Charlie Williams – Morten Olesen Guest Blog

Here’s a guest blog written by Morten Olesen , who is a Danish Manchester City supporter. Morten has written about a famous Manchester City goalkeeper who went on to become a major coach. This piece is of interest to City fans; those interested in Danish sport and anyone who wants to learn more about early footballing coaches. Morten has written this blog to add context and detail to goalkeeper Charlie Williams’ life.


Manchester City has always had a tradition of having talented goalkeepers. The club’s first ever goalkeeper, Charles Albert Williams, set a high standard from the beginning – and to that extent became a pioneer in both Manchester, Denmark and Brazil, at a time when the game of football was still in its childhood

Charles Albert Williams was born in Welling, Kent just outside London, on 19 November 1873. Incidentally, only a few miles from where Arsenal struck their first fold. Back then a small football club struggling to find a foothold in a growing football sport. It would later become crucial to Williams’ career. We will return to that. Hang on. This is going to be a long story.

The early years

From the time Charlie Williams was a kid, he knew he wanted to be a goalkeeper. So already at the age of 16 he left Welling to try his hand at the game. It took over two years for goalkeeper positions at small clubs such as Phoenix in Yorkshire, Clarence in Belfast before returning to Welling, where the small club Erith welcomed the returning son. Returning home turned out to be the best career choice that the then still just 18-year-old Williams could make. For he was quickly noticed by Erith’s neighbouring club, which was very ambitious, and which today goes by the name “Arsenal”.

However, the club was then called Royal Arsenal and was based in south London. Arsenal players came mainly from the nearby arms factory, Woolwich. Despite the fact that the club at the time was still of amateur status, they were London’s leading football team. It should be noted here that the football game in London in the early 1890s was virtually unknown. This is strongly illustrated by the fact that the big city did not have a single team represented in the nationwide 1st division. The epicentre of the football game was at that time north of England’s capital.

But as I said, Royal Arsenal were ambitious. As early as 1891, the club became professional, although they did not play in any division. The London Football Association took that choice badly and froze Royal Arsenal out. Arsenal were thus excluded from participating in the regional London amateur league, and they therefore had to settle for friendly matches and qualification for the F.A Cup.

The 18-year-old Charlie Williams was one of the first to get a contract with Royal Arsenal. From 1891-1893 he took part in their struggle to establish themselves as a professional football club.

In 1893 the club’s name was changed to Woolwich Arsenal. The name change came in connection with the formation of a limited company to be able to buy the home ground, the then Manor Ground in Plumstead. This move paid off, because in the same year Woolwich Arsenal were included in the newly created and nationwide 2nd division. A huge achievement for the club, which could now see a future. However, the relegation to the 2nd division was the beginning of the end for Charlie Williams’ time at Arsenal.

Arrival at the “new” Manchester City

However, Charlie Williams started out as Woolwich’s first goalkeeper in the club’s debut season as a league club. On September 2, 1893, Williams played in Arsenal’s historic first league game. Unfortunately, it turned into a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle. It heralded difficult times for the young professional club – and not least Williams. The season ended with an honourable 9th place out of 15 teams, but Arsenal’s management saw Williams as one of the team’s weak links. It is described that the goalkeeper’s often “unorthodox style” brought him in troubles and it cost Arsenal a couple of big defeats along the way. Williams was put up for sale in the spring of 1894.

The buyer was Manchester City, who had just been founded by the bankrupt Ardwick F.C, who had finished third in the very 2nd division in which Arsenal had become 9th.

Ardwick had had major financial problems throughout the season and had reportedly played several matches with just 10 men! In the final season, Ardwick was declared bankrupt, and out of the ashes of Ardwick, the idea of ​​a Manchester City was conceived.

One man who became crucial to Manchester City’s creation that year was Joshua Parlby (b. 1855). He worked hard to make Manchester City a reality. Parlby could see that football was becoming more and more popular. He therefore believed that a club that called itself “Manchester City” would reach far wider in the region than simply naming itself after the “suburb” in which one has an address.

