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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 15:40 GMT

Sport: Rugby League

Thunder boss defends merger

Gateshead were £700,000 in debt after just one professional season

Gateshead chiefs have defended their decision to merge with Hull, by revealing the club had incurred debts of £700,000 in their first and only season as a professional side.

Gateshead chief executive Shane Richardson said Thunder, who have now moved their players and coaching staff to East Yorkshire, would have had to double their gates this season to survive.

"In hindsight we overestimated the amount of support the club would attract and the loss sustained was more dramatic than we envisaged," Richardson said.

New stadium

"The last month has been very difficult. We just couldn't convince the bank and investors that Gateshead was a better proposition than Hull.

"We could have battled on and sent Hull backwards but there was no guarantee we would have completed the season.

"The Thunderdome does not currently satisfy Super League ground criteria and this won't be a problem at Hull, who will move into a brand new stadium inside three years.

"But ultimately it was the Association of Premiership Clubs' refusal to accept Hull into the Northern Ford Premiership that sealed Gateshead Thunder's fate."

Supporters angry

Thunder supporters have demanded showdown talks with Australian Richardson and co-owner Kath Hetherington.

Hetherington, who will run Hull alongside Richardson with former Thunder and St Helens coach Shaun McRae in charge of the playing side, criticised the Rugby Football League for their role in Gateshead's demise.

"It's a very sad day for the club. I honestly believed that cometh the hour the NFP would not be so stupid and selfish to prevent Hull from joining them," she said.

"It's unbelievable that clubs block voted against admitting Hull and Sheffield - apart from Bramley and Barrow, who stood up to be counted.

"In the end politics has brought the Thunder to a premature end and it's never good for any sport when that happens."

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