The Interview: Gateshead manager Gary Mills

It is a big week for Newcastle United and Sunderland. It has already been a big month for Gateshead. Gary Mills tells senior sports writer Steve Brown why

Gateshead FC manager Gary Mills
Gateshead FC manager Gary Mills

It is cold and the away trips are long. Gary Mills wouldn’t have it any other way.

At Gateshead, however, he does plan to exact some changes.

For while unsurprised by the warm welcome which has greeted his move to the North East, the Tynesiders manager admits one or two aspects of his new job have “shocked” him.

The first-class facilities, for instance, are a major plus.

He knew the undoubted quality of the squad he inherited, in early September, from Anth Smith but not of its somewhat latent, passive ambition, of men not doing quite enough to realise their potential.

And he has been startled in this region of deep footballing passion by a relative and apparent dearth of interest in Tyneside’s other full-time, professional outfit.

These are the matters Mills means to address, already is in fact.

It is vital, he believes, if after half a century’s absence, a return to the Football League is to be achieved.

And, he says, it can be achieved.

“I’ve always thought Gateshead were a lovely club,” said Mills, who is living in a house on the Quayside.

“Certainly when Ian Bogie was here, they played football the way I like my teams to play, and Anth Smith left me with a lot of quality in the squad.

“The facilities here are unbelievable, that has shocked me a little bit. It’s got everything that you need to prepare players to be top-notch professionals, and more than the majority of clubs in Leagues One and Two.

“So there are no excuses here.

“But what’s also surprised me is a club that’s part of the Conference without really believing they can get out of this league, and having the mental attitude, desire and drive to go and achieve that.

“I spent a good week up here (before taking the job) because it had to feel right for me. When the chairman said he hadn’t advertised the job, did I want it, for any manager that’s music to your ears. It’s great to hear that somebody wants you that badly.

“I said to him that I don’t just want a job, I want to be manager of a club that wants and has the drive for success, and is capable of achieving it.

“Now I think the chairman here is unbelievable, I’ve got to be honest, for what he does for this football club. I’d love to repay him with what he wants, and that’s getting this club out of this league.

“I’m now working on everybody here that we’ve got to have that drive and ambition.

“There was certainly a lot wrong with that side of it, people just turning in for work, and that includes players who are good enough but who didn’t really have that drive to win this league and get out of it.

“Within a few weeks, I’ve seen that changing. That goes for everybody at the club, and that’s vitally important.”

Not least its supporters.

In the shadow of St James’ Park (and to some degree the Stadium of Light), Gateshead will always face the struggle of a family-owned corner shop outmuscled by a national supermarket chain.

Though Mills considers the atmosphere question at the International Stadium moot, attendances undulate markedly and Gateshead Council’s ownership of the venue drastically limits the club’s capacity for generating commercial revenue.

As such, plans remain in place for a new self-owned, self-sustaining stadium, yet remain frustratingly slow to progress.

And while the club is to be commended for initiatives such as their Flex 15 ticket – permitting admission to 15 home league games – and concessions for children and Newcastle United season ticket holders, the greater challenge is to retrain perceptions of what the club actually constitutes.

“The regular, hardcore supporters are magnificent, but I’ve certainly been shocked at the lack of understanding among some people of the level of football we play at,” Mills said.

“We’re a full-time, professional football club that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

“Again, maybe the club have come to accept that. I’m not here to accept that.

“We have to earn the coverage, and at the moment we’ve had four straight wins, so hopefully that helps. Surely, the football fanatics in this area want another Football League club. To them I say ‘Come and support Gateshead get back into the Football League, because it’s achieveable’.

“I couldn’t put into words what that would mean for this area, and we’re only a whisker away.”

And getting closer, too.

Taking the reins of a side with one win from their first six league games of the season, Mills has since overseen seven victories in 10, lifting the club to 10th in Skrill Premier.

That, he insists, is merely a beginning.

“I’m relishing the challenge, it’s 53 years since this club was in the Football League,” he said.

“But we can do it, we can. When? I’m not saying when, but if we’ve got that drive, we can do it.

“When I first went to York City, they rammed it down my throat that eight or nine years out of the League was too long.

“Well if nine years is too long...”

Tempo, not time, is the secret of Gary Mills success

The secret to Gary Mills’ success?

Simple. Train less.

The Gateshead manager has instigated a marked upturn in the club’s fortunes since taking the International Stadium helm at the start of September.

He attributes much of that to having altered the mindset on the south bank of the Tyne.

“What I’ve done in the few weeks since I’ve come in is change the mental attitude and outlook,” said Mills.

“It’s about having an end-product, a goal and wanting to be successful, not just turning up to be a professional footballer to play a game.

“There’s got to be a want in every game you play. Personally, I want to get Gateshead out of this league and into the Football League. That’s why I’m here.”

But he is not alone and nor is improvement at the Heed solely his doing.

“It hasn’t come easy,” said Mills, who with assistant Darren Caskey is currently studying to attain a Uefa A coaching badge.

“What the supporters see on a Saturday comes about because of what we’ve done in the week. Darren has come in and the tempo of training and the way the players train is like playing a game now.

“I’ve always liked that, players training like they play and playing like they train. That’s how it’s got to be.

“Possibly, training’s even been cut short by 20 or 25 minutes based on the tempo being better. Sessions are shorter but intensity is a lot better.”

That clearly suits the 51-year-old, who was still turning out for Tamworth only four years ago.

Long before that, he was always destined for a life in sport. He just wasn’t sure which one.

“I ran the 100 metres as an England Schoolboy in 11 seconds flat,” he said.

“In the same year I also represented England Schools at rugby and football. I was a full-back for both, and within a few months I scored a try beneath the sticks at Twickenham (against Portugal) and a goal against Scotland at Wembley.”

A Nottingham Forest reserve by 14, four years later he had two European Cup winners’ medals.

But Mills insists it was a truncated, two-year spell in the US – with the Seattle Sounders – that made him.

“My first few years as a pro were incredible,” he said.

“Then I had an iffy year, went to Seattle and it helped me grow up. I was 20, it was daunting but enjoyable. We got to the Soccer Bowl final in San Diego and lost 1-0 to New York Cosmos, with the likes of Carlos Alberto.

“The following year the ex-Sunderland defender Dave Watson broke my leg in my second game. That put me out for a year but it was good for me, it was a wake-up call.

“It made me work really hard and that’s what made me go on and play until I was 47. I never stopped working on my fitness – although that’s slightly gone now!”

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