Stuart Williams: Footballer whose sterling World Cup service in the Welsh defence elicited a glowing tribute from Pele

 

When Stuart Williams was confronted by the emerging genius of Pele in a quarter-final of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the classy and constructive Welsh full-back responded with the performance of his life. That day in Gothenburg, the teenager who would soon be hailed as the greatest footballer of all time, scored the only goal of the game to eliminate valiant opponents who had upset the odds by reaching the last eight. Though deprived of their own star, John Charles, through injury, the scarlet-shirted heroes held out for more than 70 minutes against a sumptuously talented Brazilian attack, in which the prodigy combined to compelling effect with the likes of Garrincha, Didi and Zagalo.

West Bromwich Albion's Williams stood superbly defiant on the right flank of the Welsh rearguard and deserved far better than to deflect Pele's scuffed shot past goalkeeper Jack Kelsey for the decisive score. Many years later, Pele paid glowing tribute to Jimmy Murphy's vanquished team, describing Williams and his defensive comrades as excellent, and citing that goal as the most important of his career.

The Baggies' right-back played in all five of the Welshmen's matches in the tournament, including a rousing victory over the powerful Hungarians in the play-off for a place in the last eight. He went on to collect 43 full caps in an international career stretching from 1954 – he debuted in a 2-0 friendly defeat by Austria in Vienna – to 1965.

Club-wise, too, the unflappable Williams achieved plenty, his dozen years at the Hawthorns encompassing one of the headiest periods in Albion's history, before a four-term stint with Southampton climaxed with the club's promotion to the top flight for the first time.

As a boy, he had entered senior football with Wrexham, his home-town club of which his father was a director, enlisting with the Robins as an amateur in the summer of 1947. A handful of games didn't produce a breakthrough, though, so he moved to the Midlands to work in insurance, which took him into Albion's ambit. A year after signing as a professional in February 1951, Williams made his First Division entrance as a centre-forward in a 3-0 defeat at Huddersfield, then was deployed at wing-half and centre-half before he settled as a full-back during 1953-54, in which the Baggies finished as runners-up to local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in the title race and won the FA Cup.

At that point, the Welshman was still on the periphery of Vic Buckingham's free-flowing side and narrowly missed out on a championship gong. However, he was expected to face Preston North End at Wembley after deputising for the injured right-back Stan Rickaby during a sequence of League games, only to be disappointed when Buckingham went for the more experienced Joe Kennedy, essentially a central defender, out of position on the big day. Undeterred, Williams proved a key squad member in several roles for the next few seasons, then earned a regular place at left-back in 1957-58, thereafter demonstrating his versatility and proving his worth in two polished full-back partnerships: he appeared on the left flank when Don Howe was on the right, and vice-versa when his namesake and fellow Welsh international, Graham Williams, was on the left.

Muscular and decisive yet surprisingly adroit with the ball at his feet, Williams was a lovely passer who relished surging forward to join the attack. He was a major influence as West Bromwich finished fourth in the table, then fifth and fourth again as the decade closed.

In September 1962, aged 32, after making nearly 250 senior appearances plus some 180 for the reserves, Williams was sold to second-tier Southampton for £15,000. By then he was the Baggies' most capped footballer, having enjoyed 33 outings for Wales, a record he retained until it was beaten by the Hungarian Zoltan Gera in recent times.

At the Dell, he flourished anew under the Saints' manager Ted Bates, helping Southampton reach the FA Cup semi-finals in his first season – the Saints lost 1-0 to Manchester United at Villa Park – and continuing to perform with polished aplomb as they were elevated to the First Division as runners-up to Manchester City in 1965-66.

That summer, Williams retired as a player and soon returned to the Hawthorns as a trainer, helping manager Alan Ashman prepare the side for their 1968 FA Cup triumph over Everton. He left again in 1969, then took a succession of coaching jobs, serving Aston Villa, Paykan of Iran and Morton before, in 1971, going back to the Dell as assistant manager to Bates. He didn't linger, though, leaving in 1973, and going on to brief assignments scouting for Carlisle United and coaching Norwegian club Viking Stavanger in 1974. He later worked as a tyre salesman, and then as a financial controller for a transport firm, but he was never forgotten by fans of the Baggies and the Saints – or by Pele.

Stuart Grenville Williams, footballer: born Wrexham 9 July 1930; played for Wrexham 1947-50, West Bromwich Albion 1950-62, Southampton 1962-66; capped 43 times by Wales 1954-65; died Southampton 5 November 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence