Greg Williams
107 games
118 goals
Brownlow Medal 1986
All-Australian 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989
Swans Team of the Century
AFL Team of the Century
AFL Hall of Fame


When the Sydney Swans announced Tom Hafey as coach on October 14, 1985, they placed all faith in a man who had built his life and career on draconian routines. Hafey's famous personal mantra—'Desire plus dedication, plus discipline, plus determination, equal your destination', would become second nature to his new Swans players.

From 1983 - 85, Hafey coached Geelong. After a promising start at Kardinia Park, relationships became strained, and it became clear that an extension on his three-year deal wouldn't eventuate. When Dr. Geoffrey Edelsten came knocking, Hafey answered.

It was a turbulent time at the Cats, with their former coach well aware of the players who were either unhappy or out of contract. One of those players had just won their best and fairest award in his second season. His name? Greg Williams.

An exceptionally skilled footballer, Williams would later become the highest-paid player in the AFL. However, as a child in suburban Melbourne, any future sporting career looked impossible. At two-and-a-half years old, Williams' parents, Brenda and Leigh, sought medical opinion on his severely knocked knees. As a result, he wore full-length callipers on both legs until he started school.

The intervention worked, and it was only a short time before he began showing significant sporting promise. His football prowess came to the fore when the family moved to Bendigo, and he developed his game with the Golden Square Football Club. As part of the VFL's country zoning scheme, Bendigo belonged to Carlton, and after training with the club in the pre-season of 1982, he returned home with an official letter stating that he was 'too slow for Carlton.'

After another failed attempt to join the Blues, Hafey gave Williams his first crack at League football. In Round 1, 1984, he debuted for the Cats, gathering 38 disposals and three Brownlow Medal votes. Over his two seasons, he made a serious impression.

Upon Hafey’s Sydney appointment, his manager, Danny Finley, contacted Williams and teammates Bernard Toohey and David Bolton. Williams experienced difficulty negotiating a new contract and, like Toohey and Bolton, wanted to know more. The three players and their wives met with Dr. Geoffrey Edelsten at the Rialto in Melbourne and, with all requests adhered to, agreed in principle to join the Swans.

When Greg Williams arrived at the Sydney Swans, he was ready for recognition. His career told a story of perseverance, and he was hungry to showcase his wares. Although, as Swans Team of the Century teammate David Murphy jokes, first impressions were a little underwhelming.

"I remember we were doing some running at Moore Park, and this short, stumpy bloke called Greg Williams was jogging around, and they reckoned he could play a bit. He turned up in some Stubbies shorts and work socks, and I was thinking, 'Are you serious, this guy can play?'"

“Anyway, in the first practice game, he had about 60 possessions, and the rest is history. It was pretty handy for me on the wing, having Greg in the middle.”

With an unprecedented influx of star players, the team took on an entirely new complexion. Williams and his new teammates were confident. On arrival, he said, "I've come here because the club is going to have success. And, apart from the money, I enjoy playing under Tom."

The midfield unit now provided the Swans with an embarrassment of riches. Fellow Swans' Hall of Famer, Barry Mitchell, had established himself within that group and recalled the addition of Williams with glee.

“Greg Williams was the greatest handballer of all time. He was just so skilful,' Mitchell recalls. 'I knew of him before he came up, but not too much. As soon as the footy came out at training, it was on. He brought that ruthlessness to us. As well as his skill level, he represented our ruthlessness.”

Williams' unparalleled possession gathering was fuelled by his weekly personal goal of obtaining 40 possessions. And, in his debut season for the Swans, he won the 1986 Brownlow Medal, sharing the honours with Hawthorn's Robert Dipierdimenico. "I was shocked. It was my first year in Sydney, and I thought I'd had a pretty solid year, but I certainly didn't think I was a chance to win it," he later said.

The season's success ensured the Swans far-outstripped their average attendance record, with an impressive 28,500 turning up at home games. Attending became fashionable, and the brand of football played was as entertaining as the SCG had seen. The time-honoured debate of substance versus style was obliterated as Sydney supporters gorged on a healthy serving of both.

Despite losing four finals and falling short of their ultimate goal, the Swans of 1986-87 remain one of the great teams in the club's proud history. During this time, Australian football truly arrived as a spectator sport in Sydney, and a new generation of loyal Bloods were born.

Williams was central to that.

His playing style suited the tight confines of the SCG, and his rugged approach won him many admirers among local Sydneysiders. Never backward in coming forward, Williams fought hard for supremacy—an approach that saw him front the tribunal several times.

Williams fondly described that initial period in Sydney. "We were unstoppable. We were that fit, and we tackled like no one else. We played really good footy."

By 1988, events had conspired against Williams and his teammates getting another shot at a premiership. The private ownership consortium filed for insolvency following the previous October's Black Tuesday stock market crash. Major drawcard Warwick Capper left for Brisbane, and on-field performances understandably slipped.

The incredibly high standard that Williams set for himself continued, though, and in Round 19, 1989, he produced one of the most dazzling displays ever seen in the sport. Against St Kilda, he had 25 kicks and 28 handballs for a club-record total of 53 possessions. Unbelievably, he also kicked a career-best six goals.

Widely regarded as the best player in the competition by 1990, Williams carried a heavy load, along with fellow senior players, including his on-ball partner, Gerard Healy. With the club facing extreme financial difficulty, that core worked hard to turn things around.

"I trained harder, worked on my skills and my fitness. Mitchell, Healy and I all lived in Cronulla, which was handy. We'd run in the mornings four or five times a week, get to training an hour early and do handball and kicking. We just did more than everyone else."

At the end of the 1991 season, disillusioned with a lack of AFL support for the club, Williams left for Carlton. With the Blues, he became a premiership player and Norm Smith Medallist, winning the 1994 Brownlow Medal.