The Game Changers

Fara Williams: Extraordinary success in the face of adversity

August 04, 2023 Sue Anstiss Season 14
The Game Changers
Fara Williams: Extraordinary success in the face of adversity
Show Notes Transcript

To celebrate the Football World Cup we’re re-releasing episodes of The Game Changers podcast with incredible trailblazing women in football.

With 172 appearances for her country, Fara Williams is the most capped player in the history of English football. 

Fara shares her experience of being homeless as a young player, and how she went on to have an extraordinary 20-year career. Fara talks about her plans for the future and her hopes for the future of the women's game, having recently announced her retirement from professional football.

Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.

Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here: https://www.fearlesswomen.co.uk/thegamechangers

Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media

A Fearless Women production

FARA WILLIAMS: 

Fara Williams (-1h -1m -0s):
I think for me, it has to be my home debut for England. We played at Portsmouth and it was literally an hour down the way from where I lived. So, in terms of family and friends, really being allowed to come and watch and support, I had great support there. There has to be, and I scored on my debut, my home debut. So yeah, I think for all of those different reasons, that has to be the standout. And that was the start of my journey in terms of my international career. So, it will always be the one that will be right up there in terms of being my favourite.

Sue Anstiss (30s):
That's a good answer as well. Because you don't have to pick a team or anybody else... show any favouritism. [Both Laugh] And had you ever imagined that you would play for your country when you were growing up?

Fara Williams (41s):
No. And you know what, even women's football in general. I literally knew nothing about women's football. I had two brothers and a sister that were keen footballers and we, you know, growing up on an estate, in Battersea, it was literally what we did every single day. You got a ball and we were out there playing, my uncle, my aunties were out there with us. And, you know, kids in general on an estate, it was probably the in-thing to do. And so I just played and fell in love with football. Big Chelsea fan. And so it was going to the games and, yeah, it wasn't until, I can't remember, there was one game, and I can't remember how many years ago, cause I'm quite old now, but it was England against Scotland. It was at Bolton. And I remember Angie Banks scoring a goal for England and that was the first time I'd ever like seen an England women's team live on TV.

Fara Williams (1m 22s):
So it was on Sky at the time and I was like, "Oh, there's an England women's team." Not that then even that game, although I saw it, I never thought about playing for England. But it certainly opened my eyes up, into thinking that potentially there might be at some point a career in a women's game. So it was that game. But as a youngster, I never had any aspirations to be an England player or a footballer in general. I just loved playing football.

Sue Anstiss (1m 44s):
That's really interesting. We should go and find out what that game was, that kind of first set the ball rolling as it were.

Fara Williams (1m 49s):
Yeah.

Sue Anstiss (1m 50s):
You obviously went on to become England's most capped player. You've mentioned so male or female. So did it feel as magic putting that shirt on each time as you moved throughout your career?

Fara Williams (2m 1s):
Yeah, I mean, every single time I put the shirt on, and more each time I put it on, I think if you ask any players, you know, past, present, that I've played with, alongside playing for England, I think, you know, they can only tell you what it means to me to play for England to represent them. I think I tried to demonstrate that as much as I could when I put that shirt on in every game and that we all have good and bad games and in different games, but certainly not through the will or want of trying my hardest every time I wore it. And yeah, I wore it with great pride and sort of very last moment of wearing that shirt against Australia for 10 minutes. So I remember every single match as if it was my first and never took for granted the position I was in, in terms of getting selected.

Fara Williams (2m 41s):
And you ask anybody that knows me, every time there was a tournament or selection, I'd be the first one doubting myself as to whether I'd get a letter or it started as a letter years ago. And then it turned to emails and it was the phone calls. So yeah, I mean, I'd panicked every time, "I'm not going to be selected. Is this the time I miss out?" So yeah, I certainly kept myself on my toes in terms of that.

Sue Anstiss (2m 60s):
And taking this back to where it all began, which you mentioned, I believe you used to go and watch Chelsea, as you say, with your family. So what do you remember from those days?

Fara Williams (3m 9s):
You know, the first game we played Luton and it was 3-3. I remember Kerry Dixon, an old player, striker of Chelsea. But yeah, that was probably my first game I remember for Chelsea, but then yeah, the generation of Dennis Wises, you think Jody Morris, I'm trying to think, Frank Sinclair, Michael Duberry, they were like our defenders at the time, which, you know, two of the Blues Brothers, that we used to call them and yeah. And then the generations changed in terms of who we watched and we got, you know, started to get some former players in and the likes of Ruud, Hewlett and Zola and Viali. So yeah, I mean, I was a mad, crazy Chelsea fan and every week returning from a home fixture, I'd run back. So literally it was 20 minutes over the bridge in terms of walking to the game. And it'd probably be five minutes returning from the game because once you watch it, you just want to get out in the cage.

Fara Williams (3m 51s):
And me and my brothers would literally run from the stadium all the way back to where we lived on the estate...

Sue Anstiss (3m 56s):
I love that.

Fara Williams (3m 57s):
And whoever had done well that day, in the cage, that was the player you were that day. And, you know, and pretty much everybody, whether they were at the game or watched it, they would know who had done well for goals. And yeah, we all tried to, I guess my roommate, who we just thought had done well in that game. So yeah, it was real cool.

Sue Anstiss (4m 13s):
And how did you then come to play for the club?

Fara Williams (4m 16s):
And, yeah, luckily I was at a Chelsea game and in the program there was like, literally, it must've been this minute, a little advertisement. Chelsea were looking for some players for their U14s. Yeah. And I decided to, I think it was my uncle, he rang and asked where the trials were, how to get there. Got some brief details, which, you know, as a kid, when you're excited to have a trial for the team that you support, I probably didn't listen to the finer details. And I remember going to the trials. And I got myself to Morden, how to get to Morden station. They said, when you get to Morden station, you take the 164 and it pretty much takes you to this field.

