Ranked as the lowest team remaining in this year’s FA Cup; Evo-Stik First Division North outfit Northwich Victoria are just one step away from reaching the illustrious third round of the competition, where they face the prospect of being drawn against Premier League opposition.
The Vics; who defeated fellow non-league side Boreham Wood 2-1 in their first round replay only last month, travel to joint-League Two leaders Northampton Town at Sixfields Stadium on Saturday in what will be Northwich’s TENTH FA Cup tie already this season.
Winger Jordan Williams; who only arrived at Wincham Park from Burscough earlier this summer, already has six goals in this year’s competition, including a brace in the previous round.
The 22-year-old, who currently works part-time at his local supermarket near Lowton in Greater Manchester, has been Northwich’s stand out performer throughout their magical FA Cup run, helping the club defeat the likes of Runcorn Town, AFC Blackpool, Hyde United, Marine and Chorley to reach the tournament’s proper stages.
Now just 90 minutes of football stands in the way of Williams potentially setting up his dream third round FA Cup tie at Anfield away to his boyhood club Liverpool, who he has supported ever since he was a child.
The Northwich forward spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Shoot about the Vics’ incredible league and cup form, the sensation of scoring in the FA Cup, how ex-Football League boss Jim Gannon has developed his career, his admiration for former non-league striker and now Premier League record-breaker Jamie Vardy, plus his own ultimate ambition in football.
You joined Northwich earlier this summer from Burscough. How are you enjoying life at your new club so far?
“Loving it, absolutely loving it. The lads have been brilliant. There is a good feeling about the club, everyone gets on. We are winning games, which helps. The confidence is just high. They are a good set of lads, I couldn’t dislike anyone. They are just brilliant. I think there has been a step-up in footballing ability, but at Burscough, they were a good set of lads as well. I very much enjoyed it there. But I just thought I would try and go for a change and try to push on and win this league that we are in. I feel like that is a good stepping stone for me.”
The club are currently top of the First Division North Table, winning 16 of their opening 17 league games. You must be very confident of promotion this season?
“We are, but we are taking one step at a time. Every game is important. We have just won three games in the last week, which were very big and very tough games. We also came away with two clean sheets in three games. So we are taking it a step at a time and seeing how it goes. But it is going well, we are confident.”
What has been the key to Northwich’s impressive league and cup run so far this term?
“No fear! We are confident. We do not fear anyone. We have played against teams in higher divisions in four rounds, but we have gone into each single game thinking we can beat them. That is the reason I think.”
Explain to us a little bit about Northwich’s journey to the second round of the FA Cup, because your first round fixtures against Boreham Wood were the club’s eighth and ninth cup ties so far!
“It has been very long! To be fair, it seems like it has been going on forever. But we are only in the second round! But the way we have played and the games that we have won; like we went to Chorley and Hyde [United], we went away against them both times and won against all [the] odds. It has been brilliant, we have deserved it. It has been hard work, but the manager has had us set-up really well when we have had to play against teams like that.”
Right back at the beginning of Northwich’s FA Cup run; in the preliminary round, you narrowly defeated Runcorn Town 3-2 back in August. Can you believe just how far you have come since then?
“Not really, it has been quite a journey to be honest. When we played Runcorn, we only just beat them. We then played [AFC] Blackpool and then teams of higher opposition in a higher league. The fact that we have come through against four of them sums up just how good we have been. It is a bit surreal that we have done it. Because we have beaten higher opposition, that gives us immense confidence that we can go to Northampton and do something there as well.”
Now you scored in the first qualifying round, the second qualifying round, netted twice in the third qualifying round and of course scored twice again in the first round fixtures. What is it about the FA Cup that you seem to love?
“I don’t know! I just seem to pop up at the right time. I always want to score in every game; no matter the occasion, but it just seems to happen in the FA Cup. I can’t really explain it.”
For a non-league player, it must have felt like a dream come true to score in the FA Cup first round?
“Yeah, it was just brilliant! I absolutely loved it. When the first one went in against Boreham in the first game, we were unlucky not to win. We probably should have won. But to score again at their place was one of the best feelings I have ever had. I can’t even describe the emotions!”
The first strike was a wonderful free-kick. Is that perhaps your most memorable goal to date?
