By Rory Drake
PLAYER-COACH Mike Williamson thought Saturday’s season finale against Barrow was an “enjoyable game” despite losing 2-0, to end a “thoroughly enjoyable” season with Gateshead finishing ninth in the National League.
John Rooney scored twice and was unlucky not to complete a hattrick in a first half that Barrow dominated, but Gateshead changed formation after the break and came out looking much stronger, without managing to pull a goal back.
Williamson has been a key player for the heed this season and Gateshead never really recovered from his red card in early March, winning just one of the eight games that followed, losing six, including Saturday’s defeat against Barrow.
Speaking after the game Williamson said: “We struggled to get to grips with their passages of play in the first half, but they’re very effective at what they do.
“I know the manager and he works a lot on their shape and possession and pulling teams about.
“We needed to find a formula, we changed it at half time, and I thought it was very effective. I thought we could have had one, maybe two goals in the second half and we looked a lot more solid and like ourselves really.
“Overall, it’s a disappointing result but taking everything into account it was an enjoyable game.”
The former Newcastle United defender returned to the North East last summer joining the Heed under then manager Steve Watson after training with the side for the majority of pre-season.
“It’s been an incredible journey for me, as a player and then coming in as a coach,” said the experienced centre-back.
“One of the smallest budgets, one of the smallest squads, one of the favourites for relegation at the start of the season. To be disappointed that we didn’t get in the play-offs at the end of the season is an absolutely fantastic reflection on that group of players.
“It’s been thoroughly enjoyable, I was saying to the lads after the game ‘very rarely do you get an honest, hard-working, passionate group of lads who all want to pull in the same direction’ and we’ve come up short as a club really.
“If we could have had a little helping hand here and there we might have actually got over the line and got into the play-offs, but that is football and you’ve got to keep going and pushing yourself and I think we did until the last minute of the season.”
Eighteen years after making his first team debut for Torquay United, 35-year-old Williamson is still going strong, making 34 appearances this season for the Tynesiders.
During that time, Williamson has played in the Premier League, the Europa League and played a part in three promotions.
And despite not getting over the line this season the centre-back will look back fondly on this campaign.
“It’s definitely up there, 100% – I think if we’d got into the play-offs it could have topped it,” said Williamson
“Fighting through all the adversity that we have done, battling the odds every day, every week. It’s been an incredible journey.
“It’s frustrating we didn’t get into the play-offs, but in terms of overachieving, I don’t think I’ve ever overachieved so much with a group of players, which is a testament to the lads.
“I’ve been in the game a long time and you’ve got to take it for what it is, you’ve got to enjoy every minute of it and use every minute of it to reflect and get better as an individual and as a group.
“It has been emotional, a few of the lads were getting emotional at the end of it, cause you just don’t know what’s going to happen, which is hard for some of the boys as I really do feel that we’ve got the ingredients and we’ve got the dynamics here that if we had a good opportunity to have a go at it, we’d be successful.
“The fans here have been incredible, real passionate, diehard supporters and they’ve been fantastic for the lads, and I just want to thank them personally, and as a group of players, because the lads have relished playing in front of them.
“The away support, they always show up, it’s been fantastic. Part of the reason I did come back is because of the passion and desire up here is unequalled for me, I’ve never experienced it anywhere else.”
Williamson joined Gateshead two games into the season, to add experience to what was a very young squad and by January, with the departure of Steve Watson, he had added coaching responsibilities to his role.
He added: “I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed it, I really have. Being able to work with Steve Watson and Micky Cummins, and then Ben Clark and Ian Watson taking over.
“I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed it and Ben and Ian are two very, very, passionate people, they’re good people and you want them to do well based on that because all the lads know that any advice, any instructions, any emotional reactions come from a good place, because they are genuinely good people who care about this football club.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them, and I thank Ben and Ian for that opportunity to come in and play the majority of the games and have an input off the field as well, which for myself has been a huge learning curve and should stand me in good stead for the future.”