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Ronwen Williams: turning tragedy into success

Kneeling with hands lifted is often associated with worship and reverence to a higher power. Those who have seen Ronwen Williams bowing on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven after a win may have mistaken it for a sign of surrender or pious devotion. 

But his lifting of hands is toward a man who left an indelible mark in his life. It’s been 13 years since his adored brother Marvin, who was seven years his senior, left planet earth in a road accident. But the SuperSport Academy graduate knows he’s still watching over him the same way he did when they were younger. 

“Every time I achieve something, I look up to the sky. Even during penalty shootouts, you’ll see me uttering stuff. That’s me speaking to him. We’re in this together. As much as he is not here physically, I know he’s got my back. He is there watching over me every step of the way. Wherever he is, I know he is proud,” an emotional Williams tells FARPost.

His football journey bears the message that one must constantly dig in to overcome the hurdles they face every day in the quest for glory.

For many, the struggle is where to draw inspiration persistently. Of course, it was never straightforward for Williams, but the tragedy of losing a brother he dearly loved propelled him in his football career. 

Younger Ronwen and his late brother Marvin

Former SuperSport youth coach Kwanele Kopo saw a boy full of promise recoil into a shell only to emerge with a more potent force. He recounts the day it happened. They had just arrived in Cape Town to play in the Bayhill Under-19 tournament when the news came through. Williams had to leave the squad and go home immediately. They would not see the youngster full of promise for another three months.

“After he buried his brother, he didn’t want to return to the academy; he didn’t want to continue playing football. I phoned him every day, telling him the best he could do for his late brother was to play football and do something he loved in his memory.

“It took three months to get Ronwen back at Supersport, and even then, he didn’t go straight into training, only doing so later on, but once he came into playing, he shot up, doing exceptionally well and after that season that he was promoted to the first team,” Kopo tells FARPost.

Forget that Sherwyn Naicker was ahead of him in the pecking order. The returnee Williams took no prisoners. He was unstoppable in his renewed resolve to succeed.

Being the youngest of three kids, Williams looked up to his brother, and his death shattered him and made him want to quit everything.

Ronwen spent 18 years at SuperSport

But it took the advice of men that had known him since he joined Matsatsantsa at the age of 12 to change all that. The former SuperSport captain has held onto that vital piece of counsel till today. He had to use the heartrending tragedy as motivation to achieve higher goals. And he has done precisely that. 

When he speaks of his relationship with Marvin, you know the bromance was uncommon.

“He was the perfect big brother, always looking out for my back. He loved me so much. I can proudly say he was my number one supporter.

“All his friends knew about me; he was so proud when I joined the academy, and when he moved to Joburg, he would come and watch my games. It was a huge loss, but I managed to overcome it and use it as motivation,” he says.

His mother, Hazel, reveals her boy has his brother’s tattoo on his hand. “Those boys were so close. Ronwen has a tattoo of Marvin on one of his arms,” she says.

Her advice to him was like SuperSport’s, just slightly put in different words. “I told him I didn’t think Marvin would be happy that he left his soccer because of his passing on. His death would have been why he quit his passion, and I told him his brother wouldn’t have wanted that,” she says. 

He captained both Bafana and SuperSport

Interestingly, Hazel could be why the footie star decided to pursue a career in the game. Unbelievably, she played soccer until five months after becoming pregnant with the SuperSport star. Clearly, the former Shutterproof Women FC striker understands football.

“I was very proud when he was appointed team captain, and I was confident he would lead by example…” she says.

For Kopo, Williams’ progress, 18 years after joining the Matsatsantsa academy, is satisfying. “At times, I look at him and get emotional thinking where he comes from; it has certainly been a fulfilling journey. I hope his international career will do well. He still has to win more trophies and shine for Bafana,” Kopo says.

Interestingly, Kopo, the head coach of Pretoria Callies, says 350 appearances later for the senior team; Williams is the model used to encourage SuperSport’s academy kids. The 30-year-old, who won six trophies with Matsatsantsa, has kept over 122 clean sheets and conceded about 333 goals.

SuperSport CEO Stan Matthews recently said the national team shot-stopper had engraved his name on the club’s history books.

“Ronwen is a beloved son and legend of the club who has entrenched his place in the history books as the longest serving and most capped player in the club’s history. It’s rare to find loyalty in football anymore – which makes our 18 years with Ronwen truly remarkable,” he said.

Williams said moving to ‘South Africa’s most successful club’ was a dream come true. “I’ve been in the game for such a long time I’m ready for the challenge. I want to add to the quality [at Sundowns]. It’s a dream come true for me; I can see good things coming this season,” said Williams.

And as he joins the Brazilians on a five-year deal, he wants to leave an indelible mark in the lives of those around him, the same way Marvin did. 

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