Kneeling with hands lifted is often associated with worship and reverence to a higher power.
Those that have seen Ronwen Hayden Williams bowing on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven after a match may have mistaken it for some sort of pious devotion.
But his lifting of hands is toward a man who left an indelible mark in his life.
It’s been 10 years since his adored brother left planet earth in a road accident. But the SuperSport goalkeeper knows Marvin, who was 7 years his senior, is still watching over him the same way he did when they were younger.
“Every time I achieve something I look up to the sky, even during penalty shootouts, you’ll just see me uttering stuff. That’s me speaking to him. We’re in this together. As much as he is not here physically, I know he’s got my back. He is there watching over me each step of the way. Wherever he is, I know he is proud,” says an emotional Williams.
His football journey bears the message that one must constantly dig in to overcome the hurdles they face every day in the quest for glory.
For many, the struggle is where to persistently draw inspiration. Of course, it never came in a pleasant package for Williams. It was the tragic loss of a brother he dearly loved that propelled him in his football career.
SuperSport youth coach Kwanele Kopo saw a boy full of promise recoil into a shell only to spring out with a stronger force. He recounts the day it happened. They had just arrived in Cape Town to play in the 2010 Bayhill Under-19 tournament when the news came through.
Williams had to immediately leave the squad and go home. They would not see their prized prodigy for the next 3 months.
“After he buried his brother, he didn’t want to come back to the academy, he didn’t want to continue playing football. I phoned him every single day telling him the best he could do for his late brother was to play football and do something he loves in his memory.
“It took three months to get Ronwen back at SuperSport and even then he didn’t go straight into training, only doing so later. But once he came into playing, he really shot up, doing exceptionally well and after that season that he was promoted to the first team,” Kopo tells FARPost.
Forget that Sherwyn Naicker was always ahead of him in the pecking order. The returnee Williams took no prisoners. The Port Elizabeth-born star was unstoppable in his renewed resolve to succeed.
All it had taken was the advice of men that had known him since he joined Matsatsantsa at the age of 12. And he has held onto that important piece of counsel till today. He uses the heartrending tragedy as motivation to achieve higher goals.
When he speaks of his relationship with Marvin, you just know the bromance was uncommon.
“He was the perfect big brother, always looking out for my back. He loved me so much. I can proudly say he was my number one supporter.
“All his friends knew about me; he was so proud when I joined the academy and when he moved to Joburg he would come and watch my games. It was a huge loss, but I managed to overcome it and use it as motivation,” says Williams, who can be seen in the video below in one of his first few games in 2011.
His mother, Hazel, who turned 60 in March, reveals her boy has a tattoo of his brother on his arm.
“Those boys were so close. Ronwen actually has a tattoo of Marvin on one of his arms,” she says.
Her advice to him was like SuperSport’s, just slightly put in different words. “I told him I didn’t think Marvin would be happy that he left soccer because of his passing on. His death would have been the reason he quit his passion and I reminded him his brother wouldn’t have wanted that,” she says.
Interestingly, Hazel could be the reason the footie star decided to pursue a career in the game. Unbelievably, she continued to play soccer when she was pregnant with the SuperSport star, only stopping at five months. Clearly, the former Shutterproof Women FC striker understands football. She knows the big shoes her son must fill after being appointed new captain at his Tshwane club.
“I’m very proud he has been appointed team captain. I’m confident he will lead by example as he is aware that he is filling the big shoes of Dean Furman,” she says.
But her boy, who’s played every minute this season, is ready to step up. In fact, the appointment came as no surprise to him after 16 years at the club.
“Being captain is a huge responsibility more so replacing someone such as Dean. I believe it’s my time now; I’ve always waited for this opportunity as I’ve learnt so much from him. The club has always treated me as a leader, I knew it was coming,” says the 2018/19 PSL Goalkeeper of the Season.
One of the first phone calls he received after the captaincy announcement was from his dad. He says it was a long lecture on how to conduct himself as captain. The humble goalie does not mind at all. He is grateful for the wise counsel.
For Kopo, Williams’ elevation is gratifying. “At times I look at him and get emotional thinking where he comes from, it has certainly been a fulfilling journey. I hope his international career will do well, he still has to win more trophies and shine for Bafana,” Kopo says.
Interestingly, Kopo adds 270 appearances later for the senior team, Williams is the model they use to inspire the club’s academy kids. The 28-year-old has kept 102 clean sheets and conceded 273 goals.
And as he trudges forward, Williams, twice a winner of the Nedbank Cup and a 2017 MTN8 champion, his utmost dream is to lift the Absa Premiership as captain.
More than the titles though, Williams is eager to leave an indelible mark in the lives of those around him, the same way Marvin did.
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By Mthokozisi Dube