Keeper Coach Still Rolling On
‘Pistol Pete’ Fires Off His Molineux Memories
By David Instone
Peter Williams arrives for our pre-lockdown meeting with the news that he has just been in phone contact with David Kelly – and has a looming appointment with Paul Darby.
“They both send their regards,” he announces with a cheeriness and familiarity that, typically of football people, cuts through the potential awkwardness of it having been more than 30 years since we met.
Conversation comes very easily – and not just because there is a lot to catch up on. He is also very well acquainted with Alex Rae, Rob Kelly, John Burridge, Stephen Bywater, Paul Butler and Jody Craddock.
The names of Bert Williams, Alan Boswell and Paul Cook soon crop up as well, so any pre-conceived thoughts that this might be a chat just about his 1980s work with Mark Kendall and Vince Bartram require a hasty revisit.
So, time for introductions as the name Peter Williams is not in the ‘household’ category around Molineux…..
He was the unofficial goalkeeper coach when Wolves were taking their first steps back towards respectability soon after the arrival of Graham Turner, Steve Bull and others in 1986.
“I had had two or three years as back-up keeper to Kevin Charlton at Telford in their glory days under Stan Storton and went on to play for Shifnal when Paul Darby was the manager,” Peter said. “But I was on the short side for a keeper, even then, and that held me back.
“After Darbs moved to Wolves as physio, he arranged for me to go in to work with the young keepers in the Centre of Excellence on a Monday and Thursday night at Castlecroft.
“From there, I started working with Kendo and Vince – mainly on a Monday afternoon, I think. I got on really well with Mark and thought he did brilliantly for Wolves.
“I know he had been hammered about his weight when he was at Tottenham but, behind his image as a joker in the dressing room, he was the genuine article.
“He was a good trainer, open to new ideas, although goalkeeper coaching was new then. I remember him telling me once that someone at the club had peered through a small window at Molineux, seen us doing some footwork exercises on the far side of the pitch and questioned whether I was preparing footballers or ballet dancers.
“But different ideas came into the game around that time and it was all about making keepers nimble and man-managing them to be able to give of their best.”
Williams, the product of a Colwyn Bay council estate, did not lack confidence when a playing career that began with an unproductive spell at Preston was drawing towards a close.
“I decided quite early that I wanted to go into coaching and remember walking into Bert Williams’s indoor centre at Bilston and asking to speak to him,” he added.
“The lady on reception asked if I had an appointment. I said no and just asked if I could have five minutes’ chat with him as it was about goalkeeper coaching.
“We went into his office and in no time he asked me to help lift his table out of the way, so he could demonstrate some of the footwork drills that he believed in. He also showed me how far to stand from a wall to kick the ball against when practising reflex catching.
“He recommended keepers should try and catch the ball one-handed when it rebounded fast to them, so they became more comfortable handling it and found it much easier when it came to using both hands.
“It was a bit like the preparations of Alan Boswell, who was a big influence on me. Bozzy was ahead of his time and was not only one of the first British keepers to wear gloves. He also trained in heavy Army boots, so when he played in games, he felt so light on his feet in normal football ones. He had seen Lev Yashin training once at Lilleshall and picked up these new ideas from him.
“How could you not look up to Bert? He had done it all and I remember him saying that he could judge a young keeper by standing behind him, with his back to the lad. He could tell how well he caught the ball from the sound it made on the hands. That day was the first and last time I met him.
“To get my own coaching career under-way, I used a gym in Shifnal and was paid only my petrol money when I started helping out at Northampton, with Graham Carr, and at Wolves.
“Northampton gave me £27, which I made go a bit further as I travelled in with Wayne Williams, the defender I knew from Shrewsbury. I had less than that from Wolves as it was much closer.
“I used to go in to receive my cheque from Dot, the assistant secretary to Keith Pearson. I had no other job, so I was basically living on my travel expenses for a while.
“Things became easier when Ian McNeill at Shrewsbury gave me some work as well and I have been lucky enough to have had 35 years in this job now and worked abroad and with some really good people and clubs.”
Just how much his career took off can be demonstrated by a CV showing lengthy service as keeper coach with Billy Davies at Preston, Derby and Nottingham Forest and with Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton at Sunderland, mainly in the Premier League, from 1998 to 2003.
Thomas Sorensen, who he described as ‘world-class’, Mark Schwarzer, Jonathan Gould and Ali Al Habsi are among those he has coached, as is former Wolves reserve Dorus De Vries – a player he describes as having good enough feet to have forged an outfield career.
Cyprus, Malta, Spain and Italy figure on his list of overseas assignments, the latter a month at Lazio when Paul Gascoigne was there and which was followed by a couple of return visits. Another posting to Spain is on the cards when the current global crisis is over.
It’s easy to see why Williams rubs along with football people. Single and living alone in the north-west after a spell in Shrewsbury, he is familiar with the game’s culture.
“At Wolves, Kendo had called me Captain Cat – there must have been a cartoon character of the same name that his kids knew,” he added.
“At Sunderland, Alex Rae gave me the nickname of Pistol Pete. Paul Butler and Jody Craddock were there at the same time and I am still in touch with Peter Reid, who was manager and who I went to see at a function with Joe Royle and Neville Southall a few weeks ago.
“As for Ned Kelly, he couldn’t believe I had worked for Wolves a few years before he signed. He left Northampton earlier this season after a few months of helping Keith Curle and is a lively character.
“He used to love slipping the gloves on at the end of training sessions and betting anyone £5 that they couldn’t put a penalty past him.
“He challenged me once when we were together at Forest and training during an overnight stay at Ipswich. I told him that if I saved a penalty from him, I would never, ever go in goal again.
“Well, I saved his kick and have been true to my word. Ordinarily, I might have had to tell people that my last action was with the Dog & Trumpet – instead, I can tell them that my final touch before hanging my gloves up was saving a penalty at Ipswich from David Kelly, a World Cup finalist for the Republic of Ireland!”
And so, in these unique times, we come up to the present via phone with the death, at 78, of Peter Bonetti.
“He was my idol and I had pictures of him on my wall as a kid,” he said. “We later became good friends and I so admired his neatness. I got his autograph once when I sneaked on to the Chelsea coach as a boy after being taken by my dad to see them play at Manchester City.
“I was sad to hear the news about him but can’t wait to get fully back out there. Although I tore my Achilles getting out of bed some weeks ago – hence the physio sessions with Paul Darby – I still have ideas, plans and things to look forward to.”