This healthy state of affairs is in contrast to Gateshead's recent record in the Conference. The club who, in their previous incarnation, were members of the Football League from 1930 to 1960, were relegated to the Northern Premier in 1985 and 1987, and have struggled to stay up since they returned to the top flight in 1990.
The Magpies from across the Tyne might be flying towards the Premier League, but the Newcastle United chairman, Sir John Hall, can still find some spare cash to help their non-League neighbours. Gateshead are sponsored by one of Hall's companies - which has made a big difference to their prospects.
'The extra funding has allowed me to bring in quality new players,' Gateshead's manager, Tommy Cassidy, the former Newcastle and Northern Ireland midfielder, said yesterday. 'The club is also being run far more professionally.' The former Sunderland players Shaun Elliott and David Corner, Billy Askew and Bruce Halliday (once of Newcastle) and Cassidy's latest recruit, Steve Tupling, the former Hartlepool and Darlington midfielder, have given his side a crucial core of experience.
The team's most worthy servant, however, is Simon Smith, their 30-year-old goalkeeper. When he kept a clean sheet against Macclesfield last weekend he was making his 377th consecutive appearance - he has not missed a first-team game since joining the club in 1985.
Gateshead play at the 12,000 capacity international athletics stadium, but their gates rarely top 500. 'It's a lovely stadium for people like Steve Cram,' Cassidy said, 'but not for us. Our lads prefer playing away, with some atmosphere. We wouldn't mind moving to a different ground.'
Atmosphere will not be in short supply at Kingfield, Woking, on Boxing Day or at Adams Park, High Wycombe, on Tuesday. Wycombe Wanderers, who lead the Conference by 12 points, travel to Woking on Saturday and then meet Slough Town, their nearest rivals, in Tuesday's only Conference fixture - which is expected to attract a crowd of about 6,000.
If Slough win their three games in hand, they will be very much involved at the top of the table, so Tuesday's game will be a derby with more than just local significance. 'We feel aggrieved that the Conference seems to be regarded as a one-team league,' David Kemp, Slough's manager, said last night. 'Hopefully we will be able to prove our point next week.'
Unlike the Barclays League (in which Barnet visit Scarborough and Cardiff entertain York), Boxing Day is very much derby day in the non-League game. Chesham, 11 points clear in the Diadora League, have a noon fixture at Marlow, while Southport, the HFS Loans League front-runners, entertain fourth-placed Marine.Reuse content