Pic: David Simpson/TGS Photo
GATESHEAD star Russ Penn says family came first when it came to choosing a club for the new season.
Penn, 31, was inundated with offers from National League sides following his release by Carlisle but says rejoining Neil Aspin’s north east promotion chasers was a “no-brainer”.
The former England C man has a young family who are settled in York and having played for six clubs in as many years – including six months on loan at the International Stadium last season – says staying put was top of his wish list.
“I’m at an age and a stage in my career where it’s not just about football anymore,” explains the former York, Burton and England C midfielder.
“It’s about family. I’ve got two children, a wife. She’s got a good job at York College, they’re settled in nursery and school. For me to uproot them again – as I did three years ago – for the sake of a one-year deal isn’t really fair.
“So when Gateshead came calling, it was ideal. It’s still 70 miles from home but it’s driveable and there’s a few of us from the area. To top it off, I’m still playing for a good club at a very good level. And having previously played there, I know it’s a good group of lads with a great manager. It was a no-brainer really.”
Penn was the first of eight summer signings so far, with Aspin aiming to get his transfer business done and dusted early doors.
The arrival of 21-year-old striker Jordan Preston from Guiseley in midweek means the Heed now have 23 players signed up for the new season, with an average age of just 23.
“Player-wise, we must be pretty much done,” says Penn. “Neil’s done his business and he’s told us he wants everyone fit and ready early. The next few weeks will be about gelling together.
“Will it help? I’ve been at clubs with only ten players on the books in July and got to the play-offs. I’ve also been at clubs with 25 lads signed up and we got to the play-offs.
“There’s no wrong or right. It’s about the quality and the personalities. If the right player gets offered and you think he’ll improve the squad, the timeframe doesn’t matter. You get him in.
“What I think the gaffer has tried to do is get rid of the deadwood and bring some fresh lads in to give us that push.”
So can the Heed go one better than last year, when a run of one win from the final eight games saw a play-off berth slip from their grasp?
“When you’re in the top five with five games to go, it’s your fault,” says Penn. “Did the lads here bottle it? Did they get injuries and suspension? I was at Wrexham so I don’t know. But to be in the driving seat after 41 games and fall short is tough.
“One thing they didn’t have last year was experience, and maybe that’s why the gaffer’s brought me in. There’s six play-off places now, which opens things up. We’re realistic, but we know promotion is possible.”