Hyde Road Hotel (notice the Oldham v City advert and the turnstiles down the entry).

Parlby succeeded in having Manchester City founded on 16 April 1894 through an assembly at the Hyde Road Hotel (pictured above). More importantly, Parlby was successful in getting Manchester City re-elected to the 2nd division via Ardwick’s license, so Manchester City could line up in the league in 1894/95, and not just be relegated to an uninteresting regional league.

Parlby was busy. He should manage to gather a team up for the start of the season on 1 September. This is where our main character, Charlie Williams, comes into the picture again. Along with almost 10 other debutants, 20-year-old Williams lined up for Manchester City’s very first league game, which was unfortunately lost 2-4 in Bury. Manager Parlby, however, could quickly breathe a sigh of relief as City subsequently picked up 5 points in the next three games (2 points for victory at the time). The new City was competitive.

But that it was a new team with large fluctuations can be clearly read in the results from the season. They show a great instability: For example, City won 11-3 over Lincoln (Still club record for most goals in the same match) but there was also a 0-8 defeat to Burton Wanderers. Williams appeared in 23 of the season’s 30 games. Despite City conceding a large number of goals (72), the management of Manchester City must have been happy with their goalkeeper – allegedly because City scored many goals at the other end (82). The mantra has clearly been that as long as more goals are scored than the opponents – then it will work!

Charlie Williams was to guard the goal for the light blues for 8 seasons. He was listed for 232 games, keeping him solid in the top 100 of players with the most games for Manchester City. Williams’ greatest achievement with City is undoubtedly that he was part of the team that won the 2nd division in 1899, thereby securing Manchester City a place in England’s top division – incidentally as the first Manchester based team eve

First goalkeeper to score in open play

On a personal level, Williams City’s career is best remembered for becoming the first goalkeeper in history to score in open play. This occurred on 14 April 1900 in a 1st division match at Roker Park against Sunderland. The event is described in Gary James’ book Manchester: The City Years:

The match was played at Roker Park in a strong windy weather. City defender Bert Read, who always kept an extra eye on Williams because it was often difficult to predict what the unorthodox goalkeeper could come up with, had a perfect view of how the goal was scored. He often told this version of Williams ‘goal: “I put the ball back in Williams’ hands and he kicked it far – to the middle of the pitch. The ball hit the ground and bounced – and bounced – and for each bounce it seemed to gain more and more speed. The two Sunderland defenders, Porteous and Gow, were totally surprised, got in each other’s way, and the ball now sailed against Doig, Sunderland’s famous Scottish national team goalkeeper, Ned Doig, who seemed to be in control. “But: a sudden gust of wind did that Doig only got his fingertips on it – and the ball went into the net”.

There must have been a strong wind that day. The balls back then were really heavy. Despite Williams’ sensational goal City lost 3-1, which was not surprising. Sunderland was one of the great teams of that time (4 championships between 1892 and 1902)

Williams was at the peak of his career in those years, and he was an important part of City’s team. It was only because of his unorthodox style that he never got elected to the national team.

In 1902 Charlie Williams’ career at City ended, when the blues somewhat surprisingly moved out of the 1st division in a last place. City got off to a bad start in the 1901/02 season, with just 3 wins and 1 draw in the first 15 games of the season. Manager Sam Ormerod therefore decided to bring in a new goalkeeper, Jack Hillman from Burnley. Williams’ last match for City was a 0-3 defeat on 4 January 1902 – to the club he had celebrated his personal triumph of scoring against – Sunderland.

Ned Doig, Sunderland’s goalkeeper

He went back to London, where the now almost 30-year-old Williams had short careers at Tottenham, Norwich and Brentford respectively. However, his career had undoubtedly culminated. The three mentioned clubs all played in the regional “Southern League First Division” which can best be described as the level just below the 2nd Division. In 1907, Williams stopped his career – but he was not yet finished with football. Far from it!

