Vanarama National League Column – Gateshead

Gateshead’s miraculous start following a summer of upheaval

By Glenn Moore


Four matches into the new Vanarama National League season the table has a surprising look. Pre-season favourites Salford City are lower mid-table, having not won until their fourth match. Last season’s play-off finalists Boreham Wood are only a point higher. Three other fancied clubs, Leyton Orient, play-off regulars Aldershot, and newly relegated Barnet, have also been slow to settle.

Meanwhile, in second, level on points with early leaders Wrexham, are Gateshead, which is remarkable considering the Heed nearly folded in the summer and were without a contracted player two months ago. When a takeover failed to materialise chairman and then-owner Richard Bennett considered closing down the football club, already the third such incarnation in the Tyneside town.

Instead the budget was slashed and the club reverted to part-time with an emphasis on building a squad of young, local players. Steve Watson, the former Newcastle United defender who had returned to the area to manage the Heed, agreed to sign on for another year. However, at best it looked as if it would be a season of fighting relegation, with a view to buying the club time.

Then, ten days before the season started, Dr Ranjan Varghese, a Hong Kong-based businessman with a background in ship-building design, bought the club. He has since installed a locally-based operations director, Michael Williams, and a London-based sporting director, former agent Chris Hawes. Watson retains control of playing matters and, in a major coup, has signed former Newcastle centre-half Mike Williamson, a veteran of more than 400 senior appearances, 134 of them in the Premier League.

Like Watson, who quit promotion-bound Macclesfield to join Gateshead last season, Williamson wanted to move back to the north-east. With the rest of the squad an average age 24 the 34-year-old brings valuable experience. Williamson made his debut in the 2-1 win over Dover Athletic that completed an impressive opening trio of victories with successes at Maidstone United then at home to Salford City. Gateshead then took home a point from them 500-mile midweek round-trip to Boreham Wood with a late equaliser from Steven Rigg.

The new owner, Williams told supporters, has a five-year plan to establish Gateshead as ‘an established, self-sustaining League Two club rooted in the community’ and maintaining the focus on recruiting young players from an area with a notable football heritage.

The 2,264 that turned out for last season’s FA Trophy semi-final home leg with Bromley indicated there is some potential on the east bank of the Tyne, but it will not be easy to realise. That was an unusually big match with the crowd boosted by neither Newcastle nor Sunderland playing that weekend. Gateshead International Stadium, built for athletics rather than football, with a running track and rarely fans behind the goals, is usually less atmospheric. Attendances averaged just 853 last season, less than ten per cent of capacity.

Nevertheless, at a time when so many of the area’s passionate football fans are feeling frustrated by their clubs Watson’s young team could offer a refreshing alternative.

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Brian Scovell becomes 1st Life Vice-President

The Football Writers’ Association is delighted to announce that Brian Scovell has been made the first Life Vice-President of the Association.

Brian, who was chairman in 1980, has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to the FWA as both a Life Member and the longest serving member of the National Committee.

Following changes made at the AGM on August 7, Brian will no longer be a part of the National Committee but it was felt his devotion and passion for the FWA fully merited the new title.

Chairman Patrick Barclay said: “We are delighted to bestow this unique honour on a unique personality.

“In his distinguished career, our beloved ‘Scovs’ has conveyed wisdom with a frequently deployed light touch – and we at the FWA have benefited from these qualities too.

“We hope he will serve for years to come, as we hope soon to announce plans to log the history of football journalism, of which Brian has been very much a part.”

The Association has also agreed to grant Life Membership to Christopher Davies, Ralph Ellis, Tony Hudd and William Powell who have also left the National Committee.

Executive Secretary, Paul McCarthy, said: “Of course, it’s always sad when the National Committee loses members but the departure of five people allows us to bring in fresh faces who will add a new impetus to the Association.

“We want the FWA to be reflective of its membership. We have had a 60 per cent increase in new members in just over two years including far more women and BAME journalists as well has a huge influx of the younger generation involved in the industry.

“The National Committee has to echo the changing dynamic of the Association and we are determined it will be far more diverse in its constituency.”

Fitting send off for Albert Sewell

John Motson, Bob Wilson and Barry Davies were among the mourners as almost 100 friends and family members said their goodbyes to Albert Sewell, MBE, the former Hayters and BBC stalwart who passed away in June.

