As a black goalkeeper in the 1980s, Alex Williams endured shocking racist abuse from opposition fans but was much loved at Manchester City, spending 33 years with the club’s community programme. His autobiography ‘You Saw Me Standing Alone’ is out now…
Manchester City’s treble earlier this year is a perfect backdrop for ‘You Saw Me Standing Alone’, the memoir of former City goalkeeper Alex Williams.
The title is taken from the lyrics of the club anthem ‘Blue Moon’.
“His story is special and that is why he is so often part of the conversation when people discuss Manchester City’s past,” Pep Guardiola says in an affectionate foreword.
The overall impression is of a man of some modesty but quiet achievement, in a story told with the help of another safe pair of hands, former BBC Manchester Sports Editor Andy Buckley.
Williams made around 150 league and cup appearances in a playing career which included a loan spell at Queen of the South in Scotland and a season at Port Vale before his quest for glory was cut short by back problems.
“I was reluctant to merely chronicle my playing career,” Williams explains in his introduction, though it is tempting to speculate what he might have achieved.
He had certainly been on England’s radar and would have gone to the European Under-21 Championships had not injury intervened.
The story does recount the abuse which he faced, an experience shared with many players of Afro-Caribbean heritage.
“The combination of my skin colour and my position on the field made my story rare for a start – standing only yards from the crowd made us easier targets for the terrible taunts from the terrace,” Williams conceded.
There were chilling echoes of the Ku Klux Klan at one match and another when kick-off was delayed to allow stewards to remove bananas which had been thrown onto the field.
There was even an unpardonable slur from a City fan well-known as a comedian.
Williams insists, “I was immune to the insults and we refused to bow to the bigots, determined that prejudice would not prevail” – though only he will know what it was really like.
“Words like diversity and inclusivity are frequently used today, they weren’t common terms 40 years ago but City preached those principles before they were part of modern-day vocabulary.”
Perhaps the greatest indictment is that abuse so often went unreported in the media.
Williams was born in Moss Side to parents originally from Jamaica.
Unsurprisingly, the family album has been raided for an illustrated section which includes a treasured photo with Bert Trautmann, a German prisoner of war who had overcome different challenges to become a legendary keeper at Maine Road in the immediate post-war years.
It was Trautmann’s understudy Steve Fleet, who spotted Williams’ promise.
Others identified another quality in Williams because he was appointed President of the Junior Blues, a group set up for younger supporters.
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When his playing career ended in September 1987, he began by helping to sell lottery tickets for the club. He also worked on Port Vale’s community programme for two years before becoming community officer at Maine Road.
Over the next decade, his efforts made such an impact that he was invested with an MBE by The Queen in 2002.
Soon afterwards, the club moved to the Etihad and the staff of what became City in the Community (CITC) swelled to around 130, guided by Williams. It has invested around £9million into community projects.
Williams has insisted that a portion of the proceeds from the book will go to assist CITC.
The club’s Football Academy now has an Alex Williams Community pitch.
He coached four international keepers, amongst them Neville Southall, a giant for Everton and Wales.
Earlier this month, Williams also was honoured with the North West Football Awards’ Lifetime Contribution Award.
Football fans will enjoy this book but it will inevitably have particular appeal for Manchester City fans among them, Noel Gallagher of Oasis who regards Williams as an idol.
“One of us, a local lad, City fan,” Gallagher says.
Mastermind presenter Clive Myrie adds his own tribute and Sky Sports presenter Mike Wedderburn admits that Williams was a hero as he forged his own career as a cricketer and rugby player, also ended by injury.
The book ends with a personal diary of the month in which the treble was achieved and it was Williams who was called up to present the Premier League trophy.
As “leaving presents” go, it would be hard to beat.
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