Meticulous planning, brutal honesty and a clear vision - How ex-Newcastle United defender Mike Williamson is helping revive Gateshead's fortunes

The instructions from the edge of the pitch are clear and concise as Gateshead’s players continue their preparations for what would be a successful trip to Curzon Ashton.

Sunday, 16th February 2020, 1:02 pm
Gateshead boss Mike Williamson.

Player-manager Mike Williamson and assistant Ian Watson continually called for their players to improve the standard of the session they had meticulously planned.

Sharper and slicker passing, tighter marking and quicker movement were the orders of the day as the intensity of the session continued to increase.

That strive for improvement continued when Williamson discussed the standard of the International Stadium surface as the Heed players rounded off their session with a shooting drill.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mike Williamson in his Newcastle United playing days.

And the need to keep standards high on and off the pitch is one of reasons behind Williamson’s rise from League Two defender to helping Newcastle United to the Europa League quarter-final inside four years.

The former Magpies centre-back is now in the infancy of his managerial career on the opposite side of the Tyne with Gateshead - but there are clear signs that he is adept with life in the dugout as the Heed currently sit just outside of the National League North play-off places.

Although the role of player-manager is a rarity these days and can be an awkward one, but a mutual respect is driving Gateshead forwards on and off the pitch.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to have a go at the lads when I’ve just played a ball out of play from ten yards – that very rarely happens though, once a season maybe,” joked Williamson.

“I try and be as honest with the lads as I can be, I am still a player, just like them.

“All I am trying to be is as transparent for those boys as I can be.

“I want to be successful for them and for this club than I do for myself really.

“I am here, I am enjoying myself and I want to be the best player and manager I can be – but I want to do that to make this club a success.

“Coming in and working for this club is a pleasure and an honour for me and I am sure will keep learning in the role over the coming months.”

Williamson worked with some notable managers during his 17-year career in the Football League and Premier League.

From former Champions League winner Paul Lambert and Arsenal legend Tony Adams to former Newcastle boss Chris Hughton, the 36-year-old has a number of influences to draw upon as he continues to forge his own career in the dugout.

Williamson admitted that he has drawn upon lessons he has learnt under his former managers and coaches – but he insisted that he is also determined to stay true to his own methods and beliefs.

He explained: “You always take from the managers that you’ve worked with and the ones you have respected.

“You try and add that to your locker and your way of doing things.

“I have a belief of how I believe the game should be played and it’s about how to translate that from the training pitch to a game situation.

“Getting those ideas, how the systems work and how we work with transitions into a player’s mind is key and that can be the difference.

“I have worked under managers and coaches that have done that effectively and I have my own ideas of how to do that too.”

It has been a crash-course in management for the former United star as he took over at the helm as Gateshead only just survived one of the most turbulent spells in their history.

The Heed came within 72 hours of closure after the haphazard reign of former owner Dr Ranjan Varghese and his controversial financial advisor Joseph Cala brough the club to its knees.

Suspended from the National League, forced out of their International Stadium home, and with bills racking up day-on-day, Gateshead were forcibly relegated into non-league’s second-tier as a punishment for breaking financial regulations.

However, with the club edging closer and closer to folding, a supporter-led consortium stepped in at the eleventh hour to take control and end Varghese’s disastrous ownership.

Positive news came daily as the club agreed a deal to return to the International Stadium, key appointments were made to the club’s board and a plan to re-engage with the local community.

Popular players like Scott Barrow, JJ O’Donnell and Greg Olley committed their futures despite the relegation and promising youngsters Brad James, Dom Tear and Jake Cooper have all joined on loan throughout the campaign.

Now, for the first time this season, there is a settled look to the Gateshead squad as the dark days of the summer get left further behind.

But if a positive has come from those troubling times, it is a spirit of togetherness according to Williamson.

He said: “The directors, the Gateshead Soul group, they are working their socks off and I had Bernard McWilliams (Gateshead Soul chairman) in the other day saying they would help with anything we needed.

“The hard work is paying off, the fans are behind us, the directors are working unbelievable hard and they all deserve the credit for that.

“The fans own the club, we are just here to make it as strong as we can on the pitch and to get his club in a strong position.”

Even then, given his continuous strive for improvement, you get the sense that a strong position wouldn’t be enough for Williamson and his coaching staff.