How the only Aboriginal man to play for Australia at the World Cup defied growing up in rugby league heartland and being told to ‘stop playing that sissy game’ to become a Socceroos hero
But after being first introduced to soccer by a neighbour as a youngster, the Wiradjuri man was hooked instantly.
Williams ignored calls from close friend – the legendary former St George Dragons halfback Billy Smith – to ‘stop playing that sissy game’ – and it proved to be an astute decision.
John Maynard, the author of the The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe, said Williams taking the field against Chile at the Olympiastadion Berlin was a watershed moment.
Harry Williams was the first Indigenous man to represent Australia at a World Cup in 1974
A talented left back, Williams was renowned for his pace and skill on the ball (pictured, with teammate Manfred Schaefer ahead of the World Cup)
‘Inspiring. Absolutely inspiring,’ he told NITV.
‘As a young Aboriginal kid, he was just fantastic to watch and a really gifted player.
‘Harry was an overlapping left fullback, incredibly skillful and lightning fast.’
When reflecting on the World Cup in West Germany, Williams felt the Socceroos held their own.
‘We fared pretty well given we were only part-time players back then. We were semi-professional and we made the World Cup,’ he said.
Williams was selected for the national side after just six first grade games (pictured with teammates Jimmy Rooney and Jimmy Mackay)
Williams paved the way for other First Nations athletes to represent Australia at the elite level
‘It was a pretty special occasion for all of us. ‘To have that experience to play and rub shoulders with players like [German superstar] Franz Beckenbauer was special.’
Williams also paved the way for other First Nations athletes to represent their nation, notably Jade North, Travis Dodd and Jada Mathyssen-Whyman.
In 2008, North became the first Indigenous Socceroos captain when he took the armband from an injured Harry Kewell in a friendly versus Singapore.
‘Pim Verbeek was the coach at the time…I had just lifted the (A-League) trophy with Newcastle [Jets], so he threw me the armband,’ he recalled.
‘Football brought the best out of me, it taught me to be proud of who I am and what I represent.’