Matt Healey continues the series.
Andy Williams was born in Hereford on the 14th August 1986. As a youngster he started playing football for Herefordshire village side Wellington. From there he played as a schoolboy at Aston Villa alongside Gary Cahill and Jamie Ward. He then moved to Birmingham City and Cheltenham Town, but hadn’t physically matured and this was affecting his football.
Williams told me “I was 15, but still tiny, my dad is 6ft 3 and I think the clubs back then thought I would have a growth spurt, but it didn’t happen, so I came back to Hereford and played with my mates and joined up with the Hereford United under 18’s which was connected to Holme Lacy college, the team was jointly run by my dad Colin and former Hereford player Gary Stevens. This was around 2003 and Richard O’Kelly (Hereford Coach) started to take an interest in us”
O’Kelly is currently working at Premier League Aston Villa and Williams acknowledges his influence early in his career “Richard invested a lot of time in me and I then started training once a week with the first team. I ended up signing my first professional contract and remember us losing to Aldershot on penalties in the Play Offs”
The 2004/2005 would be his first season as a professional footballer “I hardly featured. I played a couple of games in the GLS Cup and made my league debut as a sub against Northwich, but the majority of that era I was travelling to all the games and basically learning my trade. I was still having to clean the boots and help prepare meals on the team coach”
The 2005/2006 season would be his breakthrough as a player, but it took a couple of months to get going “The strikers at the time were Guy Ipoua, Adam Stansfield, Daniel Carey-Bertram, Graham Evans and myself”
Williams continued “Ipoua and Stansfield got injured at the start, but Matt Bailey was bought in on loan from Crewe. I found it frustrating as every time I felt I was getting close to the first team somebody else would come in. It happened the season before when Leroy Williams joined on loan from Walsall, what a character he was, but I just had to be patient”
Williams made his first appearance of the 2005/2006 campaign coming on as a sub against Accrington in a 2-1 defeat on the 7th October 2005. He continued to make sub appearances, then made his first start in a 1-0 FA Cup 1st round win away at Cambridge City on the 5th November 2005. The following week he scored his first league goal in a 4-0 hammering over Woking “I loved my first goal, it was down the Blackfriars end. the goalkeeper was Shwan Jalal, it was a great feeling scoring, I had my family sat in the Merton Stand and I celebrated accordingly”
Williams scored the following week in a 1-0 away win at Dagenham & Redbridge “That was a strange goal. It was an absolute sitter from about two yards out that I missed, luckily the ball came back off the post and I slotted the rebound in”
Williams would then swap between playing as a striker, or as a right winger “It was the early stages of my career, so I just wanted to play football. I was more comfortable up front, I wasn’t great defensively. I had that greedy mentality and wanted to score goals”
The goals continued for Williams. He scored in the 2-1 home win against Aldershot on the 21st February 2006.
He also scored in the 2-0 win live on SKY against Stevenage on the 27th February 2006.
Hereford would reach the Nationwide Conference Play Offs for the 3rd season in a row. The Bulls would face Morecambe in the Semi Final. The first leg was played away at Christie Park.
“I don’t remember too much about the 1st leg, I was still quite young and felt like a rabbit in the headlights at times, we got a 1-1 draw and it was all to play for in the 2nd leg at Edgar Street”
Edgar Street was packed as Graham Turner’s men hoped to make it 3rd time lucky and reach the final, the previous two seasons the club had been knocked out at the same stage by Aldershot Town and Stevenage respectively.
“It was the biggest crowd I had played in at the time. Tamika Mkandawire put us ahead, then they equalised, but I then put us 2-1 ahead. I felt like the king of Edgar Street when I scored my goal. It was a good goal. I kept the ball close to me, produced a bit of skill and slotted it into the corner”
Morecambe pulled it back to 2-2, but super sub Guy Ipoua won it for Hereford in extra time.
“Those were great days “I had some of my friends running on to the pitch at the final whistle. The celebrations were brilliant”
Nine days after being Morecambe. Hereford would head to the Walkers Stadium in Leicester to face Halifax Town for a place in the Football League. Williams very nearly didn’t make the team.
