Callum Williams: From taking on Ravel Morrison and Phil Jones to lifting the title in Iceland

Callum Williams was there for the lot. From the Champions League semi-finals, to administration, from the points deductions, to the relegations and that was before his senior career had even started.

“It was a great experience for me to be involved with and learn my trade at such a big club. I was there for such a long time so I saw the ups and the downs.”

Williams is recalling his time growing up in the Leeds United academy. The talented defender saw it all during his time with the Yorkshire club and even now at the age of 27, thousands of miles away from his former club, he still remembers the early days which prepared him so well for the future.

“I’m making myself sound old here but those were the days when the young players had to clean boots for the first team players so I spent every morning for a year pumping about 40 balls up and taking out cones, poles and ladders to their pitch.

“Things like that kept you grounded and instilled a work ethic within you. Certain standards were expected and if they were not reached or maintained then you would definitely know about it.”

His time at his boyhood club also saw him take to the pitch with some of the best players to have played for Leeds in recent years, including two who felt the wrath of first team manager at the time, Simon Grayson.

“I was at Leeds with Fabian Delph, he was on another level to a lot of the guys there even when he was so young. I remember him just going through people in training, his will to win was something I’d never come across before.

“Brad Johnson and Rob Snodgrass would also stand out above most. I think they were in the gaffer’s bad books for a few months because of a prank they pulled and so he’d bombed them off to play with the reserves and train with the youth team and they were both class.”

“I’ll always remember playing against Ravel Morrison too. This guy looked like he couldn’t care less but was still the best player on the pitch and would just cruise past people without even trying, unbelievable.

“I never like playing against Jose Baxter at Everton, he was a nasty one, but some player too. Phil Jones at Blackburn was always a beast as well!”

Williams during his time at Leeds

Training with the likes of Delph and Snodgrass would be as good as it got for Williams at Leeds, however, as the defender soon switched his attention to education. Having combined his time at Leeds with a BTEC diploma in sport, Williams was also deputy head boy at his school so his education was well in order. After leaving Leeds in 2010, he headed for Loughborough University.

After three years, the Yorkshireman graduated with a degree in Sports and Exercise and also played for the university’s football first team, one of the best university sides in the country. It wasn’t to be the end of his studying however, as he soon made the move Stateside to attend the Southern New Hampshire University in 2013.

“The move to the States came after I graduated from university,” he says. “It was something that I had thought about before going to uni in England but looking back it was a good decision.

“It was on a scholarship and again I loved it out there. The lifestyle was fantastic, training every day. The seriousness that was placed upon the student-athletes out there in the NCAA system made it feel like a professional environment.

“I was lucky enough to be part of a successful team out there. We won a national championship (NCAA Division II) in my first year there which was a great experience.”

After a year in New Hampshire, Williams returned home where his footballing career took a step back as he focused on working and apart from the occasional five-a-side game with a group of friends, he had no real ambition to get back into the game.

That was until a friend from his time in America offered him an opportunity he was all too glad to accept, even though he never expected the chance to last as long as it has.

“I met an Icelandic guy whilst I was out in the States,” he recalls. “He’d grown up in Yorkshire so we became very close and we stayed in touch after I’d moved back home.

“I had little interest in the work I was doing at the time and so one day we were chatting and he said just go over for a week and see what it’s like and here I am three years later!

“I honesty hadn’t considered even staying longer than the week. I played 45 minutes for them with some of the kids and then had a few sessions and they asked me to stay.”

The move was a big change for Williams who had become resigned to working for the NHS Trust back at home in Leeds, not that he was disappointed to leave.

“I was more than happy to go back to work and tell them I was quitting!

“It took a little while to adjust but I was relishing the change having spent the last few months behind a desk so it was great to get back onto the pitch on a daily basis.”

The team the former Leeds man had agreed to join was Knattspyrnufélag Akureyrar, known as KA. He joined the side for the 2015 season and at the time, they were in the second tier, having last played in the top flight in 2004.

Playing for KA

He became a regular in his first season with the club, making 25 appearances in all competitions as his side narrowly missed out on promotion. Despite that, it was a successful season for Williams and no doubt his ease at adjusting to life off the pitch helped him.

“I’m quite comfortable being away from home these days so that’s really not a problem. University in both England and the States helped prepare me for that.

“I actually live in the family home of my best mate who I met in the States, so I’m never alone which is great.

“The lifestyle here is enjoyable, there’s a very laid back attitude to life which suits my personality very well and it’s such a beautiful country.  I have attempted to learn the language but it is incredibly difficult. I can understand most things these days but do not speak it as well as I can understand it.

“They don’t hate a drink over here as well, which is great as I’ve been known to enjoy a shandy every once in a while!”

In his next season with KA, he saw less time on the pitch but his side managed to go one further than the previous season and secure the second division title, known as the 1. Delid, and earn promotion to the top flight, the Úrvalsdeild.

Last season he returned to his regular spot in defence as he made another twenty appearances and he has continued that this season, although the Icelandic season is currently only a few games in.

“There has been a definite increase in quality since the promotion,” he says. “Every week now it’s a difficult test in an extremely physical league. Barring a few teams who do like to try and play out from the back, the style of football can be direct with an emphasis on winning second balls.”

Now in his fourth season in Iceland, the 27-year-old can count himself as one of the lucky ones who have managed to carve out a career in football despite being cut from a professional club during their youth.

“I really would recommend playing abroad to young English players. It was never something that I considered whilst in the academy bubble but as I’ve moved on and experienced new countries and cultures I think it’s made me a more rounded individual.

“I’d tell players that being released by an English club at the age of 16 or 18 is not the end of the world, personally I think it’s the best thing that happened to me.

“There are so many opportunities out there to be taken, whether that be further pursuing a professional avenue or even an educational one like myself.”

Akureyrarvöllur, the home of KA

For now though, Williams has his own career to focus on as KA look to improve on their mid-table finish last season. His time at the Icelandic club has also seen him play alongside fellow Englishman Archange Nkumu who spent nine years with Chelsea as a youngster.

As for what he wants to do when his time in Iceland is over, his attention turns to a hot subject already discussed.

“In the future, I would love to be involved in working with young footballers who are unsure about what life holds for them if professional football does not work out.

“I think that more has to be done by clubs in England especially with their young players to educate them. Too often they are released after many years of being associated with a club without a proper education or understanding of the real world.

“I would like to get involved with the educational aspect of the game and perhaps work with an organisation such as the LFE to help young players back home.”

Williams comes across as a very well educated footballer and the wisdom he could potentially pass on could prove to be invaluable for future English players abroad.

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