SWANSEA defender Ashley Williams has worked in a theme park on the Hit the Hammer game, played from non-League through to the Premier League, upset Sir Alex Ferguson and raised funds for sick children to undergo life-changing, sometimes life-saving operations.
The centre-half is a real character, a good defender who talks as strongly as he plays. Williams recently found his reputation damaged by Ferguson’s claim that he “could have killed” Robin van Persie with a fiercely struck ball. “It was just him probably angry that he didn’t win the game and saying what he had to say but that’s Sir Alex Ferguson,” said Williams, talking before Swansea headed to London for Sunday’s Capital One Cup final.
“I texted Rio Ferdinand and he said: 'Don’t worry about it.’ Next day he said he spoke to Van Persie and tried to say I obviously did it as an accident. But he said Van Persie is still fuming. I don’t really care. I don’t lose too much sleep about it.
“It was funny because on Twitter it was 50 per cent Manchester United fans hating me and 50 per cent Arsenal fans saying 'Sign for us’, 'We love you’. The main thing, for me, is that it knocked my own goal [against Derby] off YouTube. So when you type my name in now it’s not an own goal. That was a good thing.”
If some people’s perception of Williams is shaped by the Ferguson incident, others are aware of his conscientious work through his charity WillsWorld.
“I’ve never been on the back page in my life for charity stuff but I was for Van Persie,” he said. “No one wants to read you’ve just helped people. Look at Craig Bellamy. He has put X amount of his own money into this foundation because he wants to. But if he does one little thing on the pitch it’s big news.
“Craig’s my mate. He’s quite an intense guy but he’s a nice guy. On the pitch he’s a little devil!”
Appearances can be deceptive. If Swansea beat Bradford City on Sunday, Williams will share lifting the Capital One Cup with Garry Monk, a former bête noir. “I said to Garry Monk that before I came here, I used to hate him! He’s one of my best mates now. I watch [some players on] the telly and think 'What a p----!’ He’s probably actually fine. I know for a fact people do that with me! Most people do what they have to do to win a game, whether that’s arguing or influencing the ref. I couldn’t care what people think. Obviously off the pitch, it’s nice to be liked.”
Williams had a falling-out with Liverpool after writing in his season’s diary that Luis Suárez was a diver. “I said in the book he was the best but he comes with all the other stuff as well. We spoke by text and I explained what I said 'and that I also said a lot of good stuff about you’. He texted back 'Not a problem’. He’s clever and sharp and, for me, he is the best striker. For the whole game he just gets at you, gets at you, and you know some of them are going to come off.”
They could be team-mates one day. “I always get linked to Liverpool, Arsenal,” he said. “I have a big three or four years coming up. I can’t think about going to another team. I can’t think about signing a contract here. We have such a good set of lads it would be tough to leave but sometimes you have to do what feels best for you and your family.”
Now 28, Williams has come a long way. “I’ve played in all four divisions, Conference and below, Doc Martens Southern. I got released from West Brom and worked a few jobs, a theme park in Tamworth, Hit the Hammer. I worked in the Beefeater in Tamworth as a waiter. Not for long. I was rubbish. I worked in a petrol station.
“At Hednesford, our warm-up was run to the primary school, train, run back. After the game, a few beers, fish and chips on the coach was normal. I just didn’t lose hope. I come from Tamworth and didn’t want to go back to Tamworth. You think people want you to fail. That drove me on. I liked to watch centre-halves in the Premier League, always Rio, Sol Campbell and John Terry. Watching strikers, I was thinking: 'Oh, I could mark him, I could do better than this player’.
“There are players down there in the lower leagues who’d probably need good coaching but they could easily do a better job than some players in the Premier. I played with Adam Le Fondre for years at Stockport and kept saying 'how’s no one signed him?’ I was buzzing for Bradford to get to the final. I’ve played against Gary Jones a few times. I used to play with Matt Duke at Stockport. Everyone is rooting for them probably. Normally we are the underdogs.”
Swansea have been well prepared by Michael Laudrup, still an elegant contributor in training games. “He obviously doesn’t run about as much but on the ball his touch is ridiculous, his vision and passing are so good it is unbelievable. He tries to tell us what to do and we’re thinking 'if we were you, we could do it!’
“His personality is laid-back. It’s been refreshing. We all loved Brendan Rodgers and when the gaffer came in it was a bit of a shock. The Spanish boys were going: 'what’s the problem? This is how it always is.’ We said: 'No, not really here.’
“The gaffer gives us more freedom, treats us like adults. We’ve got a good group, no one takes the p--- out of him. His laid-back character has worn off on the team. There are some quiet personalities but everyone gets on.”
The midfielder Ki Sung-yueng is quiet but generates plenty of noise. “When we play some games, and he touches the ball, there will be loads of Koreans screaming. He seems to be the David Beckham of South Korea.”
Swansea are becoming very cosmopolitan. “Jamaica [representatives] came to see a few boys, Nathan Dyer, Jon de Guzman, and spoke to me,” said Williams, whose father is Jamaican. “I said: 'You do realise I’ve got 38 caps for Wales?’ They were like 'yeah, yeah’ and laughed it off. I am not sure they did realise.”
And so to Wembley. “I was a ballboy at the old Wembley for England v Moldova [in 1997]. Gazza played. Ian Wright, David Seaman, Sol Campbell. I did touch the ball. David Seaman kicked the ball back to me and it nearly knocked me over.”
Looking on for the final will be Williams’s wife Vanessa and their two children, Xavier and Raphael. “He [Xavier] will watch the TV when I watch the game back. When I go off the TV screen he gets upset and I am like but 'I’m here, the real one is here!’ That is one of my main drives. He’s going to watch my games one day so I have to be good. I have to make him proud.”