Fara Williams (4m 56s):
And as I said, I didn't listen to the small details and I took a 163 bus. [Sue Laughs] It took me somewhere else. Anyway, I ended up having to get off this bus and walk an hour, you know, to the field. And I ended up getting there. I think it was maybe half an hour before the end of the three hour trial.

Sue Anstiss (5m 12s):
Oh, my...

Fara Williams (5m 12s):
Luckily I impressed because they chose me. Casey Stoney was there at the time. She was observing as somebody that was a common player. Yeah. They asked me who I'd played for. I was like nobody. And they took me on. And it was, yeah, surprisingly, they did. But I guess I never doubted my talent when I went there. I didn't need, I feel I didn't need that much time.

Sue Anstiss (5m 31s):
That was fantastic. So that whole bus journey. It could have changed the whole of your career path. If you haven't gone to the trials.

Fara Williams (5m 38s):
I was thinking this bus journey is forever. And I was like, I can't see this field. They said it was 10 minutes from the, you know, the tube station. And yeah. And that was a difficult, I mean, I grew up in a family, my mom, she brought four of us up. And so in terms of getting us from A to B, you know. And it was a lot easier and more trusted to travel in terms of the, you know, London transport, you know, you were trusted as young adults to go in and get on the transport. So yeah, I very much did that in terms of going to school. So I was already used to getting on London transport. But yeah, it was difficult because obviously if she was able to take me, then I'd probably gotten there on time.

Sue Anstiss (6m 10s):
Only 12. Were you 12 at that time?

Fara Williams (6m 12s):
Yeah. Yeah, 12.

Sue Anstiss (6m 13s):
Wow. That change in attitudes in sense of moving ourselves around and transport and so on. And I guess as you then progressed and developed, what was it like walking on the pitch at Stanford Bridge as a player then, having been in the crowd in the past?

Fara Williams (6m 28s):
Yeah, I did it as a, I did it for Chelsea, but only in like a small side, like a mini-tournament. So I actually got to play for Chelsea, at Stanford bridge, but only in a small sided tournament, but yeah, unbelievable. Surreal, I guess. It was more nervy. I went back there maybe for years ago now, as a celeb and yeah, just got, I was so nervous. I was like, why am I so nervous? Like I'm meeting like a bunch of girls that like, you know that, but yeah, it was just nervy, but yeah, it's, you know, apart from Wembley, it's the one ground that I would say, people used to say, what's the best ground you played at? It has to be Stanford Bridge.

Sue Anstiss (7m 3s):
Excellent. Excellent. And how did the coaching, that early coaching you received, impact the way you played throughout your career, do you think?

Fara Williams (7m 9s):
Yeah, I mean, in terms of actually getting coached, really young, I probably wasn't coaching. We went there, we did a little bit of small drills. It was more facilitating us and putting us into matches and literally giving us an opportunity to play. So back then I think the best thing about my mom, being a coach now, myself with younger players, I think the best thing now, when I reflect on my younger days is that my mom wasn't always there to watch games and training. But what my mom always did was ask me how training and games went. So she was always allowed to see and hear it from my point of view. And so there was never any bad when I'm telling mom how well I did in training. So in terms of my development and allowing to be, allowed to make mistakes without being criticised, and, you know, I've seen and heard kids in that car journey home with parents that, you know, they can be quite critical of them.

Fara Williams (7m 57s):
They are so young. And that's your development stage of when you're learning and mistakes you're going to make quite often until you find your way. So that's why I think as an adult, you know, as a senior player, making mistakes was never something I was scared of. Because I was allowed freedom to do it so young, without being judged by my coaches at the time, or as I say, parent, because she wasn't there that much to watch me. And I just told her, how good I was every time I went home. [Both Laugh]

Sue Anstiss (8m 23s):
I love that. That's real, isn't it. And I know you've talked a lot in the past about your kind of history and you've received an MBA for your charity work, but it does still astound me that you faced years of homelessness and living in hostels, when you were playing for Chelsea and then Charlton. So can you just tell me a little bit more about what happened there?

Fara Williams (8m 42s):
Yeah, I mean, it was just, you know, it was a family breakdown. I was a stubborn teenager, as most people are. Yeah. Ended up, you know, in a hostel and I was stubborn. I thought I knew better. I thought I could attack the big, bad world and it wouldn't be something I would ever advise to young, you know, teenagers and, you know, there's family breakdowns in everywhere, in life. It happens all the time, but you start to grow as an adult and you think, you know, and you don't want to listen to mom's experiences of life and, or even, or dad or grandma or whatever, sister, brothers. And you choose your own path. And yeah, I mean, it definitely wouldn't be something I'd encourage. And it probably lasted longer than it would have needed to just from pure stubbornness, but it taught me loads of lessons.

Fara Williams (9m 25s):
I grew up as a young woman, into an adult. And had to grow up quite quickly. I had to learn how to cook, clean, wash. So all of those life skills that you need, I kind of got really early and grew from it. I think it makes me the person I am today. So I wouldn't change any of my journey, but yeah. And I wouldn't say it was difficult because I've always been, you know, my mom's brought me up really well and I'm really appreciative of anything that I have anyway. So just having that roof over my head, you know, being able to go back somewhere and eat. And as I say, I have a roof and a TV, it was all fine. It was fine. And I could wash. I was well looked after. So yeah, I don't, I just see it as a small hurdle in my journey and in my footballing journey.

