Strapping right back Ben Williams rose from the South Wales coalpits to captain Everton to Second Division Championship success and give Goodison his best years as a footballer. In his thirties during his Goodison pomp, Williams also lifted the 1930/31 League Championship and captained Wales.
Williams was a late developer, not playing league football until his mid-twenties when he rejected the advances of Cardiff City to sign for Swansea Town and left work down the Glamorganshire coalbelt pits. Tall and slim, he had a reputation for ‘tackling stoutly and heading accurately’, and his performances in the white of Swansea saw him elevated to the Welsh national team and represent the Welsh League XI on two occasions.
The Vetch Field was, however, no fit stage for a player of such talent. When Everton found themselves in a defensive crisis midway through the 1929/30 season they turned to Williams, paying £4,300 for his services after he had been recommended by Jack Sharp. Only three weeks before his arrival Everton had somehow contrived to lose 5-4 at home to Leicester City. It was hoped that Williams could shore up such a leaky rearguard.
In the short term such hopes were elusive. Everton’s form through the rest of the campaign was disastrous and they were relegated. ‘Everton's plunge into the Second Division will give a fillip to that part of the League, for there is no doubt that the name of the Goodison Park club still enjoys a great reputation for the purely scientific game,’ wrote John Peel in the Liverpool Post and Mercury, somehow trying to seek a silver lining from the disaster. ‘Whether the style of play will have to be changed to suit the new conditions remains to be seen, but I am sure the team will receive a rousing welcome wherever they go to.’
Although the play was largely unmodified, one thing the directors did do was make Williams captain, believing his knowledge of the Second Division would stand him in good stead. It was a fine move indeed, Everton racing to the title with five games to spare and a record 121 goals scored along the way. They also reached the FA Cup semi final and were unlucky to fall 0-1 to West Bromwich Albion.
‘We have won because we have always played a good clean, and stylish type of football,’ said Williams on being presented the Second Division Championship trophy. ‘We are determined to regain First Division status, at the first time of trying. We have been pitted against splendid teams, and the co-operations between the players and the management has proved a deciding factor. The team spirit has been wonderful. Our big disappointment is that we are not going to Wembley on Saturday. I think our success has been largely due to the skilful and never say die tactics of the players.’
John McKenna, the former Everton committee man turned Liverpool chairman and Football League President, said: ‘there were many Weary Willies, who predicted that Everton would remain in the Second Division a long time, but their performance has confounded those critics and justified the hopes of their more optimistic supporters.’ He added that he saw ‘no reason’ why Everton should not win the First Division championship a year later. These were prophetic words indeed and, although Williams gave up the captaincy to Dean, he added a League Championship medal to his collection in April 1932.
Williams’ form had been so good that he had supplanted Warney Cresswell – formerly the world’s most expensive player – from the right back berth, who moved to left back in order to accommodate him. Indeed Williams was enjoying the finest football of his career, and is described in the Liverpool Echo as having the crowd cheer his every move in one encounter. ‘Cresswell and Williams as a pair have no superior in First Division football,’ reported the Liverpool Post and Mercury. ‘Williams has the trace of “devil” necessary, and Cresswell the finesse –a grand combination in two backs.’
However, in December 1932 a knee injury cruelly struck the full back and the Everton board moved immediately, signing Celtic’s Billy Cook to replace him. Out injured for more than a year, he returned in January 1934 with Cook switching to the left to accommodate him. But thereafter chances were limited and after making just three appearances in the 1935/36 season was given a free transfer. He returned to south Wales and, by way of Newport County, to the coalmines where his working life had started.