Rafa Benitez had a tough summer at Newcastle United.
Across the River Tyne, Steve Watson had an even more challenging time at the International Stadium.
The club, which was up for sale, wasn’t able to sign any players. Watson, appointed manager 13 months ago after a stint as assistant at Macclesfield Town was eventually able to assemble a squad after Gateshead was sold in July.
“I couldn’t have imagined my first job being more difficult,” said Watson, who will be in the dugout for a Gateshead Legends v Newcastle Legends match at the International Stadium on April 7 next year.
“This gives you valuable experience for the future. It’ll be an incredible learning curve for me. Probably managers that have managed for 20 years might not have had to endure the summer I’ve had, but I’ve enjoyed every minute. It’s been a challenge.
“I came down to Macclesfield. I decided on a route to get into management. I had three good years there.
“I came and took a really big challenge on at Gateshead. I want to be a top manager. For most managers, you have to roll your sleeves up and go through the hard miles to get there. If I succeed, it’ll have been through hard work.”
Watson – who made more than 200 league appearances for Newcastle after coming up through the ranks at the club – has guided Gateshead up to eighth in the National League.
“You get weeks where if you lose a couple in a row, you get down about it,” said the 44-year-old. “That’s only because you’re competitive.
“When you have a chance to step back, we’re a point outside the play-offs. We were in a bad situation in the summer in that we couldn’t sign any players. A lot of players left.
“We didn’t really know where the future of Gateshead was going to lie.
“From then to now, we’ve got to be happy with how we’ve progressed with a young squad. We keep getting better.”
Watson is hoping to forge a strong relationship with managerial counterpart Benitez, who has had his own problems at United.
Newcastle have loaned a number of players to Gateshead, notably Paul Dummett, and Watson is hoping to strengthen his squad in January’s transfer window.
“They looked after us really well,” said Watson. “This year, because of the positions we’ve needed, we’ve not really gone to them as yet, but coming up to January, when we really need to push on, we might have that conversation.
“I need to build up a relationship. It’s not easy. He’s got a very tough job on his hands at the moment."
Newcastle are 14th in the Premier League table after back-to-back wins over Bournemouth and Watford.
What you have to look at is how difficult Newcastle's start was – they played everybody.," said Watson.
"They didn't really get turned over by any of them. Now they're coming into a run where they'd expect to get points, and they're starting to do that. It's maybe gone the way people should have expected, but you never think about it at the time."
Watson, having had hip surgery last year, is unable to play in the legends game, which is raising money for Gateshead.
“I had a hip replacement a year or so ago, and I’m due another one next year,” said Watson. “It’s a bit unrealistic to waddle around the pitch the way I feel at the moment!
“Some of the lads are up and around the 50s now. We still want it to be as competitive as possible, so don’t be surprised if you see three or four players later than our era. We always have great times when we see the lads. When the game starts, you never lose that drive to win the game.”
Peter Beardsley will take part in the Gateshead Legends v Newcastle Legends game on April 7. Tickets, priced £10 for adults and £5 for under-18s, will go on sale from gateshead-fc.com