Johnny Williams: Footballer and Plymouth Argyle stalwart of the 1950s and '60s - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Johnny Williams: Footballer and Plymouth Argyle stalwart of the 1950s and '60s

Johnny Williams cut a majestic figure as he bestrode the Plymouth Argyle midfield for 11 seasons from the middle 1950s, surging forward with a dignity and style which called to mind some Atlantic-bound ship in full sail departing the city's historic harbour.

It was perceived widely, and by such shrewd judges as the Manchester United manager Matt Busby and his Wolves counterpart Stan Cullis, that the tall, upright Bristolian was tailor-made for the upper echelons of English football, but Williams never tasted life in the top tier, instead remaining loyal to the Pilgrims throughout his prime and later serving Bristol Rovers in the city of his birth.

He was renowned for the power and accuracy of his long-distance shooting, and for all his defensive solidity it was that attacking instinct which made him such a favourite with the Home Park faithful. Indeed, they selected him for Argyle's team of the 20th century, an accolade which his 448 appearances and 55 goals for the club merited.

After leaving Bristol for Plymouth with his family as a boy, Williams began an apprenticeship as an electrical fitter at Devonport dockyard, but his father believed his son had the makings of a footballer so he asked Argyle to give him a trial. Manager Jimmy Rae agreed, was duly delighted by what he saw and Williams left his local works side to make a provisional agreement with Plymouth as a 17- year-old in October 1952.

Soon he turned professional and in September 1955 he made his senior debut at inside-left in a 1-0 home victory over Blackburn Rovers in the old Second Division. Three weeks later he scored his first goal, a consolation effort in a 4-1 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield, and that season he played frequently in various forward positions.

However, Plymouth were a struggling side and they were relegated at season's end, with young Williams having lost his place. He was back in at the outset of 1956-57, only to be axed after Argyle made a dismal start, but that proved to be but a temporary blip in his progress.

During a brief autumn interlude in the reserves, it became evident that Williams' power and the crispness of his tackling made him a natural wing-half and it was in that role in which he made a swift return to first-team duty. Thereafter he never looked back, becoming a fixture in the senior side for the next decade, his athleticism and strength matched by his ease on the ball, his passing and shooting prowess and a calm demeanour which was invaluable in many a defensive crisis as Argyle fought to stave off a second successive demotion in the spring of 1957.

Unlike many promising youngsters, Williams was able to fit his National Service commitments around turning out for his club, and his game improved notably during his army days, when he performed alongside such future luminaries as Manchester United's Bobby Charlton, and Cliff Jones, who would go on to shine for Tottenham Hotspur. The standard of competition was high and Williams rose to the challenge, prompting Busby to remark after watching him in action one night in Scotland that, despite being in the company of several high-profile professionals, Williams was the finest footballer afield.

Soon came his premier tangible achievement when he excelled as the Pilgrims lifted the Third Division title in 1959. He was being monitored by a posse of top-flight clubs, including Cullis's Wolves, then on their way to a second successive League championship. However, Argyle were so desperate to keep their main man that they slapped a reported £40,000 price tag on him, which deterred prospective purchasers at a time when the British transfer record stood at only £45,000.

Undaunted, Williams continued to excel for Argyle as they slid up and down the Second Division table during the first half of the 1960s, with the highlight an appearance in the League Cup semi-final of 1965. They lost to Leicester City over two legs, but Williams had the satisfaction of scoring past Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper who would help England lift the World Cup.

Having reached his 30s, Williams was left out in the cold by the Argyle manager Derek Ufton in 1966 and that December he signed for Bristol Rovers. Though past his peak, he offered valuable experience to the Third Division Pirates, whom he served until 1969, when he left the professional game.

Williams made a fleeting return to Argyle as a coach under Billy Bingham, and enjoyed a stint as player-manager of non-League Bodmin Town. A man of integrity and an approachable individual, he went on to run a successful garage business in Plymouth.

John Stanley James Williams, footballer: born Bristol 16 August 1935; played for Plymouth Argyle 1952-66, Bristol Rovers 1966-69; died Plymouth 24 November 2011.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'I felt like that was the lowest I’d ever felt'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
News
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Sport
Tito Vilanova passed away aged just 45
footballThe club's former manager died in April, less than a year after he stood down
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch
artAnd it's even for a good cause
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Life and Style
techCriminals are targeting an e-reader security flaw
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
newsBut just how much does a 122-carat coloured diamond go for these days?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

PE Teacher (Female)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Teacher of Girls PE for Wiltshire scho...

Retail Business Analyst - Retail-J

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week