Alex Williams -Player Profile
Born Manchester, November 13, 1961
As a youngster Alex Williams looked set to make an indelible mark on the pages of football history.
Possessing a precocious talent, moving seamlessly through the various junior levels of the England Team and earmarked as the successor to long serving Joe Corrigan at his local club Manchester City, Williams' path to glory looked ready paved.
The prospect of becoming the first high profile black goalkeeper in English football also seemed likely to ensure his status as a notable figure in the game.
Somehow these expectations were never quite realised, however, certainly not to the extent that had seemed likely in the early part of his career.
There was something completely natural about Williams moving through the ranks at Manchester City. Born and bred in Moss Side, the very heartland of the Maine Road club, the imposing youngster was a figure easy to identify with both club and community, a link which City have always been eager to promote.
Not that there was any hint of a public relations exercise behind Alex Williams' progress at Maine Road. An outstanding, naturally gifted goalkeeper who combined a huge presence with great agility, Williams won European Championship medals with the England team at both under 18 and under 21 levels.
With the reliable giant Corrigan reaching the veteran stage City possessed a ready made replacement in youngster Williams. A bright future for all seemed assured.
Just at the time that Williams was becoming ready to challenge Corrigan for the keepers' jersey, however, the wheels began falling off the City wagon and the club entered a decline which possibly goes some of the way to explaining the ultimate failure of Williams to truly fulfill his potential with his local club.
The brief, manic reign of Malcolm Allison at the end of the seventies initiated a severe decline at City, a club who had remained comfortably amongst the countries elite for over a decade before his arrival.
Although John Bond had then initially arrested the slide he would be unable to maintain a revival and by the time Williams began his first prolonged run in the first team in 1983 the club were involved in a fraught battle against relegation, a fight they would eventually lose.
By the end of 1983 Alex Williams would be securely in possession of the number one shirt in the City team but he would be playing in the second division and under his third different manager in a year. Not the ideal background in which to break into a side.
At first the outstanding athleticism of the huge young keeper had seemed one of City's main hopes of avoiding relegation from the first division. Behind a defence living on its' nerves his shot stopping capabilities were invaluable.
Approaching the last game of the season, indeed, City were strong favourites to avoid the drop, lying fourth bottom and playing the team directly below them, Luton Town , at home in their final fixture.
A draw was sufficient to keep Man City up and three minutes from time that is exactly what they had. It was then that one of the most dramatic moments in even their eventful history occurred; Williams being a central figure.
Luton were pressing desperately in search of the goal that would save them when suddenly the ball fell at the feet of Raddy Antic on the edge of the penalty area.
The defending was typically City, there were defenders everywhere except with Antic. The Luton man shot high towards goal, crisply but not lethally. There were bodies massed on the line and the ball was travelling unerringly towards the head of one of those when Williams, in advance of this defensive wall, leapt to the make the save as, in his position, he had to do.
His long, outstretched hand managed a touch but only a faint one. The deflection was not enough to direct the ball to safety but it was sufficient to take it out of the reach of the covering defender and into the net. Amid total pandemonium Luton were safe and City were down.
At least relegation allowed Alex Williams to establish himself in the first team and he would remain ever present through the two seasons the club stayed in division two.
In 1984 City finished fourth after an appalling late run and the year after they managed third, and promotion, despite another late wobble.
During this time Williams was often brilliant but remained occassionally fallible. There was seldom a complete feeling of certainty, the fans could rarely feel totally comfortable that a misjudgement was not around the corner.
Of course Williams was not yet twenty four, a baby in goalkeeping terms, and still had a decidedly average team in front of him.
Not surprisingly the team found it a struggle back in the first division but it was more of a shock that one of the earliest casualties would prove to be Alex Williams.
After playing in the first eight games of the season Williams lost his place to Eric Nixon and would never win it back. The following season the writing really was on the wall for him when the club signed Perry Suckling as their niumber one and Williams slipped even further down the pecking order.
His last game for the club had been a chastening 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United, a chilling game for all concerned with the club. It was a terrible way for Alex Williams to quit the first team scene and such a summary dismissal of his services remains surprising to this day.
With the arrival of Suckling it was evidently time to move on and after a short spell on loan in Scotland with Queen of the South, Williams signed for third division Port Vale.
Dropping down two divisions must have been disappointing for Williams but the move was a good one for the stopper, ultimately, though in dreadful circumstances, a very good one.
Vale, at this time, were building a capable side with several outstanding talents, notably Ray Walker and Robbie Earle. The club would move forward greatly during the next few seasons and enjoy the brightest spell in their history after promotion to the second division in 1989.
Unfortunately Williams would not be able to enjoy this period with them as a player. After only one full season with the club an increasingly serious back problem forced him to quit the game at the age of twenty six.
At least the Valiants had the good sense not to let the big mans' other attributes go to waste, however. His genial personality and undoubted standing as a widely respected player combined with his deep understanding and love of the game made him an outstanding choice as the clubs' Community Officer.
His natural aptitude for this type of role led to his eventually returning to Manchester City as a central player in their Football in the Community scheme, a position for which he is so well suited that it becomes almost possible not to bemoan the premature end of his playing days.
A splendid goalkeeper and a hugely respected individual, now recognised with the award of an MBE, Alex Williams is a man who has displayed skill and dignity in equal measure in his various roles within the game.
An easy target for abuse during his playing days as a black goalkeeper Williams is able to recall, more light heartedly, also coming in for stick during his short stay in Scotland but only, in this case, as an Englishman.
Do you remember seeing Alex play?
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