Standing out and fitting in with Arsenal WFC's Lydia Williams
Among the newest players signed to the championship-winning club, the tenacious keeper is already a football hero in her native Australia. In this exclusive conversation, she discusses her greatest moments so far, the warm welcome she's received at Arsenal, and the tragic loss that helped her stand on her own.
If you're a forward looking to score, Lydia Williams is one of the last people you want to see between you and the goal. The fearsome keeper, who signed with Arsenal Women over the summer, brings a wealth of top-level football experience from professional teams in the U.S., Sweden, and her native Australia all to north London.
Everywhere she's played, she's made an impact. Williams started playing competitively at an early age, earning her first cap for the Australian national team at just 16 years old. It was the beginning of an international career that would include a spot on four World Cup teams, as well as a place in the Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame.
Fiercely competitive but also modest, Williams says she's thrilled to be with Arsenal and touched by how welcoming her teammates have been, especially given that she arrived during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In a recent conversation, she gets candid about the challenges that shaped her and the importance of appreciating the little things.
What is a moment that significantly impacted your life?
The biggest moment that impacted my life was when my dad passed away when I was 15. From there, I've had to learn how to be resilient, take each day as it comes, and appreciate the little things. I think that's why I enjoy being amongst a team and getting to know people. You have to remember those little moments that you share, both in your personal life and your career, as they can be taken away very quickly. It was really devastating and heartbreaking, but it made me the person I am and that makes me proud.
How did the Arsenal family welcome you despite all of these challenges during COVID?
The club's done a great job of helping to foster a sense of camaraderie. The facilities have really helped, as well. Living in north London and seeing all the support the club has, you can just feel it. People grow up with it—they live it, breathe it—and you see it on social media. Though we're not in front of fans, people still know who you are when you grab coffee and are out and about.
What is it like returning to play without fans in the stadium?
To be honest, I'm kind of sick of hearing my own voice. The fans are great. You can feel the energy and you get the banter. The fans definitely offer the team that 12th man and provide an atmosphere you can't get anywhere else. But when you're playing, you learn to block everything out anyway. You're there to perform for your teammates and the club, and that's the most important thing. To have fans is an amazing thing, and I think it's definitely been missing in the current sporting environment, but you have to adapt.
What have been your top three moments on the pitch?
The first was one of the qualifiers for the Olympics in 2016. When we first went to Asia as part of the Australia team, we didn't qualify, so it was momentous being among the first Australia team who did qualify for the Olympics. The second was the Women's World Cup in 2015 when we beat Brazil in the knock-out rounds. And a third was qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in Asia in 2005 with our youth team. That was the first time any Australian team made it through the Asian qualifiers to play in the World Cup. So, we went to the World Cup in Russia in 2006.
What is a big challenge you've faced?
I had ACL reconstruction, which was really hard for me as it was only 10 months out from the 2015 World Cup. I had a timeline of nine months to recover and play 10 games before I could be considered to play in the World Cup. I had to put my trust in everyone else's hands to help me recover. It was a crazy time, but I did end up playing in the World Cup, and we had our best finish ever.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Learn as much as you can from the people around you when you're growing up. Sometimes, I may have gotten a little too hot-headed in thinking I was always right, as you do when you're younger. But take those opportunities to learn.
What's priceless to you?
Spending time with family and friends. I really like getting to know people, making new friends, and learning about different cultures. Also, coming from Australia, I love being outside whenever the sun is out. It doesn't really matter what we're doing, as long as there's family, friends, and the sun. That's the perfect combination for me.