“I had a little knock leading up to the final. I had jarred my knee. It was a major worry as I didn’t want to miss out, Graham Turner took us away for a day or two to train and get away from it all, he wanted to relax us. The injury cleared up and I was in the starting eleven”
Williams was in awe of the stadium “It felt huge, the changing rooms were massive, we bought so many fans, but the ground was still half empty. The Hereford fans made so much noise”
Halifax took the lead through Lewis Killeen, but shortly afterwards Williams equalised for the Bulls “Adam Stansfield was brilliant, he was on the wing and he whipped in a great ball. I flew in with the diving header and we were back to 1-1. I remember Tamika (Mkandawire) and Purds (Rob Purdie) jumping on me in the celebrations”
Former Bull John Grant put Halifax 2-1 ahead in the 73rd minute. It seemed as if Hereford would fail again. A couple of minutes later Williams was substituted “I regret now having a bit of a sulk when I came off. I so wanted to score in front of the Hereford fans, but Graham Turner knew what he was doing and on came Guy Ipoua”
Before we get to the next bit I asked Williams what Ipoua was like.
“Very experienced player, he was extremely vocal, which you could see when he was shouting for me to come off, he could be a frustrating at times to watch, but he was a class act. Back then I was probably a bit intimidated by him, but he wasn’t the type of player to chase lost causes, he was near the end of his career and was saving his energy”
Minutes later Simon Travis whipped in a seductive cross and Ipoua headed him the equaliser. The game went to extra time and Hereford won it with a goal from Ryan Green.
On the 3rd May 1997 Hereford United were relegated from the Football League, 20th May 2006 Hereford United were back in the Football League. The party was legendary.
“We went out in the city that night still wearing our tracksuits. Looking back you take days like that for granted, we were able to celebrate with our fans , I’ve recently had two promotions with Northampton Town and Cheltenham Town with no fans and I’ve missed proper celebrations, those were amazing memories at Hereford “
Hereford United were now a Football League club and preparing for the 2006/2007 season “A few days later we met up in the gym and the retained list was announced, it bought home the highs and lows of football as the likes of Jamie Pitman, Craig Mawson and Tony James all departed, but that’s the brutality of football”
Williams would play the majority of the 2006/2007 season on the right wing. Tim Sills and Stuart Fleetwood would lead the attack. He scored his first goal of the campaign in a 3-1 win over Hartlepool on the 26th August 2006.
I was comfortable in League Two. We really kicked on when John Eustace and Neil MacKenzie came in on loan. Eustace was a Championship player at Stoke City and doing his rehab with us. He would always find me with his through balls” Williams scored a brace in a 2-1 away at Swindon Town on the 4th November 2006.
Williams then contracted Glandular Fever and was out of the team for a few weeks. Around that time he nearly moved to League Two rivals Bristol Rovers.
“It just showed back then how good Graham Turner was, he invited me in to see him and told me Bristol Rovers had put in a bid for me. Graham told me that they were a massive club and I needed to talk to them. I wasn’t really interested, they were below us in the league at the time, but me and my dad went down there for talks. Graham told me it would be good for my football development to speak to them”
Williams continues ” I showed how naive I was then, as I didn’t even have an agent. I met the management team of Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence, they told me they were going to have a new stadium built and a new training ground, they offered me an incredible deal which blew me away, but I turned them down. Lennie Lawrence was flabbergasted, but I was happy at Hereford and didn’t see it as a good move for me at the time”
Williams returned to Hereford and scored a wonder goal in a 2-2 draw at Bury on the 30th January 2007. “I was back in the side and showed plenty of emotion when I celebrated”
Hereford then were just outside the play offs and looking to make a late surge for promotion, unfortunately from the start of March they would go on an horrific run and slid down the table “It was a really frustrating end, we just couldn’t score goals, we weren’t going to go down, but the season faded away, we beat Boston United 3-0 near the end and those were the only goals we scored for two months”
Williams would depart from Edgar Street that summer “Bristol Rovers had gone on a fantastic run and won promotion via the Play Offs, they were now in League One, they signed me for a six figure sum and it was now a step up for me”
I asked Williams if being a local boy influenced his decision to move away “Yes, at times I thought if things were going badly it’s always the local lad that gets the brunt of the blame, I was 20 and needed to go alone. I had to move out from home and do my own cooking and cleaning. I was now physically filled out and moving to Bristol would be good for me”
One of the main reasons for Williams’ physical change was because of the Hereford fitness coach Tony Ford “In my first season as a professional I was still skinny and hadn’t filled out, but every Wednesday on my day off I would get the train to Birmingham to Fordy’s dungeon of a gym. It was full of Mr Olympia weightlifters. He set me a programme and changed my diet. He persuaded Graham (Turner) to invest in weight equipment, so we were then able to train at the club and the hard work paid dividends”
Williams had a good start to his career at Bristol Rovers. I scored a couple of goals early on, but the fans didn’t seem to take to me, the following season I was back at Edgar Street on loan. The previous season Hereford had won promotion to League One and were now in the same league as Rovers.
