Mr Sunday football to step down

Rob Garratt After helping to found the Norwich Sunday League 50 years ago and running it ever since, Alan Williams has more than earned the title of 'Mr Sunday Football'. But the season just ended was his last in the pivotal role of secretary of the league. ROB GARRATT spoke to him about his life in football.

Rob Garratt

After helping to found the Norwich Sunday League 50 years ago and running it ever since, Alan Williams has more than earned the title of 'Mr Sunday Football'.

But the season just ended was his last in the pivotal role of secretary of the league. ROB GARRATT spoke to him about his life in football.

Few people would believe it, but on the eve of his 14th birthday Alan Williams had barely kicked a football.

Spending his early teens in Derbyshire, the young Mr Williams had never had a chance to play the beautiful game, and says he had never given it a second thought.

Little did he know he would spend the bulk of his free waking hours for the next six decades devoted to the national game.

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Every week more than 1,000 amateur footballers don their team's shirt and head out to pitches and parks across the city and beyond to compete in the Evening News Norwich Sunday League.

With over 100 teams across nine divisions, it literally touches thousands of people's lives on a weekly basis.

But it might never have been without the drive of Mr Williams and a few others, who despite great opposition within the football establishment set up the league in 1958 - and has played an integral role in running it ever since, most notably as secretary for the last 27 years.

After being born in Great Yarmouth in 1932 and moving to Norwich in his infancy, the Williams family relocated to Derbyshire when his father was posted there during the war.

Alan had barely kicked a ball until he returned to Norwich a month shy of his 14th birthday and enrolled in the old Avenue Road School where within his two years he became captain of the school's football team, awakening a passion in him that is still burning bright more than 60 years later.

“I don't know what appealed to me,” he said. “When I was 14 I had no knowledge about football because there was none going on in Derbyshire - but when I came back to Norwich something just took me.”

Straight from school at 16 he joined accountancy firm Culley and Co, based on Princes Street, now Pete Marrick McLintock, and after two year's national service, starting at 18, he stayed with the company 43 years until retirement.

Within a few years of signing up he established the company's first football club, working as its secretary, manager and a player.

The team played friendlies against other local teams for five years until in 1958 Mr Williams played an integral role in setting up the first Norwich and District Sunday League, the same institution still running today.

He said: “We set up the league because we felt that in those days there was interest in playing football and a lot of teams in the local area playing friendly games.”

One of his proudest memories came in 1961 when he became one of the first amateurs to play at Carrow Road when he guided Culley and Co to victory of the Norfolk Sunday Senior Cup, beating Unity 4-2.

Hanging up his own boots at the age of 35, Mr Williams kept up his administrative roles with the club for many years, and meanwhile pursued a path as a referee.

But Sundays are just half the weekend - and Mr Williams also kept himself busy with the Saturday York Athletic Side, which he ran from 1954 until its demise in 1981. “A great club, a sporting one at that” remembers Alan. “I was playing and running two clubs for 27 years - that's how mad I got in those days.”

He also served as chairman of Norfolk County FA from 1998-2001, and has been a match day co-ordinator and chairman of the monthly commission. His work for them has earned him the title of Lifetime Vice President.

What it is then that has kept Alan going all these years?

“Dedication,” he says. “And a love of the game. I have been involved all these years, Saturday and Sunday. I keep myself fit, I go to a health club three times a week.

“Every week I used to take the whole team's kit home and wash it - in those days we did those things. These days you will find it difficult to get volunteers.”

Mr Williams has received numerous marks of recognition for his hard work, and in 2003 received a gold medal from the FA to mark 50 years service to football.

Mr Williams never married, something he considered a sacrifice made for the time he devoted to football.

“I couldn't do all this and have a family,” he explains. “I have been so involved in doing sport.

“I go to the Greek islands on holiday, I've been going to the same island 22 years in a row. Same hotel, same everything. I am one of those people that does a long stretch of things. I've been going there for 22 years, I did York Athletic for 27 years, I've been doing the Sunday League for 50 years, I was at Culley and Co for 43 years - I do things for a long stretch.”

This season sees Mr Williams giving up his role of secretary with the Sunday league after taking on the role in 1981, also becoming treasurer in 1983. He says he plans to carry on as assistant secretary and treasurer for “probably one more season.”

Mr Williams added: “Football has certainly been a large part of my life but I've enjoyed being not only a player, but the part in running the Sunday League for 50 years and my 27 years with York Athletic on Saturdays.

“I'm proud of it all - although I am stepping down I'm going to be still involved but take more of a backseat.

“I've made a lot of friends thought football and its been well worth it - even now I will miss the day to day running of the Sunday League but feel I have done the right thing and will carry on giving my support to the Sunday League and the County FA.”

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To see Milton Lindsay's final Talking Football column of the season see the Evening News on Wednesday.

Name: Alan Williams

Age: 77

Lives: Newmarket Road

Favourite spot in Norwich: Football pitches on Eaton Park

Job: Retired

Role: Secretary and treasurer of Norwich Sunday League, Lifetime Vice President of Norfolk FA.