In fact, I’ve never been in such a woefully empty stadium for a match (see video at end of this post). It must feel a bit like this playing behind closed doors. Never mind having a row to yourself; you can have a block to yourself and I’m sure (if you know the right people) you can have a private stand. There was swathe upon swathe of empty red seats. Most clubs change the colour of their seats to match their strip but Gateshead ought to do the switch the other way round. The pitch is surrounded by a running track, of course, and three sides are unroofed. The all-seater set-up further dampened the atmosphere and, in the first half at least, gave the tie the sterility of a match from the foreign millionnaire’s league. At a time when most clubs are looking to move into 11,000 all-seater stadiums Gateshead want – and, moreover, desperately need – to move out of one and, last week, announced proposals for a ground of their own after next season. About the only reason for a football club to share an athletics stadium is that the giant digital stopwatch can double-up as a scoreboard and countdown clock (pictured below with goat mascot).
So it’s back to Griffin Park for a replay. A more homely occasion for all concerned, I’d have thought, if not quite as novel. Today’s match was one for the FA Cup connoisseur, to be sure.