Swans and Dragons: Ashley Williams
In a regular website feature, we look back at former Swansea City players who have also turned out for Wales at full international level.
Ashley Williams’ route to becoming captain of Wales and a Premier League star had an unconventional beginning.
Having been released by West Bromwich Albion at the age of 16, the defender signed for non-league Hednesford Town.
He held various jobs during his time with the Staffordshire club including working as a petrol station attendant and waiter, while he ran a show at Drayton Manor theme park during the summer months.
Williams’ first experience of playing in the Football League came in 2003, when he joined then Division Two side Stockport County.
After five years at Edgeley Park, he was loaned to the Swans until the end of the 2007-08 season and made three appearances as they secured the League One title and promotion to the Championship.
He subsequently made his move to the Liberty Stadium permanent for of around £400,000.
He instantly became a mainstay in the heart of the Swans’ backline in the second tier, missing just 78 minutes of league action across the next three seasons.
Williams qualified to play for Wales through his maternal grandfather, and made his international debut in the Dragons’ 2-0 victory over Luxembourg in March 2008.
His first international goal came against the same opponents in a 5-1 win two-and-a-half years later.
One of Williams’ undisputed career highlights came in May 2011, when the Swans beat Reading 4-2 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley to secure promotion to the Premier League for the first time.
Williams had played no fewer than 53 matches for the Swans that season, scoring three times, and missed just two games in the club’s first two years back in the top flight.
It was during the 2012-13 season that he skippered the Swans to their 5-0 victory over Bradford City in the League Cup final at Wembley, as the club collected a first piece of major silverware.
When Wales kicked off their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign away to Andorra in September 2014, Williams had already won 46 caps for his country.
He started in a 2-1 win that evening and also featured in the remaining nine group matches for Chris Coleman’s side as they booked their place at a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
Williams was an inspirational captain for Wales at Euro 2016 as they topped Group B with two victories from three matches.
Then, after the Dragons beat Northern Ireland 1-0 in the round of 16, the skipper’s header helped them to their memorable 3-1 victory over Belgium in the quarter-finals.
Coleman’s side bowed out of the tournament at the semi-final stage following a 2-0 defeat by eventual champions Portugal.
That same summer saw Williams depart the Swans for Everton after 14 goals in 352 appearances in SA1.
He had done enough during his time at the Liberty to ensure he will be remembered as one of the Swans’ finest ever defenders.
After the heroics of Euro 2016, Wales and Williams returned to competitive action with a 4-0 victory over Moldova the following September.
However, a run of five straight draws in Group D would prove to be costly as a 1-0 defeat against the Republic of Ireland in their final match meant Coleman’s men missed out on the top two places.
Williams is still going strong for Wales as they build towards Euro 2020.