|Born just around the corner from Maine Road, Alex Williams was a
goalkeeper who signed for his local club Manchester City in 1979. After
gaining England youth honours he made his first team debut aged just 19
on March 14th 1981 in a 2-1 home win over West Bromwich Albion, thus
becoming the first black goalkeeper to appear in the top flight of
English football. He made one more appearance that term and a further
three the following season, having to be content as understudy to
England international Joe Corrigan.
It wasn't until the 1982-83
season that he got a decent run in the side, making six appearances
during September and October, and when USA-bound Corrigan left the club
the following March Williams was promoted to number one choice.
Unfortunately City were toiling in the relegation zone by that stage,
manager John Bond having resigned, and with six of the next nine games
ending in defeat a point was needed from the last game of the season at
home to Luton Town to ensure survival, but a disastrous 1-0 defeat
condemned the Blues to relegation.
Under new manager Billy
McNeill the 1983/84 season saw the likeable Williams firmly in
possession of the goalkeeper's jersey, but the expected drive for
promotion at the first attempt ran out of steam towards the end of the
season. Despite early exits in round three of both cup competitions, to
Blackpool and Aston Villa respectively, the Blues were joint-top of the
table with Newcastle in February. However a disastrous two months saw an
eventual fourth place finish, just out of the promotion places. On a
personal level Alex had been an ever-present all season for his club,
and during the summer went on to become a member of the England Under-21
side that lifted the 1984 European Championship trophy with a 3-0
aggregate victory over Spain. He had already become a firm favourite
with the City fans, but it was during this time that he became a regular
target for racial abuse from opposing supporters, although the genial
giant shrugged it all off and blamed it on his proximity to the crowd!
1984/85 campaign got off to a poor start with one win in the first five
games and it looked like an uphill struggle once more, but in a three
month spell between September and December Williams kept clean sheets in
nine out of fourteen league games to push City up the table. With
defeats in the FA Cup to Coventry (1-2) and the League Cup to Chelsea
(1-4), a period of inconsistency then followed, and by the time Charlton
Athletic arrived at Maine Road for the final game of the season the
Blues needed a win to achieve promotion. A resounding 5-1 victory
eventually made sure they went up in third place on goal difference over
Portsmouth. Once again Alex had played in every league and cup game of
the season and his 21 clean sheets in 42 league games was the second
best ever recorded by a City keeper.
Despite playing in the first
eight games of the 1985/86 season Williams was suffering with a toe
injury, and after a 3-0 loss at home to Manchester United in the derby
match on September 14th he lost his place to Eric Nixon. Sadly for Alex
this was to prove his last game for the club after playing in 102
consecutive league games between March 1983 and September 1985, as he
was to suffer a bad fall and injury to his spine in a reserve team match
when he was on the road to recovery. After struggling to regain full
fitness he was sent out on loan to Queen of the South for a brief period
before he was eventually allowed to leave Maine Road in November 1986
when he was transferred to Port Vale. He had made a total of 125 league
and cup appearances for the Blues but after only one full season with
Vale he was forced to quit the game with serious back problems at the
age of only 25.
Fortunately his services were not lost to the
game. The respect in which he was held led to him being appointed
Community Officer at Port Vale, which in turn led to him returning to
Manchester City two years later as a key figure in the club's Football
in the Community scheme. He was such a success in the role that in 2002
he was awarded the MBE in the New Year's Honours list for his services
to young people. (David Redshaw)
Years Team Games
1980–1986 Manchester City 125 (0)
1986 Queen of the South 5 (0)
1986–1987 Port Vale 35 (0)
Total 165 games
Williams returned to Port Vale in July 1988 as the community programme officer
but departed in January 1990 to take up a similar role at Manchester City.
He then worked as the Executive Manager of City in the Community, Manchester City's community programme.
Williams was awarded the MBE in the 2002 New Years Honours list for his services to young people.