Here at Talking Bull we continue to build up our career archive detailing former Bulls players and in this article, as it is an FA Cup weekend, we take a look back at a Hereford United forward from 20 years ago. He was frequently in the thick of the action for Hereford in cup-ties and as a result became a favourite of many supporters.
It’s a pleasure watching a young player develop through the youth team and the reserves here at Hereford, before carving out a career at a very high level. An example over this over the last 20 years is Gavin Williams, who went on to gain full international honours with Wales, and is now manager of Merthyr Town.
Gavin John Williams (born 20 July 1980) was brought up in Merthyr and originally trained with Cardiff City, but was offered YTS terms at Edgar Street by the then Hereford coach Dick Bate.
He was soon to impress, breaking into the Bulls’ first team at the age of seventeen when coming on as a substitute in Hereford’s 3-0 FA Cup win over Sittingbourne on 28th October 1997, prior to a league debut in a comprehensive 5-1 win at Morecambe in the Vauxhall Conference four days later. Andy Milner scored a hat-trick that day, and a subsequent transfer to the Shrimps.
The Welsh youngster then had to bide his time as he was frequently utilised as a substitute by Graham Turner, but after scoring his first goal for the club at Dover on 31st March 1998, he was handed his first start in attack alongside Tony Agana against Stalybridge in a 3-2 win on a pitch Trevor Matthewson described as the worst he’d played on in 18 years of football.
Hereford ended that season in 6th spot in the Conference, but it was the 1998/99 campaign that was to see Gavin come of age, as in only the Bulls second home game he was to score twice against Dover at Edgar Street. For the first he lashed home a cross from Garry Cook before sealing the win in stoppage time converting from close range after Richard Leadbeater had flicked on a cross from Chris Lane. Indeed, Williams became a permanent fixture in the side scoring against Hayes, Newport IOW, Forest Green Rovers, Kingstonian and Rushden & Diamonds. His goal against Rushden is a personal highlight as the youngster picked up the ball on the half-way line running 40 yards before picking his spot with a perfectly placed left-foot drive.
Gavin was to gain national attention the following year thanks to TV coverage of the Bulls FA Cup run. Sky broadcast the Bulls’ 1-0 win over Hartlepool on 21st November 1999, whilst John Motson returned to Edgar Street with Match of the Day cameras as Hereford drew 0-0 with Leicester City. Williams and Paul Fewings missed chances before a mazy Paul Parry run ended with a shot hitting the post before bouncing to safety. He was also part of the side that cruelly lost 2-1 after extra-time at Filbert Street in the replay.
In all Gavin featured in 48 of 51 matches that season, and he was now an influential playmaker in the side alongside Paul Parry, with Rob Elmes and Fewings chipping in 30 goals up front. However, the Bulls finished only 8th in the Conference behind the likes of Kidderminster, Rushden, Morecambe, Scarborough and Yeovil.
Williams quick feet, deft touch, and ability to pass defenders meant his talents were now a valuable commodity as scouts frequently visited Edgar Street. Thankfully, there were other assets too – Chris Lane was sold to Southport for £12,500 and Michael McIndoe, whose faltering career was resurrected under Turner moved to Yeovil for £25,000.
In the 2000/01 campaign Williams also demonstrated versatility as the financial constraints meant a rapid turnaround in players, with even the veteran Steve Bull donning the Bulls’ shirt on 12 occasions as a substitute. Gavin ended the season as the clubs 2nd top scorer with 13 goals behind Elmes’ 18, although a degree of frustration had become evident in his play, with the odd explosion of dissent occasionally brimming to the surface.
Another good FA Cup run followed in the 2001/2 season, as Williams scored the winner at Dover in the 4th Qualifying Round. His excellent shot brought not only won valuable prize money, but a lucrative home tie against Wrexham. Indeed, a crowd of 4,107 saw Hereford go through after some fine goalkeeping from Baker kept the Welsh side at bay, before a thundering Williams volley came back off the cross bar for Ian Wright to roll home.
More was to follow as the influential Williams scored a spectacular goal at Swindon, managed by the ex-Liverpool boss Roy Evans, in the next round. The 21-year-old superbly crashed a Paul Parry corner into the roof of the net from 25 yards in front of over 2,000 travelling fans. Later in the BBC H&W commentary box a certain Keith Hall went on a five-minute rant after Howe tapped home the Town winner past keeper Matt Baker with no less than three Swindon players in offside positions!
Williams featured in 47 matches in his final season for Hereford, and was the clubs’ top scorer with 14 goals. For the last couple of years he had been expected to move up to the Football League, but eventually linked up with rivals Yeovil Town for a £22,500 fee, plus a 25% sell-on clause. At the time boss Turner said, “It was disappointing to lose Gavin but he was out of contract here and if you look at the deal offered by Yeovil it’s quite startling for a Conference club. It we hadn’t agreed a fee with Yeovil, his price would have been settled by a transfer tribunal, and we couldn’t take that risk in the light of past experiences, particularly with Dean Smith”.
With Gary Johnson’s Yeovil, Gavin was to become an integral part of the side that gained promotion to the Football League for the first time. He was an ever-present in the Glovers midfield and was the clubs ‘Player of the Year’ in 2003.
It wasn’t long before West Ham decided to swoop in for him, and he linked up with Hammers for a fee of £250,000 in December 2004. Hereford received another £62,500 from the move. He made his debut for West Ham on Boxing Day 2004, coming on as a substitute against Nottingham Forest in a 3-2 win. Gavin was to make another 9 appearances as the Hammers gained promotion to the Premier League, scoring his first goal against Leeds United. Full international honours for Wales followed.
However, he struggled to compete for a place in the Premier League and was loaned to Ipswich Town in November 2005, a deal that was made permanent two months later for a fee of £300,000. Next came moves to Bristol City and then Rovers, prior to a return to Yeovil in June 2011 where he was an unused substitute in the 2013 League One play-off final.
A one-year contract with Woking was terminated in December 2013, enabling Gavin to sign for his home-town club Merthyr. He was to assist Steve Jenkins as player/assistant manager prior to Jenkins’ move to Edgar Street in May 2016.
Gavin was a true fans favourite with his strong running and attacking play, especially from the flanks catching the eye. Add in his spectacular goal-scoring ability, and his vision to pick out a killer pass ensures his inclusion in this Hereford Hero section is well merited. He recently said, “I owe a lot to Hereford. This is where my career started, and I’ll always have fond memories of the place”.
By Keith Hall