We’ve been busy speaking to former Player of the Year winners from the last few decades and today our focus is on the 1975/76 recipient Gary Williams, who spoke to Tom Rawcliffe.
It was with Preston North End that Gary kickstarted his career in the game, having only previously played for local club Marine in Merseyside.
After joining PNE in 1972, he made over 100 appearances in a white shirt and he’ll be forever thankful that the club took a chance on him as a teenager.
Gary told PNE.Com: “I’ll always be grateful to Preston. I could never ever thank them enough for coming in at the last minute, it was a bit of fate really that they took a chance on me and I’ll always be grateful for that.
“I’ll always remember going to Coventry for a trial and there was an hour and a half of football, I got on for the last nine minutes of the game and never touched the ball. They said come next week for another and I said ‘no I’m not doing this anymore’ so I’d kind of given up on it and played local football for Marine.
“I remember before a game the manager said there’s two scouts here today looking at our centre forward and one was from Man City and one was from Preston. So after the game I’d scored two goals and the two scouts asked me to go for a trial and Manchester City was one of the biggest teams in the country at the time and Preston were in the Third Division so I logically thought ‘right I’ll give it one more chance’.
“I didn’t go to City because I had no chance but maybe I’d have a sniff at Preston. I went along, had a trial in the A team and I must have done okay and then after about four or five games I was playing well. They asked me to come for a month’s trial and even then I had to leave my job at the age of 17.”
Gary would then go on to earn himself a contract and was soon playing in the first team, making his debut on the last day of the 1971/72 season at home to Swindon Town.
He originally came to PNE as an outside left, but due to cartilage problems in his knee he decided to make changes to his game.
“I think I lost a bit of jinkiness if you like, just a little bit of something. I had a feeling that I wasn’t doing well. I remember thinking I might have one chance here so maybe I should start looking at more of a defensive role and it was just when overlapping fullbacks were coming into the game so I changed my game.
“I then went from strength to strength and within about three months I’d got myself back into the first team and then became an ever present which was brilliant. The next season was probably my best season which culminated in me getting Player of the Year which is probably one of the proudest moments in football.
“I got promotion with Brighton to the then top league, but my proudest moment was getting voted Player of the Year by the fans and getting that trophy at Preston North End.
“I think that year when I was Player of the Year we went into the last four or five games thinking we really had a chance of going up and the following year we were still knocking on the door in the top half of the table with a chance. I know we were a good side, we were always thinking about promotion.”
Gary played for the club at a time where there was a lot of interest in PNE given the status of Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, and having only made the switch from grassroots football just over 12 months prior, it certainly took some adjusting to when Charlton came in as manager.
Gary said: “You just pinch yourself. He came in, you meet him and your jaw drops open. He was a legend, the best player in the world, this is Bobby Charlton.
“He’d just played for Manchester United; every time he talked to us we just couldn’t believe we’ve got this guy as manager. After about a month it’s like anything I suppose you kind of get used to it.
“He was so good, when he used to take training he’d have people crossing balls in and he’d demonstrate what he wanted us to do, hitting volleys and half volleys with either foot. His shots are going top corner, bottom corner, back of the net bulging.
“He says ‘come on then let’s see what you’ve got’. Well you’re dealing with Third Division footballers so they’re flying out the ground over the wall! People had to go out of the training ground to bring the balls back.
“It was funny, but he must have been pulling his ear out at times.”
You can click here now to watch all the other Player of the Year interviews we have conducted so far including our recent chat with 2017 winner Aiden McGeady.