Fara Williams (10m 5s):
But certainly it's something that has shaped me into the person I am today.

Sue Anstiss (10m 9s):
And the work that you're doing now with [inaudible] and other charities and things, do you think it's important that we change those perceptions as you say, it could happen to anybody through losing jobs and houses and family right down. Do you think it's important that we change that perception in terms of homelessness?

Fara Williams (10m 25s):
Yeah. And it changed my perception because, you know, as a kid, all you knew about homelessness was what you would be classed as the trumps on the street, you know, and that's what we used to call them, very disrespectfully. You know, we all did, and that's all we knew, you know. They're scavenging from bins because that's all they knew. And you don't know why or how they got into that position. And we are very judgmental. Me, as a kid growing up very ignorant to it, like most of us are. But as you say, it's, you know, from being homeless and speaking through people that have been. There are business people that have lost their business, that have become homeless because they can't afford, you know, to no longer pay the mortgage. They lose their house. They lose everything. So you know what, it can happen to anybody. And it was an eye-opener to me in terms of, you know, coming home with myself.

Fara Williams (11m 7s):
But yeah, there's, I think the wider perception a bit, they certainly need to open up our eyes to it. And it's certainly the youth homelessness is the one that worries me the most because it is, I think it's maybe over 80% of it is through family breakdown. And that's a difficulty in trying to understand and try, and there are some really good, you know, homeless groups out there that really try and get young adults to get back in with their families, rebuild, you know, broken relationships and get them back, you know, in safe home environment, where they should be able to grow and obviously work and have a future. But yeah, there is some great work going on out there, but as you say, the wider perception of it is, certainly it needs to change because it's not, you know, it's not just an alcoholic that is homeless.

Fara Williams (11m 56s):
And if you read deeper into it, sometimes these people that look as if they're our colleagues, turn to alcohol, when they become homeless, because they know no different. They try and numb pain and, you know, addiction becomes part of the pain and so they think they can mask it. So there's, you can go really deep into it. And, you know, if you've got time and you really want interest in it, then if you were to go in and volunteer, which is what I did early on with the homelessness in Liverpool, you find out different stories. And it's certainly opened, as I said, my eyes up to what homelessness is.

Sue Anstiss (12m 27s):
And I think that you mentioned that communication, isn't that in terms of family breakdown, but I've seen some of the help lines that are there available now to almost help rebuild those bridges that perhaps didn't happen for you over years, it might have, might have been different if that had been around at the time.

Fara Williams (12m 43s):
Yeah, definitely. And I say that I did. There is one charity, think it's in Birmingham, not sure, I can't remember exactly where they do that and they get people. And the amount of stories that, you know, I had opportunity to go up and speak to a couple of girls that ended up in this hostel or temporary accommodation, whilst they were fixing a broken relationship with mom and dad and people within the household. It's fantastic because honestly, you're too young to attack the world at 16 and 17 and 18 even, you know, 20, it's a tough world out there. It's not easy to live alone. I mean, especially if you live in London, certainly in London in terms of house prices or even rental prices, you know, and that's why people do end up on the street.

Fara Williams (13m 23s):
But yeah, there are, as I say, some really good charities out there that are really trying hard to rebuild those bridges that, you know, have been burned a little bit in the past.

Sue Anstiss (13m 32s):
And how important for you was football at that time? Clearly it was, but what, how did that help you at the time?

Fara Williams (13m 39s):
Yeah crucial. So I think football has been my ally. I think even before being homeless, football, you know, was an hour for me, anything happening at home bad, anything happening bad in school, anything, you know, in life that I was fearful of or whatever, I just got football and was able to go and get my football and take whether it be frustration, or even when in happy times I still wanted to go to the football. It was the one thing that was loyal to me. And I was loyal to the football, I guess, like loyal to each other, I had it all at a time for anything that, you know, whenever I needed it. And I was just able to just pick up my football and go and do what I needed to do to just distract me from many things and everything.

Sue Anstiss (14m 18s):
And I guess what's probably even more extraordinary is in that time you were also playing for England. And I, let me think about, or even imagine someone like David Beckham or Wayne Rooney, you know, secretly being homeless, but playing on the England team, it's just obviously clearly unbelievable. But did that inequality ever strike you?

Fara Williams (14m 35s):
No, I mean, in terms of ever comparing, you know, people have asked that after. You know, could you imagine if it was David, but like you just said, and I never compared men and women's football back then. And I kind of, you know, my first steps into football was, I never ever thought that I would be famous, a professional footballer, like the men. I never ever compared. I loved it for what it gave to me and enjoyment I got through doing it. So I never thought of it like that. I mean, don't get me wrong. I think that the FA at the time was really helpful to me. Hope Powell, you know, in particular was really helpful to me. And so I was just grateful for those, you know, those people there that was hands-on with me in terms of always checking in, always making sure that everything was okay with me.

Fara Williams (15m 17s):
And that's more important than any money because as you say, money can come and go. We just spoke about people that, you know, you could be a millionaire and homeless tomorrow. So for me, in terms of that, just people's time and effort that they gave me in difficult moments, where I could just pick up the phone or they picked up to me, just to check in, I knew, I knew that I had good people around me. It just made me feel safe, I guess.

Sue Anstiss (15m 38s):
And I love that you recognise the women who have been supportive of you. There's a post on International Women's Day on your Instagram. So I guess who are those other women, you mentioned Hope there, that have been inspirational to you over your career?