It was standing room only at Breakspear Crematorium, west London, as a host of former colleagues joined his family to pay tribute to Albert, who was a Life Member of the FWA. The heads of sport from both BBC and ITV, Philip Bernie and Niall Sloane, were also among the mourners, along with Steve Rider. Hayters colleagues included Nick Callow, John Goodbody and Michael Hart, another FWA Life Member, who said Albert was his mentor as a young reporter in the 1960s. Gerry Cox, also of Hayters, represented the FWA.

Albert’s beloved Chelsea were represented by Steve Atkins, the club’s director of communications, and guests heard from Dave and Graham Sewell how much their father loved the club, having covered them, written several books and been programme editor for many years.

Indeed John Motson pointed out that the matchday programme, as we know it today, was transformed from a simple teamsheet into a full-blown publication by Albert at Chelsea 70 years ago this month.

Among many lovely anecdotes about Albert, Dave recalled how his father had resisted using a computer or even an electric typewriter, preferring his manual one, so it was fitting that his cake should come in the shape of his favourite ‘device’.  Albert Sewell, RIP.

Vanarama National League Column – Salford City

Salford City’s rapid rise –  by Glenn Moore

It is not often a promoted club goes straight in as 2-1 favourites to win a league, but Salford City are not a typical club. Co-owned by former Manchester United players Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, and Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, the Vanarama National League club have a profile and funding that has become the envy of many Football League teams.

Their progress from Northern Premier League North to Vanarama National League, with three promotions in four seasons, has been chronicled in a series of fly-on-the-wall TV documentaries, and there is every chance the cameras will have another lively tale this season. Rumbustious joint managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who masterminded those promotions, have moved on to relegated Chester FC, citing differences in contract proposals. In their place is former Scotland international Graham Alexander, who previously managed Fleetwood and Scunthorpe United in League One.

Alexander returned to that division to sign four players including Danny Lloyd from Peterborough for a reputed six-figure salary and Adam Rooney from SPL runners-up Aberdeen, an eye-catching deal given his goal record. Inevitably this has sparked jealously and accusations of trying to buy promotion – or ‘steal’ it in the words of Accrington owner Andy Holt.

That prompted a twitter spat with Gary Neville who pointed out Salford’s approach was hardly unique. Indeed it isn’t. Salford are aiming to follow Fleetwood, Crawley and Forest Green, each of whom have been bankrolled from obscurity to the Football League in recent years. Nor are they alone, several other Vanarama National League clubs, such as Fylde, Ebbsfleet, Eastleigh and fellow newcomers Harrogate have benefited from the largesse of ambitious owners. Salford may be spending more than others have, but they face stiffer competition with all but four of the 22 clubs now full-time.

The presence of so many well-funded aspirants makes it challenging for any club dropping out of the Football League to bounce back. Leyton Orient and Hartlepool never even threatened to reach the play-offs last season but Barnet, managed by the experienced John Still, and Chesterfield, under former Barnet boss Martin Allen, will hope to adjust quicker.

With only one automatic promotion place available, and another via the play-offs, competition at the top will be fierce. It will be equally tense at the other end with four going down. Woking, Torquay, Chester and Guiseley departed last season, to be replaced by Salford, Harrogate, Havant & Waterlooville and Braintree.

While several key performers have moved to Football League clubs, new faces include the prolific Aaron Williams, signed from Brackley by Harrogate, veteran defender Paul Robinson, acquired by Havant from Wimbledon, and the experienced Stuart Beavon, loaned to Wrexham from Coventry. A new face in the dug-out is ex-England keeper Tim Flowers, at Solihull Moors, while a more familiar one, former England caretaker manager Peter Taylor, is in charge at Dagenham & Redbridge.

In an indication of their allure Salford start the season off with a lunchtime kick-off at home to Orient in front of the BT cameras. It is the first meeting between clubs which, four seasons ago, were five divisions apart. Things can change quickly in football.

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FWA AGM – August 7th

The FWA’s Annual General Meeting will be held next Tuesday August 7 at noon at the Old Bank of England on Fleet Street, London.

All FWA members are encouraged to attend. On the agenda will be finance, election of officers and the Chairman’s report on the past year.

Please contact General Secretary Paul McCarthy if you need more information.


