WALES: 33 CAPS (CAREER: 43 CAPS)
V Austria, Vienna, 9 May 1954
V England, Wembley, 10 November 1954
V Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, 20 April 1955
V England, Ninian Park, 22 October 1955
V Scotland, Hampden Park, 9 November 1955
V Austria, Racecourse Ground, 23 November 1955
V England, Ninian Park, 19 October 1957
V Scotland, Hampden Park, 13 November 1957
V Israel, Tel Aviv, 15 January 1958
V Israel, Ninian Park, 5 February 1958
V Northern Ireland, Ninian Park, 16 April 1958
V Hungary, Sandviken (World Cup), 8 June 1958
V Mexico, Stockholm (World Cup), 11 June 1958
V Sweden, Stockholm (World Cup), 15 June 1958
V Hungary, Stockholm (World Cup), 17 June 1958
V Brazil, Gothenburg (World Cup), 19 June 1958
V Scotland, Ninian Park, 18 October 1958
V England, Villa Park, 26 November 1958
V Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, 22 April 1959
V England, Ninian Park, 17 October 1959
V Scotland, Hampden Park, 4 November 1959
V Northern Ireland, Racecourse Ground, 6 April 1960
V Republic of Ireland, Dublin, 28 September 1960
V Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, 12 April 1961
V Spain, Ninian Park, 19 April 1961
V Spain, Madrid, 18 May 1961
V Hungary, Budapest, 28 May 1961
V England, Ninian Park, 14 October 1961
V Scotland, Hampden Park, 8 November 1961
V Northern Ireland, Ninian Park, 11 April 1962
V Brazil, Maracana Stadium, 12 May 1962
V Brazil, Sao Paolo, 16 May 1962
V Mexico, Mexico City, 22 May 1962
At the peak of Albion’s country men stands Stuart Grenville Williams. A Welsh international to the tune of 43 caps, 33 of them coming while at The Hawthorns, that makes him the most capped Throstle of all time. Odd then that Stuart is not among the most celebrated of our former players, does not enjoy the same celebrity as many of the other legends of Hawthorns days past.
Stuart suffered most of all because of a twist of fate that saw him overshadowed by a man from the same country who shared the same surname – Graham Williams. The two of them were men of very different build and temperament, both full-backs who often battled it out between them for a place in the Albion side, never mind the Welsh one. Graham, however, went on to captain an FA Cup winning side for he Baggies and that alone saw him eclipse the fame of his namesake as far as Albion lore goes.
In spite of that, to underestimate Stuart Williams’ contribution to both club and country would be shortsighted in the extreme. As well as all those Welsh caps, Stuart amassed 246 games for the Baggies through the second half of the 1950s and into the early 1960s, his ability to play in either full-back slot acting to both his advantage and his detriment, his versatility giving him games, but never quite seeing him established in any one position.
The Wrexham born Williams was brought to The Hawthorns from the Welsh club, initially as an amateur in November 1950, turning professional three months later. Initially an inside-right, he played a couple of early games towards the end of the 1951/52 season, but he was then shunted back to the reserves, not re-emerging in the first team until the 1953/54 campaign, figuring occasionally in the “Team of the Century”.
By then, Stuart had been converted into a full-back, predominantly right sided, but equally adept at filling in on the other flank too. Given Albion’s striking options included Ronnie Allen, Johnnie Nicholls, Paddy Ryan, Frank Griffin and George Lee, it was a pretty shrewd move to drop back into defence. It took him to the brink of an FA Cup Final appearance in that season, for he played the final eight games of the season after right-back Stan Rickaby was injured and acquitted himself well, even swapping sides to deputise for Len Millard on one occasion.
With the trip to Wembley to play Preston North End acting as the showpiece climax to the season, Williams looked set for the perfect ending to his run of games. In the run-up to the game however, manager Vic Buckingham concluded that Williams’ lack of experience might prove costly, not least given that Preston had Tom Finney in their ranks, more than capable of switching from his usual position on the right in order to try tormenting the youngster on the other side. Buckingham concluded it was not a risk worth taking and the more experienced Joe Kennedy got the nod instead.
