Williams takes the long way home, but wouldn't change it
George Williams' journey to becoming a first teamer at the club which once told him he wasn't good enough closer resembles '˜the real world' than that of a professional footballer.
Cut loose by Karl Robinson at 18, Williams couldn’t have possibly predicted what the next few years would have in store for him - far less becoming a regular back at Stadium MK.
While he was an apprentice with Dons, away from the pitch he’d be studying at college, even applying to universities in case his dream would fall short.
But despite having a back-up plan, when he was called into the manager’s office at 18-years-old to be told he wouldn’t be offered a professional contract took it’s toll.
“It was very upsetting at the time,” said Williams, now 23. “I worked really hard and thought I was getting one. I was quite confident in a way, but I was gutted deep down. It really hurt.
"The first time was when I was 11, or 12 and Wimbledon had just moved here. I had a trial, but I really didn't enjoy it. I was happier playing Sunday league football with my friends. But a few years later, when I was in the U14s, I was invited back on a trial and signed up.
"I played through the age groups, got scholarship, did my two year apprenticeship and then got told I wasn't going to be getting a professional contract.”
All was not lost though. Williams had applied and indeed was accepted into Loughborough University to study Sports Science and Management.
Knuckling down, Williams always held on to his dream of playing professionally, and skipped the university’s big nights out to remain in good shape ahead of his games on a Saturday.
He said: “The big night out in Loughborough was Friday night, but I never went out because we’d have a game on Saturday.
“But then on the flip side, I did enjoy it a lot, had a great time. I did get a good mix of football and enjoying myself.”
And his attitude earned him a move to Conference North side Worcester City - a step back towards the world of professional football, and a step closer towards realising the dream again.
Despite feeling he was a gamble, Williams helped City to two incredible FA Cup runs, beating Coventry at the Ricoh before drawing twice with Scunthorpe, only losing out on penalties.
But by then, the big boys were sniffing around Williams, who still had a semester of university to go before graduating.
“I remember the Worcester manager telling me,” said Williams. He’d been sold to League 1 side Barnsley - his dream was complete.
“I was in my uni room when the manager told me - I was ecstatic. I worked so hard to get back into the professional game. I was over the moon.”
Making his professional debut on Boxing Day, four days after signing, Williams went on to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and promotion through the play-offs before taking another phone call which would see him come full circle.
“Karl Robinson was the one who actually released me at 18, then signed me again.
“We both agreed at the time I probably wasn’t ready make the step up.
“If you could go back and offer me a pro deal at 18, I probably wouldn’t take it, I’d go down the route I went down again.”
Though Williams’ story is a remarkable one in football, he is conscious that many aren’t as prepared as he was to be told he wasn’t going to have a career in the game at 18, and it’s something he’s keen to promote.
“Education is really important. It's something I'd love to promote later in my career. Your footballing career is only short and you never know what can happen with injuries.
"At Worcester, there were players who, just a year earlier, were playing in League 1 but got released and couldn't find another club. It's so unpredictable.
"You need to have a career or a pathway outside of football, so when it finishes, you've got something to fall back on.
"There's a staggering number of players who are released at 18 who get contracts but are released in their 20s and have nothing to do. It's something not enough players do, and don't do enough about.
"It gave me a platform to go out and play, but also to study."