If community is at the heart of every progressive non-league club, then it’s not difficult to see why Birtley Town are aiming to become an integral part of their local area.
It’s sixteen months since the South Gateshead-based club were relegated from the Northern League’s second tier.
With attendances dropping, a ground in need of care and repair, and a pitch severely damaged by several torrential rainstorms, a new focus was needed.
Last season, the Hoops plied their trade in the Northern Alliance League and finished in eighth position, thirty points behind leaders Killingworth Town.
But the seeds were sown for a rebuild of the club.
A whole new committee has been appointed, including the significant step of appointed a Commercial Manager for the first time in the club’s history.
Local companies are now backing the club with sponsorship and support.
Youth teams that were once separate from the club are now an integral part of their future. Bonds have been formed across the generations.
Richie Barrett drives the club as chairman. Colin Beat, now secretary, works on the finer details.
Those finer details that make a difference that sometimes goes unnoticed.
And Beat is confident that, after such a difficult time, the club are now ready to move forward.
He said “It feels like a new era. The old regime was a bit closed-shop, it was the same people involved week-in, week out, year-in, year-out.
“There were very few people involved.
“We have come in, we are looking to rebrand the club.
“We are trying to get into the community. People in the town don’t know where we are.
“They know there is a club, they know about us, but they don’t know when there is a game on.
“We have said up a website, we have set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page. We are constantly banging the drum.
“There has always been a divide between the juniors and seniors. That isn’t there now. We go to watch their game, they come to watch our games.
“We always have a junior player as a mascot at our game and the look on their faces when they walk out with the team is special.
“The crowds are improving, the town is starting to get behind us”
The town are slowly but surely getting behind their football club, as are local companies.
As mentioned, a Commercial Manager has been appointed.
Paul Hay has been hard at work to get the club the finances to help them progress.
His early work is already paying dividends according to Beat
“We have our normal sponsors like We-Barrow-4You, they have been brilliant with us but new companies are helping us.
“The big one is Motorpoint, they have come and helped us massively because they are helping us push the community side of the club.
“We have a Commercial Manager for the first time in the club’s history. Paul Hay is Managing Director of UK Lifts and Escalators but he is on board as our Commercial Manager and he is doing a great job.
“He is identifying where we can make money to put into the club and help us drive forwards.
“We have a new bar and we are covering expenses at every home game since Paul came on board. We are fully-licensed through Gateshead Council.
“We are getting extra revenue now and it is helping us move forwards”
As the club looks to move forward, they aren’t forgetting key figures of their past.
Key figures unquestionably underplays the importance of the role played by Ian Wadge and Andy Foster.
Without them, the club’s junior set-up wouldn’t be what it is today.
Indeed, without the work of Foster, Birtley Town wouldn’t be in existence.
Both men are sadly no longer with us, but their work, and their legacy remains.
Their names live on as the club strives for a stronger future.
A bar is named after Wadge, the club’s stand is displays Foster’s name.
Permanent reminders of work that can never be forgotten.
“The bar itself is a joint-venture between the juniors and seniors” explained Beat.
“The links that we have formed were a big part of that and we named it ‘Wadgeys Bar’ after Ian Wadge, someone that served the junior section as secretary and put in countless hours of work.
“It made the juniors what they are today, kept it running and kept it ticking over. He was always there for us.
“He passed away and we feel it is a fitting tribute that his name is playing a key role in taking us forward.
“Andy Foster was a legend in Birtley and a legend at the club. He always will be.
“He grabbed the club and supported it. He went out into the town and fundraised to keep it going.
“When people say they did everything for the club, he did everything for the club. From opening up, to putting the nets up, cutting the grass, there was nothing he didn’t do.
“If it wasn’t for him the club would have folded, there is no doubt about that.
“We have named a stand after him and it is a small token of appreciation to a man that will always be ‘Mr Birtley Town'”
The eventual aim is to make a return to the Northern League.
Birtley Town spent nine seasons at step six in the non-league pyramid after winning the Wearside League in 2007.
Their first season in the Northern League’s second tier saw them achieve a best-ever finish of eighth place and they reached the Quarter Finals of the Northern League Cup.
Two years later they reached the First Round of the FA Vase for the first time in their history, but they were bravely beaten by Scarborough Athletic in front of a crowd of over 240 at their Birtley Sports Complex home.
Memories are still fresh in the mind and a sharpening the focus of where the club wants to go.
Beat revealed “We want to be back in the Northern League.
“We have had a total revamp of the squad and we are trying to give the local lads a chance here.
“People that live and work in Birtley, giving us a heart in the town.
“We want players from the juniors into the first team, to give them something to aim at.
“We have started well with a young side, the average age is around twenty two.
“We are building for the future and we want the community to be part of that”
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: Birtley Town FC