The familiar face waiting for Newcastle United in the dugout – and his old club's helping hand

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Gateshead manager Mike Williamson is aiming to give Newcastle United a strong test when Eddie Howe's side open their pre-season campaign.

Mike Williamson used to love hearing Shola Ameobi’s Champions League stories during his time as a Newcastle United player.

The pair played enjoyed ups and downs during their careers at St James’ Park.

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Ameobi's own career highlights include a goal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Thankfully, the club is now on the up – and back in the Champions League – following an extraordinary post-takeover turnaround.

The game will be streamed online by the National League club, and all proceeds will go to Gateshead.

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"Eddie Howe just seems really hard-working, humble and down-to-earth, and I’m just really pleased for him personally, and the whole club, because it’s been a sleeping giant for a while now, and it’s starting to wake up.,” said Williamson, appointed player-manager of Gateshead four years ago.

“I remember the days when I used to speak to Shola about the Champions League nights, and how incredible that would be (if they returned). They’re on the way back."

The friendly will be a "huge" financial help to Gateshead.

Williamson added: “It hugely helps us financially. It’s a sell-out, so that helps on the budget. We’re a fan-run club, and this is just a huge boost for us.

"Playing against a Champions League team, so it’s going to be fantastic for our lads getting that experience, and our young boys getting that exposure, playing against the best.”

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Shola Ameobi celebrates scoring for Newcastle United against Barcelona in the 2002/03 season. (Pic: Getty Images)Shola Ameobi celebrates scoring for Newcastle United against Barcelona in the 2002/03 season. (Pic: Getty Images)
Shola Ameobi celebrates scoring for Newcastle United against Barcelona in the 2002/03 season. (Pic: Getty Images) | Getty

Momentum

Williamson has enjoyed watching the club’s progress over the past 18 months.

“It’s a religion up here, fans live and breathe it,” said the 39-year-old. “I was privileged to have the opportunity for six-and-a-half years unbelievable years there.

“I enjoy it now from afar. Hopefully, the momentum helps clubs like ourselves as well.”

Newly-promoted Gateshead finished 14th in the National League last season despite having one of the lowest budgets in the division.

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“When we got into that league we knew it would be a huge season of learning and lessons, and I think there were more than we anticipated, but when we reflect, I think it was an incredibly successful season, keeping our National League status and having that build-up to Wembley,” said Williamson.

“That exposure is only going to benefit us in the future. We’re desperate to get back there, but, overall, it was a phenomenal season.”

Wembley memories

Leading Gateshead out at Wembley was a career highlight for Williamson, who was still playing last season.

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“It’s hard to quantify in terms of ranking, but walking out with my two boys to a stadium and occasion like that in front of some fantastically passionate supporters is up there,” said Williamson.

“It was an amazing day just to see what the (reaction) families of the players watching, and what the supporters felt.

“I think that was the pay-off more than the actual footballing success. It was more about the community and fans and the club and the board.”

Former Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot could line up in goal for Gateshead on Saturday. (Pic: Getty Images)Former Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot could line up in goal for Gateshead on Saturday. (Pic: Getty Images)
Former Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot could line up in goal for Gateshead on Saturday. (Pic: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Williamson’s attention, however, quickly turned towards the 2023/24 campaign.

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Former United goalkeeper Rob Elliot, the club's technical director, could be in goal for Gateshead.

“It’s always about the next game, the next player and the next week,” said Williamson.

And, ahead of the new season, excitement is building on both banks of the Tyne.

“We’ve managed to sign some players we had on loan, and some of the main targets, so it’s exciting times," added Williamson.

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