Leeds United: Andy Williams looks back on Whites career

Andy Williams was part of United's Division Two title- winning side in 1990 but always struggled to nail down a first-team starting spot.

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Andy Williams was bowled over when he joined Leeds United in late 1988 –and was quite literally smashed for six just a year-and-a-half later!

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The willowy midfielder, whose elegant displays for Rotherham United helped convince newly-unveiled Whites boss Howard Wilkinson to make him his first signing in November 1988, rejected the overtures of an Elland Road legend to link up with Leeds – a whole new ball game to being with the lowly Millers.

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In truth, Birmingham-born Williams, now 47, struggled to fully establish himself in the Whites' engine room during his time at the club, and was particularly stumped during his latter days there due to that famous midfield of Strachan, Batty, McAllister and Speed.

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But some halcyon memories for a player who started out with Midlands minnows Dudley Town and Solihull Borough before making his league debut at the comparatively late age of 23 with Coventry City in 1985, remain to this day.

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Williams, now a performance manager for a company attached to Rotherham Council, had the pleasure of playing his part in United's glorious return to the top-flight after an absence of eight years in Wilkinson's Division Two championship-winning side of 1989-90.

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Although he was left with an abiding memory ahead of United's title coronation amid madcap scenes on the south coast at Bournemouth in the spring of 1990 – and it had nothing to do with football.

Namely cricket. Williams was felled by one Vincent Peter Jones ahead of the trip south to face the Cherries – and as sporting injuries go, it's one of the stranger ones.

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Wielding a hefty cricket bat, Jones accidently crashed the swinging blade smack bang into the face of Williams, fielding close-in, after being bowled a juicy delivery during a team-bonding game of cricket.

It wasn't exactly a sumptuous cover drive, more a slog to cow corner in the best traditions of an Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff – and certainly wasn't cricket to Williams, desperate to make his return after being out for a prolonged spell due to a groin abcess that became infected and caused him to lose a great deal of weight.

Williams, who moved from United to Notts County for 115,000 in February 1992 following an initial loan period, recalls: "I'd had this injury and the papers were saying I'd lost all this weight and it was kind of life-threatening, according to which one you read!

"I'd managed to battle back to fitness and was in the squad for the Bournemouth game. And I'll always remember in the run-up before the game, we had a game of speed cricket where every time you hit it, you had to run.

"We were playing on the Thursday morning before we travelled down. I was just out and handed the bat to Vinnie Jones and John Pearson bowled a ball down the leg side for Vinnie to hit, but instead he hit me straight in the face with the cricket bat, fracturing my cheekbone.

"I'd just been out for five months and had got back in and that was it – that was a great comeback! One of the more unusual injuries..."

On a memorable season, featuring alongside the talismanic Gordon Strachan, he added: "I played 20-odd games up to Christmas time and every game was a big one. We won a lot of games 1-0 and didn't give away goals. There weren't many classic games, but we were always difficult to beat.

"We were such a big club and wherever we played, there was such a good atmosphere and it was a good time to be playing.

"I remember scoring the winner in front of the Kop against Watford in the promotion season and that was special. There was also my first goal (for the club) when we were cruising at Leicester at 2-0 up, but then everything went wrong and we ended up getting beaten in a game we should have won 4-3.

"It was such an eventful game, Mervyn (Day) got carried off, I remember and then there was Strach's cheeky penalty. But the big games kind of came thick and fast.

"I then got injured halfway through the season. On the back of me being out – John Hendrie as well – Gary Speed got in the side and the midfield of Strachan, McAllister, Batty and Speed established itself and meant that my chances were going to be limited.

"Strach, I've always said, was one of the best players I've played with. Not just in terms of his ability, but his dedication and enthusiasm.

"I know a lot of people kind of questioned his move when he first came to the club and said it was for financial reasons, but it couldn't have been further from the truth.

"As big a part as Howard played off the field, Strach was the ideal guy he needed on the pitch and he pulled the side together.

"Leeds were a very big club, but very family-orientated as well and Strach played his part in that and involved everybody.

On his exit from Leeds, he added: "I'd come into the game late and it was a case of either staying there as a squad player or trying to get some first-team football, which is why I asked Howard if I could go out on loan to Notts County. But I loved my time at Leeds. "

While injury did put a dampener on the silverware season of 89-90 – and later frenzied competition in a quality midfield – Williams certainly did his bit when called upon and netted key goals in autumn victories over Watford and Tykes rivals Barnsley in the promotion season. And a championship medal more than vindicated his decision to join Leeds ahead of Eddie Gray's Hull City. Both sides were pitted in a two-way battle to sign him just over 22 years ago.

Williams, who wound down his career at Hull before playing for the likes of Guiseley, Gainsborough Trinity and Matlock Town before hanging up his boots, added: "I was going to go to Hull. Eddie Gray was there and I'd been over to see him and obviously he's such a legend and a great guy. Having spoken to him, the way he liked to play football kind of suited me.

"At the time, Rotherham were interested in a guy called Andy Saville and they (Hull) were looking to do a bit of a swap. Rotherham weren't blessed with cash and a player swap was more suitable.

"I'd already spoken to Hull and looked around before Leeds came in. It was the time when Howard had only just gone there and when Leeds show an interest, you go and talk to them, don't you!

"I think I played for Rotherham on the Tuesday night and then went to speak to Howard on the Wednesday and signed – it doesn't kind of take much to sell that sort of club to you. At the time, Leeds were towards the bottom of the (second) division, but Howard knew exactly what he wanted to do and it was great to be on board.

"It didn't work out for me properly to begin with and I was kind of in and out of the side. But then I got my chance and towards the end of that season, did quite well.

"I remember my first game, which was West Brom at home. Being from the Black Country, I'd supported West Brom all my life and I started the game on the bench.

"But after 20 or 25 minutes, someone got injured. It was a big game for us at the time, we were down at the bottom of the league and West Brom were towards the top.

"I think we ended up winning 2-1 and it was a great start for me and those games stick in your memory, especially with all the family being West Brom fans."

Injuries playing in the White jersey of United have certainly been of the high-profile variety for Williams, who even suffered an agonisingly one playing in Masters football for Leeds a few years back.

The determined schemer is now fighting fit, with friend Neil Parsley – who arrived at the club around the same time as he did – busy pestering him to don his boots again for Leeds 'old boys' this year.

He said: "About two years ago, I ruptured my cruciate ligament playing in the Masters final in Manchester, so I've not really got back to playing yet.

"I had an operation, which was fairly successful. And I've been trying to get back playing, Pars (Neil Parsley) has been ringing me up to come and play in the charity games and I hope to this year.

"I don't keep in touch with too many of the guys now, which is why I enjoyed the Masters games, when we used to swap a few old stories. I still keep in occasional touch with Dylan Kerr and bump into Mel (Sterland) and Jon Newsome sometimes.

"I used to play in an old (under) 40s league with Jon and we used to be one of the 'underage' players who could be about 30!"