This week’s game changers podcast features Fara Williams, the highest-capped England player of all time, male or female. In a riveting interview, the footballer runs through the highs and lows of her career.
The 37-year-old Williams began her club career with Chelsea, before moving on to Charlton Athletic. She then embarked on an eight-year stint at Everton, which included an FA Cup title in 2010.
Williams moved across Merseyside in 2012, claiming back-to-back Women's Super League titles with Liverpool in 2013 and 2014. Another FA Cup win came with Arsenal in 2016, before Williams left the North London club for Reading in 2017.
Not just a star in the domestic league, Williams is England's highest capped player, male or female, with 172 appearances for the Lionesses. She was also part of the Team GB squad that competed at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
This illustrious career so nearly never took off, however. In her interview with Sue Anstiss, Williams explained how a minor mishap when she was 12 meant she could have missed out on trials for Chelsea.
“I think it was my uncle, he rang and asked where the trials were, how to get there,” Williams explained. “Got some brief details, which, you know, as a kid, when you're excited to have a trial for the team that you support, I probably didn't listen to the finer details. And I remember going to the trials. And I got myself to Morden, how to get to Morden station. They said, when you get to Morden station, you take the 164 and it pretty much takes you to this field.
“And as I said, I didn't listen to the small details and I took a 163 bus. It took me somewhere else. Anyway, I ended up having to get off this bus and walk an hour, you know, to the field. And I ended up getting there, I think it was maybe half an hour before the end of the three hour trial. Luckily I impressed because they chose me.”
Williams had to overcome a more serious challenge during her football career. She explained how a family breakdown led to her becoming homeless while she was still a teenager.
Williams ended up living in hostels for several years, all while making a name for herself in women’s football. She described how the sport was an “ally” during this tough period.
“I think even before being homeless, football, you know, was an hour for me, anything happening at home bad, anything happening bad in school, anything, you know, in life that I was fearful of or whatever, I just got football and was able to go and get my football,” she said.
“It was the one thing that was loyal to me. And I was loyal to the football, I guess, like loyal to each other, I had it all at a time for anything that, you know, whenever I needed it. And I was just able to just pick up my football and go and do what I needed to do to just distract me from many things and everything.”
Despite this hurdle, Williams went on to become a Lionesses legend. She was an integral part of the England team at the 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups, but was left out of the squad for the most recent tournament in 2019.
At the time, England manager Phil Neville said Williams’s career with the Lionesses was not over, and she did indeed go on to make more appearances. But Williams revealed she was “gutted” she was not selected for the 2019 World Cup, and questioned Neville’s reasoning for her omission.
“I thought it was more to do with my age rather than anything,” she said. “I felt I had a place in that squad. You know, you're taking… I think it was a 23 player squad. And I'd been to seven previous tournaments. And I had vast experience of international football and tournament football and had the know-how.
“Even if he wasn't to play me, I still felt I would have had an impact of the pitch in terms of the experiences I had at that moment. And, you know, it was his first year or 18 months into the squad. So I thought I had a place. I mean, listen, he'll have his reasons. I'll have my beliefs as to why I felt he didn't pick me and that's football and it's opinions.”
England now have a home European Championships in 2022 to look forward to. With Neville moving on to a position with Inter Miami in the MLS, the Lionesses will be led by former Dutch manager Sarina Wiegman.
Williams shared her thoughts on Wiegman and England’s chances at the tournament.
“My hope is that she's able to do exactly the same with our group of players when she takes us in September, because she is a fantastic coach. She's a no nonsense coach that is just, you know, quite straight talking, very intelligent in terms of knowledge of the game, very experienced in terms of her playing. So you know, I'm excited.
“When she was appointed, it was a shock because of how good of a coach I see her to be and I just didn't think that she'd leave, you know, the Dutch team to come to England. So we're lucky to have her. I'm hoping that she can transition real quick and has a really quick turn around, but something needs to change. We need to get the culture that we created. I think we need to get that back, you know? From an outsider looking in, I think we've lost a little bit of the good culture that was created there.”
Williams was handed a new obstacle to overcome last year after she was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a kidney condition which affected her fitness. Although she has starred for Reading this year, Williams recently announced she would be retiring at the end of the season. Her last match will be against Chelsea on Sunday.
Williams did not reveal she would be retiring on the game changers podcast, which was recorded shortly before the announcement, but she did touch on future plans for her career.
“I'd love to talk about football… growing up media opportunities were never there for females, I didn't ever think about those opportunities. So I've always boxed myself off to just coaching. I'm going to be a coach because I love football and I love sharing.
“There's not really much difference being in media talking football, then there is coaching it, in terms of just being able to articulate your words differently in both settings. But yeah, I'd like to, you know, if given the opportunity, I wouldn't rule it out.”
This article was produced in partnership with the game changers podcast, which is supported by Barclays. You can listen to the full episode with Fara Williams here.