Mike Williamson reflects on his '˜best days' at Newcastle after returning to Tyneside
Look at some of the teamsheets of the defining Newcastle United games of the past few years, and you'll see on particular name.
There’s the 5-1 win over Sunderland, the 4-4 draw against Arsenal and the club’s first win at Old Trafford since 1972.
And that name can now be found on the teamsheets handed in across the River Tyne at the International Stadium.
Mike Williamson – who made 150 league appearances for Newcastle between 2010 and 2016 – joined Gateshead in the summer. The defender has gone from playing in front of 52,000 at St James’s Park to crowds of less than 1,000.
However, Williamson, mindful that he’s nearing the end of his playing career, is relishing every game for Steve Watson’s side, who are eighth in the National League.
“I’m enjoying it, as you know nothing lasts forever,” said the 35-year-old, who was named the National League’s Player of the Month for October.
“I’m just taking each game as it comes, just as I did when I was up here before. I’m enjoying every moment I can and appreciating it. Hopefully, we can have an exciting season.”
Williamson’s family was quickly sold on a return to the North East.
“I’m loving it,” said Williamson. “The kids are settled really well and enjoying being back up.
“It was easy decision. As soon as we spoke to the kids and saw their enthusiasm, then me and my wife were set.
“It’s testament to the people and the area how well we settled back in.”
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When Williamson eventually hangs up his boots, he will look back on his time at Newcastle as the “pinnacle” of a playing career which has seen him play in English football’s top five divisions.
“That was the pinnacle in terms of playing in the highest league and the Europa League and testing myself against the best players in the world,” said Williamson.
“We had some great days, good seasons. There was always so much passion up here. I think that’s the thing I’ll remember the most – the passion of the area and the desire.
“I’ve had a good career – half of it spent in the lower leagues and half of it at the top end of the leagues. I’m blessed to have had such a good career.
“I say to the lads here it’s about ticking off leagues. Wherever you start, it’s about proving yourself consistently and taking the next step. I’d played a good six months in the Championship (with Watford) and had done well. I was desperate to make that step.
“It didn’t happen with Portsmouth, but as soon as Chris Hughton showed some interest – they were flying high in the Championship at the time – it was a no-brainer. I never looked back.”
Wasn’t it a rollercoaster?
“For me, it was embracing that,” said Williamson.
“I completely understand why fans get frustrated, as it’s such a big club and expectations are high. When things aren’t going well, there are frustrations.
“For me, some of the best days were when we were at St James’s Park and needed to win to make sure we were safe. You’re not wanting to be fighting at the bottom end of the table, but those were the days you could see the influence of the fans. That resonated with me.”
Asked for his personal highlight, Williamson said: “It’s difficult. There’s when we beat Man United at Old Trafford, the 4-4 with Arsenal, winning the second-to-last game to secure safety.
“But it’s difficult to look past the 5-1 against Sunderland. I was on the end of a few disappointing results, so that one was special. At the time that was the team that I’d came into. There were a lot of characters, desire, passion and experience. On that day, it felt like it was a war, and we had the army to come out on top.
“I look back, and I did have frustrating times when I got left out. But there were some amazing games and I was blessed to be part of them.”