“[The free kick] was definitely my most memorable. The thing I remember most about it was practising it in training the week before, I couldn’t score for toffee! But then I got one chance in the game and I have put it in. That made it that little bit better.”
Northwich are now the lowest-ranked team left in the competition; does that ease the pressure off you and your teammates going into the next round?
“It probably can do, they [Northampton Town] are going to be heavy favourites to win. But like I said, we are going to go into the game with no fear and we are going into the game wanting to win. We are just one step away from playing a big Premier League club and that is what everyone in our club wants.”
Northampton are currently joint-leaders of League Two. What are you expecting ahead of this match at Sixfields?
“I couldn’t tell you! I think they will be physical and they will have that little bit extra quality, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t cope with it and perhaps go and snatch something.”
If you did progress further, who would your dream opponents be in the third round of the FA Cup?
“Liverpool away! Being a Liverpool fan. That is what I would want, definitely.”
How have you enjoyed working under former Football League manager Jim Gannon? What sort of impact has he had on your career?
“Massive. He is tactically spot on with everything that he does. He must be one of the best managers outside of the [National League] Conference. He has helped me loads with my game, which runs to make and he has changed my mindset. I am a bit more clicked on when it comes to playing football. The way he sets up; he has always got ideas in his pockets, that’s what I can say.”
Was he a major influence in your reasoning to join Northwich earlier this year?
“He was one of them. Working under a manager like him, with the fact that I thought Northwich would be challenging for the title this year, was another huge influence into me joining. I think he knows that most of the players in our team have the potential to play at a higher level. He never tells you straight, he keeps your feet on the ground. But I think he does still believe in us, otherwise he wouldn’t be here. He does give us the confidence that we can play higher and better. But personally; I think playing in a team that is winning every week, that is the way you are going to progress yourself.”
You are still just 22; can you explain to us a little about your upbringing, early career and how you got into football?
“I got into football around the age of five. I have always been Liverpool mad and then my Dad got me down playing for a local team, Penlake Juniors, and I played for them for years. I have always played for the teams through high school and then when I got to college, I went down to Ashton Athletic youth team and that is where I ended up playing for the reserves and first-team. The first-team manager at Ashton then got a job at Clitheroe [FC], so he took me with him and that is how I made my step into the Evo-Stik. Then from Clitheroe; I went to Burscough because I was at Edge Hill University, so that was closer for me and more ideal. I spent three good years at Burscough and I think that is where I really started to prove myself before Northwich became the next stepping stone for me.
“I did a teaching degree, physical education and school sport. I am not going to lie; I have gone in and done it, but I am not really as interested now if I am being honest. Now I just work at the local supermarket at the moment, part-time. It kind of helps with my football to be honest, it helps me focus a little bit more.”
The lifestyle of a non-league footballer, compared to those individuals in the Premier League, is at the completely opposite end of the spectrum. So what keeps you motivated through the harsh winters, little salary and long midweek away trips?
“I think it is just the love of football. I just love going to play football. I don’t know what I would do without football on a Saturday. Obviously there is an added motivation to maybe push yourself on a bit and play at a higher level too. I think that is still there for most of the younger lads that play in non-league, they have all got aspirations.”
The FA Cup, being a marvellous occasion, can help certain players reap the benefits from live TV coverage. We’ve seen it in the past with Blyth Spartans’ Jarrett Rivers earning a move to the Football League. Is that something you are always aware of?
“There is always the chance, but I try and not think about it too much. I just keep my feet on the ground and take every game as it comes. If an opportunity like that came along, then I would be grateful and snatch it. But for now I am a Northwich player and I am loving it.”
Surely for a non-league player, you must be inspired by former lower league players such as Jamie Vardy and Dwight Gayle becoming Premier League hits?
“I think Jamie Vardy has opened everyone’s eyes to non-league football at the minute. What is he now; 28, and he has just broken a record in the Premier League. I think he will open everyone’s eyes to non-league football having started out at a similar level. It is very competitive in non-league, the players are physical. It is a battle every game. The referee’s [in non-league] let play go on a lot more, it is a battle sometimes on a Saturday.”
What is your ultimate aim in football?
“I would love to be able to play football full-time. I think that is anyone’s aim. But for now, I just want to get to that FA Cup third round!”