'2019 was then a bit of a whirlwind. I got to coach at senior level in England for the first time, joining the first team at Stafford Town FC and being a part of the latter stages of a season that ended in promotion...'
Name, age, where are you based?
Luke Williams, 22 years old, Staffordshire, England (originally from Conwy, Wales).
Current and past Roles:
I am currently coaching an Under 10’s side at Pro Pathway in Staffordshire. My past roles include:
Consultant Scout for a club in the English Football League (EFL).
Coach with Stafford Town Football Club (First Team and a junior side).
Freelance Opposition Scout – worked for clubs in the Scottish and Welsh leagues.
Academy Scout at Shrewsbury Town Football Club.
Volunteer Coach with United Through Sport in St Lucia.
UEFA/FAW B Licence, Youth & Senior.
PFSA Level 1 in Talent Identification in Football.
The FA Level 1 in Talent Identification.
FAW Football Leaders Award.
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I’ve been interested in coaching for as long as I can remember. I moved to England when I was young and the junior team that I played for had a brief affiliation with PSV Eindhoven. I remember going on tour to the Netherlands and watching PSV train – it was when they were managed by Guus Hiddink and had players like Van Bommel, Robben and Park Ji-Sung. Watching them train up close was mesmerising.
We watched them play the next day, but I remember just as much of the training session as I do of the match. The Dutch theme didn’t end there, I was fortunate enough to play at the Development Centres and Academies of several clubs – two coaches that stand out are Rene Mulensteen and Robin van der Laan. I still have old notes and sessions plans that we were given and they still influence me today. As a kid I would always pretend to be a manager – I had my first copy of Championship Manager when I was 9!
My Dad also coached me when I was young and he briefly worked for some professional clubs local to us, which inspired and influenced me a lot. My interest never diminished and I took the first Level 1 course available to me once I hit 16, while volunteering at my old primary school as part of my DofE.
I spent some time volunteering as a football coach in St Lucia, which took me right out of my comfort zone but also gave me the chance to work with a variety of ages and abilities, all in a different country with a different culture. I had a really difficult period personally and spent all of three months trying to attain a degree in Law before coming home to a) try and sort things out on a personal level and b) do some coaching at a local football club while I figured out what I wanted to do.
Realistically, working in football was all I was ever going to do. I got a role as an academy scout at Shrewsbury Town FC, which gave me scouting experience but also meant that I could go and watch training, so I learned a lot from that role. I also got to do some coaching with the pre-academy, including training and matches against other clubs. I don’t coach for the money, but receiving that first payment from a professional football club made me believe that it was possible to pursue this career path if I was prepared to put the work in.
I added to the scouting experience gained at Shrewsbury by doing some freelance opposition reports for some clubs in Wales and Scotland, which gave minimal reward from a financial perspective but put me in a great position for scouting roles that have come along since.
2019 was then a bit of a whirlwind. I got to coach at senior level in England for the first time, joining the first team at Stafford Town FC and being a part of the latter stages of a season that ended in promotion. I attained my UEFA B Licence that summer with the FAW and a blog that I had started up to analyse Wales matches in my spare time resulted in me writing for a bilingual Welsh magazine and appearing on BBC Radio Cymru.
With Stafford Town, I was still coaching both young and senior players, getting a lot of hours in. With the First Team, promotion had seen us go from a league where we were expected to win games to one where the expectation was to fight to stay up. It was a whole new set of circumstances and I learned a lot in a short space of time. I then temporarily stopped coaching to focus on a new role as a scout for a club in the English Football League.
Any achievements or anything you would like to highlight?
My favourite achievement so far is attaining my UEFA B Licence, just because of what it signified for me on a personal level after a rough couple of years. Being a part of a promotion-winning team was also good, but I was only involved for two or three months so I can’t exactly claim too much credit.
My best victory as a coach was in August 2019, for Stafford Town against Hinckley, who are a big club for the level they’re playing at, with a big fanbase. The other assistant coach and I were caretaker managers for the day, with the manager unavailable for personal reasons.
We were short of several players and came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1. It was an unbelievable feeling to win a game like that where we were expected to lose – and I felt as though I read the game well, got the message right at half time and that the substitutions we made changed the course of the game. It was the first senior match that I believed I played a big part in deciding the result of. It is difficult to describe the feeling of a game like that.
My craziest coaching experiences undoubtedly came in St Lucia. Not only was I coaching seniors for the first time, but I was doing so on a terrible pitch that had an international airport to one side and a main road to the other. With planes overhead and cars flying by, all communication had to be as effective as possible and I had to adapt very quickly.
I also had to get used to a culture where it was perfectly normal for players to turn up 30 minutes to an hour late for training – trying to stay in control of a session while operating on “island time” was a huge task for the uptight eighteen year old that I was at the time.
At the beginning of my first session, one of the players booted a ball as high as he could in the air, looked me right in the eye and said “let’s see you control it then”. I managed to bring the ball down as everybody watched, but I dread to think how that first session would have gone if I hadn’t! I was coaching mixed-ability junior school children in the morning, teenage academy players in the afternoon and senior players in the evening. I learned so much out there.
What interests you the most about scouting and analysis roles and how is it influencing the coaching side of your work?
With everything that I do, I am interested in the “how” and the “why”. In football, scouting and analysis work goes a long way towards answering these questions because you can break down the functions of a team and workout the details that make them operate as they do. I love watching different teams and different styles and there is always something to learn and potentially apply to your own coaching and/or footballing beliefs.