Williams a model keeper

Williams a model keeper

By Ben Mabley (follow Ben on twitter @BenMabley)

The 2012 FIFA Club World Cup kicked off on Thursday night with a difficult 1-0 win for J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima over Auckland City of New Zealand.

Auckland City's Tamati Williams

After the match, I caught up with goalkeeper Tamati Williams – one of Auckland’s star performers and a fascinating character whose unusual back story typifies the manner in which this competition spans the four very different corners of the football world.

A narrow defeat for Auckland City – how would you rate your own and your team’s performance?
There were parts [of my own performance] that I was happy with.

Obviously I was disappointed about conceding – I’ve never seen a ball move like that. And my kicking was atrocious. But as far as the team was concerned, it was fantastic. It was exactly what we were aiming for all week, and dare I say we had the chance to pull off a result – maybe it was a little unjust. But we definitely worked our arses off just as much as they did.

You made a sensational double save (from Koji Morisaki and Satoru Yamagishi) midway through the second half.
I can’t remember too much about the first save. For the second one, I was just trying to get something on it and did what all goalkeepers did. Pure instinct!

But it must have been a psychological blow to go from that to conceding the only goal 30 seconds later.
Yeah, that wasn’t the way I’d hoped it would go! I think you could see from the team that we knew conceding was going to make the hill even bigger. So it definitely knocked me. But what do you do? You’ve got thirty minutes to play, so you’ve got to try and go for broke.

How was the experience of playing on the world stage?
This is my first game at this level. I kind of had a very small foray in the Kingz (New Zealand’s first professional football club in the old Australian National Soccer League) when I was 19, but that’s it. I enjoyed it; I had an absolute ball. It was bittersweet because we didn’t get what we wanted out of it, but it was good.

Were you nervous?
I would say it came and went. Within 24 hours of the game, there were patches where I would start thinking about doing really well, not a problem; then patches where I was thinking about the other side of things. But once I arrived at the stadium it just disappeared and it was all about getting the job done. And luckily for me, apart from my kicking my first couple of touches were good ones.

You come from quite a sporting family.
My dad is a hard man – he’s an Otago rugby player, so he’s a big mighty boy. I think at first he wasn’t happy that I made the switch from rugby to football, but then he saw me playing for the rep sides when you’re kind of 15 or 16, and he got behind it.

But then you had a long break from the game. Why?
I had three and a half or four years off. I was a full-time model. I always struggle to say that with a straight face! It was good – I had a great experience with that, but I had to put the football on the back burner. At the time I was in the national team, so it didn’t sit well with a lot of the coaches.

Who were you modelling for?
I did a bit of everything. I got to do a few in-house things for Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana. And I did a worldwide campaign for Esprit, which was cool – I got to see my face in the middle of Dubai and stuff like that.

Do you still plan to combine the two? What’s the next step?
To be honest, I’m kind of done with that chapter – if I can get work through modelling then it’s good because it’s pretty easy money, but my study and my football are the big priorities at the moment. The next step is obviously going up to playing as a professional, but it’s not something I have to worry about. If the bridge comes along, then I’ll worry about it then, but otherwise the first priority is football and study.

New Zealand is unfortunately isolated as a football nation. How up against it are you?
It’s hard. I think we at Auckland City are restricted by the fact that we can’t officially be a professional team, and that there’s only eight teams in New Zealand that play in the competition so the season is very short. Probably only the top half of the table is really where we get our competitive matches, so there’s so many things to overcome.

Australian football has moved from Oceania into Asia – is this a move that New Zealand should hope to follow?
Definitely. I think that’s why (New Zealand-based, Australian A-League side Wellington) Phoenix for us is such a massive thing because that is our closest thing to the gap we’re trying to close.

Auckland City have put in another good showing at their fourth FIFA Club World Cup. Where do the team go from here?
Getting back here is fantastic for morale and it’s fantastic for the lads. I had an absolute ball out there and I’m sure a lot of the guys did too. Hopefully we can just keep pushing the results back home and get a roll on.

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