Fara Williams (15m 50s):
Yeah, so I put up, I think if I can remember, my sister, my big sister. She's always somebody that I've always looked up to. If you have a sibling, you know, anyone, brothers, sisters that are older, you kind of always like, I want to be like my big sister. So she's always been important to me. There was my two best friends that have been there right from the beginning of my journey through football and are still there now. They played actually when we were younger, but they no longer play. So that was [inaudible] and Lauren. I put my partner on there, my current partner, my mom, who's been my hero, you know, throughout everything, in terms of her own personal life, that, you know, things that we had to see and how strong, you know, the strength that she shown us through all kinds.

Fara Williams (16m 30s):
She's the main one. Mo Marley, because she was the one that helped me escape the hostel from London and actually go up to Liverpool and be given an opportunity in terms of my coaching. I remained really loyal to her, in terms of playing. I had opportunities to disappear from Everton and go abroad, but just through her loyalty that she showed me, I felt very loyal to her until she left the club. They're the main people for me that have helped me and are still there for me and that see me for me and nothing else.

Sue Anstiss (16m 57s):
And you've obviously played, as you say, for over 20 years now. So extraordinary career. Have you changed as a player? Do you feel you've changed as a player over that time?

Fara Williams (17m 6s):
I think I've learned. I think I've learned tactically over the years. And so my understanding of football has certainly improved. I think technically I've got better in my later years, especially in the last four years, with Reading, with a coach there, Phil, who, you know, technically has taught me a lot, but I think I've always been the same player in terms of like, you know, you'd have some players in football that, you know, performance is just about them. Whereas I've always put the team before my own individual performance. So long as, you know, even if I have an absolute stinker, as disappointed as I would be, if the team, if it was the right thing for the team and you know, my poor performance didn't reflect the outcome of the game, then I'd be happy. So I'd always put the team before my own individual needs as a player.

Sue Anstiss (17m 48s):
Yeah, it's interesting. That is, I guess, that's a culture, your own view that stay with you for the whole of your playing career. I was going to ask actually about Reading. And you said that you kind of moved there to help improve your game and whether, I guess many people who have played as long as you would be surprised that you were still looking to improve your game after so long, but clearly as you say, you feel it has done. Do you ever think what sort of player you might have been if you'd had that level of technical coaching from when you got started as a young girl?

Fara Williams (18m 14s):
Yeah. You know what, especially in these last four years, because they are the, you know, I think pretty much in the women's game, we've had real good tactical coaches throughout my career. Puts real good game plans. And sometimes we fell short a little bit with our technical execution and that's just because the game hasn't been professional. We haven't had qualified coaches that we've made really help that detail. But certain these last four years, I mean, I left the house and we're having, in my head my plan was to go to Arsenal and finish my career there. You know, I was, I think I was 30, I can't remember, 32, maybe when I signed for them. So I thought two year contract, and then I'm tired and done, but yeah, I really didn't enjoy my time there, not, you know, for many different reasons.

Fara Williams (18m 56s):
And so because of that, I wanted to go somewhere, where I could finish my career, where I would enjoy the game and not the game like I've always done throughout. And Reading was the team that, when we played against them for Arsenal, it excited me in terms of how they tried to play, not with the highest caliber of players, but in terms of what they got out of the caliber of players they had, showed me, they must be, you know, the coaching strategies must be good. And then when I had the conversation with them and the coach said he's excited to make me get better. And he thinks that they can improve me in areas. And you're 33, listening to somebody telling you they can improve you when you think you're coming to the end. I was like, I like this opportunity. I really want to learn. And actually they didn't disappoint.

Fara Williams (19m 36s):
I think in the last, you know, three, four seasons that I've had at Reading, I've certainly improved as a player and as a person. So that they were true to their word. I ask them that. And I've said that to anybody, that's asked me about the club, that the coaching is really of a higher high technical level.

Sue Anstiss (19m 52s):
That's so good to hear isn't it. And I guess, do you carry that now over into some of the, you're obviously doing your own coaching, are you a very different coach, as you are to a player, on the pitch or do you have a different persona?

Fara Williams (20m 4s):
A little bit, a little bit. I think it's difficult because you still, whilst I'm playing, I still have that kind of, you know, competitor, that player, that mindset where the standards are really high, and sometimes you forget the level of players that you're coaching. So I still have those higher demands and standards that I'm sure will flip as I turn into a coach and kind of start to understand people a little bit better, but yeah. There are certainly some things there that my preferences is probably what I coach more of. So as a player, what I prefer, data type of sessions, I'd probably gravitate toward more so than any other.

Sue Anstiss (20m 36s):
And it must've been really upsetting for you when Phil Neville didn't choose you for the World Cup squad in 2019. So how did you feel about that decision at the time?

Fara Williams (20m 47s):
Listen, I was gutted that I didn't get selected. But what I did was prepared myself for that, because it was, so the selection was around May, 2019 May, 2019 selection. But in 2018 in October, I remember receiving the call from Phil to say that I wasn't being selected for the final qualification game. He just said to me, he felt that my form had dipped and I wasn't playing at the levels that I would expect for myself. And it was an opportunity for him to look at some younger players. And I just said, okay, thank you. And put the phone down. Didn't challenge it. And as the person that I am, and that's what I'm saying, I always put people before myself. I would never challenge a manager or a coach in their decisions. I'd like to think that I would understand why, or if not, it's your decision and it's about opinions for both.

Fara Williams (21m 29s):
So I was disappointed at the time because I felt his reasoning was really poor. You know, at the time I was probably in the form of my life, I was scoring goals. I was assistant. I was probably over 50% of Readings, you know, in terms of goals and assessed, I was over 50% in terms of stats for our club. So I got into team of the month, that month, that he actually dropped me. So there was loads of things that I was thinking, actually, your reasoning wasn't good. You know, I didn't agree with reasoning. I accept your decision, but I don't agree with your reasoning. I don't never challenge them. Then the next time I spoke to Phil was when he told me I wasn't playing. I wasn't selected. And it wasn't because I wanted to speak to him. He asked me after telling the media that spoke to me, he asked me, could he call me?

