Tribal Football

Alex Williams exclusive: Man City, Pep's future & his incredible work with the Manchester community

Alex Williams exclusive: Man City, Pep's future & his incredible work with the Manchester community
Alex Williams exclusive: Man City, Pep's future & his incredible work with the Manchester community
Alex Williams exclusive: Man City, Pep's future & his incredible work with the Manchester communityAction Plus
“In the early 80s most first division grounds had a big six-foot barrier around the front of the stand to stop people getting on the pitch because hooliganism was very bad. Racism was at a high point and there were certain clubs where I received a lot of racial abuse and on occasions even our own players found it quite funny as well," the legendary Alex Williams tells Tribalfootball from his home in Manchester.

While it might have produced a negative reaction out of lesser men, he quickly dismisses our suggestion that it must have gotten under his skin somehow.


“It made me try even harder to play well and after I'd played about the first 10 games a lot of fans knew who I was and started to recognize me as a good goalkeeper rather than a black goalkeeper." 

Alex Williams was both as he was the first modern day black goalkeeper and that is one reason why his autobiography is called “You Saw Me Standing Alone”.

“First of all, it’s a line from the 'national anthem' of Manchester City, 'blue moon, you saw me standing alone'. The second reason is; when I played, I received pelters from the terraces and there was no 'show racism the red card' back then. So, I was standing alone," Williams explains as the reasoning behind the ambiguous title of the book depicting his career.

Aside from having to end his playing career far too early because of an injury, writing the book has made him stand back and look at a fantastic life associated with Manchester City, the club he’s supported his whole life, having been born just a Rory Delap throw-in from the old Maine Road stadium.



Helping out local people

While playing First Division football for Manchester City is something special to look back on, what Alex Williams has worked with since putting down his gloves is astounding to a level that it brought him an MBE and made him a legend to a lot of people. 

“I started in 1986 running a community scheme and I've been doing it for 35 years. We work with young people from the age of five-six years old to senior citizens. We have walking football programs and I am very proud to say we have one of the biggest and best disability projects in the country.

“Any child or adult who has a disability are able to represent Manchester City in our various disability football teams and we do lots of programs for women and girls’ football. We're also very into it with people's colour of the skin, their sexuality, everybody is welcome at Manchester City through 'City in the Community',”  Williams explains of the project which has grown considerably since he joined.

“We started out with about four staff members and a turnover of about 12,000 pounds. We currently have around 120 staff going out into the community and turnover is about 3.5 million pounds. All under the Manchester City umbrella in partnership with the Premier League and the PFA."

While Manchester City face staunch criticism relating to certain accounting matters, the club plays a big part in how  Williams and his colleagues are able to run their scheme.

“They house all the community schemes within its training centre, the City Football Academy. They provide access to players for us. So, when we're promoting events, the players will go out and support our events, male and female players. The support is amazing and we couldn't do it without the football club," says Williams before sharing a few stories of which he is particularly proud.

“The biggest thing we're proud of is helping local people. There are people now working at the football club who came on our activities many years ago. One lad, Jamie Tregaskiss, had a leg removed because of cancer and he was really depressed. He came to our disability football session and he's now one of the best disability footballers in the world. 

“Another young lad, Mike Green, came to me as a junior football coach and he's now the CEO of Belgian football club Lommel. We've had ordinary people come along who were at risk of being excluded from school. They came onto our various projects and are now employed within the football club at Manchester City. We've turned so many people around.” 

From joining Manchester City in the 70s to seeing where the club is today is a transition bordering on the baffling, but Williams insists a connection to the past has been maintained.

“We've kept the heritage and the connection with the community and I think it's really important we continue to do so. We have unbelievable facilities now at Manchester City and it's really important we take local people on that journey. For example; we have over 120 children with disabilities using the training centre every week.

“The stadium itself is open to the community. We have various events there every year, we run a senior citizens Christmas party, we've got a BMX track and there’s now the 23,000 indoor music arena and athletic stadium so there's lots of different sports on site," Williams says before mentioning one particular football pitch rather special to him.

“We have our own designated football field at the training ground where we do free football courses and they very nicely named that The Alex Williams Football Field when I retired last season. Hopefully we'll see some young superstars coming along because they've played on my football field," he says with a laugh. 



Missing the bigger picture

The impact it had on proceedings on the pitch when Sheikh Mansour and his people took over the club is obvious for all to see, having recently celebrated their fourth title on the bounce. What is not common knowledge to outsiders perhaps is what impact the club has had on the community and Williams insists people could be missing the bigger picture.

“The owners have been fantastic, and it's not just the vision of the team, it's the vision of the club. A big part of that goes to our global CEO, Ferran Soriano. He had a vision of having a number of football clubs under the Manchester City banner. I think we currently have around 13 clubs around the world.

“His vision has been unbelievable. We are helping other football clubs around the world. The football and the quality of the players is magnificent. And to be fair, I think any football club that does really, really well will always get some stick, because people like things to be different.” 

Having been associated with football for so long,  Williams has witnessed the dynasties of Liverpool and Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson up close. A similar dynasty has evolved at the Etihad under Pep Guardiola and  Williams is hopeful it will last for a good while still. 

“At the moment, we have got a great football team and arguably one of the best managers there's ever been in Pep Guardiola. But at some stage, he will leave and I am sure the club will have a strategy and a plan in place on how he is replaced.

“We've seen over the years a change of management or a change of ownership does affect the club. Hopefully, if and when things change, whether it be the manager or the owners, things will continue, but hopefully that's going to be a long time away.” 



- Part of the proceeds for the book “You Saw Me Standing Alone” goes to the City in the Community and you can go to the website to obtain it or simply order it HERE.