Soccer legend Mark Williams takes a stroll down memory lane

In the third episode of the Nedbank Reality Football series, Mark Williams, better known to South African football lovers as “Nation Builder”, opened up about his illustrious career.

Williams, who had always wanted to be a part of something big for his country, was in the Bafana Bafana squad that brought joy to South Africans by lifting the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) trophy.

In a sit-down interview with Brain Mathe, the soccer veteran shared how encouraging it was for his generation of soccer players to have nicknames.

“My nickname comes a long way. I was on my way home one day when a great friend of mine, Robert Marawa, told me that he is going to give me this name. I was like, okay, maybe I was part of building the nation, so I accepted the name,” he remembered.

He continued, looking down memory lane: “I was in Germany, busy training for pre-season when our rugby team won against New Zealand in 1995. I broke down in tears. I was alone in the mountains, running up and down, and I said to myself one day I want to be part of something big in my country.”

Having played overseas for many years, Williams said he had encountered an array of challenges, temptations, and difficulties that required him to be strong.

“When I had to go and play for my country the following year, I was offered £2-million [R40-million at the current exchange rate] and a three-year contract by coach Graham Taylor to not play for my country in the Afcon tournament.”

Being a top goalscorer in the Afcon tournament, Williams still warmed the bench for the final, something he said should serve as a lesson to upcoming players.

“They decided to keep me on the bench, and it is part of being in a team. You must wait for your turn and when it comes, grab the opportunity. I hope the current players will learn from this.”

Reliving the day, Williams said the Madiba Magic worked in favour of the team, adding that the fans also gave the players the confidence to push harder on the pitch.

“Before every game, he [former president Nelson Mandela] would come at six o’clock in the morning and greet each player. You know when your president does that, you are bound to perform well.

“I was sitting there, and I looked at the time. I’ve never seen the FNB Stadium packed like that. The crowd was screaming “Willy, free Willy, Williams”. The crowd took over,” he shared, adding that all the financial decisions and lessons he learnt during his days as a soccer player, he shared with young players at the Mark Williams Rainbow Nation School.

“One of my players who went on to play professional football told me that he bought a house for his mother. That made me proud.”

Previous and upcoming episodes with the greatest of local football include interviews with Doctor Khumalo, Siphiwe Tshabala, Yeye Letsholonyane and Jerry Sikhosana. It is available on

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