He may play in League Two but Williams is a perfect fit with Wales

By Ian Herbert



dmg media (UK)


World Cup 2022

BY THE law of averages, Jonny Williams would have been facing Crewe Alexandra in League Two yesterday though he was instead on a coach to Wales’ World Cup training ground, reminiscing with Gareth Bale about the European Championship journey they made together six years ago. Williams was plagued by doubts and, by his own admission, felt his head was ‘all over the place after’ when he found himself out of football and a free agent a few years ago. He had to drop two divisions to Swindon Town to rebuild things and get back into the squad, as one of eight survivors of the school of 2016. The story the 29-year-old told of how he first won a place in the national ranks — impressing Under 15s coach Osian Roberts with a performance in an U15s North Wales v South Wales trial game in teeming rain — revealed the narrow margins between success and failure. ‘A young lad broke his leg on that day and I remember that as a terrible injury,’ said Williams. ‘It was pouring down with rain on a boggy pitch in Newtown and I remember getting back in the car with my dad. I thought I had done all right.’ Williams has had his own troubles, with a string of loan deals and a move to Cardiff City which did not work out, before rediscovering his love of the sport at Swindon. No player has scored more club goals this season than his six in 17 games. That has been a source of ribaldry between him, Bale and the others out here. ‘It is more me taking the p*** out of myself. They will just say it is in League Two!’ he said. Williams symbolises the huge gulf in backgrounds between the stellar players of Rob Page’s team — Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen — and the lesser lights. But the esprit de corps is unmistakable and Bale is the one binding them together. It is the lack of elitism in him that they all talk about. Many of this squad still recall Bale sitting beside the reserve goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams, an Inverness Caledonian Thistle player and keen guitarist, as he strummed away in the dressing room after one training session in 2016. Wales could not re-capture the spirit of 2016 at last summer’s Euros but this first World Cup appearance since 1958 seems to carry all the same magic of six years ago. ‘It’s a feeling that we’ve done the Euros so what’s the next step we can take,’ said defender Ben Davies. ‘By reaching the World Cup and to have the chance of doing something special, that’s a feeling which is difficult to describe.’ The unknown quantity for Page is what Bale, Ramsey and Allen can actually deliver when none of the team’s Holy Trinity has played much football this season. Allen appeared only briefly at an open training session today and will not feature against the USA, having not played since September 17 because of a hamstring injury. Manager Page has compared Allen’s inclusion to that of Joe Ledley coming on as a substitute in the 2016 Euros opener against Slovakia just 35 days after breaking a bone in his leg. But Ledley warned yesterday that his own situation was different. ‘They picked me when I was a doubt, but I had more preparation than Joe has had,’ said the midfielder, who will be in Qatar as a Wales supporter this time. Williams said he believes this is a better group than the 2016 vintage who beat Belgium in the quarterfinals before defeat by Portugal. ‘I still feel like the squad is stronger now as a whole if you look at the full squad now,’ he said. ‘The ability of some of the substitutes is a lot more and competition for some of the starting places is tougher now. Williams will be trying to get to watch Swindon’s game at Crewe on the ifollow app. ‘The bus leaves at half six and the game starts at six,’ he said. ‘We might have finished training by then and I might be in the corner watching it.’