15th November 1999... just another ordinary day..?
Well not if you were a supporter of Gateshead Thunder, the latest addition to rugby league’s Super League competition.
A club and a team created to expand the sport away from the “heartlands” took many experts by surprise by finishing Super League IV in sixth position, just one place below the end of season play-offs. From a fan base of zero the crowds began to grow, drawn in by the sporting drama and spectacle provided by our mainly Australian squad. The eventual Grand Final winners St Helens were defeated... not once, but twice and reigning champions Wigan Warriors were beaten 20-16 on an amazingly emotional afternoon in Edinburgh on 1st August...
The action on the field was exhilarating... the atmosphere on the terraces was brilliant too. Rugby league had rarely seen supporters untainted by years of hard winter slog and bitter rivalries; the “Thunder Army” just loved every-thing... watching the games... meeting the players... travelling to away games... chatting with opposing fans... having the occasional sing-song. Breaths of fresh air aren’t always readily welcomed though – everyone is fine when you’re losing... ah but how it changes when you walk away with a victory from places like... er... let’s say the Boulevard.
How ironic then that Hull, the place we were made least welcome, would eventually be “home”to our players... our coach... pretty much our whole club, after the post-season political merry-go-round had ground to a halt.
A lot of water has passed under both the Humber and Tyne Bridges during the intervening 13 years, but the memories of that single season in Super League still remain -as does Gateshead Thunder, thanks to the commitment and devotion of people too numerous to mention. But this blog is dedicated to all our original players... some better known than others to fans of the game in general, but household names to so many of us across the north east.
The photo at the top is of Deon Bird scoring the club’s final Super League try at Warrington... and below are some of the players applauding their fans saying what would ultimately turn out to be their final farewell in a Gateshead Thunder shirt.
15th November 1999 was not just another ordinary day...
Boom, boom, boom, can you hear the Thunder roar..?
All my own work... almost.