England centurion and true pioneer of women’s football Fara Williams has played her last game of professional football, closing the book on her illustrious 20-year pitchside career.
You would not have to delve far into the world of women’s football before the name Fara Williams would crop up. The 37-year-old has been a staple figure of the game long before the audiences, sponsorships and broadcasting deals of today caught up.
Career flutterings began at the age of twelve with Chelsea, the team she grew up supporting. Williams impressed at the Blues’ trials despite arriving hours late due to a calamity with bus numbers. From there, professionally, things began to pick up. Williams remained at Chelsea until 2001, playing for the first team for one year before she signed for Charlton Athletic.
At the time Charlton was a big player in the women’s league, well regarded as one of the most fruitful teams to play for. Williams completed a three-year spell with the Addicks, yet missed out on their eventual consecutive FA Cup victories after making the move to Everton, under coach Mo Marley, in 2004.
As with her previous stints, Williams’ time with the Toffees was another tale of brilliance. Very quickly Williams certified herself an essential figure within the squad as confirmed when she was voted as FA Players’ Player of the Year in 2009. She also finally managed to chase down that elusive FA Cup whilst at Everton in 2010.
From there Williams hopped over to Merseyside adversary Liverpool. A flagship signing for the club and their bid to rival North London titans Arsenal’s supremacy. Indeed, not only did Liverpool rival the Gunners, they reigned victorious, winning back-to-back league titles in 2013 and 2014. Success was short lived however as the Reds tumbled to the bottom of the table and Williams herself was out with injury. Moving once again, Williams spent one season with The Arsenal before concluding her story with a four-year term at Reading.
She has racked up a total of 172 caps for her country; she has represented Team GB in the Olympics; she has played in four European Championships and three World Cups. Unfortunately, Williams did not make the cut in the Lionesses’ World Cup campaign before her retirement in what will persist as a controversial judgement by England’s then head coach.
When pouring over these achievements one could be rather easily fooled into believing that for Williams it came easy. Yet this could not be further from the truth. Whilst she quite clearly exuded an effortlessly raw footballing talent, life outside of the touchlines was far from easy. Unbeknownst her teammates and coaches, for six years throughout early part of her career, Williams was homeless.
Family disagreements and self-confessed ‘stubbornness’ led to Williams’ prolonged period living in and out of hostels. With little physical, emotional or psychological security back then, Williams now openly contemplates this time. Speaking to Oliver Brown at The Telegraph, she reflects, “I probably ended up homeless a little longer than I needed to. When I was first in a hostel, I used to share a room with three other females. My belongings would get stolen, my clothes. That was what troubled me the most. I never had any friendships or relationships there. Inside, I had to remain strong.”
It is this inner strength and resolute determination that propelled Williams to such magnitude on the field. It can be rare to find an athlete of profound talent that with the hunger to tune their gift with such fortitude. It is even rarer to find that elevates so finely with age.
Williams cites former England coach and current Brighton and Hove coach Hope Powell, and former Everton and England U-21 coach Marley, as two of her greatest influences both professionally and personally. For it was Powell who eventually learned of Williams’ struggles outside of training. Powell who bought her bedding and drove her to a homeless unit in London that night.
Setbacks and injuries are part and parcel of an athlete’s course and Williams was no exception to this. After niggling injuries throughout her career, her most concerning medical complaint came very late on. A few months prior to announcing her retirement, Williams revealed that she had been diagnosed with Nephrotic Syndrome, a kidney condition that is treated with steroids. The medication Williams was taking resulted in a number of distressing side effects that partly led to her to take the decision to bow out gracefully.
As her rather fitting game final game against her beloved Chelsea was upon us, we were served with the opportunity to savour a last glimpse of a twenty-year honed creation. To reflect on a personal evolution that has steadily budded over the years. By her own admission, Williams progressed from “a dribbling creator” to a “creative passer” (Sarah Shephard, The Athletic) alluding to the rawness that was exorcised and the finesse that was expected. Yet here Williams sells herself short. The footballer that stands before us is far more than a creative passer. Williams is intuitively tactical, expertly navigational and a deadly set piece taker.
But further than this is her first-hand experience of the sport. Williams has lived through the gradual growth of the women’s game; she has remained an integral figure when leagues and clubs have been uprooted, restructured and reinvented. And as this continues to mature, despite her retirement, it is likely that Williams will remain as such.
With an honest mentality and personal knowledge of the game, Williams would certainly bring a refreshingly candid take. Yet, an ambition that sits slightly closer is coaching, a role Williams has always seen herself taking on.
As she hangs up her boots Williams can proudly look over a job well done and take some deserved time away from the pitch. However, with her proven track record, reciprocal loyalty to football and trademark headstrong approach, one can bet, she won’t be away for too long.