CHEER LOYAL SON
From the 1933 grand final on this super fan has had the Bloods running through his veins, writes Neil Neil Cordy Cordy
THERE are fanatical supporters, the guys you see decked out in war paint, waving their flags with maniacal grins on their faces. Then there’s Kenny Williams — as synonymous with the Swans as Bob Skilton, Adam Goodes and Warwick Capper’s short shorts.
Williams was one of the 75,754 fans who attended South Melbourne’s 1933 grand final victory over Richmond, cheering on the likes of club greats Bob Pratt and Laurie Nash.
It took another 72 years before the Swans tasted premiership success again, but this time Williams was at the heart of celebration, leading them in one of the loudest renditions of “cheer, cheer, the red and the white” ever heard in the bowels of the MCG.
He was back again in 2012, roaring his lungs out as Swans players grinned from ear to ear after victory over Hawthorn.
Having turned 89 this month, time may be slowing the Swans’ most passionate fan but, like any ageing veteran of the game, he still desperately craves one more flag.
The part-time drink mixer and full-time Swans fanatic thinks this group of talented players should snare one more flag to secure their legacy.
“I’m like Bob Skilton, we both want one more (premiership),” Williams said. “I hope we can get one. We were stiff a couple of years ago against the Bulldogs. This might be the team, we’ve got some good young blokes and you only need a few of them. You don’t need a lot, just some good ones.”
Williams has seen some very good ones over the years.
He was there when Tony Lockett kicked 10 against the Swans playing for St Kilda in 1994.
Williams rose to fame when Plugger tried to take his head off with a low kick from the goal square.
It was aimed in his direction when he sat in his usual spot in the front row of the Noble Stand.
When the big bloke switched to the Swans in 1995, they became instant friends. Lockett changed everything for Sydney and now Lance Franklin is doing the same.
Williams grew up in Port Melbourne and when he wasn’t supporting the Swans he rode track work at Flemington. He mixed with plenty of colourful personalities at the track but few could match his remarkable family history.
His father was half Cherokee Native American and an American serviceman who jumped ship to be with his mother in the late 1920s.
Williams had two siblings, a sister who died in infancy and a brother who died in the 1970s.
He thought he was an orphan but in 1999 his daughter Diane discovered he had 15 brothers and sisters living in Louisville, Kentucky. He celebrated his 70th birthday with a reunion in the US in 2000 and was thrilled to find they shared his love of horses and were involved in the racing industry.
Williams moved to Sydney in 1949, with the Swans following him in 1983. He entrenched himself with the team in the early 1990s when Ron Barassi asked him to come and help out.
“He said ‘come on Kenny, why don’t you get off your arse and do some work’,” Williams said.
“I ran water and whatever else the club wanted me to do. When Rocket Eade came along, he looked after me and took us from the bottom to the grand final in 1996. He started me singing the victory song.”
He’s led the chorus at every home win since with the exception of one match in Eade’s first season.
“This day, the Swans had won but they weren’t very good,” Williams said. “Rocket said to me, ‘Kenny, don’t worry about coming into the rooms we’re not going to sing the song’. He was right because they were awful.”
Williams’ wife Yvonne has also played a key role with the Swans, hosting dinners for generations of players. Like his children and grandchildren, Williams loves all Swans players equally but there a couple more ‘equal’ than others.
“I don’t have favourites but Paul Kelly and Wayne Schwass were two of the nicest people you could meet,” Williams said. “I’ve been involved all these years and have been treated very well by the club. Yvonne and I were made life members in 2000. I’ve seen some good players come and go.
“When Wayne retired, he wrote me a nice letter and gave me his boots after his last game.”
Ken Williams leads the celebrations after the 2012 grand final and (below) at the SCG on Friday night. Pictures: Alex Coppel, Phil Hillyard