“The best World Cup of the lot”

The World Cup in Russia was a huge success on the pitch, and also a triumph off it, with excellent working facilities for journalists and an outstanding effort from the FA’s Media Operations team for those covering England.

In this audio podcast, Henry Winter of the Times, who has covered eight World Cups, and Gerry Cox of Hayters Teamwork, who has covered seven, discuss what it’s like to be part of the media at the biggest sporting event in the World, and how this summer’s version compares with previous ones.

Listen here:

Albert Sewell funeral details

The funeral of FWA life member Albert Sewell, who passed away two weeks ago, will be held at 12noon on Monday  August 6 at Breakspear Crematorium, Breakspear Road, Ruislip, HA4 7SJ, followed by a small reception afterwards near his home in Greenford.
Dave Sewell, one of Albert’s sons, welcomes Albert’s former colleagues and friends but has asked that anyone wishing to attend can let him know in advance. You can reply to Dave via the comment button below or by contacting

Tributes to Albert Sewell, MBE

John LeyFWA National Committee member, pays tribute to Albert Sewell, MBE, who passed away this week:

“I can honestly say I owe my career to Albert Sewell, who passed away on June 27 aged 90. When I joined Hayters Sports Reporting Agency, in 1977, I was quickly introduced to this small but dapper gent, whose appearance was always immaculate. And so were his football statistics.

“Albert pioneered the word of soccer stats; long before Opta or any other stats-driven body had been thought of,  Albert was BBC Sport’s football stats man from 1968. Des Lynam, the Match of the Day and BBC Grandstand anchor-man for so many years, would often refer to him as ‘Uncle’ Albert.

“He was more than that to me. He showed me how to edit football programmes, compile stats, and use them to embellish stories.

It was because of Albert that I quickly developed a love for stats, and that enabled me to use them to further my career, firstly at the Oxford Mail and, for 27 years, at The Daily Telegraph. My office at home is full of stats books, all carefully put together in the same if not quite as impeccable, as Albert’s.

“Albert was a man of habit; not only were his stats perfect but every Friday lunchtime he would disappear from our office, just off Fleet Street, and reappear with a large bunch of flowers for his wife. Albert, MBE, was a gentleman and a thorough professional, a man who set trends that still exist today.”

Gerry Cox, former FWA Chairman who now runs Hayters with Nick Callow said: “When we we started at Hayters in the 1980s, the four directors were formidable figures, each with their own strengths. Reg Hayter ran the show, Denis Signy dispensed brilliant advice on getting stories and cultivating contacts, Frank Nicklin, who reinvented newspaper football coverage at The Sun, refined our writing and subbing skills. And then there was Albert; quiet, dapper and immaculate in his style and eye for detail. His insistence on absolute accuracy was a lesson learned for life, and his love and use of statistics was way ahead of his time. He set in place a a football statistical archive that was gold-dust for every football writer long before the internet – and infinitely more reliable.  He was a lovely man who loved football almost as much as his family, and will be much missed by everyone who knew him.”

Gary Lineker, worked closely with Albert at the BBC, paid tribute on air and tweeted: “Really sad to hear that Albert Sewell has passed away at 91. And to do so during a World Cup makes it all the more poignant. He was the BBC MOTD statistics man for decades. A lovely man who will be much missed. #RipAlby.”

Bob Wilson, the former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper who hosted Match of the Day for many years said: “So sad to hear of the death of my great friend Albert Sewell, the unsung hero and stats expert for years at ⁦⁩ Grandstand and .”

Richard Pigden: I had the pleasure of meeting Albert Sewell during a visit to Grandstand when he was the BBC stats man (known as our Albert). Lovely guy who was a bit embarrassed by my blatant fan worship & slightly scared by my encyclopaedic knowledge of his Chelsea programmes. RIP Albert #CFC

A great read here from Neil from Game of the People:

Dan Levene, who covers Chelsea for Eurosport and others tweeted:  “RIP Albert Sewell, first editor of Chelsea’s match programme, and one of the great chroniclers of the English game. If you grew up between about 1945 and 1985, you almost certainly read his stuff.”

Albert Sewell, MBE, RIP

Tributes have been pouring in after the passing of Albert Sewell MBE, who died aged 90 earlier this week. Albert was a life member of the FWA, the first employee and then director of Hayters sports agency and long-time editor of Chelsea’s club programme. He was also the BBC’s football statistics expert from 1968 until his retirement in 2005, often referred to by Match of the Day host Des Lynam as ‘Our Albert’.