Stuart had to wait the best part of a year for another crack at the right-back slot, again replacing Rickaby for the run-in of the 1954/55 season, doing it sufficiently well to push himself into the international picture too, making his Welsh debut against a strong Austrian side in Vienna, Wales beaten 2-0. Stuart made himself a regular in the Welsh picture for the next 18 months or so until Mel Hopkins of Tottenham made his way into the side, Sherwood swapping flanks to accommodate him on the left, Williams dropping out.
It was a similar tale at The Hawthorns with Williams not quite able to make an Albion shirt his own. There were 20 games in 1954/55 an another13 the following season, the arrival of Don Howe as a genuinely world class right-back taking that option away from him, Stuart battling with the ageing Len Millard for the number three spot, also filling in at right-half on occasion. The breakthrough finally came in 1957/58 when he succeeded Millard as the club’s first choice left-back, Williams a virtual ever present through an impressive season for the Albion in which we finished fourth in the First Division and were beaten in the sixth round of the FA Cup by the tide of emotion that propelled he post-Munich Manchester United all the way to the FA Cup Final.
Stuart’s elevation to first team regular could hardly have come at a better moment as far as his international aspirations were concerned. The Welsh, coached by former Albion man Jimmy Murphy, had pieced together possibly the strongest squad in their history and had qualified for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, beating Israel in a two leg play-off in early 1958, Williams appearing in both games, the Welsh winning 2-0 in both Tel-Aviv and Cardiff. The Welsh unit included real, rare talent such as the giant John Charles, his brother Mel, Tottenham’s flying wingers Cliff Jones and Terry Medwin, inside-forward Ivor Allchurch and half-back Dave Bowen.
Heading for Sweden that summer, they were grouped with Hungary, Mexico and the hosts, a very forbidding line-up for, though the Magyars had passed their early 1950s Puskas inspired peak, they were still a fearsome combination with Hidegkuti, Bozsik and Sandor in their ranks. They offered the first opposition, Wales coming away with a creditable 1-1 draw, a result they repeated against the Mexicans in the second game. Heading into the final game with Sweden, Wales had two points, the Hungarians one, Sweden four. A draw would guarantee that Wales would at least finish level on points with the Hungarians, forcing a play-off, goal difference not applying in 1958. Williams was singled out for praise as Wales stood firm and drew 0-0. Hungary demolished Mexico, but the two sides had to meet again 48 hours later in a play-off.
Wales found themselves a goal down as they approached the hour mark but Ivor Allchurch got them level before Terry Medwin won it with 14 minutes to go. The reward? A meeting with Brazil in the quarter-finals, Garrincha, Pele, Didi and all. The Welsh were valiant to the end, playing just two days after the Hungarian play-off where Brazil had enjoyed a rest, John Charles absent from the Welsh line-up to boot. Ultimately, it was the 17 year old Pele who had the decisive say, scoring the only goal of the game on 66 minutes.
Stuart returned home something of a hero and his Albion place was not under threat for the next season and a half until injury gave Graham Williams the chance to make a claim for the left-back position, reeling off the final 19 games of the 1959/60 season. Nonetheless, Stuart continued to rack up the Welsh caps and eventually fought back to get his position back from Graham, performing strongly through the 1961/62 season, while also working as a salesman in the afternoons, as highlighted by “The Saturday Men” documentary.
That was to be his last full season at The Hawthorns, Stuart heading off to Southampton the following autumn, collecting ten more Welsh caps, but it wasn’t the end of his Albion service for after retiring as a player, he returned to the Black Country and finally got his trip to Wembley as part of Albion’s coaching staff in 1968, seeing Graham pick up the FA Cup after Everton had been defeated. Whichever Williams you go for, both were Albion legends in their way.