Iñaki Williams “I Feel Very Proud To Be Black, To Be Basque, And To Play For Athletic”
Iñaki Williams has become a cult figure in Bilbao. After arriving at Lezama back in 2012 he rose quickly through the youth ranks and made his first team debut in December of 2014. He also became the first black player to ever score a goal for Athletic and has become of the club’s most important players. In an exclusive interview with Reuters, the 24-year-old discussed the importance of his heritage and what it means to be Basque.
“I feel very proud to be black, to be Basque, and to play for Athletic. There have been very few, but I’m one of them and I’m very happy to be the black guy that represents Athletic. This club has given me everything and I try to give them the best of myself. Some people are ignorant and thing that being black means you have to born in Africa. No, I was born here. I feel Basque, just like my teammates. I have African blood, but I grew up here. My family have adopted all the Basque customs and so have I.”
The forward has a great understanding of Athletic and what the club has meant to the community and the Basque Country. Despite their unique values the Lions have remained one of the most successful teams in all of Spain. He recognizes that the fans have a special bond with Athletic and are represented by every player who wears the red and white shirt.
“We are a very humble club; a club from the Basque County with only players from the Basque Country. We compete against other teams that sign players from around the world, but we have stayed who we are which makes us unique. Despite this we have competed for trophies and we are, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid, the only teams to have never been relegated. We are admired a lot and our fans see that we compete with players from home. They see themselves reflected in us.”
Looking back at his upbringing, Iñaki admitted that it was a difficult childhood. His mother left Liberia due to civil war and met his father in Ghana where the two then moved to the Basque Country to find work. His father eventually had to take a job in London which meant that Iñaki had to help raise his little brother Nicolas who currently plays for Athletic’s Juvenil B team.
“It was tough. There were no Christmas or birthday presents, but it’s the life I had to live and I’m not ashamed of it. My parents had to work for everything and they’ve instilled that same mindset into me. Our father could only come back for a few days each year. He worked as a security guard and sent all the money that he earned back to us. I became a father figure to my brother. I had to dress him, take him to school, and help him with his studies. That is what made me strong and now I thank God because I have a comfortable life. My parents don’t need to work because now I can give them everything we didn’t have.”
Iñaki was set to visit Ghana with fellow Athletic player Oscar De Marcos over the summer in order to build a school and start a foundation, but the trip was canceled due to his being called up to the Spain National Team. He hopes to make the trip happen in the future and remains very passionate about relief work with refugees and immigrants, having seen the impact on his own family.
“It hurts me a lot that people are being rescued from the sea and to hear some say we shouldn’t help them. You have to ask what you would do in that situation, if you could not afford to feed your children. People who escape from places where there is a war do so because they don’t see any alternative. My parents were lucky enough to find good people that gave them a hand and that’s why I’ve been able to have the life I’ve had. If my parents hadn’t found these people I would have been born in Africa or I wouldn’t have been born at all. My parents have met with the Ghana coaching staff and I have received some calls. I don’t forget where my family came from, but on a sporting level it would be better to play for Spain. I have to be grateful to the place that has given me everything.”
Iñaki Williams remains one of the most inspirational stories in all of football and has become a special figure in the city of Bilbao. His love for his culture and club have endeared him with Athletic fans and he hopes to become a legend for the Zurigorri throughout his career. We at Inside Athletic want to thank Reuters for a fantastic interview with the 24-year-old and for sharing his story with the football world.