By Mark Carruthers
Steve Watson is doing a fantastic job at National League play-off challengers Gateshead, according to his former Newcastle United team-mate Steve Howey.
The duo came through the Magpies’ youth team together in the late 1980s and went on to establish themselves a key components of Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ side that came so close to winning the Premier League title in 1996.
Watson went on to start a coaching career at Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City and Macclesfield Town, before accepting his first managerial role when he returned to Tyneside as Gateshead manager in October 2017.
He led the club to the semi-finals of last season’s FA Trophy and comfortably kept them in Non-League’s top-tier in his first six months in charge, but a change of ownership and a severe budget cut has seen Watson working with a young squad this season.
They have made an impressive start to Watson’s first full season in the dugout and were sat just outside the play-off places ahead of Saturday’s victory at Barnet.
Howey said: “I think Steve Watson has done a fantastic job since he joined Gateshead last season.
“We all know the trials and tribulations that the club has been through and he has had to work with a young squad.
“He has a lot of local lads, but if he can get some money in from somewhere I think they will build something special at the club.
“I have known Watto since he was 11 or 12 and I can honestly say I never saw him as a manager at any point in his career.
“But the same could be said of a few of the lads from back then, people like Lee Clark for example.
“Lads move on and want to stay in football.
“Steve had been chomping at the bit to become his own man after being an assistant manager and a coach.
“He’s been given this opportunity and he is grasping it with both hands.”
There has been speculation that Watson could leave his role at the International Stadium and he was linked with a move back to former club Macclesfield Town during the summer.
Gateshead have moved to dismiss that speculation and are currently in contract talks with the 44-year-old.
Howey isn’t surprised to see his former team-mate catching the eye of other clubs and believes that Watson has a “big future” ahead of him in the dugout.
“There was speculation about what would happen with his job at the end of last season but he has come back and done a great job.
“They are doing so well in the league, better than anyone expected. With all managers you need that slice of luck. If he gets financial backing he could take this club and reinvent it to push for promotion. Steve knows his ability, he is a very good coach and his players seem to love working for him.
“He is ambitious and he will want to better himself whether that’s with Gateshead or somewhere else.
“But I know he is very happy here and long may that continue for everyone connected with the football club. He has a big future ahead as a manager.”
Howey was speaking at the launch of a Gateshead Legends v Newcastle Legends match that will take place on Sunday April 7, 2019, where the four-times capped former England defender will play for the Magpies side alongside Watson and Peter Beardsley as they face a Heed side managed by club legend Ben Clark.