Wales Euros hero Ashley Williams 'nearly quit football'

The Wolverhampton-born Wales captain Ashley is looking calm as he prepares for the biggest game of his life. Credit: PA

When Ashley Williams leads Wales out tonight for their historic Euro 2016 semi-final against Portugal, it will be a dream come true.

But the 31-year-old Welsh skipper, who was born in Wolverhampton, almost quit football when he was released by West Bromwich Albion at the age of 16.

His mother, Lyn Williams, from Tamworth, says that her son’s heart was 'broken'.

“He wasn’t tall enough, they said he was too small, he didn’t play football for a year, he was heartbroken.”

However, his mother said it was also the making of him. She will be in France with Ashley’s dad Errol, to watch the Welsh tonight.

Williams still held hopes of making it as a professional, playing for non-league Hednesford Town while working as a petrol station attendant, a waiter at a Beefeater restaurant and at Drayton Manor theme park.

It was while he playing for Hednesford that he was talent-spotted by Stockport Country and later moved to current team Swansea City.

Williams celebrating scoring with Wales Manager Chris Coleman during their quarter final match between Wales and Belgium. Credit: PA

“He’s always had a passion for football,” said Lyn.

“His dad was into his football and was a football manager at Hednesford – I used to take Ashley to watch him play on Saturdays. Ashley played his first proper league match with the Belgrave Bullets when he was six years old.”

Even though they have followed Ashley’s illustrious career closely, she describes the experience of seeing them progress through to the semi-finals as “surreal.”

Lyn, a retired probation worker, said: “It’s like Ashley but it’s not Ashley. His dad and I are so proud.”

Tonight their son will be playing in the biggest match of his life.

“It’s unbelievable and surreal,” said Lyn.“We’re off to France to see the game.

“We speak every day and have been to almost every match, although I had to miss the Belgium match.

“He’s loving it there. “He’s missing the children but he’s loving it there.

“Each game is a new challenge and he just keeps taking it game by game. He doesn’t think of the end result. Not yet."

Ashley’s Welsh ancestry comes through his mum’s side of the family.

He qualified to play for Wales through his late Welsh maternal grandfather, Bill Rowlands