ASHLEY WILLIAMS – CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND
by Siôn Misra
The terms captain, leader and legend are often overused in the sporting world, however, when it comes to Ashley Williams, it sums him up perfectly. Born in Tamworth, Williams’ rise to the top of Welsh football is a long one, but also an inspiring one. Having been released by West Bromwich Albion as a teenager, he found himself playing for non-league side Hednesford Town while working part-time jobs as a Beefeater restaurant waiter and at Drayton Manor theme park. In 2003, Williams was signed by then League Two club Stockport County, where in his early 20s he became captain of the club.
In 2008 Williams was bought by Swansea, where his career well and truly changed. Gone were the days of working as a waiter, as he quickly made a name for himself at the Swans. Having guided the team out of League One as champions, Williams was named captain of the team, in arguably their most successful period of their history. Under his captaincy, Swansea achieved promotion to the Premier League, won their only major trophy and even managed to defeat European footballing giants like Valencia. Ashley won many honours while playing at the Liberty, including player of the season and being named in the Championship Team of the Decade, an achievement no Swansea player has managed before or since.
Remarkably, Williams made his Welsh debut while still playing for Stockport in the fourth tier of the English pyramid and has been a mainstay in the team ever since. His presence in the heart of defence provides a comforting reassurance to his teammates and fans alike. After making his debut in 2008 against Luxembourg, Williams has made a further 85 appearances for Wales, putting him fourth on the list of all-time appearances for the Welsh national team. Undoubtedly, the highlight of his Welsh career was captaining the Red Dragons at the 2016 European Championships in France, where he led Wales to the semi-finals. His warrior-like mentality was clear for all to see throughout the championship, particularly in the game against Northern Ireland, where he appeared to suffer a bad shoulder injury. As the management prepared to make a substitution, Williams got up and barked out ‘I’m fine!’ towards the bench. The fire in his eyes was clear for all to see, and firmly cemented himself as the leader of the team. As Wales bound out of the tournament against eventual champions Portugal, Chris Coleman heaped praise onto Williams and the impact he had on the team; ‘Ash is a big credit to his club and country and to be captain of this team is a big honour for him, he’s worn the armband with pride and passion’.
Away from the field, Williams is also having a big impact on the communities around him. He is a patron of numerous charities including Street Football Wales, a charity which fights against social exclusion; the Ethan Perkins Trust, a charity that raises funds for research and awareness of childhood brain tumours and he is the founder of WillsWorld. Ashley set up the charity to help deserving and under-privileged children. On his charity work Williams says; ‘I’ve always wanted to give something back to the community and to help others … people may think I’m a role model, but I don’t see myself like that, I’m just me’.
The rise of Ashley Williams from a restaurant waiter to a Swansea City icon is nothing short of spectacular. He has been an exemplary character for any up and coming footballer, a blueprint on how to be a model professional. There is no doubt that Ashley Williams encapsulates the phrases captain, leader and legend.
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