By Mark Carruthers
Gateshead manager Steve Watson has praised veteran defender Mike Williamson for the impact he has made since joining the National League club.
The former Newcastle United centre-back spent pre-season on trial at the International Stadium as Watson looked to add some experience to his young squad.
Williamson put pen-to-paper on a deal during the first week of the season and made his debut 24 hours later in a 2-1 home win over Dover Athletic.
The 35-year-old has gone on to make 11 appearances for the Tynesiders, during which time they have kept five clean sheets and continued their surprisingly impressive start to the campaign.
Williamson’s form was recognised when he was named as the Vanarama National League Player of the Month for October and Heed boss Watson has been delighted with how the defender has supported his younger team-mates.
“Mike has been great for us,” said Watson. “We had to be patient with him because he has played so little football over the last two years.
“That meant the move was a gamble for both Mike and ourselves. It was a case of looking at whether he had the desire to get back to the levels that he has shown throughout his career and he has shown his quality in training and in matches.
“We had a really honest chat about two months ago when we decided to go for it and get him training every day. He is back as an everyday footballer and in the last six weeks he has become the player I hoped he would be.
“Not just the player, he has been the leader and the organiser that I thought he would always be for us. He has been like a manager on the pitch and the lads around him have responded to that.”
Watson was speaking after the announcement that a side made up of Gateshead Legends would face their Newcastle United counterparts to raise money for the club and their foundation. Heed stalwart Ben Clark will lead the Gateshead squad as they face a Magpies line-up led by Watson and containing the likes of Peter Beardsley and Steve Howey.
The game has been arranged to help provide funds for Gateshead, who are still operating as a full-time club, but with a significantly reduced budget compared to the ones used since they reverted to a professional status in 2010.
Watson expressed his desire to see the Tyneside public get behind the game as a host of legends from North and South of the River Tyne come together to raise funds for the club and for their foundation.
He said “Hopefully it will be a success. I’ve been involved in games like this and it’s going to be a great day.
“It’s been a tough season off-the-pitch and it was tough in the summer with the takeover, but we have managed to get the lads up to a good level and we are doing well in a challenging league. This match could give us the funds to help get us over the line if we are still in and around the play-offs when we get to January.
“But it will help in all aspects of the club because the Foundation will benefit too. This is a local club and I am sure that the supporters in the region will get right behind the game.”
The game will take place at the International Stadium on Sunday 7th April next year, with tickets priced at £10 for adults and £5 for children.