Nigel: Once A Wolf, Always A Wolf
Full-Back Who Clings To His Molineux Roots
It was in 1976 that Nigel Williams played the last of his 11 Wolves first-team games – but the ‘Wolverhampton’ sector of his life by no means ended there.
Although he was born and bred in Kent, where he still lives and works, part of him will be forever Wulfrunian.
“I still regard myself as a keen Wolves fan, so is our daughter Anna, who was born there,” he recalls. “She even has a Jack Russell called Wolfie!
“My wife Jan used to work at the Express & Star and we met at the Art Gallery in the town, then started going out together on the night of Derek Dougan’s testimonial. We would meet for lunch at the Molineux Hotel, when it was a lively place.
“I loved the town and have very fond memories of it. And Jan’s brother still lives in Penn, where I was first taken by Joe Gardiner at the age of 16 to some digs run by Mr and Mrs Cutler and had it pointed out to me where the bus stop was.
“I was with Eddie Gould, a great Liverpool lad, very outgoing and with a lot of ability as a midfielder.
“In five-a-sides, I played in what they called the oddball team with other lads from outside the West Midlands area.
“There was a team for the Irish and Scots, then the locals, and Mick Collins, Steve Daley and Peter Withe would also have been with us.
“Steve was a big pal but my best mate was Gerry O’Hara, although he was younger than me. They nicknamed me Archbishop because I came from Canterbury.”
Williams, now resident in Faversham, made his way to Wolves after spending six weeks with Coventry and having a trial at QPR. A knock on the dressing room door following an FA Cup tie between Ashford and the Brett Sports company team he played for told him a Molineux scout had been sufficiently impressed to offer him a chance.
He spent a long Easter weekend at the club, playing youth games at Castlecroft against Birmingham (Kenny Burns and all) and Stoke under Gardiner’s tutelage at a time when he was doing his O levels.
“It was assumed I’d go to agricultural college or teacher training college but my dad was a huge football fan and said there would still be plenty of time for that after a playing career,” he added.
“I went to Wolves as a sort of Bobby Moore type, playing off a centre-half, and made my debut in the reserves under Gordon Eddlestone and Norman Bodell at Blackpool against an old England centre-forward, Fred Pickering.”
Williams, just turned 56, had an initial net weekly wage of £7.43 but was given a major perk when invited to carry Wolves’ flag as the centenary FA Cup final between Leeds and Arsenal in 1972 was preceeded by a parade of representatives from previous winners.
Bigger thrills were round the corner, though, for a lad now converted to a full-back.
“I made my first-team debut in a night match at home to Sheffield United and kept my place when we won 1-0 at Chelsea a few days later,” he recalls.
“I was marking Charlie Cooke, which was inspiring, and played another few matches that season, although it was always hard work trying to get in ahead of Geoff Palmer or Derek Parkin.
“Bill McGarry and me used to clash at times because I thought he preferred to play senior players out of position rather than give youngsters a chance.
“He had a temper as well and I remember smashing tea cups on the table when we were losing at Ipswich.
“There was no listening with him when you had a moan but I think he appreciated the fact I got stuck in. He liked aggressive players and would go crackers with those who pulled out of tackles, shouting: ‘You’ll be looking for a job next week.’”
Sadly, it was all over for Williams as a first-team Wolves player after he faced Stoke in the middle of the 1975-76 relegation campaign.
A free transfer took him to Gillingham, where he enjoyed the milder management style of former Molineux coach Gerry Summers, Doug Fraser at Walsall having also offered him a contract.
He played 50-odd games while at the Priestfield Stadium and later played for John Boyle and then Graham Carr during a six-month spell at Dartford.
But he retired as early as 24, determined to put his qualifications and other skills to good use.
“I became a bit disheartened at Gillingham and found I was earning as much playing for Dartford and having a job,” he said.
“I got a six-month contract as an assistant farm manager down here, working for a guy from Malvern who I had known at Wolves.
“The farm was owned by Shepherd Neame, the brewery, with whom I’ve worked for 31 years, and I’m now a warehouse manager in the brewing industry.”