ALBION are mourning the loss of former player Stuart Williams, who has passed away at the age of 83.
The full-back was a loyal servant to the club, making almost 250 appearances and scoring nine goals during a 12-year spell as a player.
The Wales defender remained Albion’s most capped international until last season and was also ‘reserve’ for the 1954 FA Cup final success and ‘trainer’ when the club next lifted the trophy 14 years later.
Our thoughts are with Stuart’s two sons, Neil and Paul, and the rest of his family and friends at this difficult time. The club will pay tribute to Stuart’s career at our next home game against Aston Villa on Monday, November 25.
Stuart lived in Shirley, Southampton, and his funeral will be held at Southampton Crematorium on Thursday, November 14, at 11am.
Below is a full tribute to Stuart’s time at Albion, written by publications editor Dave Bowler.
The sad passing of Stuart Williams breaks another link in the chain that takes today’s Albion back to the celestial ‘Team of the Century’ of 1953/54.
Wrexham-born Stuart joined Albion as an amateur in November 1950, turning professional the following February at the age of 20, embarking on a dozen years of playing service at The Hawthorns, largely at full-back on either side of the park. In spite of that, his debut came in the number nine shirt away at Huddersfield Town on February 16, 1952, as Albion were terrorised 3-0.
With Albion blessed with the talents of Stan Rickaby and Len Millard at full-back, Williams had to be patient and it wasn’t until the latter stages of 1953/54 that he made his presence felt. Rickaby picked up an injury eight games from the season’s end, Williams deputising admirably and looking set for a place in the FA Cup final against Preston North End. At the final moment, though, manager Vic Buckingham concluded experience was necessary against a team where Tom Finney might switch wings and attack a youthful right-back, Joe Kennedy getting the nod.
Stuart continued to make valuable contributions to the Albion over the following seasons, but it wasn’t until 1957/58 that he truly came into his own. He played 45 league and cup games at left-back that season, forming a fine pairing with the more adventurous Don Howe on the right. His reward for such consistency was a place in the Welsh World Cup squad for the 1958 tournament, still the only time they’ve qualified for the World Cup.
Wales, managed by former Albion man Jimmy Murphy, drew all three group games, against hosts Sweden, Mexico and the might of Hungary, leading them to a play-off against the Magyars, a game they won 2-1 to advance to the quarter-finals, unlike England and Scotland who were eliminated at the group stage.
Williams had played in all four fixtures and made it five in a row as they were paired with Brazil in the quarter-finals, bringing him in direct opposition to a teenager who was about to take ownership of the competition – Pele. The game was locked at 0-0 until midway through the second half when a moment of trademark genius from Pele beat one defender and created enough space for him to turn in the box. Williams saw the danger, came across to cover, but Pele’s feet were too quick and he squeezed his shot past him and into the net to win the game.
That World Cup must have been the highlight of Stuart’s playing career, though he continued to represent the Throstles with distinction until September 1962 when he left for Southampton, having posted 33 international appearances while a Throstle, making him the most decorated Albion man until Zoltan Gera took that record from him last term. In the blue and white stripes, there were 246 games and nine goals, plus another 180 outings in a ferociously strong reserve team.
It wasn’t the last we saw of Stuart in the Albion corner, however, because he was to return in 1967 to become the club trainer. He made amends for missing out on that ’54 FA Cup final by being Alan Ashman’s right hand man as Jeff Astle smashed his way into folklore on that golden May day at Wembley in 1968.
He left The Hawthorns for the final time a year later as he pursued his coaching career, managing in both Iran and Norway as well as, more prosaically, in Morton and Southampton. The south coast air clearly appealed to him and he later ran a guest house in Southampton before heading off into retirement.
Clocking up nigh on 250 games, playing a supporting role in our last two FA Cup wins, these are achievements that lift Stuart Williams into the pantheon of Albion greats. A quiet, unassuming man from more modest, humble times, in his passing we should have reason to contemplate his steady, unswerving loyalty to the cause and his devotion to his calling. He was a great Albion man, and a club can ask no more of any of its servants than that.
Rest easy Stuart.