£4.50 an hour.
That is what the new Wales captain, Ashley Williams, was earning, as a waiter just six years ago while he plied his trade part-time for Hednesford Town. Nowadays, things are a bit more comfortable for Ashley. The Wolverhampton-born Welshman was, this week, named both Wales’ Player of the Year for 2009, and given the opportunity to captain his country for the first time, against Scotland on Saturday.
It has been a pretty meteoric rise for Williams. Only two years ago, he was playing in the lower-echelons of the English Football League, at then League Two side, Stockport County. A shock loan move to Swansea towards the end of the 2007/08 season was followed by a permanent move to South Wales, where he formed a solid partnership with Swans captain Garry Monk.
Williams’ form has continued, and despite some desperately bad defending in the local derby against Cardiff City last weekend, he has been part of the second meanest defence in the Championship this season; chipping in with two goals of his own in key games against Coventry and Leicester City.
The Wales player of the year award came as a shock to many, but not Wales coach John Toshack, a former Swans favourite himself, who heaped praise on him this week:
“I remember watching him at Hereford, still playing for Stockport in League Two… He moved up with Swansea and last year played every minute of every game in the Championship which is an unbelievable record – no other outfield player in the country matched that. We’ve seen him grow and grown ever since he came into the side a couple of years ago…he’s been a real positive for us.”
Ashley is no stranger to success, having already fended off competition from Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney for the 2007 North-West player of the year award. He’ll be hoping he can beat off some high-profile competition, in the likes of Craig Bellamy and Joe Ledley, when Toshack considers his captaincy options for the next qualifying campaign.