Teenage tears, fatherhood and how Rotherham United saved his career: the Ryan Williams interview

By Paul Davis | 27/03/2019

Teenage tears, fatherhood and how Rotherham United saved his career: the Ryan Williams interview
Ryan Williams' baby son, Ziggy

BY the time you read this, Ryan Williams will be a dad.

When we meet up at the training ground, the Rotherham United attacker's partner, Katie, is already past her due date.

Williams is arguably the most laid-back man in the Millers camp yet the delay is getting to him.

“The pregnancy has been good. It's flown past, to be honest,” he says. “But these last two weeks have gone at a snail's pace. I just want him to come out now.”

“You said 'him'?” I query.

“Yeah,” he replies, his face breaking into the biggest smile Rotherham's Roundwood HQ has ever seen. “It's a little boy we're having.”

Williams is in his second season with Paul Warne's side. He was a major figure in last season's League One promotion campaign and has proven his Championship quality this term.

There are plenty more smiles while we chat. The Australian is warm, good-natured company and has never been happier in his life.

A relaxed Tuesday afternoon in Parkgate is a far cry from his first night in England when he cried himself to sleep.

“I lived in digs,” he recalls about leaving his home in Perth and joining Portsmouth as a 16-year-old. “It was a scary thing leaving Australia at that age. 

“It didn't really sink in until the first night. I just started sobbing. I locked my door and bawled my eyes out. I wanted to go back. All my mates were in Australia.”

Williams was born Down Under because his English father, Eric, had fled there. The player laughs as he tells the story but is so easy-going that he's never bothered to learn the full version of events.

“My dad played in the Charlton or QPR youth team,” he reveals. “He played for England C youth team or something like that.

“I think he was getting away from a bit of trouble, to be honest. I think he and some others stole a postman's van and crashed it. I know he had to jump ship quickly!”

A lot of Williams' sentences, spoken in an Aussie accent softened only a little by nine years in England, end with 'or something like that'.

Mum Audrey was born in India, moved to London when she was two, emigrated to Australia at 17 and fell in love with the van-crasher on the run from the Post Office.

Williams was raised with elder brother Rhys, twin brother Aryn and younger sister Abby. Rhys used to play for Middlesbrough and is with a team in Saudi Arabia, Aryn had a spell with Burnley and plies his trade in India while Abby is in Australia where Eric and Audrey, now separated, still live.

“There were loads of cousins as well,” 'Willo' says. “All of us loved football from day dot. My uncle and my mum supported Arsenal so I grew up liking them.

“Rhys came over to Middlesbrough when he was 16. He was the first one. As kids, we always thought that because he'd done it we would do it. There was never any doubt. It was always 'We are going to England'. That's how it was.”

From Pompey, Williams moved to Fulham, made his breakthrough in a season-long stay at Oxford United and then suffered two frustrating years at Barnsley where a pubic injury went undetected and sidelined him for months on end.

“It was the right thing for Barnsley and the right thing for me to leave,” he says, his mind drifting back to the summer of 2017 when he encountered Warne for the first time.

“I was living in Leeds. I knew the people in Yorkshire and liked the people in Yorkshire. Rotherham had just come down and they were close to home. 

“They were a good club with a good stadium and good people. It felt like a good place to be. The reason I came here was to bounce straight back up to the Championship and that's what we did. 

“I met the gaffer the day I had my medical and signed my contract. I'd had a chat with him over the phone when I was on holiday in Australia and came back early to sign. 

“He was as tanned as anything. He always is! He was really enthusiastic  about his plans for the club and I was excited about what he was saying.

“Coming from such a low at Barnsley, it's been great here. I'd been released and no-one wanted to touch me because of my injury history. It was hard for me. 

“It's been awesome with Rotherham. I've thoroughly enjoyed coming into training, I'm genuinely friends with everyone here. Last season was up, down, up, down, then we went 'bang' and the last part of the season was amazing. 

Ryan and fiancee Katie

“We've all been through quite a lot together. It's been good for me. I'm very grateful to Rotherham for giving me this platform to prove that I'm not injury-prone.”

Outside the warmth of Roundwood's white-seated communal room, the wind is getting up. Williams, his long locks neatly coiffured after a quick shower following an appearance for the reserves, poses for the Advertiser photographer by one of the nets.

