Hartlepool United defender Fraser Kerr wishes his former club Gateshead well after a difficult spell
Fraser Kerr has backed his former club Gateshead to have a successful season in the National League North after putting their off-field troubles behind them.
The Scottish defender had been ever present at the back for the Heed last season prior to his sudden sale to Hartlepool United in February.
Under Steve Watson and later Ben Clark, Gateshead were mounting an unlikely play-off charge in the National League despite having a paper-thin squad and various off-field problems threatening to derail things.
Even after Kerr’s untimely sale, the Tynesiders continued to push for a top seven place before finally succumbing in the penultimate game of the season.
To the outsider, it still looked like a successful campaign for the National League’s second longest continually serving side as they claimed an impressive top 10 finish despite operating on the smallest full-time budget in the division.
But the problems ran far deeper than that – players,staff and various creditors weren’t getting paid and within a week of the end of the season, the club had no staff and just one player contracted until June.
Shortly after, the club were handed a nine point deduction – which saw them fall below Pools to 17th in the table – as well as a suspension and subsequent demotion from the National League after a withdrawn appeal. The previous regime then fled the scene, allowing the club to have a fresh start in the National League North under new ownership.
For Kerr and everyone connected to Gateshead, the warning signs had been there since the start of the season but the remarkable efforts on the field was often a distractor to the growing concerns.
The 26-year-old’s sale marked a figurative breaking point at the club. As then manager Ben Clark told the Hartlepool Mail: “Fraser rang me and said he was going to Hartlepool on Wednesday to complete a move to join them.
“Once I heard the words that the club had accepted an offer, there is not much I could do as a manager.
“Fraser admitted that he didn’t really want to leave the club but felt that he had to do so.”
The Heed Army were enraged and an active and vocal effort to remove the club’s owners – which the players and staff later got on board with – gathered significant momentum.
After an incredibly tumultuous and drawn out process, the ‘Gateshead Soul’ supporters group finally succeeded in their efforts to save the club from almost certain extinction at the 11th hour as part of a consortium.
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The damage has been done at the International Stadium with the new owners currently doing their best to clean up the mess left by their predecessors.
Remaining a full-time outfit and quickly appointing veteran defender and Kerr’s former defensive partner Mike Williamson as player-manager has signalled a brighter future.
“It was a real shame what happened to Gateshead last season because so much hard work was put in last year from all the staff and players to try and achieve something,” Kerr said.
“For it to result in the team getting relegated is really disappointing for the club and I feel for the fans.
“But I think with Mike (Williamson) taking over and Ian (Watson) alongside him, there’s plenty to be positive about and look forward to as I’m sure they’ll be aiming to come straight back up.
“Mike has a lot of experience and that was evident last year for me obviously playing alongside him and being in and around him in the changing room, he’s got a lot of knowledge in the game and a lot of good ideas so I think they’ll do well.”
Kerr scored four goals in 75 games during his time at the International Stadium and was the most experienced Gateshead player in terms of appearances for the club prior to his departure.
And that time on Tyneside has Kerr keeping a close eye on the Heed’s progress.
“You always keep an eye on your old clubs and I’ve definitely been keeping my eye on Gateshead most of all,” he admitted.
“Obviously just leaving towards the end of the season, I was keeping an eye on what was going on and it’s just a shame what’s happened but they can all look forward now, they’ve got new owners in and new coaching staff so to speak to they’ve just got to look forward and see what they can achieve this year.”
Kerr also feels Hartlepool have learnt a thing or two from their north east rivals going into their third National League season.
“Going in at Gateshead this stage last year, there wasn’t really many players signed or anything like that,” he continued.
“But we still managed to get a great team spirit going and we were challenging for the play-offs for the majority of the season so if we can take a bit of that and implement it here and influence the boys here then it can only be a positive.
“We’ve got a bit more direction and vision this season compared to last season and like I said, the manager has said what he’s expecting from us this season and I think everyone is on board with it.”
Hartlepool will open their National League season at home to Sutton United on Saturday, August 3 (3pm kick-off).