Williams: I'd Never Seen Snow!
In every football loving country, the ‘beautiful game’ always allows for legends to be born.
Becoming a legend happens not because of one game, one goal or one single moment, but is rather a status afforded to players who have consistently produced the goods. They are players who have not on the odd occasion been heroes, but who have, due to their sustained excellence, been anointed by the public as legends of the game. What many people fail to recognise is that, for every legend that is made, there are legendary stories to tell about the path they travelled to reach the pinnacle of success.
From the moment he turned professional, Mark Williams’ ultimate dream was to play overseas. He was playing for Hellenic in 1992 when the opportunity presented itself, but the road to signing his first European contract was beset with glitches. In this feature, he shares his incredible story!
Dealing with a difficult boss
I was playing for Hellenic in Cape Town back then and I had an agreement with the boss, the late George Hadjidakis. He was the most difficult man to negotiate a contract with, ha, ha. You can ask Gavin Hunt about that man… he’ll tell you. I said to him, “If I become the top goalscorer, I want to go overseas.” He looked at me and said, “You want what?” I repeated myself. He said, “No problem, we can do that.” I said, “No, no, no, I don’t believe talk. Let’s write it down in black and white.” He replied, “Don’t you trust me? You’re like my son! What is wrong with you?” He was shouting! I said, “Son or no son, I know that if I’m the Top Goalscorer I can leave this country and go and play overseas.” Eventually he put it in black and white and he gave me a copy and I went off to training. While I was walking out of his office, I told myself that I was going to work hard to make sure that at the end of the year I become top goalscorer so I could go overseas, and thank God I went on to become the top goalscorer. After that I went to him and said, “Alright, Mr George, I’m ready to go.” He wasn’t happy and said. “No, we’ll make it next year.” I told him, “No, I want to go now. I wanna leave this country.” I was hungry to go overseas. He then phoned me two weeks later and said he’d arranged trials for me in Belgium. RWD Molenbeek said they wanted to look at me for two weeks and that I should come over.
Leaving for Belgium
I went there and everyone was speaking French. I was like yho, yho, yho! I was in Brussels and there were these big church buildings. I stayed there and I trained with the rest of the team. Training was harder over there. Even if it was snowing, we’d still train. After a week, I went to training in the morning and they told me, “At 16h00 you must come back.” I took a nap for an hour-and-a-half. Before I went to sleep, the roads were fine and all that, but when I woke up, I saw the whole place was white. It was snowing… I’d never seen snow before. I looked out the window, wondering, “Wow, what is this?” I then ran out into the streets in my shorts and picked up the snow. I couldn’t believe it. I even took photos of it! I was like, “Imagine how I’m going to feel if I make it here!”
Meeting Stephen Keshi
We played friendly games and the coach was looking for a striker… a number nine… a big oke. There were a couple of players on trial – two from Russia, one from the UK and one from Germany. They were big players and had everything that the coach wanted, but what I had was the ability to score goals. Stephen Keshi was a player then. He came back from France and joined this team in Belgium. He saw me and said, “Williams, I like you, man. Come and sit with me.” That was the first time I saw a Mercedes Benz 220… the two-door. Keshi was driving one of those and he was a big player. He pressed a button and the roof went down, and I was like, “S**t!” He had his sunglasses, you know, and a big watch. I was looking at him like, “One day I wanna be like this man.” He asked me if I had signed for the team and I told him, “No, but I’ve been scoring goals in the friendlies.” The thing is, the coach didn’t want me. He wanted a big guy. So I told the director, “I was supposed to be here for two weeks, but now it’s been three weeks, so I’m taking my bags and I’m going home.”
Almost giving up...
Sometimes the fans called my name when we were playing friendlies. They’d scream, “Williams! Williams! Williams!” The coach didn’t like it, but they knew when I came on I would score goals. That was the difference between me and these big strikers. That Friday I booked a flight, took my bags, said thank you to the guy, left the hotel and went to the airport. When I got to the airport, I took my ticket and passport out. While standing in the queue, I saw one of the directors coming over. He said to me, “Mark, can I just talk to you?” I said he could. He said, “Why do you want to leave?” I responded, “Look here, I believe I was supposed to be here for two weeks. It’s been three weeks now and I’ve done what you wanted me to do. I’ve been scoring goals, but the coach doesn’t like me because I’m short, so I’d rather go.” He said, “The boss doesn’t want you to go. You must cancel that flight and come back to sign a contract.”
Signing the contract
That was what I was waiting for. They offered me a three-year deal. It was a lovely addition to my CV and I knew that I was going to earn some money to help my family. The language was a problem at first, but I knew that I didn’t go there to speak languages. I went there to speak the universal language of football and I knew I had a God-given talent – scoring goals. It was hard work because I had to train in the snow. It was wet. It was in mud and I had to do push-ups… but, at the end of the day, I knew what I wanted to achieve.
They say that legends mix with legends. If you’re mixing with Gordon’s, you’ve got great taste. With a recipe that has remained unchanged for 245 years, Gordon’s is a true legend in its own right.
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