“No, no,” shouts goalkeeper Lewis Price as he spots the gusts taking their toll. “Willo, no. Your hair, your hair.”

Williams grins. But not as much as when talk returns to impending fatherhood.

“We have a name,” he says. “Everyone keeps asking us. We're keeping it to ourselves until he's born. We're super-excited and just can't wait.
“Me and Katie, we've been together for four years. We're engaged. We're going to get married in June 2020.

“We met in London. I was at Fulham at the time. I'd seen her in a bar and ended up getting her number. There were a few dates and stuff. At that point, I went back up to Barnsley because I was on loan there. She was from Wakefield. It was like 'Small world, eh?'.

“She was working at Harrods at the time. On the shopfloor. She was a brand ambassador, where they get their own stand, or something like that.”

He pronounces her name 'Kadie', his Aussie dialect taking the harshness out of the 't'. After living together in Leeds, the couple moved to Wakefield, then Rotherham and are now back in Wakefield.

“It's to be closer to Katie's mum because of the baby,” he says. “She's literally round the corner.”

Sitting there in his skinny-fit jeans and grey hoodie, with his twinkling brown eyes and engaging laugh, he looks younger than his 25 years. 

But life in professional football after trials at Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and “possibly Sheffield Wednesday” — there's that care-free approach to detail again — saw him grow up quickly.

“Portsmouth were struggling financially and didn't get paid some wages,” he says. “Fulham enquired. I just thought 'Premier League, I've got to go'. It was good. Most of my football education came from there. They moulded me into the player I am today.

Talking to the Advertiser's Paul Davis

“I went on loan to Oxford. Chris Wilder was the manager but he left halfway through the season. At first, I didn't want to go there. It was League Two and I didn't know anything about it. But I went and it was one of my favourite years — just the enjoyment of playing regularly and playing for something. 

“It was a real eye-opener. Some of the boys needed the win bonus to feed their kids.”

After that came contrasting fortunes at Oakwell and AESSEAL New York Stadium: “The Barnsley fans just remember the injuries. It's the opposite here. All they've ever done is seen me play.”

Williams' pace and darting runs are an integral part of the Millers on the pitch but off it he heads straight back to West Yorkshire.

“I'd don't really do much with the lads, to be honest,” he admits. “Me and Katie like to go for walks. We live near fields and go to see the horses and stuff like that. We love watching movies.

“I've been learning Spanish for about a year. I've just started with a tutor twice a week. It's coming on really well. Why Spanish? I just love the way they speak. I do love La Liga as well! Lionel Messi is my favourite player. 

“I love cooking. I've been cooking for a long time. On the Spanish thing, I like to cook paella. I make that quite a lot. I do Japanese stuff. Anything really. I make all kinds of pasta sauces. I love my pasta.”

At the training ground

He loves the Premier League too: “I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to play there. Whether people think that's going to happen or not, I'm going to go for it. It's the best league in the world.

“To be on Match of the Day, that's a massive thing. I've watched it for years. To play in the Premier League, it's something I've dreamed about it since I was a kid.”

He also has international ambitions and has been watched by Australia and by Wales for whom he qualifies through ancestry on his mother's side. 

My feeling is that the country of his birth would be his first choice but that he'd still be honoured to wear a Welsh shirt. Or something like that. 

International recognition was the last thing on his mind before Rotherham rescued him from those dark days at Barnsley.

“I thought about giving up,” he says. “I was at the point where I thought there was nothing for me here. It was just me and my missus. 

“I thought 'I need to get out of here'. Quite a few times I nearly signed for teams back in Australia just so I could, I dunno, go and get fit and enjoy football again. Luckily enough, Katie made me stay and I am where I am now.”

There's a final smile from the father-to-be as we talk about his first goal for 14 months in the 3-2 win over Blackburn Rovers a few days previously.

“Oldham away, 1-1 draw,” he says in a flash when I ask him if he can remember his January 2017 effort. “It was freezing.”

Warne buys all of his players who hit the target a scorer's mug complete with photograph of their choice. 

Just like Katie is doing to him, Williams is keeping his manager waiting.

He was considering a picture of himself celebrating his second-half strike against Rovers at AESSEAL New Stadium.

But some things are more important.

Instead, he's going to have one of mum, dad and new-born son.

Eleven days after this interview, Katie gave birth to Ziggy who weighed in at 8lb 2oz. Dad is more “super-excited” than ever.

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Q&A

Best player played with: Scott Parker at Fulham. It was the way he could turn away and keep the ball. He was always available and he never looked like he was under any threat whatsoever.

Best player faced: Probably Ashley Cole. I played against him for a few minutes in the FA Cup when I was a kid at Portsmouth and he was at Chelsea. No, I'm going to change my mind. I'm going to say Kevin De Bruyne when we played at Manchester City in the FA Cup earlier this season. I couldn't get anywhere near him. He just kept running off me. I played in midfield that day.

Best moment in football: The Rotherham promotion and being such a big part of it throughout the season. Wembley and the play-off final was the pinnacle. It was quite emotional actually. My older brother flew over for the game. Katie was there as well. I got promoted with Barnsley but didn't feel I'd really contributed.

Lowest moment: Probably when I was injured at Barnsley.

Best friend in football: At the moment, probably Woody (Richard Wood). We drive in to training together and talk a lot. He's a good lad.

Roommate: Woody. Last season it was Palms (Matt Palmer). Then Palms went with Wilesy (Ben Wiles) for some reason. Me and Woody got put together and have stayed together since.

Funniest teammate: Newelly (Joe Newell). No, I'm going to say Joe Mattock. He's very funny but he doesn't mean to be.

Best-dressed teammate: I'll go for Zak (Vyner). I like the way Zak dresses. I wouldn't wear what he wears but the way he wears it is very good.

Worst-dressed teammate: Probably Will (Vaulks). I know he'll read this. Will and one of his Zara jumpers.

Messiest teammate: I'll say Tayls (Jon Taylor) and Newelly. There's always a bit of mess in their sections of the dressing room. 

Longest in the shower: Fordey (Anthony Forde) maybe. He cares about his appearance.

Cleverest teammate: Pottsy (Darren Potter). He's very wise. 

Daftest teammate: Baz (Mattock).

Best trainer: Newelly in terms of how well he plays in training. He's unbelievable. 

Fittest teammate: Probably me, to be honest. Zak maybe. He trains well. 

Job if you weren't a footballer: I did a little bit of an apprenticeship with my uncle in ceramic tiling. I would probably be in that line of work – fitting tiles, laying bathrooms, that kind of thing.

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LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

ROTHERHAM United's Ryan Williams is already planning for the day when he hangs up his boots.

The 25-year-old Aussie wants to stay in football beyond his playing career and is learning Spanish to boost his chances of becoming an agent

“I wouldn't mind getting into agency work,” he says. “There is quite a big market for bringing ex-La Liga players to the Australian League. 

“I think if I can speak Spanish it would help those players. 

“I'd also like to bring young Australian players to England — to make the same journey I did — and, vice versa, to help older English players go to Australia. 

“I'd like to be the main port of call for that kind of thing.”

The Millers flyer is also interested in coaching and has applied to the PFA to go on their UEFA B-Licence course this summer.

“Whether I get on it is another thing, but I'd like to get that sorted,” he says. “Then if something did come up when I finished playing I could get straight into coaching.

“Hopefully I can get it done and tick it off. As for the A Licence, we'll see. If I need to do it, I'll end up doing it.”

The A Licence, second only to the Pro Licence required to be a Premier League manager, is a route to working in the top flight.

“I do think I want to get into coaching,” Williams adds. “I think it would be such a waste to gain all this football knowledge from playing and then not use it.”

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BROTHERLY BOND

THEY'RE separated by thousands of miles, but Ryan Williams is still close to the brothers who have helped shape his career.

“One hundred per cent, they have had an influence on me,” says the Rotherham United man of older sibling Rhys and twin Aryn.

Distance is no barrier to Williams and fellow pros Rhys, an Australian international, and Aryn who are playing in Saudi Arabia and Indian respectively 

“We've got a group chat that we always talk in,” he says. “My twin is coming over next month, I think, for a tour of Europe. He's going to stay with us for a week. 

“My older brother is coming over soon with my sister-in-law and my nephew and my niece.

“Rhys came to England first and showed me it could be done. Aryn spurred me on to be better. As kids, we always battled it out and tried to beat each other.”


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