Ryan Williams, the relaxed Aussie who wasn't too laid-back to make a Rotherham United impact

By Paul Davis | 12/06/2019

Ryan Williams, the relaxed Aussie who wasn't too laid-back to make a Rotherham United impact
Ryan Williams in Millers action

THE booing reached a crescendo as Rotherham United's substitute scampered on to the turf.

There was venom in the air, real anger as home supporters vented their play-off spleen.

I felt sorry for him. Ryan Williams didn't deserve this.

The winger had suggested before the two-legged League One battle to reach Wembley that the Millers were better than their opponents.

Now, in the 68th minute of the semi-final's first instalment at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe United fans were letting the attacker know exactly what they thought of such sentiments.

Willo seemed unperturbed. To be honest, very little ever bothered him. He played well in a 2-2 draw on that Saturday afternoon of May 16 2018 when Jon Taylor and Joe Newell scored and the away end was a packed pit of heaving bedlam.

Rotherham won the return 2-0 at AESSEAL New York Stadium three days later, went to the national stadium and went up.

Williams enjoyed life in the Championship and now he wants to stay there, believing his skills are worthy of the second tier.

His confidence in his ability — along with the bigger wages available at that level — are the reasons why the out-of-contract 25-year-old, who has just received his first Australian call-up, has rejected the offer of a new deal from the relegated Millers and is seeking fresh employment.

He arrived at New York amid doubts about his fitness after a tough time at Barnsley and leaves two years and 88 appearances later as a proven high-class performer on his day with no-one querying his injury record. Williams and the Millers have been good for each other.

Willo was a wisp with a real turn of speed. There wasn't always enough end product but he could look after the ball and knew better than anyone in the side how to win a foul.

His runs could be mazy and direct at the same time and if he spotted a gap he had the acceleration and control to go through it. A player of his talent should have ended his Rotherham career with more than five goals.

He was a great lad, fitting the stereotype of laid-back Aussie perfectly. If he seemed a little stand-offish at first, it was only because, off the pitch he didn't really push himself forward, wandering through life at his own pace, in his own way.

Once he got to know you, his engaging laugh and soft humour made him good company.

He was always happy to face the press and the press were always happy when he did. He didn't have the answer to everything but never dodged a question.

Aptly for a boy born in Perth, his recall of detail could be a touch Down Under.

He thinks he once had a trial at Sheffield Wednesday when he was a teenager first coming to these shores looking to make his way in the game.

But he's not quite sure.

Before that Scunthorpe clash, he'd made his comments, as he always did, in a quiet, unassuming way. Williams was never a shouter.

“With the boys we have got, I can't see us losing,” he told me in the New York media suite as the Millers ended their regular fixtures with a 1-0 victory over Blackpool.

“We need to go there, win, then come home and run all over them in the second game and get to Wembley.

“They have been in good form, but that doesn't scare us. I think we are the better team.”

Those words sounded somewhat louder a couple of days later when the Scunthorpe Telegraph picked them up, as they had every right to do, and used them to whip up the crowd.

I apologised to him afterwards for the trouble I'd caused. “No worries, Mate,” he responded amiably having taken everything in his swift stride.

Williams arrived at the Millers from Oakwell in the summer of 2017, having played very little football in the preceding two seasons when a misdiagnosis of a pubis problem had condemned him to needless months on the sidelines.

He came cheaply, with his wages increasing in line with his game-time, and his impact was immediate and sustained.

His home debut was marked by a goal in a Kieffer-Moore-inspired 5-0 demolition of Southend United and at the end of the campaign he helped swing the Wembley play-off final against Shrewsbury Town in Rotherham's favour by destroying Omar Beckles.

Beckles had been a redoubtable centre-half for the Shrews all term but was on his knees as a makeshift, exhausted left-back in extra time as Williams flew by.

Willo shone in the first half of the Championship campaign and for a while was deployed as a 'number 10' just behind lone striker Michael Smith.

His performances in that role were so eye-catching that he was the player mentioned most often by rivals managers after games, Paul Warne, the man who brought him to Rotherham, once revealed.

Only the Millers' needed to be more defensively sound and use a holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation as they fought bravely but in vain to stay in the second tier prevented him playing there for longer.

Being interviewed by Yours Truly

Tests at the club's Roundwood training complex showed that, in terms of top-line speed, Williams was behind only centre-half Semi Ajayi and — yes, this surprised me as well — midfielder Matt Crooks.

His spell with Rotherham turned a little flat in the end and he started just two more games, the 6-1 defeat at Derby County on March 30 and the 3-1 home loss to Birmingham City on April 22, after being out for a month last January and February when he suffered the only real injury, a hamstring problem, of his Rotherham career.

Until then, his stay had been a success story, 47 appearances (four goals) in his first year and 41 (one goal) in his second easing the grim memory of only five league starts and 16 sub outings during his struggle at Barnsley.

This isn't a player who spends his time in the treatment room anymore.

In the promotion season he was available for every match and didn't miss a single training session. So keen was he that he used to warm up at home in readiness for the warm-up at Roundwood.

Warne, a fitness fanatic himself, didn't know whether to admire or worry about such extreme attention to detail.

Williams drove into training with centre-half Richard Wood and fitted in well with his teammates but wasn't part of the golf group or a prominent member of the social circle, content to head home to be with his fiancee, Katie and, latterly, new-born son Ziggy.

With fiancee Katie

For a while, the couple — him and Katie, not him and Woody — lived at Woodlaithes in Bramley but, as parenthood loomed, they moved to Wakefield to be closer to Katie's mum.

This week he finds himself in South Korea hoping to fulfill a long-held ambition to represent his country. He could make his Australia debut today in a friendly on the same side as older brother Rhys.

On his return, it will be a new club, a new challenge.

There should be Championship takers or even interest from abroad.

The joy of Wembley still lingers for him. His experience at Glanford Park doesn't.

“I've told you, Mate, it's fine,” he assured me at the time, always on the Aussie side of relaxed.

It turned out he'd had no idea why he was being booed.

“Can't see us losing.” “Run all over them.” “We're the better team.”

He grinned as he admitted he couldn't even remember saying it.


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