Inaki Williams has become a cult figure at Athletic Club and has embraced this special role. Despite many clubs showing interest in signing him, he continues to pledge his future to the club that has given him, and his family, everything. From breaking records at Lezama to becoming the first black player to score for Athletic, Inaki’s story is one of hope, overcoming, and fulfilling a giant dream.
Over two decades ago Ghanian Felix Williams and Liberian Marie Arthuer met each other while at a refugee camp in Accra, Ghana. It was a difficult and scary time for the pair who were looking to escape Africa and little did they know that their chance meeting would become a beautiful story of love, hope, family. They quickly fell in love and would soon flee Africa without any plan of where they would end up; but as luck would have it, they settled in the small city of Barakaldo. The pair would quickly embrace the Basque culture as their own as they began their new life in a strange world. Felix worked in London to support the family, while Marie worked as a cleaner near their home. One year later they gave birth to their first child and, keeping with the Basque tradition, named him Inaki Williams.
From the very beginning, they knew that Inaki was special. He was a passionate and intelligent child who loved football and the family quickly became supporters of Athletic Club. As the story goes, Felix one day asked Inaki, who could barely speak at the time, if he wanted to become a professional footballer. Inaki responded “Yes” and when his father asked him where he wanted to play football, the toddler yelled “Athleeeeetic!”.
That passion for Athletic Club has never wavered for Inaki because it is deeply rooted in thankfulness for his family. Athletic and the Basque Country are one in the same for the Williams family. It gave them a new life, new hope, and the chance to build something for their family that many others from Africa could never dream of achieving. When Inaki was accepted into Lezama, it was yet another huge step and one that will never be forgotten.
“I feel proud to be here, to wear this shirt and what it represents. Athletic Club has given me everything”. This was Inaki’s response when recently asked about leaving Bilbao to join another European club. Still only 22 years old, teams have been lining up in hopes of tempting the winger to leave his boyhood club. Liverpool were ready to match his release clause last summer, but he rejected the move and signed a new contract with Athletic. Since then, Juventus and Napoli have both showed interest in signing him, but he has vehemently rejected the idea of leaving because he only wants to continue playing for the club that changed his, and his family’s, life.
With all of his success, it is easy to forget that Inaki’s rise was not without difficulty. He did not get his start at Athletic, but was first discovered in Pamplona. He soon joined Osasuna and didn’t move to Lezama until he was already 18 years old, but it was a dream come true. He would go on to set many goalscoring records at the youth level, but he also had to carry with him the pressure of being a black player in Bilbao. Due to Athletic’s Basque-only policy, black players are uncommon at the club and Inaki went to training every day knowing that he had an extra chip on his shoulder.
To put things into perspective, Athletic did not field their first black player until November of 2011 when 18 year old Jonas Ramalho made his debut under Marcelo Bielsa. Ramalho paved the way for players like Inaki Williams to reach the first team and Athletic is all the better for it. Inaki delivered the next milestone when he became the first black player to score a goal for Athletic back in May of 2015. It was a historic moment for the payer and club and one that will always be remembered. Now Inaki’s little brother, Nico, is following in his footsteps at Lezama. For the Williams family, Athletic Club has become a family affair.
In an age when so many players are focused on money and individual glory, Inaki Williams has his eyes set firm on becoming one of the best players in Athletic history. When asked about the chance of leaving the club last summer he said “I am where I have always wanted to be. I want to become a hero at the San Mames and score many goals for many years”. That passionate toddler still has the same dream as a young man because Athletic has become his family, which is the most important thing in the world to him. When their own countries wouldn’t accept Felix and Marie Williams, Athletic and the Basque Country welcomed them with open arms and that has never been taken for granted.
Today, Inaki Williams has embraced the title of an Athletic Club icon. Fans chant his name, kids wear his shirt, and he has firmly cemented his place in the team. It is now a regular occurrence to see the 22-year-old signing autographs, giving his shirt to fans after games, and taking selfies with young fans in the stands. He has made it a point to go out of his way to have special moments with the fans, especially the younger ones. When asked what he wants his legacy at the club to be, the winger said “I want to score a lot of goals and always make the fans happy”. He has never forgotten what Athletic has given him and he wants to give that same joy and sense of belonging to every fan at the San Mames and across the world.
Another extraordinary part of Inaki’s story is how the Athletic fans and the Basque Country have accepted him as one of their own. Technically speaking, Inaki isn’t even Basque, but don’t tell him that. With a Basque name, and being raised in the unique culture, he and his family have been adopted and consider themselves Basque. During the first game of this season, he was subjected to racist chants by Sporting Gijon fans and Athletic fans everywhere rushed to his support. Just like a family protects one of their own, Athletic fans have embraced Inaki Williams in a very special way.
Over the past few months, more and more clubs have been linked with moves for Inaki Williams and he continues to reject those offers due to his desire to succeed at Athletic. He wants to become a legend and go down in the history books as one of the best players in club history and, to be honest, he is well on his way to doing just that. For one family and one young man, Athletic Club means the world and Inaki Williams wouldn’t trade that for anything.