Williams”s goal is helping with new life for two-year-old Hari through WillsWorld charity
Ashley Williams has a sick child on his mind, but there are no immediate plans to bring a television crew on a Christmas hospital visit. It goes a little deeper than that.
‘Hari needs about 45,000,’ said Williams. ‘It will change his life.’
Hari Kieft is no relation to the Swansea centre back. In fact, they only met for the first time on December 13. But Hari has been in Williams’ thoughts for months, ever since he heard about the two-year-old boy from Swansea with two heart conditions and spastic diplegic cerebral palsy.
‘Basically he can’t walk,’ said Williams. ‘If he tries, he falls over. But if he has this surgery on his spine he can walk — it’s pretty much 100 per cent successful. One operation in America will change his life. But it’s expensive.’
An inspiration: Ashley Williams and Hari Kieft
That’s where Williams comes in.
It was last Christmas when Williams, 27, and his accountant wife Vanessa decided to do something different with their spare time.
‘I didn’t want to get involved in anything major as my career has to be the focus, but we wanted to do something that made the most of my position,’ said Williams.
‘I thought about it for a while, but it was only really when I got to the Championship with Swansea that I had enough of a profile to make it work.
‘I’m in a position where, because I play football, just turning up somewhere or signing a shirt, or getting a team-mate to sign one, can make some money, so fund-raising is relatively easy for me compared to some.
Local hero: Williams
‘It takes so little time and effort that we just wanted to have a go. We set up WillsWorld as a charity and it’s gone from there.
‘The whole thing is very small with no real structure — it’s Vanessa and I sat at our kitchen table with a laptop — and we encourage people to contact us at our website if they need help and we see if we can.
‘Normally it’s underprivileged kids and making visits and trying to make someone’s day — just bringing some kids down to the stadium when they’ve been having a rough time and giving them a signed shirt and tickets — but sometimes, like with Hari, it’s fund-raising.
‘Like I say, we just take in requests from kids or parents and charity groups and if it’s something we can help with, we do.’
Williams pauses and considers a question. ‘Yeah, a few people have said it’s like Jim’ll Fix It.’
It started with ‘200-odd toys for children who might not have had a great Christmas’ last year and has since included 2,000 of fund- raising for a local church roof, contributions towards a wildlife centre and dozens of trips with young fans around the Liberty Stadium, wrestling rings and the city’s pizza restaurants.
In all, Williams thinks he had answered requests from about 70 children when Hari’s case dropped on his laptop.
‘It’s our biggest one yet,’ Williams said. ‘We work with another charity group called AG Swansea — a couple of young guys in the city — and they told us about Hari, that he had this condition and needed 45,000 for the operation, his rehab and flights. We wanted to do what we could.’
It has meant organising auctions, celebrity table-football matches, raffles, a sponsored walk and comedy nights. ‘We’re about halfway with the funding — we’ll get to the target one way or another,’ he said. ‘It’s not a lot of effort when you think what Hari’s going through.’
Proud record: Williams clocked up his 158th consecutive League appearance in Swansea”s 1-0 defeat to Everton
An alternative viewpoint comes from Hari’s mother, Cerrianne Kieft. ‘You hear stuff about footballers and their wives and it couldn’t be further from the truth with Ashley and Vanessa,’ she said.
‘They have done so much. The other day he was out collecting raffle tickets — they do all the little things themselves. He was at our house for two hours one night and was great with Hari. He’s such a nice man. It means so much what they’re doing.’
Williams, meanwhile, is still thinking of ways he can help. ‘We’re auctioning signed shirts from Aaron Ramsey and Rio Ferdinand,’ he said. The fact he knows Rio Ferdinand — they share an agent and have holidayed together — and his own autograph is now worth something is evidence of how Williams’ life has changed since West Brom released him at the age of 16.
‘That was devastating,’ he said.
He ended up at Hednesford Town in the Dr Martens Southern Premier League for two long years. ‘It’s a hard world down there,’ he said. ‘Playing at 16 or 17 with big men who do a nine-to-five job all week, they’re not having some lad taking the mick. You learn a lot.
‘A manager might have a go at you now, but not like that. I have seen a lot of fights in the dressing room.’
International honours: Williams (front row, third right) has won 31 caps for Wales
He supplemented his 80-a-week wages with work as a waiter, as an assistant in a bowling alley and on the stalls at Drayton Manor theme park. ‘I was the worst waiter in the world,’ he said. ‘I’d forget I had people on the tables — they’d wait 45 minutes to order and then end up with the wrong food.
‘Drayton Manor was fun — I was working the ring toss and the sledgehammer thing. I don’t think I was too terrible at the bowling alley.’
TOP OF THE TOUCHES
Only Yaya Toure has had more touches of
the ball in the Premier League this season
than Ashley Williams.
Yaya Toure (Man City)………………………. 1,493
Ashley Williams (Swansea)…………………. 1,424
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)………………………… 1,392
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)……………………. 1,337
Alejandro Faurlin (QPR)…………………….. 1,277
His chance came and went when Hednesford rejected a bid from Oldham in 2002, but Stockport came calling a year later. A further eight years on, Williams is a Wales international and a top-flight footballer with an incredible 158 consecutive league appearances to his name.
‘Now I have people turning up at my home wanting to see me,’ he said. ‘Sometimes it’s adults, sometimes kids.
‘It can get quite weird. I had a letter a few weeks ago from a guy asking me to get autographs off the Man United team when we played them. Can you imagine taking a piece of paper round their dressing room after playing them
‘There was also this woman who wanted me to sign her arm. She said she was going to get a tattoo on top of it.
‘But it’s a small price to pay, I guess. When you’re a pro footballer you mean something to people.’
Just ask Hari.
For more information on Ashley Williams’s charity work, visit: www.willsworld.org.uk