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Experienced duo ready to lead Gateshead back to the big time
Updated 10:49am Friday 9th May 2014 in Sport
FACED with the television cameras and microphones of the media, a former European Cup winner sat proudly alongside a younger assistant who could boast almost a decade of achievements in the top two tiers of the English game.
Yet for all Gary Mills, the former Nottingham Forest defender, and Darren Caskey, an ex-Tottenham midfielder, might have experienced in professional football, the satisfaction and pride they have enjoyed during the last few weeks is up there with anything they have been through before in their careers.
Last Sunday, more than 8,000 fans packed inside the Gateshead International Stadium. The majority of whom had gone there hoping to see Gateshead, the small club sandwiched between Newcastle United and Sunderland on the Felling bypass, take a further step to sealing a long-awaited return to the Football League after 54 years.
Having delivered by overcoming Grimsby Town, Gateshead must make sure a first ever trip to Wembley ends in triumph when they face Cambridge on Sunday week. Mills, the Heed manager who was a champion of Europe under Brian Clough with Forest in 1980, is determined to finish off the job.
The 52-year-old, who led York City to promotion from the Conference via Wembley two years ago, has now seen what a club like Gateshead is capable of, after knowing less than 1,000 have turned up to watch them in the non-league for years.
“People talk about the stadium and I’m hearing fans don’t come because of the stadium, but listen, I don’t think there is any better at this level and that is the important thing,” said Mills. “The facilities are second to none, there is a great view and the pitch is excellent now.
“Why would we want to move grounds when we are getting an atmosphere like we did last Sunday here? My aim is to get that atmosphere week in and week out. Yes, when there are only 700 here, it can feel a little empty even though the fans we do get are very vocal.
“To get a crowd like we did was a proud day for everyone connected with Gateshead. It shows the local fans liked what they saw and hopefully they will come back.
“We have played good football here this season. We had to dig in at Grimsby on the Thursday, we showed the resilience when needed and we have the players hungry to deliver and to get back in the Football League.
“But you only have a good time at Wembley if you win. That is a fact. I have won and lost there. Hopefully we can take thousands down there from the area.”
Given how Newcastle and Sunderland’s season will come to an end this Sunday, Gateshead are hoping that a mixture of the two clubs’ supporters will decide to head for Wembley to bolster ranks in support of their smaller neighbours.
The hope is that anyone who gives a Gateshead game a chance will be gripped, just like Caskey was when he accepted the role as Mills’ No 2 last September.
The 39-year-old, who went on to play for Reading, Notts County and numerous others after leaving Tottenham, said: “I have loved it from the first day the gaffer called me to join him here. We have been on a great journey.
“I certainly didn’t think our first season would end at Wembley. The gaffer called me at the time, we had a good chat, came up to watch a game and since that day I have never regretted it.”
Caskey never got the chance to play at Wembley as a professional, although he did play as an England schoolboy and he was part of the Reading side which reached a play-off final at the Millennium Stadium.
Mills did and he will be using the memory of leading York back in to the Football League by beating Luton Town in 2012. He thinks helping Gateshead to repeat the feat would represent an ever bigger success story, having taken over them when they had failed to win any of their opening five games.
“It’s fantastic, I only came in, in September and the aim was to try to get Gateshead up as high as I could this season. I wanted to get in the top five and we have done it,” said Mills, whose side overcame Grimsby 3-1 on Sunday to seal their final spot.
“I am proud of what I did at York too. They were in relegation when I went there. In the first year we finished eighth and the second year we did the double with promotion and the trophy. I then lost my job and it hurt, when I felt we were doing OK.
“I didn’t enjoy being out of work and then I got the call from the chairman here. The rest his history.
“The experience of doing it with York gives me the extra drive to do it here. I know what an exciting occasion it can be at Wembley. I know what the prize can be. They’d had eight years out of the Football League and they felt it was tough on them, so imagine what it would be like for Gateshead?
“The injustice they felt having gone out of the league all those years ago despite finishing third from bottom and being voted out ... it would mean even more, so to be the manager who took this club back to the Football league would be incredible.”
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