Fara Williams (22m 12s):
And so I said, yep. And then he called me and explained why he didn't take me again, which I didn't agree. I thought it was more to do with my age rather than anything. I felt I had a place in that squad. You know, you're taking a 20, 21, 23 plus I think it was 23 players squad. And I'd been to seven previous tournaments. And I had vast experience of international football and tournament football and had the know-how. And even if he wasn't to play me, I still felt I would have had an impact of the pitch in terms of the experiences I had at that moment. And, you know, it was his first year or 18 months into the squad. So I thought I had a place. I mean, listen, he'll have his reasons. I'll have my beliefs as to why I felt he didn't pick me and that's football and it's opinions.

Fara Williams (22m 53s):
And listen, I'm somebody that was accepting of that, whether I agreed or I didn't, and that's how I've always played out my career. You know, even at the times that I asked no one, and when I reflect and ask, well, I didn't deserve to play. I didn't deserve to play. I had a lot going on off the pitch and, you know, as much as I fell out with the coach, he was also writing his decisions at times. And I can accept that because I'm a player that likes to understand tactics. And there's times that tactics... Listen sometimes coaches play me in a game when the tactics don't actually suit my attributes. And that's probably because they know in moments I could probably deliver something different to somebody else. So I think that's just because of my awareness of the game and understanding of the game. I'm somebody that likes to, or easy to accept decisions, because I know it's about opinions and there's no opinion that's right.

Fara Williams (23m 38s):
But the person in charge at that moment.

Sue Anstiss (23m 41s):
And did you ever think about sort of lobbying to, to go along in some kind of non-playing role in terms of coaching or... Cause I do feel, as you say, you have all that experience and someone like you could have had such an impact.

Fara Williams (23m 51s):
I mean, I was guided. I was you know. But no, I don't think Phil would have considered me as somebody that would. I mean, he didn't consider me as somebody that had experience that could have helped. I think, I mean his reason you know, he said that he didn't want somebody that has achieved what I have to sit there on the bench. But I mean, I would have preferred for him to ask me, "Do you not think, even though I don't see you as somebody that can impact the game from the start..." I would like to have thought that he might've asked, "Do you think you can impact as a squad player and have that sort of impact?" But I never got the opportunity to. And yeah, I prepared for it. As I said, I got told in October that I wouldn't go into that one camp and I knew from then the opportunity to go to a World Cup when you're getting dropped to, I think I was 36 at the time or 35.

Fara Williams (24m 35s):
35 it was that I'm not going to be picked again. So I knew that the one time I didn't get picked at that age, there wasn't gonna be an opportunity again. The funny thing was he picked me again after the World Cup, just to prove his point that he would pick me again and that it wasn't my last chance. And then it was, because that was the last camp I ever went to. So yeah.

Sue Anstiss (24m 52s):
And then what do you think... I guess looking forward, what do you think the impact could be for kind of home Euros for Women's football in the UK in 2022?

Fara Williams (25m 0s):
I think with the media, with the buy-in from the BBC and Sky at the minute, I think that's massive for the women's game in terms of really giving it a platform that you know, it's worked hard to get in terms of showcasing the game. So there's been a lot of work has gone on over the years and even before my time, during and there will be after I think that will definitely help. In terms of the personnel that we have -players- you know, I would like to think we have high hopes of winning the home Euros in terms of the caliber of player and the talent within this England group at the minute. In terms of results and where the group looks at right now. I'm not sure that Sarina will have enough time to turn that team around. Me, more than anybody would like to think that she did it with Holland and took them really late and went to home Euros with them.

Fara Williams (25m 48s):
My hope is that she's able to do exactly the same with our group of players when she takes us in September, because she is a fantastic coach. She's a no nonsense coach that is just, you know, quite straight talking, very intelligent in terms of knowledge of the game, very experienced in terms of her playing. So you know, I'm excited. When she was appointed, it was a shock because of how good of a coach I see her to be and I just didn't think that she'd leave, you know, the Dutch team to come to England. So we're lucky to have her. I'm hoping that she can transition real quick and has a really quick turn around, but something needs to change. I think the culture- We need to get the culture that we created. I think we need to get that back, you know? From an outsider looking in, I think we've lost a little bit of the good culture that was created there.

Fara Williams (26m 30s):
And whether that be through Phil's time or through the inconsistencies of different managers. It probably hasn't helped with the, you know, players being consistent and keeping standards and et cetera consistent. So yeah, I see a bright future, in terms of, your question, for this England team and I hope that in the short time that she has, we can have you know, a really good medal in Euros.

Sue Anstiss (26m 52s):
Excellent. Yeah. And your career has pretty much tracked the professional women's football, really, when you look back. So aside from being paid to play, which is obviously huge, what are the other changes you've seen from when you joined Chelsea at 12

Fara Williams (27m 7s):
Lots. There's so much. There's, you know, if you think about sports science in the game now, so in terms of the athleticism it's certainly- that's where the game's gone. There's that change. Diet and nutrition. I think people are more aware of what they should be fuelling themselves with. The recovery. I mean I remember we used to get people, if you went down, with a bucket and a sponge. So in terms of having physio's that probably, you know? You wouldn't play on with a broken leg, we would probably pull you out. The standard of coaching is improving. It's still got a way to go, I believe. But in terms of that, that's certainly improved the tactical side. The coaching is there. I think we need a little bit more the technical side in a women's game just because we missed it, but that's certainly there.