Denmark’s first national coach

In Denmark, as in England, the football game was on the rise. The game became more and more popular. In the early 1900s, no country in the world took the game of football more seriously than Denmark. Dansk Boldspil Union – DBU – (The Danish F.A ) was inspired by British football, which they wanted to emulate in both style and expression. Therefore, English teams often visited Copenhagen to play exhibition matches against selected Danish (read Copenhagen) teams. At that time, football in Denmark was centred on Copenhagen. The big clubs were K.B, Frem, B. 93 and AB.

International matches did not yet exist. But in 1903, something happened on that front. Again, with eyes on the British Isles. DBU hired the Scottish David Mitchell to coach a selected Danish team in the weeks leading up to a couple of exhibition matches (so-called “Staevnekampe”) against the then big football team, Scottish Queens Park – and Southampton. However, it was still a committee in the DBU that selected the players for the matches. Not a definite coach.

Three years later, in 1906, Denmark was invited to the unofficial anniversary Olympics in Athens. the so-called “intermediate games” specially arranged to save the Olympics, after two scandalously games in 1900 and 1904. The DBU reluctantly sent a team assembled by the players themselves. They all came from B. 93, K.B, Frem and A.B.

Denmark won a parody of an Olympic tournament, which mostly consisted of small Greek club teams, in the otherwise registered national team from France, England, Germany, Holland and Austria, among others, never showed up! In the final against Athens, it was 9-0 to the Danes at the break. The Greeks never came out to the 2nd half … A farce

Despite the DBU’s reluctance to take part in the 1906 Games, the victory must still have given some blood on its teeth to play national matches. For now, the DBU was betting on having to take part in the official London Olympics in 1908. And this is where our main character, Charlie Williams, comes into the picture again. For DBU was in close dialogue with the English Football Association for help in hiring a decided coach who was to prepare Denmark for the Olympics. and the team’s first official internationals. And of course, it should still be with British inspiration. DBU got recommended Charlie Williams.

Denmark’s Olympic team in 1906

Denmark’s national team thus became the mere 35 – year – old Williams’ first coaching job – and even though it sounds like a bad decision these days, it turned out to be ingenious.

The then magazine “Sportsbladet” wrote about the employment:

“The union has probably been lucky in the election of Mr. Williams, he takes care of the players with great interest and with much care, and has an excellent understanding of what football is about. Mr. Williams undoubtedly has a lot of experience and accurate knowledge of the game of football both in theory and practice. There is a lot to learn for our players if they follow his advice and instructions”.

the writer above is John Gandil, one of the Danish football stars of the time (from B. 93) so he must have known what he was talking about.

Williams joined Denmark in August 1908, where he trained a squad of 26 Danish players four times a week at B. 93’s training ground, located where the danish national stadium, “Parken” is today. Twice a week it was match training – and the remaining two training sessions were exclusively running training – something that at that time was completely unheard of in Danish football circles. To that Williams himself said – again to “Sportsbladet”:

“Here is excellent material for a good team, but the players greatly miss training and do not really seem to understand the significance of this; they would rather just practice kicking towards the goal and neglecting the training in sprints. This view is extremely unfortunate, because when you have the skill in ball handling that is the case with the Danish players, they must first and foremost place emphasis on getting the body in shape and achieving the necessary speed”

The 35-year-old Englishman clearly enjoyed his life in Denmark. The training conditions were good, and the player material as promised. However, it turned into a bit of linguistic confusion. A story reads:

“When I first came here and asked for lunch, the lady did not understand at all why I was trying to make a pantomime with an imaginary knife and fork. The lady now seemed to be aware of what I meant, she disappeared, but came back a little later, not with lunch, but with a box of cigarettes “

A touched Williams

The Danish national football team’s participation in the Olympics in Williams’ hometown, London, was a resounding success, and has gone down in Danish football history. Williams became the man who led Denmark when they played their very first official football international match on October 19, 1908 at White City Stadium – (built in 1907 for the Olympics – demolished in 1985)

Denmark’s Olympic national team in 1908 probably photographed v. B. 93 ‘facility. Charlie Williams is in the middle row as number 3 from the left

Denmark played a French B national team and won 9-0 (nine) In the next match, which was actually a semi-final, France “A” waited – which on paper should be better than France B. But they obviously were not. The Danes won by historic 17-1 (seventeen-one). Sophus “Krølben” Nielsen (Frem) in particular immortalized himself in that match – He scored 10 goals.

