Perth Glory’s in-form striker David Williams re-lives the big moments of his career so far, including two things he learned from Ange Postecoglou at 17, becoming a cult hero in Denmark and returning home determined to inspire indigenous children to play football.
“I didn’t have blame for anyone; I just remember crying.”
David Williams was just a kid when a FIFA curveball ruled him ineligible to represent the Joeys at the U17 World Youth Championship (World Cup).
Then-Joeys coach Ange Postecoglou had taken Williams to the 2005 U20 World Cup just months prior, a decision that – unbeknownst to Postecoglou, Williams and Football Federation Australia – would deny the 17-year-old the chance to represent his nation at the tournament, despite not playing a minute at the U20 event.
“I went to two World Cups in 2005, and I wasn’t able to play in either,” Williams recalls to aleagues.com.au.
“A few days before (the U17 tournament) they came to the hotel and said: ‘You’re ineligible because you were registered for the U20 World Cup’.
“It could have been career-defining. There were a few players in (the U17 tournament) who got some big moves overseas.
“You’re playing on a world stage and you’ve got scouts from most clubs around the world watching.
“It was very, very disappointing, but I still stayed there for the duration of the tournament. During training, during the week and in between games I was there in the second XI pressing defenders. I was there learning, training but that was also hard.
“Sometimes I thought: ‘Why am I pressing? Why am I running? I just want to walk home, I don’t want to be here’. But Ange changed my mind.
“He said: ‘I don’t want you to go home’. He gave me the option, he said: ‘You can be on a flight whenever you want’ but he’d prefer if I stayed to help the team.”
Wiliams considers the butterfly effect caused by that experience for only a moment before filtering the memories through his current perspective, as a 35-year-old veteran who has forged a well-travelled career worth celebrating as he relishes a purple patch of form at Perth Glory in the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
He was a Queensland Roar debutant at 17, touted as Australia’s best prospect since Harry Kewell by then-Roar boss Miron Bleiberg.
A prolific youth international goal scorer nurtured by Postecoglou and labelled “the quickest player I have ever worked with” by the now-Tottenham Hotspur coach.
A Liverpool trialist turned cult hero at Danish club Brøndby, affectionately called “Super Dave” by the Danish fanbase.
And now, a scorer of important goals for Perth – his sixth A-Leagues club – with a message to those who may criticise the career path of an Australian journeyman forging a life out of football.
“I hear a lot of things from keyboard warriors… those little comments of: ‘He’s played for this many clubs’, they’re uneducated statements from people who don’t have a clue about what happens in people’s lives,” he says.
“I’ve been so lucky to be able to go to Hungary, to go to India, and to Wellington as a part of the A-League but still living in a different country.
“My career and decisions I made all lead back to the wife I have, the kids I have. My decisions, if they were different, I wouldn’t have what I have today. I wouldn’t change it, and I’m so happy. Look at life without football and that’s what I have – them. I couldn’t be happier.”
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Williams remembers the outside noise that came with his first taste of senior football as a teenager in Queensland.
He played just two games for Queensland Roar in his debut A-Leagues season – but before he’d kicked a ball in anger, then-coach Bleiberg ramped up the pressure on the 17-year-old he believed to be the best Australian product since Kewell – by telling the media exactly that.
Looking back now, Williams is grateful his professional debut came when it did.
“The good thing back then was there wasn’t Instagram, there wasn’t Twitter, there wasn’t easy access on your phone, reading articles,” Williams said.
“There was the odd newspaper clipping and I do remember that (comparison), purely because I was playing U17 national team and the U20 national team at the same time, scoring a lot of goals. I had a good ratio back then, so I think they would base that from there.
“But at the time I think I was also a little bit naive. I wanted to train, more so I just wanted to play. I lived and breathed football.
“I remember sleeping in my long socks, shin pads on and my boots – but waking up and mum or dad would’ve taken the boots off.
“Those were the times where, as a kid, you think: ‘This is what I want to do as my job, I want to become a professional football player’. I wasn’t blasé but I ignored the papers and the media. I was young so it was hard to keep tabs. I wasn’t at a newsagent looking at the paper.
“I remember going to the Roar as a teenager. They used to pay me 50 bucks a session to head out to Richlands (to the club’s former base). Myself and Robbie Kruse were involved and a few of the other QAS (Queensland Academy of Sport) boys. We had a really young group out there, and we were all just having fun.
“We played local football together in Brisbane and training with QAS. Robbie Kruse played for Pine Rivers and I played for another team called Pine Hills and we were fierce rivals; Queensland teammates, Roar train-on squad teammates. The upbringing of that was a bit different to what things are like these days with the youth teams and academies.”
Kruse was a part of that U17 World Cup squad with Williams in 2005; the young Roar duo were two of six players who went on to become Socceroos, along with Matthew Spiranovic, Nathan Burns, Scott Jamieson and Leigh Broxham.
The frustrations attached to that tournament in Peru are accompanied by Williams’ fond memories of working under Postecoglou.
