EXCLUSIVE: Mike Williamson has achieved plenty in a long playing career but nothing compares to the FA Cup run as player-manager at Non-League Gateshead
Mike Williamson made 150 league appearances for Newcastle, earned Premier League promotion and even won away at Old Trafford.
But it was six miles from the Theatre of Dreams – and five years after leaving the English top-flight giants – where his career pinnacle came.
Last month, the Gateshead player-manager steered his Non-League team to a dramatic FA Cup first round replay victory at Moss Lane, the home of National League club Altrincham.
A last minute goal from forward Macaulay Langstaff sealed a stunning 3-2 win after the first game ended 2-2 – and Williamson said at full-time that the result gave him his best feeling in football.
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“I stand by that completely,” he told the Mirror.
“There were many factors that went into that comment; the occasion, where the club has been and what it has come through, and of course the manner we won it in.
“We went toe-to-toe with a top footballing team in the National League and it deserves huge credit. It was a special day that the supporters could really enjoy and I was immensely proud.”
The magic of the FA Cup is not dead just yet.
And what made this particular triumph so special was the prestigious prize at stake.
A lucrative televised second round tie against League One Charlton awaits Gateshead on Friday night.
Gateshead, sitting in the National League North play-off places, average attendances of just under 1,000 for their domestic games.
But over 3,000 of the ‘Heed Army’ are expected to flock to the International Stadium hoping for an unforgettable cup upset.
“Pressure is always a privilege and playing in big games like this is a privilege,” Williamson said.
“The occasion is fantastic but that’s for the fans, the board and the volunteers who come in every day and work relentlessly behind the scenes and we have a job to do.
“We want to test ourselves against the best we possibly can and Charlton is a great opportunity. There’s no hiding from it, it would be a big upset but we’ve got every belief. We think we’ve got a good chance.
“If we win our own battles, our football will dictate where the game goes so it’s about how they can deal with us as well.”
Defender Williamson was drawn back to the North East after being released by Oxford United three years ago but signed for a club who would soon be left in turmoil.
Gateshead were days from extinction two years ago when a proud club built on the foundations of a close-knit Tyneside community found themselves in trouble under the ownership of Ranjan Varghese and his financial adviser Joseph Cala.
In the space of 12 months, the club were relegated from the National League for breaching financial rules, kicked out of their own stadium for unpaid rent and staff were left to cope without their wages.
Williamson was put in charge of the club’s rebirth in June 2019 after they were rescued at the eleventh hour by supporter-led consortium Gateshead Soul.
He has since built a squad from scratch under new joint-owners Neil Pinkerton and Trevor Clark and has put ‘The Heed’ back on track with their professional status in tact.
And the 38-year-old has relished the challenges that come with his role as player-manager, a dying profession in the modern game.
“It’s been very natural and it’s fantastic,” he added. “I’ve enjoyed the journey, the highs and the lows and we’ve built a culture here where it’s about progression every single day.
“When I first took over we had no squad and it was very difficult to convince these lads what vision we had and what we’re trying to build.
“But a lot of lads are now getting back in touch about opportunities because they see what we’ve been working to create.”
“I’ve also never enjoyed my football so much. I want to keep playing until its not physically possible and I realise I’m better off on the sideline.”
Williamson will not just boss the backline but his whole squad on the biggest night of Gateshead’s recent history.
He now has the chance to reach a new peak.
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