Fara Williams (27m 48s):
The facilities. The fact that you can go into a bathroom. It sounds really petty but you can go to a bathroom now or a changing room and there's you know, stuff that females can put their stuff that they need in. In the men's toilet that we used to have to go in, they didn't consider that. And so there was that. There's so many fans. We have people coming to watch, media attention... So there's lots of really positive changes and yeah, long may it continue and continue to grow at the right speed so that we don't get ahead of ourselves. And, you know, like the American league did for so many years, it kept collapsing and, and hopefully we can just steadily progress and, yeah.

Sue Anstiss (28m 26s):
Interesting, really interesting. And I guess it's such a different experience isn't now for those girls turning up to play in academies. So do you think they appreciate the changes that players like you have seen across that time?

Fara Williams (28m 38s):
It's hard because you know what? It's not even like I get asked this and you know, "You're not jealous or what?" You know what? I'm not. My only thing would be, to players that now have what we didn't have starting out is take advantage of it. That's all I would ask for the players that are coming into the women's game into a professional game, take advantage of every opportunity you have, because we didn't have that. The questions out there: how far could female athletes, not just football athletes go with the right resources. Now our game is starting to have all of the resources that they need to make themselves that 1% better. And I'm not saying you're going to be- that everyone's going to be an international footballer, but every day you can get yourself that little bit better, little bit better.

Fara Williams (29m 20s):
And you know, for me, I just hope with how the- where the game is and how it's gone, these players that have now got the opportunity that, you know, I didn't, when I started out and players before me paved the way for me to where I am now. Just grab that opportunity with both hands and that's all I ask. And that is what would make me happy. Seeing an England team be successful in the future and sustain it. Not just a one-off tournament, but, you know, sustain it. And, and I think the FA and the female clubs are trying their utmost most to make sure that they have the right resources to make players better every day. And they just hope that they grab that opportunity.

Sue Anstiss (29m 56s):
Excellent. And how important do you think it is for young girls now to see those role models of strong, powerful, successful female footballers and female athletes generally?

Fara Williams (30m 5s):
Yeah, and I think it's really important as I said. You know, growing up, I only watched Chelsea men. I didn't know they had a female team. I didn't know anything about female. You know, what Denise Lewis was probably the only female that I can remember, you know, watching in athletics that I can really remember. And is it Sally Gunnell? Is that...

Sue Anstiss (30m 21s):
Sally Gunnell, yeah.

Fara Williams (30m 23s):
Yeah, they were the two female athletes that I could only remember. So if I think about myself growing up, they were the only two females that were standouts that, you know, every...

Sue Anstiss (30m 32s):
Yeah

Fara Williams (30m 32s):
...every four years that you know, that they'd be there and you'd be rooting them on. But yeah, there was no one for me in terms of wanting to be an athlete growing up. But yeah, it's great that as I say, it's more visual for the young players, whether that be through like internet, whether it be through TV, whether it be through radio, whether it be through newspapers, they have those visuals now. So there's more connections in terms of, you know, the kid growing up, the more females that you're able to see, it obviously makes you believe there's an opportunity for you. You know, even in media, you know, I don't ever remember a female media traveling with the England team. It was always Tony Layton at the time was the one guy that, you know, was the stand out name and the other member traveling for England games and reporting on the England games.

Fara Williams (31m 17s):
But it's great to see so many different females in different...

Sue Anstiss (31m 20s):
roles

Fara Williams (31m 21s):
...roles et cetera, in football or not even just sport, but just in general, you get to see it. And I think, you know, it's important that young females get to see that.

Sue Anstiss (31m 29s):
Excellent. And earlier this year, you faced another significant challenge when you were diagnosed with a kidney disorder. So can you tell us a little bit about that and how did you discover that you were so ill?

Fara Williams (31m 41s):
Through weight. No, I was, so it was, so I literally, I had an operation in February, you know what, we've missed a year, haven't we? So February, 2000 and...

Sue Anstiss (31m 52s):
I keep doing that. I've lost track of every year.

Fara Williams (31m 55s):
Yeah, last year, February 2020, I had an operation on a hip injury that I got and it wasn't long after that. So I was in recovery from that and I was training and I was at the latest stage of my recovery and I was, you know, really pushing on in terms of running. And I remember there was a couple of sessions I did with our physio, obviously social distance. I was meeting him in a park and we was trying to do a bit, cause football had been stopped in terms of the female football. And I remember coming home and I was in bed and I was like, Oh, my Achilles is really swollen. And I take pictures. And then when she saw me the next day, she was like, I can't touch you, but it doesn't look like anything, you know, muscle injuries is, and then I'd go home again and it would be swollen. And I started to notice my face kept swelling, but I thought it was, you know, hay fever and stuff.

Fara Williams (32m 36s):
My hands had been swelling for a good couple of months. Off my walks I was going on, you know, we did in lockdown only walks and it wasn't until I went on the treadmill in my garden, I was at, I was on the treadmill. And as I'm really struggling to breathe, I was finding a session harder than normal. And my legs were just rubbing together. And I got really annoyed. I jumped off the treadmill and I said, look, I said to my partner, I'm going to go for a walk. I take them where we had our niece over at the time. And I said, and I'll take her to the park. And she's only got a little scoot. And I remember her asking me, can I hold you? And I said, why am I so breathless? Again, I didn't, I'm somebody that even if I'm in pain, I have a really high threshold. And I don't like to admit that I'm in, or I don't take any medication except Paracetamol, nothing.

