The Gunner: The Steve Williams interview
PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:59 07 March 2018
Steve Williams joined his boyhood club, Arsenal, in 1984, and enjoyed great success as a gunner! But it was a move into management that brought him to East Devon to work with an England World Cup winner.
Steve Williams had established himself as one of the brightest prospects in English football as a talented midfielder, particularly with his passing ability and composure on the ball. He had won six international caps.
In late 1984, his manager at Southampton, Lawrie McMenemy, had become disillusioned, as did some of his players. Sensing some unease, Arsenal, the club Steve supported as a boy, moved swiftly to sign him.
So, in December 1984, after 349 games and 18 goals for Southampton, he joined the Gunners for a then club record fee of £550,000.
“I didn’t want to leave Southampton,” he admits. “I had just signed a new contract and am a very loyal person and I was comfortable there. And the club was developing; we were a great team with a few stars.
“My wife, Angie, and I enjoyed living in Hampshire.
“But Arsenal were my team. My dad supported them as did the rest of my family, so it seemed natural to go there.
“I joined the same day as Charlie Nicholas, who I thought was a great lad.”
And, as he did at Saints, he made his debut against his new club’s fiercest rivals; a North London derby against top-of-the-table Tottenham Hotspur on January 1, 1985. But it was only a cameo: “They didn’t play me,” he recalls. “When the team sheet went up I was substitute and got two minutes at the end, despite the money I cost them. And we lost 1-0!”
Steve went on to play 14 games that season, scoring his first Arsenal goal against Leicester in March 1985. But this was a side in decline under Don Howe, who would leave Highbury the following season, much to Steve’s relief: “Unlike at Saints, Arsenal had great players, but they weren’t a great team, at best they were average,” he states. “Howe signed me for all the right reasons but didn’t know how to handle me. He didn’t appreciate what I could bring to the party. So there was an instant fallout.”
The following season, 1985-86, Steve suffered from injuries which limited his appearances. When he was fit again George Graham had taken over as manager, and Steve initially thrived, picking up his first winner’s medal in a League Cup final victory against Liverpool.
The new manager made a positive impact on Steve: “George Graham came in and we were in an awful state,” he says. “He got it; he made us competitive, a team, which we hadn’t been under Howe, and we would have a go.”
Graham was creating a new era for the Gunners, helped by some bright youngsters and astute signings, and built a side that would win two league titles under his guidance. With his contract under review Steve opted to move on in 1988 and spent three seasons at Luton Town playing a further 40 games in Division One.
But he remains an Arsenal legend and was recently named number 38 in the 50 greatest players by the club’s supporters.
In 1991, Steve took a call from his old mate Alan Ball, an England World Cup winner, who was manager at Exeter City and wanted Steve to be his assistant. This inadvertently introduced Steve to a new life in East Devon.
“This was an easy decision to make, but I found it very tough,” he recalls. “I never really wanted to be a manager because I always ran my own businesses, but I knew Bally was struggling so I rang Lawrie Mac, who told me to give it a go as I handle finances very well - which Bally had problems with - so I would free him up to concentrate on the football side.
“But it wasn’t as easy as that – Exeter was a difficult place to come to and it never felt right. There were some bizarre decisions being made, I thought, and felt I was the odd one out at times.
“Steve had always been a shrewd businessman from a young age when he fly pitched on Romford market to earn some much-needed money. Through his football career he had business interests which, he says, kept him out of the mischief that some footballers with money and time on their hands fell into. So the move after football was easy for him.
“When I was playing, I always had things to do,” he remembers. “So when 1 o’clock came I was on building sites and whatever. So I left football and never regretted it.”
He moved into magazine publishing, forming LCD Publishing with former Exeter director Allen Trump, concentrating initially on football titles. He has since operated in property development and remains a successful businessman.
But one decision made during his magazine days that worked well was moving to West Hill, where he still lives. After a period of delicate negotiation Steve managed to acquire some land and built his new home.
“I love it there,” he says. “It reminds of a place we lived in the New Forest called West Wellow. It’s beautiful. We enjoy the countryside yet are not too far from the hustle and bustle of Exeter.
“And my son lives around the corner and my daughter in Honiton. So I have my grandkids all close by and I can do the school run and all that.
Even though they drive me nuts at times as they do!
“So it would be difficult to move when you have everything on your doorstep.”
Steve is still an avid football fan and watches the game ‘every day’, and still looks out for Arsenal’s results first and foremost.
So how does he sum up his sporting career? “It’s the toughest job in the world being a footballer, because you have to be on it every minute of every day, but it’s the best as well,” he says. “Would I do it all again? Absolutely I would!”