A year ago on that Saturday, I laid in that hospital bed thinking ‘you’re not going to play again’...So it was kind of weird, making my comeback a year and a day after the operation.Rach Williams
The popular Williams has been out of action due to a ruptured ACL in her right knee.
But one year and one day on from when she was lying in a hospital bed thinking it was all over, she made her comeback.
Williams entered the fray as a 55th minute substitute for Blues against Everton Ladies last Sunday, to rapturous acclaim.
And former England forward Williams, an FA Cup winner and the FA Women's Super League's all-time fifth highest scorer, has vowed to reach her peak once more.
Here, she sat down with bcfc.com to reflect on such a testing time and also the excitement ahead.
What kind of emotions were you going through when you were waiting to come on as substitute?
"On the Sunday morning I woke up and I knew it wasn’t like any other, I thought ‘bloody hell, I could potentially get some minutes today’. I just tried to stay really chilled as I knew if I got excited my head would be all over place! Warming up, I was still chilled. It was really overwhelming the fans cheering me like they did when I came on, the girls clapped me – the first person I saw was Chloe Arthur, who turned around and gave me a big clap. We had a throw-in, and then this emotion suddenly came over me, realising I was back. I was then running round for a few minutes and I thought ‘OK, take a deep breath now, relax and settle into the game’. There have been ups and downs along the way, but to get back to this point, and to have my number eight shirt on as well – I got injured in the 17, I went back to eight and had to beg Sarah Mayling for it – it was just huge. My first touch (Williams brought a high ball out of the sky deftly). A fluke! When I did that everyone cheered and I got all excited again."
It has been a long 13 months. How did you keeping going and who helped you, and did you always want to come back?
"Hands down, I always wanted to come back because I am nowhere near finished playing football. I knew it was going to be a big challenge, especially the way I play – quite powerful, high speed running – it takes a lot to get back to that level of fitness. The person who has probably kept me going through all of this is our physio, Chloe Needham. She has seen both sides of it: when I’ve come in and things aren’t right and I’ve been having a bit of a down moment. She never let me give up. She always said ‘you’re going to get back, Rach, it’s such a common injury’. Then Holly Pickett came in, our Strength and Conditioning coach, which was good because she and Holly, in the off season when everyone went on their holidays, stuck by me and came in between May and June to help get me fit. They knew what it meant to me to get back out there and they wanted me out there. Holly has been brilliant with the pitch sessions she has done. She has told me what to eat, how to recover, given me ideas on supplements and all the other bits and bobs that help my body recover as well. At one point I did actually think ‘nah, forget it, I’m going to give up and have a baby’. But my other half Matthew turned round and said: ‘No, we are not having a baby’. So football it was!".
What are the next steps? You can’t be going full pelt, presumably, one substitute appearance into a long season?
"For me it is building up minutes, getting my sharpness back. With Marta Tejedor coming in, I’m now finally getting the chance to work alongside her. She will probably see me as a nine or a 10, it will probably different to how Marc Skinner had me playing. We have got six or seven new players so I have got to fit in and get to know how they play. Even players like Chloe Arthur and Lucy Staniforth, I’ve not even played with them yet, I was out when they came in. I am just going to work on my individual stuff and take every session and game as it comes. I will definitely get back to my best, 100 per cent."
Is there some excitement in a way, as from then to now there has been a lot of change, a turnover of players and a new season starting?
"I get excited in that I have got to prove to Marta what kind of player I am. Fight to get into the team as we have got a good forward line. We each bring something different. Marta mentioned that at the Season Launch Event. She said she’s glad she has versatile players so we can play in different ways, have different game-plans, against different opposition. So, yes, I am like a kid in sweet shop! But it’s that, getting myself too excited, I know I will have to rein in. I know I will have to be patient, as will the team and the fans."
The opening game was a disappointing result, everything but missing that goal?
"On the Saturday, in training, Kerys Harrop was on fire for scoring goals and we joked she was going to be top goalscorer . . . and then that happened! One of the good attributes I have is heading. Once I get back on the pitch we can start getting crosses in because they know I will head anything. Hopefully that will help us. Goals are going to come. Players we have got in the team, me coming back, Bri Visalli is a fiery little one, she will score. We have got goals in us, it is just creating in the final third consistently to do it."
As a senior player who has been at the Club for a while now, are you taking on even more responsibility, helping the new players settle?
"Yes, and also more in that I missed out a lot on what Marta wanted to do last season. The team would be out on the pitch and I’d be in the physio room. It’s also me getting up to speed on how the new philosophy is going to be. Then it is also gelling with those new players as the way I remember things is still under Marc. I might tell them something and they might respond: ‘no, we’re doing it this way now Rach’. It is just a massive lesson in communication we will have to have as a team in order for us to push on. And everyone be eager to learn. Listen to each other. There might be the odd fall out and the odd argument, but as long as we stick together and respect each other’s opinion, then it will be all right. We all want the best for us."
Can you just go through the timeline of the injury for us?
"It was May 20, 2018 at St. Andrew’s. Our last game of the season against Reading. I did my knee and left that game on a stretcher. I was not leaving on a stretcher last Sunday that’s for sure! I had scans and it wasn’t actually a bad tear or anything like that, and my legs and muscles around the knee are strong. I did rehab and pre-season, everything was fine, but it completely ruptured at a friendly against Bristol City. So I had the operation on 7 September, 2018. A year ago on that Saturday, I laid in that hospital bed thinking ‘you’re not going to play again’. I was always going to give it a good go and try. But that’s how you feel. So it was kind of weird, making my comeback a year and a day after the operation.
In the game, as I said, I couldn’t let my emotions get in the way. Those first touches, the girls were like ‘you did it holding off the strongest player on the pitch’. I didn’t even notice. Everton’s centre-half Gabby George had my arm and I went ‘give me my arm’. She said: ‘Why do you have to be back against us?!’."
Rach and Blues travel to West Ham at Rush Green Stadium on Sunday (3pm kick-off). Can't be there? The match is available to view on the FA Player app which is free to download from the App Store. Blues will be looking to bounce back at home in the Conti Cup in a rematch with Everton on Sunday 22 September.
Buy your ticket in advance and save here.