RETURNING Gateshead assistant manager Ian Watson is embracing the challenge next season will bring as the hard work is already well underway.
Watson was initially appointed as assistant to Ben Clark in January and now returns as new player-manager Mike Williamson’s number two.
After an extremely turbulent couple of months which saw the future of Gateshead Football Club plunged into serious doubt, Watson admits he’s delighted to be back after initially being dismissed from his role by the club’s previous owners in April.
“It’s been a crazy couple of months to be honest and that’s putting it kindly,” said the 33-year-old.
“After we finished the season we got the news that we wouldn’t be keeping our jobs anymore which was disappointing.
“We had other options but we were always hopeful something would happen with Gateshead.”
The former Blyth Spartans defender made the transition from player to assistant manager to work alongside Clark following Steve Watson’s departure, and he considered a return to his playing days when it seemed as if the Heed were down and out.
“If I’m being honest there was a point where we had totally lost hope,” he continued.
“We were weighing our options up but fortunately for ourselves we hadn’t committed to anywhere else, so when there was the chance to come back to Gateshead that was always our first option.
“I’ve loved my time at Gateshead so it was an easy decision to come back. I’ve been here almost five years so the club means a lot to me and the people around the club mean a lot to me too.
“A couple of weeks ago it looked like everything was all dead and buried and I was looking at all sorts of different avenues, possibly going back to play and at one point it looked like that’s what I was going to do.
“I think it’s important that people realise just how close we were to losing this club or it having to drop down several leagues and become part-time.
“But the chance to keep working here at a club the size of Gateshead was enough to make me really want to take this challenge on.”
Watson and Williamson enjoyed a fruitful working relationship at the International Stadium during the second half of last season, with the latter joining the coaching staff as well as remaining a key figure at the heart of the Heed’s defence.
“Me and Mike get on really well,” said Watson.
“We obviously worked closely together the back end of last season alongside Ben Clark.
“Me and Mike share a lot of similar philosophies when it comes to football and I’ve learnt a lot from him and will continue to do so.”
The pair, alongside Clark, withstood an ultimately defining period in the club’s history and continued to deliver results against the odds despite a rapidly diminishing senior squad.
Watson is glad to confine those times to memory and begin moving forward – with the first step for himself and Williamson to build their squad for next season.
“I think after the past few months it’s just important for us to consolidate and get the club back again,” he continued.
“We are speaking to a few players who we’re looking to bring in who we think could really kick the club on at this level.
“Ultimately, we’re just really wanting to get the fans excited about the club again.
“Obviously Ben got that in the second half of last season, and Steve Watson and Micky Cummins created that before then so we’re just looking to build on that first and foremost.
“We want the fans to come here in numbers and hopefully enjoy the exciting football we’ll be looking to provide in order to create a real buzz around the area and the football club, because that’s something that has been missing slightly over the years.”
The news that Gateshead had lost their place in non-league’s top-tier for the 2019/20 season emerged last Saturday as it was confirmed that the Heed would compete in the National League North.
Watson, having played in the division for Blyth Spartans, knows what it takes to be competitive as he looks to provide some much-needed stability to the club.
“Having played at this level for two seasons I’m more familiar with the National League North than I am the National League,” said the former defender.
“In terms of the standard, I think the top seven or so in the National League are a level above but I think anything down from that isn’t too different from the National League North.
“There are going to be a lot of derbies. You’ve got Blyth, Darlington, Spennymoor and York which are all going to be massive games for us to look forward to.
“I think it’s going to be a tough league, probably as tough as the National League would have been for us so we’re just going to aim to do as well as we can and take it from there.”
A key part of Gateshead’s takeover is the decision of joint-owners Neil Pinkerton and Trevor Clark to keep the club operating as a full-time outfit.
Watson, the Heed’s former strength and conditioning coach, believes that status will prove pivotal in attracting the calibre of players to take the club forward.
“Remaining as a full-time outfit is massive,” he added.
“We want to bring in players who want to play full-time and kick-on with their career.
“As you know, the fitness side of things for me is massive and I think that will play a huge part in things working with players full-time.
“I’d like to back myself to make us the fittest side in the league.
The 33-year-old has ruled out a cameo in Gateshead colours with Williamson confirmed as player-manager, adding that he intends to act solely as assistant manager – although he revealed the pair are searching for an extra body to add to the coaching setup.
“Mike will be player manager but I’ll purely be the assistant, me returning to playing isn’t something that has been discussed,” said Watson.
“We need someone on the sideline and that will be me and obviously Mike has had a slightly better playing career than me – only slightly better though!
“Mike is a massive player though and we’re really lucky to have him because his influence is going to be huge.
“We’ll be looking to bring in at least one more coach for the new season which could be massive as we’d be looking to bring in someone who has played at the highest level.”
The pair’s return pens the beginning of a new, albeit familiar, chapter in Gateshead’s history with the club remaining at the heart of the city.
Watson issued a statement of his gratitude to those who acted quickly to ensure that remained the case, saying: “Given all that’s happened, there are so many people I’d like to thank that have somehow rescued the club and helped get this all sorted.
“The work that Dom (Scurr), Alisha (Henry) and Neil (Pinkerton) have done has been non-stop as well as everyone who has invested their time and money into the club.
“I’ll say her name again, Alisha has been relentless in trying to get the club back to where it was but obviously my biggest thank you has to go to Ben Clark.
“Everyone knows my relationship with Ben and he’s decided to go down a different path away from management which I totally understand from his point of view.
“But I just want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to step up into a management role and I’m under no illusion that not everyone would have given me that sort of opportunity.
“I will continue to speak with Ben, and although he’s no longer manager I’m sure he’ll still be part of things in some way.
“I think it’s important for me to go on record and give my thanks to Ben, because I don’t think there are enough words for how much I could thank Ben for everything he’s done for me personally and for the club.
“Even though he’s not here officially he’s still continuing to help and I’d obviously like to thank Mike for the opportunity to carry on as assistant manager as well.
“Ultimately, everyone who has put anything into getting the club back to where it deserves this and I’m hugely thankful to everyone for that.”