Fara Williams (33m 17s):
I come back and you know, I want a bath and I've got in it and it wasn't too long in the bath I started, my stomach area and pubic area was really swollen. That's why I panicked. I was like, this isn't normal, you know, like go out. And I took a couple of photos. Rang my physio, sent her the picture. She must've thought, what are you sending me? And I was like, look, I'm really swollen. Like what is it? And she was like, I think you should go to A&E. And obviously COVID, I might, but I don't want to. Called my doctor. And I'd never, you know, the doctor was new at the club and I'd never spoken to him before. And I rang him and all he kept saying to me was, you know, your neck swollen and press your legs. And I'm like, as I said, this time, my sole focus was my belly is out here.

Fara Williams (33m 59s):
I don't care about my legs, my hands... I'm like, and I was just trying to explain what was going on. I rang the hospital and they delayed, they called back. And there was like, we need to come into A&E like, you need to get yourself to the hospital. And so I did. And the next day they just did a urine and they noticed in the urine, there was, I was making loads of protein. And so they said, I think you've got this nephrotic syndrome. I think it's your kidneys that are leaking the protein into your body. And I went a few days later to get a kidney biopsy and was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome. But the funny thing about it was the doctor had never met me before, ran off with him, was like, you know, this girl, she sounds like a real [inaudible].

Fara Williams (34m 41s):
You just completely got it wrong. This one player, if anyone, is definitely not like that. So it was quite funny that off me, because it is cool. I probably did sound like that a little bit. Cause I, as I said, I literally slept like this in terms of, I sat up the whole night to sleep because when I laid flat, I guess I was swollen all over. So I guess yeah, in terms of breathing became really difficult, there was a little bit of fluid on the tissues around the lungs, but not actually on the line. And that was just because of the leakage of the protein. So I know that I must've, there must've been, I was like about eight kilos over my normal weight. So yeah, it was yeah. A lot of fluid.

Sue Anstiss (35m 20s):
And how long do they think you'd had that for then? Has that been coming on over time or?

Fara Williams (35m 25s):
They don't know that. I did ask the consultant. It's not like, what is it like, you know, they was trying to explain it all to me. I mean, he said it, he thinks it could have been through some sort of infection. I don't know. But I mean, in terms of like, naturally, we only leak five grams of protein into our urine. I was leaking 930 grams of protein. It was literally, he just explained it like a colindar, you know, like, where you are like your pasta's supposed to stay in and your water drains'.e Basically he explained it like the pasta was just falling through with it. And so yeah, blood count was really low and yeah, it was, it was scary times, but yeah.

Sue Anstiss (36m 2s):
And so you had treatment, so did you carry on playing?

Fara Williams (36m 6s):
Well, yeah, well, I tried, well, I couldn't at first I was on the highest dose of steroids you can be on. And so my immune system in terms of like being around people was really low. I was, you know, I got tonsillitis and I was picking up little- silly little illnesses just because I was, I guess I was really ill at the time. It wasn't till I got to the halfway point in terms of my medication that I was allowed to join the team and yeah, stupidly the competitor, the attitude that I've always, my mom's always embedded in me is that, you know, work is work. You have to turn up to work if you're ill, but you're able, you've got to go and, and football is work and, you know, I was ill, but I was able, I felt able, even if I was, you know, 40% able, I was, I was able.

Fara Williams (36m 47s):
And so I tried to, yeah, I tried to fight it and, and go, and, and on reflection, I would never advise anybody to try and do that. And I would never do that again, myself and even, you know, reflecting with my manager, I was like, you know, I wish you took me out of it because I would never, you know, I play on injuries and, you know, I get tears in my hamstrings or quads or, and I'm like, "Nope, just strap it and I'll play. Just strap it and I'll play." But with an illness, it was, it was different. You know, it was really, really different. And I just wish that I wasn't able to pull myself out. And I think, you know, people that know me. And I know my manager knows me really well. She probably knew that as well, but also knew how important football was to me in terms of how many, you know, when I mentioned obstacles that I've gone through in the past that, you know, football has been my go-to, I think that on her reflection was that I know that you've always needed football and it's always been there through good and bad.

Fara Williams (37m 34s):
And so she tried to keep it there for me, but I wish she'd just said, look, you can't play. But hindsight's a wonderful thing. And on reflection, we both said that I wouldn't advise anybody to, but even now though, you know, people say, are you okay? I say, yes, because if you asked me how I felt a year ago to today, I feel 10 times better. But in terms of feeling a hundred percent in terms of myself, I'm probably at like 70% in terms of how...

Sue Anstiss (37m 60s):
Right

Fara Williams (37m 60s):
...obviously I've the weight's gone and I'm back to my normal self and I'm running, but yeah, just day to day, you know, like I get like fog vision and brain fog or whatever. I kind of like, I'm a little bit like, yeah, but not every day. And there's days I feel really weak. Even still. Now I'm trying to build muscle and finding it really difficult. So it has had a longer term impact.

Sue Anstiss (38m 20s):
Yeah

Fara Williams (38m 20s):
But they tell me to be patient because I was on meds for seven months and I've only been off of them for two and a half months. And then, you know, it will take time to rebuild.

Sue Anstiss (38m 30s):
It's long.

Fara Williams (38m 30s):
But then I'm so impatient. I don't want time to be building, I want to go harm, you know, put in the work and wanting it to come and it's difficult.

Sue Anstiss (38m 38s):
And what was the long-term prognosis, then that they should be able to eventually you should be in remission and you'll be okay?