It was a result that for 83 years was the world record for a victory in an official international match. In 2001, American Samoa lost 31-0 to Australia.

Despite the impressive results, it was still the final that made Charlie Williams most proud – even though Denmark went on to lose 2-0 to the home team from England. The Danes fought heroically throughout the match and the red / whites were the best team throughout the second half. When Williams’ 8,000 compatriots in attendance clapped Denmark off the field after the final, our first national coach was very moved.

Stayed in Denmark, apparently

After the successful Olympics, Charlie Williams reportedly stayed in Denmark for 2-3 years. He still took on some tasks for the national team, and then he was regularly responsible for the training of B. 93, where the club won the then KBU tournament in 1908 and 1909. (Championship of Copenhagen)

Most importantly, he still built a bridge between Danish and English football. He definitely used his network to get English clubs to Copenhagen. He often refereed when the English teams played in Copenhagen, which they often did. Thus, also when Manchester City was on a summer trip in the city in 1910. Here the blues played two matches on “Granen” at Frederiksberg, Copenhagen (Granen was the forerunner of the danish national stadium. FC Copenhagen distributes today an annual memorial trophy named “Granen”)

Farewell to Denmark – and Europe

In 1911, Williams went to France to coach Olympique Lillois, a predecessor of Lille OSC. However, the coaching job in France was extremely short-lived, as he was soon to meet Oscar Cox on a visit to London.

Oscar Cox (born 1880) was of an affluent immigrant English / Brazilian family, interested in sports – and very enterprising. He had become acquainted with the game of football while studying in Lausanne, Switzerland. He had become so fascinated by the game that when he returned to Brazil, he became a pioneer in spreading it. Football at the time was NOTHING in Brazil. Hard to imagine today where football in Brazil is cultivated as a religion.

Cox took strategic action. He organized the first football match ever in Brazil – in Rio De Janeiro. He then moved on to Sao Paolo, where he, along with another great pioneer of Brazilian football, Charles Miller, planned football matches

Most of all, however, Cox is probably today most connected to the fact that he was a co-founder of the football club still known today. Fluminense.

In 1911, almost 10 years after its founding, Fluminense was looking for their first coach. The choice had fallen on the now almost 40-year-old Charlie Williams, who was persuaded to take the job for a salary of £ 18 a month (well over £ 2000 in 2021 money) two return trips to England, as well as free board and lodging. An excessively high salary compared to the salary limits that were legal at the time. But Cox did not care. He wanted Williams to take Fluminense forward at any cost.

Williams arrived with the ship Oropesa in Rio on March 16, 1911 and was presented as Fluminense’s first manager. He had to both coach and take out teams. Until now, it had been a board that had been responsible for team selection – but now all responsibility rested with the former Manchester City goalkeeper /Danish national coach. Williams was described at the presentation as “The man who knows all the secrets and means of the violent sport”. In its own way, it tells a lot about the game of football in the early 1900s – as well as Williams’ methods as a coach.

But the methods worked. Williams led Fluminense to the Rio Championship (Campeonato Carioca) in his first season with 6 wins out of 6 possible – and a score of 21-1!

In the following season, things went less well. Fluminense had to settle for a 5th place – but of course the pioneer Williams still had to write history: He became the first victorious manager in the first Rio derby, Fluminense v Flamengo in everyday speech called the Fla-Flu derby. A local showdown that would eventually become huge.

Flamengo was founded in 1911 by breakaways from Fluminense. The breakaways were dissatisfied with the state of affairs in “Flu”, and went to Flamengo, where they set up a football department. The basis for a rivalry was created. Today, Fla-Flu is one of the world’s most visited football matches, which has had spectators up to almost 200,000!

