The International Stadium is peaceful for once as Gateshead striker Reece Styche reflects on his move to the North East.
For once, there is no wind battering the open ended stadium, no rain tearing its way across the pitch.
The sun makes an all-too-rare appearance in the North East and the only noise is from Heed legend Ben Clark giving an interview to the club’s official YouTube channel minutes after announcing his retirement from playing.
Styche’s expression changes from a thoughtful one to one of amusement as he moves away from discussing his move to the Heed.
Clark’s appearance takes the conversation to long-running battles between the pair, many of which riled the supporters Styche now hopes to impress.
“They were tough, Ben and James Curtis were both physical and knew how to handle themselves” said the former Kidderminster Harriers striker.
He laughs as he adds “But I like to think I gave as good as I got and scored a few goals past them in the process”.
Styche is right, his record AGAINST the Tynesiders is impressive.
As we sit on a warm, hazy September morning his mind casts back to a lively encounter on the pitch they now stand alongside just six months earlier.
Not for the first time, Styche came up against the experienced duo, as his Macclesfield Town side travelled to the North East on the back of an eight game winless run.
Ninety minutes, and countless batterings and bruises later, Styche walked off with the match ball after his hat-trick dented Gateshead’s admittedly slim play-off hopes.
To say he wasn’t the most popular man in the International Stadium would be an understatement, after ninety minutes of toil and tussle against Clark (pictured below right) and Curtis.
Styche admitted that he “gave a bit back” to the Heed supporters as he walked off, but is now determined to do all he can to impress them.
He said “You always get a stadium or a team you seem to do well against, for me it was here against Gateshead.
“It can be intimidating here in a strange way. You aren’t close to the supporters, it’s normally windy, it’s a strange stadium to play in.
“But I have been coming here since my time with Hednesford Town and I’ve come up against Ben and James Curtis on many an occasion.
“No disrespect to either of them but I knew I had a mental edge over them because they knew I always did well against them.
“When I scored the hat-trick and was substituted I could hear the stick I was getting. You try and blank it out but when there was a break in play you could hear it, obviously you can give a bit back.
“I gave a bit back on that day but I had scored a hat-trick, I think I had earned it don’t you?.
“But now I am focused on doing well for this club and giving all I can for the supporters”
Styche’s on-pitch persona seems to be at odds with the laid-back stance he displays as he ponders the next question.
After the heated nature of their meeting in March, he still believes that the Heed Army may need to warm to his approach and to him as a player.
However, he is confident that he can win them over with his work-rate and eventually by scoring goals.
“I do think that on a subconscious level the supporters here may have to warm to me” said Styche.
“In the past couple of seasons things have been a bit stop-start for me. It’s only at Macclesfield Town where John Askey got me playing regularly and I was enjoying the game.
“I thought about moving away from being professional, but coming here has changed that.
“Any non-league fan that has seen me play probably doesn’t like the way that I play because I do play on the edge.
“But when you play for a club, the supporters will like that and that is what Neil Aspin (pictured left) said. He wanted that nastiness in the side and I can bring that I think.
“I need to score more goals but they will come, I am not worrying about that”
Styche is straight to the point, as always, in his assessment of his move to Gateshead, admitting that he needed to get out of his comfort zone in the North West.
The switch meant leaving his children behind, with the twenty seven year old currently living with Heed captain Liam Hogan.
Although the move hasn’t been without it’s drawbacks, with Styche running into some issues on the roads of the North East.
“It’s a challenge because I am away from my kids, I don’t have them up here and I am living with another player at the moment.
“It is tough, but I wanted to come out of the comfort zone and I am loving it in the North East at the moment.
“I don’t have a clue where I am going and there are that many bus lanes around that I am always going into them by mistake” he joked.
“We have already been done once but I am enjoying it up here, Newcastle is a great city to live in and the new lads all love it.
“The spirit is good, the manager has a good bond with us and I am happy to be here”
Since their elevation into non-league’s top tier Gateshead have dreamt of securing a historic promotion into the Football League.
Former manager Gary Mills, now with Wrexham, came closest to achieving that as he led the club to the Promotion Final at Wembley in 2014.
On that day the Heed Army’s hearts were broken as former Gateshead player Ryan
Donaldson curled home an exquisite free kick to send Cambridge United into the Football League.
Just over a year after their Wembley defeat Mills chose to leave the International Stadium and slowly but surely the squad broke up.
Malcolm Crosby had a short spell in charge of the club, but departed in November 2015, with Gateshead-born Aspin taking over his hometown club.
In his first summer in charge Aspin overhauled the Heed squad, with Ben Clark’s retirement meaning the no players from their Wembley date with Cambridge United remain within the squad.
There is a fresh feel to the Heed squad, with over fifteen new players coming into the club during the summer.
And Styche believes that Aspin has put together a squad capable of challenging for the National League play-offs, but only if they can find consistancy in the coming weeks and months.
“I don’t want to pressure us but I think we have a squad capable of making the play-offs.
“We have seen that anyone can beat anyone in this division so it will be tough.
“We have got to find consistency but it was summed up in one week. We got a great result against Braintree Town, then lost in a game we would be expected to win against North Ferriby United.
“That wasn’t good enough really and we need to find a way to beat teams, particularly at home when teams come and sit deep.
“If we can do that on a regular basis we can have a good season”
Having a good season could lead to Styche receiving more international recognition.
During the 2009/10 season, whilst with Forest Green Rovers, the striker was called into the England ‘C’ squad, making one appearance from the bench in a 0-1 defeat against Portugal U23 side captained by Sevilla defender Daniel Carrico.
More international recognition followed, when in 2014 Styche was named in Allen Bula’s Gibraltar squad for friendly fixtures against the Faroe Islands and Estonia.
Qualifying through his Grandmother, Styche was handed a debut against the Faroes Islands, as the international newcomers were comfortably beaten by the Faroes.
A second call-up hasn’t been forthcoming, despite Bola being replaced by new manager Jeff Wood (pictured).
The Sutton-Coldfield born striker sits up in his seat and inhales as he is questioned about the possibility of an international recall.
You sense another revealing insight is coming.
He does not disappoint.
Styche is brutally honest in his views when it comes to a potential call-up as he revealed his last conversation with Wood, held just six weeks ago “wasn’t friendly”.
The aftermath is that Styche does not believe a call-up is on the horizon, as he sets his sights on a positive first season with Gateshead.
“I’ll be completely honest and say the international stuff with Gibraltar isn’t even on my radar.
“I tweeted saying that the squads are selected with a political mindset.
“I spoke to the manager before we played Bromley and we had an honest chat. It wasn’t friendly, there were words said and he had little digs at me.
“I wanted to play for Gibraltar, I have always been available but he has his favourites.
“My argument was that I am the striker playing at the highest level. They have Scott Wiseman at Scunthorpe United, Jake Gosling is in the Football League but then there is me playing professional football.
“It disappoints me that I wasn’t considered, but he thinks the other strikers are better than me.
“I’ll get my head down and just focus on Gateshead.
“Maybe I have alienated the GFA and the manager but I have to say he is the only manager I have had a fall-out with. I spoke my mind, he didn’t like it.
“I still want them to do well, I want them to progress as an international team but this is football, there are ups and downs and that is how it has to be”
With that final line comes a warning from former combatant Clark that training is about to start and he is going to be late.
Styche throws back a sarcastic comment.
Not for the first time, but almost certainly the last, Styche and Clark have locked horns at the International Stadium.
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: Gateshead FC / www.actionimages.com