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Ex-Newcastle United defender targeting promotion success - but has strong message for squad

Gateshead player-manager Mike Williamson cuts a relaxed figure as he overlooks the International Stadium pitch on an unusually sunny day on the banks of the River Tyne.

By Mark Carruthers
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 3:09 pm

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He has good reason to be at least satisfied with life as his side currently sit at the top of the National League North ahead of Saturday’s key clash at title rivals Brackley Town.

The former Newcastle United star is enjoying his best season in management so far after leading the club to the FA Cup second round and into pole position for promotion as the “business end” of the campaign approaches.

Fuelled by the goals of Macaulay Langstaff and Cedwyn Scott, The Heed are one of the highest-scoring sides in the top seven levels of the English football pyramid and have been widely lauded by opponents at home and away during the season.

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

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But Williamson's laid-back stance subsides and a steely determination washes over him in response to one simple question.

How proud are you of what you and the players have achieved this season?

“We have not achieved anything, nothing at all,” responded the Heed player-manager.

“There is nothing achieved, I don’t believe we have done anything yet.

“That’s for other people to look at but in my eyes, we haven’t done a thing yet.

“I am proud of the lads, of how we conduct ourselves as human beings, I am proud about our work ethic - but there is zero achievement.

“We can’t slip into that mindset, we have to stay focused on what is ahead rather than what has been.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us and we are also ready to work hard to improve our situation between now and the end of the season.”

Striving to improve is a key part of Gateshead’s undoubted progress throughout the season.

Calls for focus, not just on the next game but the next training session, are regular features of any chat with players, coaches and officials at the International Stadium.

Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and that is getting a tune out of key figures at all levels of the club.

It is an ethos harvested and encouraged by Williamson and his trusted staff members Ian Watson, Louis Storey and Chris Bell.

“It’s been enjoyable working with this group of lads and the staff we have got here.

“We just want to keep improving with everything we do.

“We try and use every opportunity to do that and we try to continually improve.

“You never achieve perfection, but you can keep striving for it and doing things to the best of your ability.

“The philosophy we have brought in and the one the lads buy into is about getting the process right and the results follow on the back of that.

“This is the business end of the season, it’s about results, I understand that - but we are just massive believers in getting the preparation, planning and process right.

“Whether you’re three goals down after five minutes or three up after five minutes, nothing should change because if you do, you are coming away from what you believe in.

“Nothing changes, you do the same thing, and you stick to your beliefs as an individual and as a team.”

The spirit of togetherness is a complete contrast to the scenes that were played out at the International Stadium three years ago this week.

Whilst there is always a hesitancy to revisit the hardship experienced under the club’s former ownership and an obvious preference to focus on the future, the contrasting emotions are too much to use as a comparison to the current situation.

A training session was interrupted by a council official as club staff - including Williamson and his coaches - were evicted from their offices in response to a series of unpaid bills.

Supporters were rallying behind the players and staff and the seeds of recovery were put in place at the Gateshead Soul group played a key role in hauling the club back from the brink of extinction.

Slowly, but surely, Gateshead are back on their feet and the club is repairing wounds caused to their relationship with the local community.

Williamson feels representing the town in the right way has gone a long way to mending that fractured relationship.

He explained: “We have made mistakes as a club, we are all learning, but I think everyone knows we are all working hard

“We have transparency at all levels.

“We are all honest, hardworking people within the club and I like to think those qualities represent our local community.

“There are no egos, it’s just everyone coming together and if there are mistakes, we will do everything we can to rectify that and represent the community as best we can.”

Saturday’s visit to second-placed Brackley will not decide the destination of this season’s National League North title.

Neither side will see their promotion hopes ended when the full-time whistle is blown, nor will any silverware be handed to the winners.

But both the Heed and the Saints are near inseparable during their title battle with results being matched week-on-week.

Even when one has slipped, such as Gateshead’s home draw with Bradford Park Avenue, so has the other, something shown by Brackley’s draw at Spennymoor on the same day.

There can be a tendency to focus on other results, something Williamson describes as “a natural itch”.

But the Heed boss has urged his players to focus on their own results and channel their energy into their own preparations rather than events elsewhere during the remainder of the campaign.

“Everyone is human and you have 20 lads that have a natural itch to look at other results.

“For me, as soon as I find any cell of my body thinking about them, I realise my focus has moved away from ourselves.

“That is what we are focused on, it’s just on ourselves."

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