Gateshead Thunder Should Stay South of The Tyne
It has been reported in the Rugby League press this week that National League Two side Gateshead Thunder are considering a move to Newcastle, and even a possible name change.
Thunder, who are set for promotion to National League One next season, are seeking to switch their home games from the Gateshead International Stadium to Kingston Park, home of Union side Newcastle Falcons.
The move is justified on the grounds of the potential extra revenue generated by the corporate facilities at Kingston Park, key to the club's ambitious expansion plans.
The potential name change, while genuinely mooted, has been less discussed. However, there are numerous reasons why Gateshead Thunder should remain Gateshead Thunder, and stay put on the South Bank of the Tyne.
Firstly, Thunder have undergone three re-inventions since their "merger" with Hull in 1999, after just one year as a Super League franchise. Fans have been central in each of these efforts, and there would be no Thunder today were it not for a hardcore of dedicated devotees.
With the future seemingly more secure, it would be a huge slap in the face to these fans (mainly Gateshead residents) to strip the club of its name and ship it to a neighbouring city already saturated with sporting delights.
Secondly, Thunder are noted for their community involvement in Gateshead, and have built a genuine enthusiasm for Rubgy League in a non-heartland area amongst local schoolchildren. This would be severly undermined with a move to Newcastle.
Whilst the board would argued that the community and schools work would continue in Gateshead, something has been lost if a local kid impacted by this work has to spend an hour and £3 making a round trip to Kingston Park to see their team.
In what is a poor community, this will simply not be an option for many such kids, and potentially for some older followers also.
Thirdly, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Thunder's current home, the Gateshead International Stadium (or "The Thunderdome"). It has acres of capacity, facilities befitting an international athletics arena, and is fairly centrally located on Tyne and Wear's metro system.
It is true that the potentially lucrative corporate provision is non-existent, but that is surely something that could be put right with stadium owners Gateshead Council should it be shown to be economically viable.
Kingston Park does have the advantage of being purpose-built for rugby, but its essentially out-of-town location would result in a much increased net travel for most fans, including those from certain areas of Newcastle.
The chairman, Steve Garside, has done a remarkable job in turning around the fortunes of Thunder, who had a dismal 2007 campaign, and fans are encouraged by this year's success and the ambitious plans for the future.
But bearing in mind these negative impacts of a potential move, the key question that Garside and the board has to answer is this: Who are Thunder for, if not primarily the people of Gateshead?
Maybe they would admit that, "for the sake of the future", they want a new fan base and to make the club Newcastle-centric. If so, I think they will fail.
The largely wealthy residents of North Newcastle already have the Falcons, the Magpies, and Gosforth Race Park to spend their limited time and disposable income on—will they really dig deeper to support another outfit? Do they want a Rugby League team? I fear not.
However, I think it much more likely that Garside would reject ("categorically; "fervently") the suggestion that Thunder are seeking to abandon their Gateshead roots, and argue that the move is vital for the future success of the club that will ultimately bring happiness to the Gatehead-based fans.
But this very same success could occur without uprooting the club, and indeed the unlikelihood of a greatly increased support base at Kingston Park may mean that a move would actually harm the future of Thunder.
Currently, Gateshead Thunder are enjoying great success on the field, growing attendances, and a strong relationship between fans and board. Chairman Steve Garside needs to pursue Thunder's bright future by keeping things this way, a task he will be greatly assisted in by repenting of these ill thought out plans to shift the side to Newcastle.
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