“He’s got the same aura and presence that he had back then,” Williams says.
“He taught me two things. One was: if you lose the ball, in the first five seconds you press. The other thing was: don’t have a hot shower before a game. So I’ve taken a couple of pieces of advice from him.
“He was great to have as a coach, but you never wanted to get in a lift with him in the hotel! You either waited for the next one, or prepared yourself for a bit of awkward silence.”
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Ask any Liverpool fan about Jerzy Dudek, and they’re likely to wax lyrical about the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final, his mesmerising double save to deny AC Milan forward Andriy Shevchenko, and subsequent penalty shootout heroics in arguably the most famous final in the competition’s history.
Ask David Williams, and he’ll tell you about the time he put two goals past the Polish goalkeeper while on trial with the Reds – while on school holidays.
The memory stems from two weeks of school holidays like no other for Williams, when he trialled with Brøndby in Denmark, Club Brugge in Belgium and Liverpool to decide which club was right for him to take the plunge into European football.
“Each club was interested,” Williams said. “Liverpool did say they’d like to have me but I’d be loaned out straight away to a Spanish second division team. I was training with their reserves team and there were first-team players around who weren’t in the matchday squad that would train with us. Injured players coming back as well.
“I think we were doing five-v-five and the opposition goalkeeper was Jerzy Dudek. I remember scoring a couple of goals against him in that! And they were quite impressed.
“You go and trial somewhere, in your mind that’s the picture that you’re going to be having, that training ground, those kits, that badge. For them to say they were interested but I was going somewhere on loan I wasn’t really settled with. Brøndby, there was a really, really good feeling around that club, and that place. It was where I felt the most settled.
“I knew I was going there to develop, I never thought I was a complete player. I was always signing for the reserves team, I was never going to a club for the first team, I was still 17 at the time. But at Brøndby within six months I was in the first team anyway.
“The head coach when I first arrived was Michael Laudrup, which was a cool experience being around training with someone like him. The touches he’d have during training were amazing.
“I just remember my time at Brøndby being one of the most warming clubs I’ve ever come across. To this day, I still support them and follow them. Every time I’m in Europe I try to go to Copenhagen to get out to one of the Brøndby games and just visit the people I know and kept friendships with.”
Williams scored 12 goals in five games for Brøndby’s youth and reserve sides before making his way into the first team. The adoring home crowd sung: “Super, Super Dave” from the stands in a sign of affection for their Australian teenager – but three years into his four-year contract, a change in coach led to Williams getting pushed to the fringes of the squad, and ultimately led him back home.
“That was when I went back to the North Queensland Fury,” Williams said.
“The mighty Fury. I miss them!
“I’ve got a few tubs of merchandise. I actually got a message on Instagram the other day from someone asking for gear. I’ve got a Fury towel, a Fury flag and some other stuff there. It’s definitely something I’ll be holding on to for a while.
“I was in Townsville maybe a year ago, two years ago at the shopping centre and I saw a Fury polo shirt rolling around and I went up to the guy and said: ‘Nice polo, mate’ and he said: ‘Thanks.’ He didn’t have a clue who I was!”
These are the stories Williams has collected across a 19-year career that, following a two-season stint at the Fury, took the striker through his early 20s and into his mid-30s passing through Sydney FC, Melbourne Heart/City, Wellington Phoenix and now Perth Glory in the Isuzu UTE A-League, broken up with stints abroad in Hungary at Haladás and India with ATK and Mohun Bagan.
Williams thinks of each of those steps in his club career as chapters in a book. As one of only two indigenous Australian footballers in the Isuzu UTE A-League, he hopes he can share his story with indigenous children, to help change that statistic for the better.
“If I start going into indigenous mentoring, and goal setting for kids, I’d like them to know you’re not just restricted to your state or just Australia, you can make it overseas,” he says.
“That’s a passion of mine. My story as a player and a traveller can benefit kids and give them some inspiration to be a footballer.
“There are only two of us indigenous players in the A-League (Men): myself, and Tate Russell at Western Sydney. When I first started out there were nine to 11 of us. We could have fielded a starting XI, I think.
“For me, I just don’t like that stat, that there are two of us. Every Aboriginal player that has played in the A-League has represented Australia at some level, whether it’s Socceroos or all the way down to the Joeys. That’s a pretty good success rate. I just think: why isn’t there more?
“I would love to see more. I just feel Aboriginal kids in any sport, they’re different. They’re exciting. I don’t think there are many indigenous AFL players at the moment that are squad players. The majority are big parts of the team and sometimes the stars, they’re electric when they touch the ball and everyone gets out of their seats when they do get the ball.
“That comes down to what programs are there for the kids, what facilities, is money being invested? And yes, there’s a little bit here and there, but as an older, experienced player coming towards the end of my career – I’m not saying I’m giving up now – but in the future, it’s something I definitely feel like I can help with, and help grow that number.”
David Williams and Perth Glory are next in action on Friday, February 2 against Melbourne City at HBF Park in Perth. Click here to buy tickets today!