The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

The Story of Charles Williams: A former Valletta FC star who founded his own football school in New York

Malta Independent Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

CHARLES WILLIAMS is known to those who remember him as the stocky footballer who made a name for himself in Maltese football before being lured to join Pittsburgh Phantoms in the North American Professional League. When his playing career came to an end, Williams was the only one of four Maltese footballers who had played for Pittsburgh to remain in the United States, opening his own football school and club which he named Rochester FC. Williams is perhaps the only Maltese player to have played against such great names as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia who were on the books of the then famous New York Cosmos, apart from various others. In recent years, he sold his share in the Rochester club, though he still remains active as the coaches’ director. Here he tells his story to Henry Brincat

When he was a young boy roaming around the streets of Valletta after school, Williams little did imagine that he would, one day, become a top class footballer. “I was shy when I was young and even if I liked football, I used to go inside a corridor of one of the old Valletta buildings to head the ball against the wall and back, repeating it for several times. I remember we used to play on the streets and on the bastions around the Baviera area. But, as a four-year-old, it was my father Alfred, who used to take me with him to the Gzira Stadium to watch football matches, who made me love the game. I used to kick anything I found on the way, from cans to stones, rocks, etc.

“One day I was playing for the Lilywhites team in the inter-City league at the ‘Xaghra’ in Floriana. We used to play every Sunday morning in front of crowds of around 2,000 and it was a very interesting competition, from where such players as Mario Azzopardi, Freddie ‘Wanese’ Borg, myself, Paul Gauci, Tony Calleja and others emerged onto the scene. It was Leli Attard ‘Tal-Qali’ who spotted me.

“He was the Valletta FC scout those days and though being 12 years old, he asked me whether I would be interested to train with Valletta FC and I accepted. Of course, everything was different. There were more organised training sessions with my first coach being Carm Borg in the minors string. Later in the senior team, I was coached by the still well-known Gilmour and Dingwall, but Borg was back again later as senior coach,” he recalled.

Williams said he remembers with pride the day when Valletta hosted Norwich City of England at the Stadium and he opened the scoring with what was described as a great goal – a brilliant effort from outside the area in a memorable 1-1 draw. “After that match, I was asked to go with them, but I refused the offer on the advice of my father. Four years later, however, I was lured to the United States by former Sliema player and coach Janos Bedl. I had marked him in a match at Gzira and he liked me immediately. He told me that he would be the coach at Pittsburgh and I accepted. Of course, I was not alone, because he also lured Freddie Debono, Ronnie Cocks and Edward Aquilina in an unprecedented move in Maltese football.

“We had some problems, because FIFA would not recognise the US Professional League. Their blessing came in later years, after the three other Maltese went back home. My spell in the US will remain memorable. I was thrilled to have acted on so many occasions as an ambassador for my country. Everywhere we went, there was always Charles Williams (Malta) written on the scoreboard during the announcement of the line-ups.

“And I travelled a lot those days. In fact, I have played in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas and Detroit, among other places. The country is vast and it was the norm that our team travelled for over six hours on a plane to go and play a football match. And we normally played 42 matches during the six-month season. Apart from league matches, we also played several friendlies against visiting teams such as Lazio of Italy, Universidad Cattolica of Chile, Santos of Brazil and Guadaljara of Mexico. I also played at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico, while I was with San Diego,” he said.

After Pittsburgh folded, he was sold to San Diego, but Valletta wanted more money for the transfer and because of the dispute, he had to stop playing for three months. Then after FIFA gave its recognition of the league, Williams signed for Dallas after having paid a fine of Lm50 to the MFA.

At Dallas, it was different. He said: “I remember I scored my most memorable goals – two – in a match against New York Cosmos, who included Pele, Chinaglia and Beckenbauer. Unfortunately, we had lost that match 3-2. In Malta I will certainly remember forever that glorious goal against Norwich as well as the championship clincher in a 2-1 win against Floriana four minutes from time.

“Matches against Floriana and Sliema will always remain memorable. Playing in front of a packed Stadium and with the rooftops also packed to capacity was another great experience. There was such a huge atmosphere at Gzira, it was amazing,” he said.

In the States, Williams will also remember playing at the famous Yankee Stadium, among others. “There we used to meet the Cosmos in the New York State ‘derby’. Rochester forms part of New York, even if it is around 250 miles away from New York City,” he said.

When his playing days were over, Williams remained in the States where he founded his own football school at Rochester. It is still popular these days and over 125 boys and girls are accepted to take part in the coaching sessions.

His major disappointment during such an illustrious career was the fact that he failed to win the Footballer of the Year award of the MFA. “In 1966/67, I was having my best season here and I seemed to have been the favourite. But I had to leave in mid-season (February 1967) to go and play in the US,” he added.

During his career, Williams has met and played alongside or against other famed players as Johan Cruyff, George Best, Rodney Marsh, Phil Woosnam, Peter MacParland, Garrincha, Neeskens, Co Prince and a host of others.

Asked to mention some big names in Maltese football during his time, he quickly referred, among others, to Lolly Borg, Charles Bennetti, P. Demanuele, T. Cauchi, Billy Dalli, all of the famous Ajax side which he described as an amazing team. He also mentioned other stalwarts as Sammy Nicholl, Joe Cini, Robbie Buttigieg, Lino Falzon, Ray Edwards, the Theobalds, Louis and Eddie Anastasi, Freddie Mizzi, Ginger Cassar, Freddie Falzon, Effie Borg, Albert Calleja, Guzi Urpani, Mario Azzopardi and all his Valletta teammates.

Williams has now bought an apartment in Sliema where he will reside when he decides to return to Malta after quitting the US scene completely. However, he would like to remain involved locally as a scout or, perhaps, do something at national team level.

“I cannot do anything apart from football,” he concluded.

Charles Williams – a profile

Date of birth: 15 February 1944 in Valletta

Education: Stella Maris College, Gzira.

Work career: Apprentice at the Dockyard, one year with the government and later took up a professional football career in the United States, where he played for Pittsburgh, Dallas and Rochester of the state of New York. After his playing career, he became a coach at the football school he had founded at Rochester. He is currently a coaches’ director of Rochester FC, a club which he founded.

Sporting career: He started playing football in the streets in Valletta, near the Baviera area. He was spotted during a match in the Inter-City league at the ‘Xaghra’ (today’s Independence Arena) in Floriana. He was 12 years old when he was asked to join Valletta FC. He started with the Minors when 14-15 years old, but also used to play regularly in the Under 21 and Reserves selections of Valletta. He made his debut with the senior string in 1961, at the age of 17, in a 4-0 win over St George’s. From then on, he never lost his place in the Valletta side. In 1967, he transferred to the United States where he joined Pittsburgh Phantoms, selected by former Sliema player and coach Janos Bedl. Together with Edward Aquilina, Ronnie Cocks and Freddie Debono, he formed part of the first ever group of players from Malta that played abroad. In all, he played for over seven years in Malta and another 11 in the United States.

National team: In those days, matches were few and far between, but till he remained in Malta, that is till 1967, he had made his debut against Italy C (0-2) in Malta. He also played for Malta in a tournament in Liguria, Italy, where the locals played against France, Germany, Holland and Italy. They finished third after beating Italy in their last commitment.

Awards: Williams never won the Footballer of the Year Award of the MFA. He had been the favourite the year he decided to go to the United States in mid-season. But he won all that Maltese football offered with Valletta FC, including two league titles, an FA Trophy win, Cassar Cup and Scicluna Cup.

Family: Charles is married to Judie Ann. They have two children, Christine and Charlie, who lives in Buffalo, US.

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