For the first one, which Williams was in charge of, however, there were only 800. It was not, as today, held at the famous stadium Maracana, but at the much smaller Estádio das Laranjeiras. Incidentally, Brazil also played their first “international match” here. That was in 1914 – against something as exotic as Exeter City. Brazil won 2-0.

Brazil v Exeter, 1914

Estádio das Laranjeiras still exists today – and is owned by Fluminense.

From “Midas Touch” to obsolete

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Charlie Williams was called up for military service, and thus had to return to Europe. I have unfortunately not been able to figure out what Williams was doing for the next 10 years.

However, it is certain that in 1924 he was back in Brazil, now just over 50 years old. Here he again took over the manager role at Fluminense. Once again, he led “Flu” to a Rio championship – right at the snout of rivals from Flamengo. Williams stayed at Fluminense until 1926, when he switched to another Rio club, America FC. And of course, he won them the Rio Championship! 

There has been a kind of “Midas Touch” over Williams. He was therefore a coveted gentleman in Rio’s football circles. In 1929, he was hired as a coach at Botafogo, and this was perhaps where the beginning to the end of Williams’ career was set in motion. Williams coached the team according to his methods that had brought so much success.

But when Botafogo hired Hungarian Nicola Ladany (b. 1889) as a kind of sports director, things began to turn sour. Ladany insisted that Botafogo should experiment with mental training, something Williams refused. That was probably why Williams was demoted to assistant coach, while Botafogo’s star player, Nilo Braga (b. 1903) took over as head coach. Botafogo won the championship and Williams had to watch from his assistant role.

Williams left Botafogo in 1930 for what was to be his last job in football: The old rivals from Flamengo wanted Williams to take over. Surely in the hope that the Englishman could get the club back at the top of the league.

Flamengo had had some lean years.. Ok they had won the Rio championship in 1927, but subsequently it had gone sluggishly with several mid tables finishes. Williams, however, could not correct the mediocrity. The following year – in 1931 – Williams led Flamengo to just a 6th place. It was reportedly here that he must have decided that his time as a coach was over.

Maybe time was running out from him? Williams could only see to it that the club that had demoted him, Botafogo, dominated the Rio football scene with their new and modern training methods, which he had rejected to implement. At the same time, the plans for a professional Brazilian league were also so advanced that Williams might have had a hard time to see himself, as part of it? We do not know. In 1931 Charlie Williams stopped a more than 40-year career in the service of the football game.

He shaped the football game and stimulated it to progress and success – in London, Manchester, Denmark and Rio. In addition to being an excellent goalkeeper, coach and innovator, he was a great pioneer of the game of football, which all of us who love football today should be remembered with great respect. 

Despite the adversity he experienced at the end of his career, he must have enjoyed life far away from his hometown, Welling. For he remained in Rio De Janeiro for the rest of his life. Charlie Williams died in the Brazilian capital on July 29, 1952, aged 78. He is buried in the city on Cemiterio dos Ingleses Gamboa (English Cemetery).

Unfortunately, no descendants have been found who can shed more light on an absolutely fantastic life. Some believe to know that he had a son who was a football referee in Brazil, but it has turned into nothing but speculation and guesses. But now I have tried, perhaps as the only one ever, to shed light on Charlie Williams’ life. It was a pleasure to discover this fantastic life of. Mr. Williams 

NEWS: City Reflections

I’m delighted to say that earlier this week I agreed to write a regular column for the new Manchester City Match Programme. If all goes to plan it should be included in today’s programme. There will be two pieces written by me…

One will be about 3 pages or so on a historical theme and the other will be a crowd puller style feature where I provide brief information comparing City’s volume of support with the day’s opponents (the stats may shock a few of City’s rivals as the season progresses!).

Today’s main feature (v Norwich) is on City’s Olympic gold medalists – obviously there have been a few gold winners for football connected with our club but today’s feature focuses on two men connected with City who won gold for other sports.

Hopefully fans will find it interesting.

I’m keen to hear from fans who buy the programme about what areas of history they’d like to read about. Obviously, I want to ensure there’s a connection to the present in some way, but I’m keen to cover topics that fans want to read or learn about.

Please either leave comments below or email me at