I asked Williams how the move came about “I was in the 2nd year of a three year contract and watched Rovers beat Hereford 6-1 early on that season. Rickie Lambert scored a hat trick, we had Jo Kuffour and Daryl Duffy who were strikers in the squad and I knew my first team chances would be restricted. Paul Trollope took me aside and said that Hereford and Cheltenham Town had come in for me on loan until January. Trollope told me that Cheltenham would be a better option as it would be a fresh start, but I wanted to go back to Hereford”
Unfortunately Hereford were struggling near the bottom “It had always been success for me at Hereford, but now it was totally different, I kept getting injured which didn’t help and the supporters and me were getting frustrated. When we got to January my loan was up and I could have gone to another club, but I wanted to stay at Hereford, so we renewed it till the end of the season, but frustratingly I was still getting injured. I only scored two goals for the club that season”
One of these was in a 2-1 defeat against Northampton on the 25th April 2009.
Williams then went back to Bristol Rovers and fought for his place in the team. I did well in my final year and the supporters seemed to appreciate my efforts. I was offered a new contract but on reduced terms, so I joined Yeovil Town”
Williams returned to Edgar Street on the 12th November 2011 as a Yeovil player in an FA Cup 1st round tie. He scored the 2nd goal in a 3-0 win. “I didn’t really want to celebrate against my old club, but I did, the back story was a few weeks earlier Hereford had got rid of the old youth setup, the club was unrecognizable from the days of Graham Turner, my dad and Gary Stevens had been replaced and a new regime had come in. Graham Turner had done such a great job. In 2009 the club was in League One, five years later they were in the Southern League and liquidated”
Williams later played for Swindon Town, Doncaster Rovers, Northampton Town and is currently at Cheltenham Town and won promotion to League One this week.
“Im 34 now and still enjoy it, I’ve got a contract for next season and I have my best scoring record in League One. I’m still one of the fittest players at the club. I pass all the physical attribute tests. When I started as a player there was still a bit of a drinking culture around. That’s changed a lot and players are a lot more into their fitness and some are able to play until their early 40’s. Im good friends with James Coppinger who is still playing for Doncaster at 40. There is also Kevin Ellison as well at Newport who is 42. As long as I have that heart and drive I will keep playing”
Hereford FC face Hornchurch on the 22nd May 2021 in the FA Trophy final. Williams played with the current Hereford manager Josh Gowling at Edgar Street during the 2008/2009 season when Gowling was on loan from Carlisle United.
“That’s my only link to the current club. I went to the Vase final in 2016 as my brother in law Joe Tumelty played. I’m hoping Hereford win. I got on really well with Josh when we played at Edgar Street, he’s doing a great job, especially when the phoenix club had that blip for a couple of seasons. Who knows what he could have achieved if the season hadn’t been expunged. Josh was a cool and calm centre back, a bit like Tony James, he’s not a shouter or a ranter, he has the philosophical approach and I’m delighted for what he has done for Hereford”
*Photos supplied by Ellie Woolstenholmes, MH Archive, Bulls News and Cheltenham Town