Former Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe United midfielder Luke Williams reflects on first league start in over 1,400 days as Hartlepool United beat Woking 1-0
For 70-minutes, 1,436 days of pain and torture were briefly forgotten by Luke Williams as he made his full National League debut for Hartlepool United.
Almost exactly four years on from his previous league start, Williams was named in Pools’ line-up to face Woking on Saturday afternoon.
The 27-year-old midfielder has been in the building at Victoria Park for almost three years – to say this start was much anticipated would be somewhat of an understatement.
"It's massive, I can't begin to explain, I came off and I was quite emotional,” Williams said following the match.
“You see the messages and I can't thank everyone enough for giving me the chance to go through everything and come out of it starting a game today.
"I got a message from my mam and I couldn't say nicer things about the club and the people around me who have given me the opportunity to come back.
"I got a stat up on my phone and it's something crazy like 1,400 days since my last league start and you think ‘Jesus Christ’ a little bit and you need to pinch yourself. Then you have to remember why you've done that and you have to move forward as well.”
Of course Williams started and scored in the FA Trophy penalty shoot-out defeat at Halifax Town back in December, let’s not forget that – but this was the real deal, the ‘bread and butter’ of first team football for a side gunning for promotion to the Football League.
Saturday’s ‘first league start’ title also comes with the footnote of Williams starting the ill-fated match at Eastleigh back in November. He lasted just over quarter of an hour before the encounter was abandoned at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch and wiped from the record books.
Now it’s merely a bit of trivia reserved for Poolie pub quizzes in years to come.
The set-backs Williams has had to endure have been ‘torture’ both physically and mentally, but he’s retained his upbeat persona through it all. The midfielder quipped that he could write a book based on what he’s gone through over the past few years before quickly doubting that anyone would buy it.
But Saturday’s outing was a huge step in the right direction for the midfielder who got through the game confidently with no ill-effects afterwards.
And in the first half, Williams had the chance to complete the fairy tale as Jamie Sterry pulled the ball back to him inside the penalty area.
“I was thinking, ‘goal’,” the former Middlesbrough man recalled.
“I thought ‘get in’ this is going to be it. I dragged it a little bit but it was too good to be true but Oatesy [Rhys Oates] does what he does to get us the three points which is the main thing beyond all.”
Now Williams is ready to kick-on as he added: “It's difficult, I'm not owed any favours from anyone and I have to work harder than anyone to brush off titles that [I've had].
"After that start and the way it's gone, the cotton wool is off, the bubble wrap is off, this is me now and I'm part of it and I've got to show why I should be part of it.”