Street football to Severnside derby – The tales of Bristol City’s pantomime villain
“I’ve been brought up playing football on the street with my mates, it just happens sometimes – I really want to win.”
Bristol City’s Joe Williams reflects on where his passion and win-at-all-costs attitude first developed. The midfielder grew up on Merseyside and joined Everton’s youth setup aged just seven.
He spent 13 years at the Toffees, before he was loaned out to Barnsley and then Bolton Wanderers. The scouser officially left the Blues to join Wigan Athletic in 2019 but was snapped up by the Robins in August 2020, for a reported fee of £1.2million.
The 25-year-old has been a key man in the middle of the park for City and has earned himself a reputation as a bit of an enforcer on the pitch, thanks to his tough tackling and tendency to get into opposition players’ faces.
In fact, just last week after the Robins’ 1-1 draw against the Latics, Wigan Today described Williams as a ‘pantomime villain’ after his tussle with Joe Bennett and James McLean last week.
But, the midfielder puts his reputation simply down to his internal hunger to be the best. “That’s just my mentality, like I’ll do anything to win. Whatever I can do to get that little 10%, 1%, 2%, I’ll do it. I just really want to win,” he explained.
However, he was also keen to express that while he may at times get in the heads of his opponents, he doesn’t do it intentionally. “I wouldn’t go as far to say I’d go looking to wind people up or anything like that,” he said.
“I just concentrate on my own game but if there’s a chance I can get that 1% over on someone to get a win for the team or win an individual battle, I’ll be trying to do that.”
For a player solely with victory on his mind, there is nothing worse than being side-lined through injury, which has unfortunately been the case for Williams over the last couple of seasons.
Just weeks after he joined the West Country outlet in 2020, Williams suffered a thigh strain which kept him out for three months. He also missed 24 of the Robins 46 league matches last season due to a hamstring injury.
His history with injuries have seen him carefully managed by City’s coaching staff, who have taken the decision to not throw him in to two games a week.
That meant that he was only named as a substitute against Coventry, whilst an appearance against Cardiff could rule him out against Wycombe wanderers.
But, he has completed his first pre-season in three years and is hopeful that his injury problems are almost behind him so he can become a more pivotal figure in a position crying out for reinforcement.
“It’s never nice to miss a game, and I feel like I am getting to the stage where I don’t think that will go on much longer,” he said. “But obviously that’s up to the gaffer. I’m feeling really good and hopefully soon I’ll be able to play the Saturday, Tuesday games.”
Williams has featured in four of the Robins five matches in all competitions this term, and is in contention to play in their Severnside derby against Cardiff City on Sunday.
Just over 40 miles separate the two sides with the two cities in competition both in a sporting sense and in a cultural feel when competing for funding opportunities and development of the city.
He paused and said: “Barnsley vs Leeds was a bit of a big one, the Yorkshire Derby. Obviously Everton and Liverpool, I have been all around that growing up through the years going up towards the first team.
“When I was at Wigan you had the Wigan vs Preston and the teams up north, so I’ve been involved in a few derbies and I love them to be honest with you. I love the atmosphere; I love the bite in the game and I’m really really looking forward to this one on Sunday.”
The Robins did the league double over the Bluebirds last campaign, and Sunday’s matchup at Ashton Gate should prove a feisty and entertaining affair.
Williams, though, missed both Severnside derbies last season, and is looking forward to making amends this weekend. “I’ve always seen Bristol City (vs) Cardiff on Sky and know how big they are. I was unfortunate I couldn’t play in them last year, but the atmosphere was unbelievable.
“They’ll be wanting to get one back on us this year, we’re fully aware of that - we will all be ready for it.”