Albert was a prolific author of football books, especially on Chelsea, whom he worked closely with for many years. It was Albert who reinvented the matchday programme to the format we know today, when he persuaded Chelsea to replace an advertising-led publication to a newsy, features-based magazine. Other clubs followed suit and the modern programme was born.

Chelsea paid tribute to Albert on their club website:—1927-2018

Albert was born in Leytonstone, east London in 1927 and grew up supporting Chelsea. After National Service he started in Fleet Street at 16 with the Daily Sketch and began as Chelsea’s programme editor in 1949. He later became the first employee when Reg Hayter started his eponymous agency in 1954 and went on to mentor many budding sports journalists who developed into leading football writers, broadcasters and statisticians. For many years Albert edited the News of the World Football Annual, the pocket-sized stats ‘bible’ that was an essential accessory for every football writer long before the late lamented Rothmans Yearbook or the internet.

Albert’s insistence on absolute accuracy meant a small army of Hayters employees would check and double check the appearances, goals, birthdates and other vital statistics of every player and club in the professional game. For years John Motson relied on Albert and Hayters to provide him with the briefings for his famous commentary notes, saying: “Every week I’ve received Albert’s notes – six pages of editorial gold dust.”

Gary Lineker, who worked closely with Albert, tweeted: “Really sad to hear that Albert Sewell has passed away at 91. And to do so during a World Cup makes it all the more poignant. He was the BBC MOTD statistics man for decades. A lovely man who will be much missed. #RipAlby.”

Bob Wilson, the former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper who hosted Match of the Day for many years said: “So sad to hear of the death of my great friend Albert Sewell, the unsung hero and stats expert for years at ⁦⁩ Grandstand and .”

Albert formally retired from the BBC in 2005, and received an MBE from the Queen, which he described as the proudest moment of his career. He kept up to date with football events and his friends for many years, and a select group of privileged individuals would look forward every Christmas to receiving a copy of “Alby’s Almanac”, his annual collection of stats, quizzes, quotes and news.

His beloved wife Betty passed away last year, and now Albert has joined her. They leave behind a large and loving family, and Albert’s legacy is an outstanding contribution to football journalism.

RIP Albert.


FWA Live – Lampard and Scott on fine form

Our latest FWA Live was a great success, with England Legends Frank Lampard and Alex Scott joining Carrie Brown, Neil Ashton and Paul McCarthy on a panel to discuss the FA Cup final, World Cup and many other topics.

Supported by our title sponsors William Hill, it was held at the Landmark Hotel, London, on Thursday May 17 and covered a lot of ground.  Frank and Alex kindly donated their fees to charity. Frank donated his to the Matthew Harding Trust while Alex supported Millwall Lionesses, who are struggling to survive.

The panel was split 3-2 in Manchester United’s favour on the outcome of the FA Cup final, and Germany were most widely tipped to win the World Cup, with England expected to reach the quarter-finals according to our panellists.

The audience, which included a number of sports journalism students tutored by FWA member Brendan McLoughlin at the University of Gloucester, were able ask questions of Frank and Alex, who were happy to pose for photos and autographs afterwards.

There was also a good turnout from members of the FWA national committee.

Look out on the FWA YouTube channel for footage from the evening over the coming days.

(Left to right) Carrie Brown journalist, Frank Lampard former England international and Chelsea player, Paul McCarthy Executive Secretary of the FWA, Alex Scott former England international and Arsenal Ladies player and Neil Ashton journalist during the William Hill FWA Live event at the Landmark Hotel, London.

(Left to right) Carrie Brown journalist, Frank Lampard former England international and Chelsea player, Paul McCarthy Executive Secretary of the FWA, Alex Scott former England international and Arsenal Ladies player and Neil Ashton journalist during the William Hill FWA Live event at the Landmark Hotel, London.

(Left to right) Carrie Brown journalist, Frank Lampard former England international and Chelsea player, Paul McCarthy Executive Secretary of the FWA, Alex Scott former England international and Arsenal Ladies player and Neil Ashton journalist during the William Hill FWA Live event at the Landmark Hotel, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 17, 2018. Photo credit should read: Steven Paston/PA Wire