Fara Williams (38m 45s):
Well, yeah, I'm in remission now. And you continue, I will continuously go back and get checks. I am due back in maybe four weeks from now. Yeah. And it's one of those that you can relapse at any point. People that spoke to me in the past about it have relapsed. Some people have had kidney transplants, so there's loads of different things. I mean, I'm like this thinking it's a one-off and it's never going to come back and hopefully that's the case, but yeah, it's one of those that they don't actually know whether you could be in remission for 10-15 years and relapsed. So there could be something that comes back, hopefully it never does.

Sue Anstiss (39m 18s):
Hopefully not. Hopefully not. And you mentioned your partner and obviously she's been hugely supportive for you during this time. And I love your Instagram posts together. You're, I guess, through the podcast, we featured many incredible LGBTQ+ females who are athletes on the podcast in the past. So for you personally, how important is that, that you can be your authentic self on social media?

Fara Williams (39m 39s):
Yeah. I mean, I'm somebody I'm saying I'm quite open. I don't really, I don't fight for any, you know, I don't fight for LGBT and all, but I'm quite open in terms of not being ashamed of who I am. I probably should do, or my platform could probably do more. But in terms of just being able to accept who I am and put it out there, it's something that I guess when I was younger, you kind of hide a little bit, you don't want to admit that, I guess you're gay to people because you don't want to be judged, but it's just something that I think I've learned to accept. Yeah. And I'm able to just share it. And I don't really, I mean, people around me are very supportive of it and always have been and never judged me on that.

Fara Williams (40m 20s):
We can laugh about it sometimes and whatever else, but yeah, I'm not somebody that shouts about it, but I'm certainly not somebody to hide who I am and I'm accepted for that, which is for the people that I care about. So I don't care about anybody else. Yeah.

Sue Anstiss (40m 33s):
Fantastic actually. That's right. I guess that's one of the positives on social media on Instagram that you can share that and normalise. Yeah. Fantastic. Your relationship there. So I guess in terms of challenges, you have faced challenges throughout your career, and you've talked about resilience. Where do you think that resilience comes from? Is that something you've built up over time? Or is that something you think you've always had since you were a child?

Fara Williams (40m 55s):
Yeah. I think I've had this since, I think I've had to be resilient as a child. I think seeing it in my mum, I think my mom's the most resilient as I say, strongest, shows strength in abundance. So I think, yeah, I think it's certainly something that has grown with me through different challenges in life. Yeah. And I've always tried to remain, you know, mentally tough and it's helped me in many ways, but it's also, you know, has been in terms of mental toughness has probably been my, in terms of not being able to express sometimes how I feel and not being able to let people see the vulnerability in me. And that's just because as I say that when my mum was vulnerable, she was made, I see strength.

Fara Williams (41m 36s):
And so through vulnerabilities, I've always tried to show that I'm strong, whether I'm weak anyway inside. So yeah. It was something that I guess she embedded in me and just from seeing, doing, but yeah, it's also, you know, I'm glad now I can show vulnerability, because for many years I couldn't and I had this real thick barrier wall in front of me, which probably didn't help me. It did in terms of sport because you need to be resilient and you need to be, you know, strong. And it's those that are resilient and mentally tough, that really do stay at the top and get to the top because it's, you know, there's so many challenges in sport or in life that, you know, without that you don't get that far. So it's helped me in that. But in terms of other things outside of sport, it's probably been a real downfall of mine, not being able to be open and leaving, you know, that wall there for people and not allow them in.

Sue Anstiss (42m 23s):
Interesting. Yeah. That balance on both sides. And I heard you on BBC 5, live commentating on alliances this week and see you on TV too. So I was just wondering, I was thinking it was time, but how does it feel to commentate on England and those players that, you know, and you're not playing yourself? Is that something that you you've really enjoyed?

Fara Williams (42m 41s):
Yeah, I enjoy it because I like talking football. I love, football is what I love, whether I'm talking about it, play in it, coach in it, teaching it. I mean, some people find it more difficult. I'm just talking as a neutral, when I'm talking about the, I have no personal feelings towards any of those individuals when I'm, or the team as a whole, when I'm talking about it, I just try and give an honest reflection of what I'm seeing and I'll stand by that. And, you know, people would judge me for that. And that's absolutely fine because as I said, very early on in our podcast is that football is about opinions. And I'm just sharing more I'm seeing and feeling from a player point of view that is, you know, trying to, or is doing some sort of transition into sort of media and talking football. And it's expected. I think some people sit on the fence sometimes because they played to those players before, but I actually enjoy talking football and I'll try and be as honest as I can.

Fara Williams (43m 29s):
And I'll be true to who I am and what I think. But yeah, I do enjoy it more radio than TV I'm saying I'd like to be able to, you know, TV to talk women's football and be confident with that, who knows.

Sue Anstiss (43m 41s):
Is that something you're looking at for the future, you'd like to see more of that in the future?

Fara Williams (43m 47s):
I'd love to talk about football. Yeah. I mean, as I say, a coach in media, if there's mediocrity, I mean, look, in growing up media opportunities when, whenever there for females that I didn't ever think about those opportunities. So I've always boxed myself off to just coaching. I'm going to be a coach because I love football and I love sharing. But if there's opportunities that I don't, there's not really much difference in media talking football, then if is coaching it in terms of just being able to articulate your words differently in both settings. But yeah, I'd like to, you know, if given the opportunity, I wouldn't rule it out.

Sue Anstiss (44m 18s):
Do you ever imagine a time in your future when football won't be a part of your life? So whether it's coaching or it's commentary or whatever you're doing, do you think it will always be football for you?

Fara Williams (44m 28s):
I think it would always be football and I fall in love with it, but yeah. Yeah. I think it'll always be there.