Ginger Ninja has no regrets

FOUR seasons ago Gareth Williams was playing for Colchester United against Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup. On Saturday he will line up against his former club in the same competition for non-league side Bromley.

Stuart Watson

FOUR seasons ago Gareth Williams was playing for Colchester United against Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup. On Saturday he will line up against his former club in the same competition for non-league side Bromley.

STUART WATSON spoke to the Welsh striker ahead of his U's reunion.

YOU could excuse Gareth Williams for being a little bitter towards Colchester United.

Since being released by the Essex club almost four years ago, the Welshman has failed to find a way back into the professional game and has had to find work as a painter & decorator while playing non-league football.

However, the level-headed 27-year-old - who faces his former employers with non-league side Bromley in the FA Cup on Saturday - is able to reflect upon the bigger picture when it comes to his career.

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“Obviously it was disappointing to have been told I would be going forward to play in the Championship with the rest of the lads just after we had achieved promotion,” said Williams.

“But the way I look at it is that it just wasn't meant to be.

“I still look back with fond memories on my time at Colchester because it was the most successful time of my career. I've still got a few mates at the club and their result is always the first result I look for each weekend.

“I'm really enjoying my football at the moment. I may not be in the Football League anymore, but that feeling of excitement on a Saturday is the same whatever level you play at.”

Although by no means a first choice under former Colchester manager Phil Parkinson, Williams played a not insignificant part in the club's historic promotion season of 2005/6.

Endearingly dubbed the 'Ginger Ninja' by the U's faithful, he made 26 appearances for the Essex club in that campaign - admittedly many off the bench - scoring five goals.

Highlights of his season included scoring the winner at Sheffield United in the FA Cup third round and then coming off the bench late on to face Drogba, Lampard, Carvalho and co in a valiant fifth round defeat at Stamford Bridge.

However, just as Williams was celebrating his part in the club's progress to the second tier of English football for the first time in their history, he was told that his services were no longer required and that he would be released.

Unsuccessful trials followed at a few clubs and, within weeks, Williams found himself facing up to the fact that his career as a professional footballer was over.

It was a complete culture shock for the then 24-year-old who had known nothing but football since leaving school and joining Crystal Palace as a trainee.

Things have not worked out too badly for the South African born striker though, who quickly found a new home in the form of ambitious non-league side Bromley.

The Kent side achieved promotion to the second tier of the non-league pyramid in Williams' first season there and he now probably earns more money per week than he ever did as a professional footballer due to the double income of a full-time job and amateur football playing fees.

By a twist of fate, Bromley have now drawn Colchester at home in the first round of the FA Cup and Williams says he sees it will be a surreal experience.

“I was sat at home watching the draw and to be honest I just cracked up laughing when we drew Colchester. Of all the teams in the draw it just felt typical, but that's the FA Cup,” said Williams.

In the two seasons Williams was at Colchester, the club made it to the fourth and fifth round before losing to Premier League clubs Blackburn and Chelsea respectively.

The Welsh striker scored in both cup runs, netting in a third round tie against Hull in the 2004/5 season, and since he has left the U's have failed to make it past the first hurdle of the famous competition, losing to Barnet, Peterborough and Leyton Orient in the past three seasons.

Bromley have won four of their last five matches and find themselves just outside of the Blue Square South play-off places at present, and Williams - who has scored 51 goals in 113 appearances for Bromley - sees no reason why his side can't halt another Colchester cup run before it has even started.

“We know we will have to give Colchester the respect they deserve, but if we are on top form then there is every chance we could cause an upset.”

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