By Mark Carruthers
Chris Swailes says Dunston UTS’ FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round tie against National League neighbours Gateshead this weekend “couldn’t be any bigger”.
Swailes’ side set up their derby clash with the Heed with a thrilling 4-3 win over Chester and now stand just one win away from becoming the first Northern League club to reach the first round since Shildon in 2003.
Just three-and-a-half miles separates Dunston’s Wellington Road and Gateshead’s International Stadium, but in footballing terms they are much further apart.
Four divisions and just under 90 league places in the pyramid is the gap that Swailes’ underdogs will have to overcome if they are to pull off the biggest FA Cup shock in their history.
The tie also hands the three-time FA Vase winners the draw that he insisted he wanted in the aftermath of their win against Chester.
“Superb, it’s superb, a great local derby,” said Swailes, who himself hails from Gateshead. “It’s a tough game, they are doing brilliantly this season and Steve Watson is doing a great job there.
“They will unquestionably be favourites because they are going great guns in the National League, but what a tie for the region, it’s a huge game for the area and we are absolutely delighted to be welcoming them to Dunston for a competitive game. It couldn’t be any bigger.
“We had a great tie for the Chester game and the attendance was fantastic. It’s one of the best moments of my career and certainly the best of my time as a manager.
“You think when you go in behind at half-time that you’re up against it, but these lads just never let their heads drop.
“It’s been a great start to the season and one thing we have shown is that we will always score goals.
“I wanted Gateshead, as one of my former clubs and I couldn’t believe it when I was sat at work and we came out with them. It’s another huge day for the club.”
The cup run has formed a big part of a highly-impressive start to the season for the Fed.
There are unbeaten in their first 14 games of the campaign and caught the eye with wins over the likes of North Ferriby United, Hebburn Town and West Auckland Town.
But it is the tie against Gateshead that has captured the attention in the north-east with the highly-anticipated clash being the subject of heavy media attention. It has been given national coverage, with the BBC confirmed the tie will be broadcast live through their online services.
That has netted Dunston another £2,000 in broadcasting fees, added to the £35,000 they have made in FA Cup prize money.
The run is making a difference on and off the park and chairman Malcolm James is delighted that the club will be at the centre of attention on Saturday.
He said: “We were disappointed the Chester game wasn’t shown because that felt like it could have been but the size of this tie is massive.
“We have great friendship with Gateshead, they are only four miles down the road and we have played them regularly in pre-season friendlies down the years. It’s a massive game for the club and for the region, so for people around the country to also get to see it is great.
“We are a small club, so to be on television, in front of the nation, it’s the stuff of dreams for everyone at the club.”