‘I realised how important it was. I stayed on and saw it through’
without knowing there was someone willing to lead the team as the club righted itself, it wouldn’t have been so forthcoming. He had made a pledge not to walk, and so many of the players did the same.
The morning after the news of the situation broke, as sudden as it was serious, it was Williams – not a club spokeperson or official – that went public with a statement that vowed to fight on. It didn’t point fingers, it just pointed forward.
“I had to bury a lot of feelings,” he said.
“I wasn’t angry, more just really disappointed. I’d felt we’d built a squad to at least get to the play-offs again and having worked so hard together, to see it all ripped away like that was hard because, although we weren’t doing as well as we would have liked (Merthyr were sixth and nine points off the top at the time), I honestly believe we could have achieved what we were aiming for.
“To have all that taken away was difficult to stomach, let alone what we would face to try and put it right, but it wasn’t anger and the disappointment was less about myself, it was for the supporters – who’ve been first class – and the players who I’d brought to the club. I’d felt I’d let them down.
“I did think would it be best if I walked away, but I knew that would just cause more chaos. I realised how important it was. I stayed on and saw it through.”
Yet it’s a sense of duty and belonging to Penydarren Park that hasn’t always been there for Williams.
“It wasn’t part of my thinking to be here,” he explains, 18 months into his managerial reign that came within a penalty shoot-out of a play-off final in his first full season.
“My dad, Glyn, had passed away. I still had two years on my contract at Woking but it was a tough time and I was in a bad place.
“I just wanted to come home and my reaction was to quit football. I didn’t want to play, didn’t want to be involved.
“I think I must have been home about a month and Gary Shepherd, the manager at the time, rang and asked if I fancied a game.
“I told him I wasn’t interested. No disrespect, but I didn’t need to be playing for Merthyr, I just wanted to be home.
“The calls kept coming and eventually I thought I’d just go along to training.
“All I’d known since a kid was football, it’s all I can do, it’s all I want to do. I got the love back straight away and I signed.”
Promotion followed, as did another after a spell as Steve Jenkins’ assistant before taking over in 2016.
With the club seemingly on the way up, problems emerged when the Martyrs appeared to start to get ahead of themselves off the field.
“They tried to get me to tell the players,” Williams recalls of that night.
“I wouldn’t. It wasn’t my mistake. We hadn’t overspent – in fact the budget had been slightly cut – and it wasn’t the players’ fault.”
Yet Williams rallied enough of them to stay and avoid more Cheshams.
“They’ve been amazing, some of the players,” he says. “Even the ones who left, about six or seven of them, all offered to stay for free, but they had offers from other clubs and they had to take them; they wanted to stay on the understanding the club would turn it around but I couldn’t guarantee that, at least not this season.
“I couldn’t give them that carrot.
“The ones who’ve stayed have had crazy offers from the Welsh Premier League but have all said no and want to see this through.”
All who’ve stayed have taken reduced wages, Williams targeting those from the local area, both for team spirit but also because it puts less pressure on travelling.
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