Desert Girl: Beyond Football with Lydia Williams
Every footballer has travelled their own path to get to where they are now; it just so happens that Lydia Williams’ path involved a 3,143km journey from Kalgoorlie to Canberra that would change her life forever.
Making the west-east move with her family during her childhood, the nature-loving desert girl found herself in a whole new world in the country’s capital and made the most of the challenges that her new environment brought about.
Several years later, Williams is a Melbourne City cult figure and a Matildas stalwart, achieving plenty with either team over her storied career; a journey which she recently had the opportunity to relive through the release of her children’s book Saved!!!, which is loosely based on her life story.
“I always wanted to tell my story in a creative way,” Williams begins to explain, “But I don’t really look at myself as a role model.”
The statement seems almost baffling; Lydia Williams, a seemingly superhero-esque idol to aspiring young girls and boys across the country and a regular champion of indigenous causes, not a role model?
“For me it’s always about trying to better myself and showing that it doesn’t matter your background or how you grew up, there’s an opportunity for you to excel in something you’re passionate about,” she explains, “And it just so happens that I’m one of those stories [where] I didn’t think that I’d ever be travelling the world and playing this beautiful game from when I was growing up in the desert not having shoes.”
Williams’ parents met when her mother travelled over from the United States to work in Western Australia as a missionary, whilst her late father was an Indigenous tribal elder. Both, she says, faced significant racism whilst assimilating to their new environments, but it never stopped them from making the most of circumstances with what they had available to them:
“Both of them always kept a very good outlook,” Williams says, “So just seeing that in their everyday life growing up, it’s made me really appreciate the little things.”
Back in Western Australia during her childhood, there was only ever one football code that caught Williams’ interest: Australian Rules.
The egg-shaped ball dominated schoolyards right across the state, she said, with its round ball counterpart rarely seen in comparison.
“I was pretty good at kicking and catching and running around,” she laughs.
Her sporting situation changed dramatically when her family relocated because of a work opportunity for her mother in the country’s capital though:
“Moving all the way to Canberra, there’s no footy over there, so I had to choose which sports I wanted to be involved in.
“It was a little bit more competitive than I thought it was going to be. Growing up in a country town versus going to a bigger city it tends to be a little bit more competitive.”
When it came down to her final options, the young Williams had the choice of playing outfield in a Division 4 side or playing goalkeeper for a Division 1 outfit.
Being the ultra-competitive being that she was, it didn’t take her very long to make the decision...
Canberra, whilst the butt of many a joke told by Melbournians and Sydneysiders, has served as the setting to many of Lydia’s greatest achievements, in football and in life generally; one of Williams’ earliest jobs was at a zoo in the country’s capital, having acquired her zookeeping degree after four years of study.
On the pitch, the now-iconic Aussie goalkeeper won the 2011/12 W-League double with Canberra United, later going on to take out the 2013/14 Premiership as well.
By the 2015/16 season, however, a new force had entered upon the scene – one which would change women’s football in Australia forever: the Melbourne City ‘Invincibles’.
Playing again for Canberra during that first season of City dominance, Williams knew right away that the new team on the block were a class above:
“This is how it should be run,” she remembers thinking, “This is professionalism. This is a club that has the resources to really invest in a women’s team.”
Joining the next season in 2016/17, Williams has since won two more W-League Championships to go with the one she secured with Canberra and may very well have another to add to her collection in just a few months time.
It was a period of sustained success that challenged rival W-League teams to improve:
“If they wanted to compete with City, they had to match what we were doing and better it.”
However, another game-changing force looms upon the horizon of women’s football. A force that threatens to lure some of our most treasured Championship winners away from Melbourne to the other side of the world.
It’s European football – and, most notoriously in recent times, the English FA Women’s Super League.
“For longevity of the body, Europe’s probably the way to go,” Williams explains.
Like so many of the current City squad, our beloved goalkeeper participates in an excruciatingly condensed annual schedule which involves playing two league seasons in two different countries for two different teams, constantly finding herself back and forth between the Australian W-League and the American NWSL. It’s a ruthless schedule that leaves players exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally, with very little time off.
“[Players get] probably like a week or two [off] between seasons, which isn’t long at all,” she admits, “You really don’t get a preseason because you just can’t, your body’s tired already.”
And whilst goalkeepers are known to have the capability to enjoy longer careers than their outfield counterparts, retirement – and the great unknown of life beyond it – remains an inevitability that every footballer must eventually face once the demands of professional sport become too much for their weary bodies to handle.
Thus, the question of her future interest in coaching is prompted, though she extinguishes those embers quickly:
“I don’t think I have it in me to be a coach,” she says.
So what about commentary then? Or even a more general media punditry career? Perhaps, she responds.
So… what DOES Lydia Williams want to be doing after football?
“Helping people”, she summarises, “I want to help people find their passion and what they can do [in their future] and hopefully encourage some.
“The more human interaction, the more genuine you can be – that’s, for me, where I find joy.”
It’s an altruistic motivation that stems from the challenges she faced throughout her own journey, not only as a footballer, but as a person.
“I didn’t really have an identity when I first started playing,” she concedes, “It was just ‘Lydia the Footballer’, and whilst saying that it is [still] ‘Lydia the Footballer’, now I’ve found my identity through the sport as well, and it’s ‘Lydia the Author, Footballer, Super-Keeper, Coffee-Drinker’…”
“Football has been the one sport that has given me everything”, she finishes, ponderingly.
Hear the full chat at the link below