long-serving Director and former Chairman Geoff Dunford and all of this comes against a backdrop of apoplectic contributors on the Bristol Rovers Independent Fans’ Forum debating as to whether the 2-1 reverse against the Robins actually constitutes the lowest point in the club’s history.

I fear that there may well be a new nadir for them all to experience before somebody manages to turn that particular Pirate ship around.

However, let all of the above not detract in any shape or form from what was a fine exhibition by Lee Sinnott’s men and a duly merited snaffling of Alty’s first three Vanarama Conference points of the season. The Robins were sharper; closed the opposition down well and defended resolutely when called upon. We were even regaled with the joyous sight of a long-range (by his standards, anyway!) strike from a seemingly rejuvenated Damian Reeves. That's now a total of 128 Alty goals (and counting.....).

Incidentally, that exquisite own goal by the awfully magnanimous Mark McChrystal of Bristol Rovers represented the first one in our favour since Damian McCrory deflected Duncan Watmore’s cross past his own goalkeeper in the 85th minute of that pulsating 3-3 FA Cup First Round tie at Burton Albion on Sunday, 4th November 2012.

As regards the last own goal to be scored by an opposing player at Moss Lane, you have to go back to a Blue Square Premier fixture versus Stevenage Borough enacted on Saturday, 29th December 2007. Alas, Graham Heathcote’s men suffered a 5-1 drubbing that afternoon, their solitary goal transpiring after 34 minutes when the visitors’ John White contrived to head a Warren Peyton cross into his own net to level the scores, albeit fleetingly.

These notes are being compiled prior to our scheduled league game at Southport, therefore, I hope that by the time they appear in print in the Robins Review, Alty will have attained their first victory at Haig Avenue in almost 18 years.

Saturday, 14th December 1996, to be precise, when I was present to see John King’s charges overcome Steve Joel’s Sandgrounders by a 3-1 scoreline in a GM Vauxhall Conference (GMVC) fixture. The Robins’ goalscorers on that day were Neil Doherty; Niell Hardy and Paul Cain (he of the infamous chip pan incident). However, the principal reason that I recall that match is that it marked the Alty debut of that fleet-footed but extremely erratic left winger, the quasi-legendary Danny McGoona, who had signed for the club from Connah’s Quay Nomads on the preceding day.

So, to this afternoon’s encounter with Gateshead, who will be striving to go one better than last season, which concluded in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Cambridge United in the 2014 Skrill Premier Promotion Final at Wembley Stadium back in May.

As I pen these notes, the Heed occupy third position in the league table; remain unbeaten after their opening three games and also possess the league’s current leading goalscorer in the guise of England C wide man Marcus Maddison. The match reports pertaining to Gateshead that I have read suggest that Gary Mills’ side favour retaining possession via a patient passing game, so they should present a different challenge to the ones with which the Robins have so far been confronted during this burgeoning campaign.

Anyone who has watched Alty since the early 1990s will recollect (with a considerable degree of anguish) a dark period throughout which Gateshead appeared to have some sort of unbreakable hoodoo over the Robins.

Alty recorded a trio of comfortable victories over the Heed during the 1990/91 season, however, thereupon things deteriorated rather alarmingly in the shape of a sequence of 11 consecutive games without a win against the Tynesiders.

This wretched jinxed run commenced with a 1-1 GMVC stalemate at Moss Lane on Tuesday, 24th September 1991, whereupon a truly hellish series comprising nine successive defeats in GMVC and Bob Lord Trophy matches duly ensued, during which the Gateshead goalscorers somewhat inevitably comprised either Paul Dobson or Alan Lamb.

This calamitous losing streak was finally halted by means of a 1-1 GMVC draw at Moss Lane on Monday, 28th August 1995 and the ostensible Heed curse was finally exorcised via an overdue 3-2 GMVC triumph for the Robins at the Gateshead International Stadium on Wednesday, 27th March 1996.

I travelled to that particular game in the illustrious company of both the then Altrincham FC Director Mark Harris and current Radio Robins mogul Brian Flynn and I recollect that matters were taking an all-too-familiarly dispiriting course when goals from Kenny Cramman and Steve Harkus put the hosts 2-0 up after merely 17 minutes had elapsed. However, Alty promptly rallied via a 22nd-minute Stuart Terry penalty and Niell Hardy restored parity after 62 minutes. With just two minutes of normal time remaining, Paul France proceeded to pop up with a dramatic winning goal, thereby inducing euphoric scenes amongst the Alty diehards in the crowd of 357.

The charismatic former Bolton Wanderers central midfielder Tony Kelly graced the Robins’ line-up on that evening and, as he sprayed passes around the pitch with uncanny accuracy whilst never threatening to break into a either a run or a sweat, I recall thinking that an athletics stadium was an entirely appropriate venue for his ample figure, which bore a passing resemblance to that of a 1970s East German female shot putter.