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Ex-Newcastle United defender Mike Williamson opens up about his Gateshead pride and how 'group of special people' helped him after passing of his father

There have been many changes at Gateshead over the last three years - but the measured approach of player-manager Mike Williamson and his coaching staff have been a constant.

By Mark Carruthers
Friday, 13th May 2022, 7:11 pm

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Gateshead player/manager Mike Williamson. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images).
Gateshead player/manager Mike Williamson. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images).

Whilst others obsessed with results elsewhere as National League North title rivals Brackley Town simply refused to go away in recent months, the Heed boss regularly stated he would focus on his side staying in control of their own destiny.

On one such occasion, when a home win against Southport took his side to within touching distance of the title, Williamson revealed he was completely unaware of who their title rivals would face in the final week of a gruelling campaign.

Just days earlier, BBC Newcastle’s Colin White pressed him on what could happen when the Saints hosted Blyth Spartans on the penultimate weekend of the season - but Williamson refused to even acknowledge the question and simply guided the conversation back to his own side.

Even with the job done and the title and promotion secured, the former Newcastle United centre-back tried his best to remain focused on the many challenges that lie in wait.

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Yet for just once, with players basking in the aftermath of their final day win against Hereford and the title triumph secured at Chorley almost a week earlier, his focus momentarily turned away from his squad.

The former Magpies defender reflected on the loss of his father, Phil, earlier in the season when the togetherness of what he called a ‘group of special people’ involved at the club came to the fore.

“The whole season has been special and I could name a number of different things but, for me, it’s been emotionally up and down,” he told The Echo.

“I lost my Dad earlier in the season, but I know he will be up there, looking down, proud as punch.

“He was a true football man and he would have loved what this group of players, coaches and the football club is all about.

“The group I’ve done it with, when I needed time away at the time, there were no questions asked, everyone came together, there was support and understanding.

“That was special to me and meant so much.

“There are so many individual stories in this group of special people and that is why we will all always remember what has been achieved this season.”

Williamson’s approach has paid dividends in fine fashion and ultimately led to him becoming the first Gateshead manager since Newcastle United legend Terry Hibbitt in 1986 to lead the club to a league title.

With celebrations going on around him, and the National League North champions trophy being thrust into many a family photo, the Heed player-manager took a step back to assess the scenes around him.

“It’s trying to click these memories into the bank and really enjoy it because watching these lads getting photos with families and friends is special.

“All of the hard work and the planning for next season is already in my head and I am already thinking about the fact we will be stood on the same track we are stood on, with our trainers on, preparing for the hard work in the National League.

“Time will flash by so you have to take it all in and enjoy every moment because it is special.

“I don’t want to over or underestimate anything, it’s been a great day and a wonderful season.

“I am privileged and blessed to be here, to work with these people and it’s lovely to watch on and see the smiles on faces here.”

Many have asked Williamson just what has been they key factor in his side’s success.

After all, it is easy to forget Gateshead were sat in tenth place in the National League North table when last season was curtailed by a new wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And 12 months earlier, after securing a play-off place on a points-per-game calculation, hopes of an immediate return to the top tier of the non-league game were dashed by a semi-final defeat at Boston United.

Yet now, after a year of constant improvement, they had embarked on a run to the FA Cup second round before narrowly losing out to League One club Charlton Athletic and won the National League North, racking up 94 points and 99 goals in the process.

Williamson joked if he knew how to work out that formula, his side could be looking to more adventurous away days over the coming years, rather than some admittedly attractive, yet more modest journeys next season.

“You can quantify it, you can’t put a finger on it, I’m trying to, I am trying to figure out the formula because if you could recreate it I think we would be looking at travelling to the Nou Camp and Bernabeu via St James’s Park in the coming years.

“Really, it’s down to working hard each and every day.

“The lads come in, they show humility, honesty and desire to continue improving and continue being the best version of themselves and to give their all for this football club.

“That’s what has got us to the scenes we set today and this is what we must do going forward to face the challenges that lie ahead.”

Those challenges will take the Heed into direct competition with some eye-catching names in next season’s National League.

Oldham Athletic - an FA Cup opponent of Gateshead’s just two years ago - and Scunthorpe United have dropped out of League Two and will visit the International Stadium next season.

Former Football League clubs like Torquay United, Dagenham & Redbridge and Southend United will also make their way to the south bank of the Tyne.

And with the National League season reaching its climax this weekend, it is not out of the equation that Gateshead face old foes Grimsby Town, Chesterfield and a Wrexham side owned by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny.

Budgets are big, and it’s safe to say Gateshead’s hard-earned finances will be dwarfed by almost all in an increasingly cash-rich division.

Yet Williamson is adamant his squad and the club’s supporter-led board will work harder than ever to ensure they can compete against a whole host of big-name opposition.

When asked how far his side could go, he said: “It’s a tough question to answer at this point in time because there is a lot of hard work ahead.

“The stature of some of the clubs, the budgets they can use, it’s going to be tough.

“We have taken a big step, we had no right to take that step because our budget has been a mid-table budget.

“The board have worked so hard, they embody everything that this football club is with effort and the work they have put in.

“We have worked together, we have fought together and we have done this for the supporters.

“We won’t move away from that, no matter what we face over the coming seasons.”