Editor’s Note: Tim is sick (of reading about Suarez and van Persie!) today so Les is subbing in at half-time with a Rogues Gallery piece. This time, Les fills in the cracks on Steve Williams, number 38 on the list of 50 Greatest Gunners of all time.
Author: Les Crang
When Don Howe took over from Terry Neill in 1983, were we really looking forward to a glorious future? Not at all. Don’t get me wrong. Don was a great coach. Terry Neill was a manager but he’d been coached by Don in his playing days and that why he’d brought him back to Arsenal. But for any fans who remember those days can you think of any of his signings with any good thoughts? Ian Allinson? Paul Mariner? Christ, dreadful. But he did sign Viv Anderson and my personal favourite Steve Williams.
Steve Williams. An aggressive midfielder with a pass. Very similar to Peter Nicholas, apart from Nicholas being Welsh and the fact that Nicholas couldn’t pass. Williams, was also an Arsenal fan and a vociferous personality, who said what he thought. Period.
Prior to Joining Arsenal, Williams had a fairly good career with Southampton, playing in a team that included Peter Shilton, Steve Moran, Mick Channon, Alan Ball and Kevin Keegan. At Southampton he won only one League Cup runners-up medal, made one F.A Cup semi-final, and finished second in the league. He was also won his first England cap whilst there in the summer of 1983.
In 1984, Itching for a move to a club that had ambitions he ended up being transferred to Arsenal in December 1984 for £550,000. When he joined, he Made his debut against Spurs in the Derby [another defeat at home], Williams came on for the last two minutes and this was why I like Williams, straight away, he argued with Don Howe. Williams said:
Don Howe made me a substitute for the Spurs game and he sent me on for about two minutes to go. What was the point of that, I got on, made one run down the wing, put over one cross and the whistle went. That wasn’t the start I’d planned and I wasn’t pleased at all… I like Don Howe… but in football terms we never saw eye to eye.
Williams early career at Highbury was a disaster. A season in which Arsenal’s title ambitions had finished in October but an F.A. Cup run looked in the cards after defeating Hereford 7-2 in a replay. Then came the next tie, York at the end of January. I remember the game quite vividly listening on the radio and then later Match of the Day. The pitch had to be inspected. It was icy. Snow on the outside of the pitch. For 90 minutes a dire game was played out against York City, then in the 4th division. In the last couple minutes, York came down the right, put in a hopeful cross, Williams pulled Houchen down in the box. Penalty. Up stepped Keith Houchen, 1-0 York. I suppose Houchen did us a favour a couple years later.
Williams standing with the Arsenal faithful was described by one fan after the match:
A lot of fans weren’t sure about him – you know, really 50/50. When that penalty was given he had a fit of pique maybe out of guilt… A lot of fans thought ‘oh fuck off back to Southampton Williams’ and it took a long time to win over that attitude.
Williams though was never one to keep his mouth shut over the game. When Stewart Robson blamed him for the defeat because the midfield had been changed around, he countered by saying:
I told Don Howe and George Graham that the boy [Robson] couldn’t play. And he was supposed to be England’s next big thing. What a joke.
Williams first couple seasons though weren’t the greatest (but neither were Don’s team to be honest). At one stage Howe tried to sell him to QPR, with Williams pricing himself out of the transfer, as he wanted to stay.
Ironically, for such a mouthy player his best season was when George Graham joined in 1986 Williams had his best season in 1986-87. A season which ended in our winning a cup. Joining the club, Graham told the players they had to ‘go out and be the Arsenal’. When joining the club, Graham spoke to all the players and Williams was:
Told to sort out their act and it seemed that if anyone was due for a massive personality clash with Graham, it was Stevie
Williams knuckled down that season, and to be honest, along with Viv Anderson, was one of our players of the season. Jeff Harris said of him:
He formed with Viv Anderson, Paul Davis and the young David Rocastle a formidable right sided triangle with Steve, without doubt played the best football of his career.
The 1986-87 season started well with Arsenal topping the league at Christmas. Steve had been in awesome form. A cracking 30 yard strike against Everton at Goodison in a 1-0 win underlined the newly disciplined Williams and Arsenal. It was also his first league goal for the club.
Slowly, Arsenal toppled from the top after Christmas, but had made the semi-final of the Milk Cup.* Against Spurs. Williams though was injured for the games. Ironically, the player who would replace him was a full-back by the name of Michael Thomas. Thomas would play out of his skin. Having lost at home, then won 2-1 at Spurs Arsenal played the replay at WHL. The rest is history. Afterwards:
The entire Arsenal family, together, savour the moment in a collective embrace. Everyone, from George Graham in his lucky red scarf to the injured Steve Williams… everyone is on the pitch hugging and pogo-ing in front of all the hugging, pogo-ing fans.
Up against the likes of Molby and McMahon he was at his combative best, as he continued to probe the weakness in the Liverpool back line.
He also played in the famous F.A. Cup quarter final defeat to Watford in which he went mental with officals for allowing a dodgy third goal to be allowed, when we’d just had a blatant penalty turned down.
In all, Steve Williams played 34 games in that season. Unfortunately, by the next season Michael Thomas was becoming a more prominent fixture in the Arsenal side, and although he got a cracking goal against Oxford in 1987-88 season, Graham told him he wasn’t in the league cup squad against Luton, Williams watched the match with his ill mother. The press turned it into another bust up, and Williams moved to Luton and then Exeter. Wasted.
Williams though I think deserves special mention of his Arsenal career. Although a loose cannon on occasions, he was a Gooner through and through, and telling Ossie what he thinks of him (YouTube of him telling Ossie Ardiles to fluff off) is priceless.
Williams mad fits also helped fit in with some anarchic headlines in the new thing at the time called a fanzine. Guy Havord of the Arsenal Echo Echo for example had the headline ‘Steve Williams ate my hamster blasts Brian Clough’. Williams was also more than complimentary of Graham saying ‘he did in six weeks what Howe failed to do in three years’. But the best thing on Williams is what he said about David Rocastle after he passed away:
David was a top man, who got on equally well with players from his own age range, like Quinny, and Mickey Thomas, or myself and David O’leary. I’ll always remember a happy, streetwise kid, who was confident from the moment he came into the side. He made his debut in a bloody awful goalless draw with Newcastle at Highbury in 1985 – we used to have a lot of them back then – and the game was famous because a radio reporter had absolutely nothing to say in his match report, because absolutely nothing had happened. But in my opinion, Rocky deserved a mention, because, basically you could see the boy could play… My biggest regret when I left Highbury was that I didn’t have the opportunity to play alongside him anymore. I missed his infectious enthusiasm for all things Arsenal and that massive grin of his. He was a top man, was Rocky.
Steve Williams: lovely pass, outspoken player, tough tackler, Gooner, and a downright good guy.
*The League Cup