Monday, October 12, 2009


Paul Williams: A Tribute

In early 2001, watching a game at North Sydney Oval with a friend, I noticed a familiar figure sitting a few seats across from me. Approaching him rather sheepishly, I excused myself and blurted that he was the finest Australian football commentator I'd heard, and that he always made football a pleasure to watch (or words to that effect).

He smiled warmly and expressed genuine thanks, going out of his way to make this tongue-tied and probably irritating fan feel at ease.

The man was Paul Williams, whose untimely death is a very sad loss for Australian football.

For anyone in the country who began following the game in the nineties, Paul Williams' was the voice of football. Not only did he "call" that fateful game against Iran in Melbourne in 1997, but he lent his always informative commentary to the domestic game as well...not to mention plenty of international football, including the World Cup.

One of my abiding memories of his economical, intelligent style was his handling of one of the most poignant moments of the 1998 World Cup. SBS entrusted the more high-profile games of that event to internationally-renowned callers such as Martin Tyler and Gary Bloom, but Williams was at the microphone for plenty of the matches as well, and never suffered by comparison with his celebrated colleagues.

And he found himself in the hot seat during the Italy v. Chile game from the first round. Picture to yourself the scene: the Italians, trailing 2-1 after a brilliant headed goal from Marcelo Salas, are awarded a late, controversial penalty. Who is to take it? Up steps Roberto Baggio, whose missed penalty was the last kick of the previous tournament, and a source of torment to him ever since then.

Baggio approaches the ball, all grim determination, and strokes it deftly wide of Nelson Tapia in the Chilean goal. "That," says Williams in measured tones, keeping his cool in the fierce emotion of the moment, "is a measure of the man." The same words could have been applied to the commentator.

Prior to his health crisis in 2002, Williams was always a welcome presence on SBS's On the Ball programme. His lively, engaging commentary on the international game made a perfect foil for the laconic wit of Tony Palumbo, and this pair largely made up for the comparative lifelessness of Kyle Patterson in the host's chair.

It was a great shame that he was unable to cover the 2002 World Cup, but it is comforting to note that some of his successors at SBS, notably David Basheer, have emulated both his impeccable research and his unpretentious approach.

He concentrated on radio work from 2002 onwards, and was a familiar figure in the press box at the Sydney Football Stadium throughout the A-League's early years. All who knew him there (and elsewhere) could attest to his kindly, gentle nature and his continuing passion for the game.

Paul Williams was a superb football commentator, and a wonderful human being.

A massive loss to the football community.

Paul Williams - RIP

A heartfelt obit from Les today as well.
totally agree with everything you said.
A superb commentator.

I will be forever grateful for him instigating the football program on 2KY at 9 pm on Sundays.

This together with TWG made Sunday an absolute joy for following football.

I do like Les on the Radio program but would wish Damo would stick to music
RIP Paulo. Gem of a bloke.
You'll never walk alone.
Great tribute Mike.
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