Iñaki Williams “I Feel Respected, Loved, And Valued In Bilbao”
Throughout Bizkaia, especially in Bilbao, Iñaki Williams is an icon. As the son of immigrants and the only black player to ever score a goal for Athletic, Williams represents something truly special within the region. Although he may not be Basque by blood, Williams is Basque and is proud to call Bilbao his home.
“We’re like the villagers who defend their home,” Williams told France Football during an interview with the magazine. The 25-year-old had been asked what it means to play for Athletic and, due to the club’s unique philosophy, Williams explained that putting on the Zurigorri comes with pride and a responsibility to the fans.
“We are the team of the people. We represent a region and many people. We’re aware of what it means to be part of the great history of Athletic. Fans make you feel it in your heart, this courage that pushes us. When things are good for the team and when things are bad we have the full support of the fans. We have the best fans in the world. When we need them, they are always there.”
For Williams, the support of the fans makes Athletic unlike any other club and a big reason why he’s never once considered leaving.
“The message is always passion, strength, and support and it’s something that we try to transmit around us. This is something reflected in the club and in the way football is formed and experienced. This is why, among other things, I’ve decided to stay here for so long. I feel respected, loved, and valued in Bilbao.”
As a child, Williams always dreamed about playing for Athletic. “This is always where I’ve wanted to be and, more than just being friends in the locker room, I feel like family on and off the field,” said the forward. “This is what I want, to fight with family against the rest of the world. I think it’s priceless.”
Williams may be the only black player to ever score for Athletic, but that may not be the case for much longer. His younger brother, Nico, has been promoted to Bilbao Athletic and is now just one step away from joining Iñaki in the first team.
“I want to make history at this club and I would like to do it together with my little brother. It would be exceptional. Imagine two black players, brothers, playing together and pushing Athletic to the highest possible level. That would be crazy and even more for our parents who would see their two sons on the field scoring goals and celebrating them together. It’s their dream, my dream too. And we just hope to get there.”
Iñaki has always spoken highly of his brother. “He’s becoming a man,” Williams said proudly. “He has enormous potential to be with me soon in the first team, but before that he still needs to train and improve.”
As a black player, Williams has experienced racism during his career. When discussing the issue, he explained that he hasn’t faced abuse often, but highlighted that everyone has to work together to abolish racism in football.
“I’ve never really been a victim of insults in football stadium, apart from some exception such as at Espanyol last January. We’re taking a step forward and we must make all people understand that we’re equal. No matter the skin, the origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation…everyone, everyone, everyone is made of flesh and blood.”
Racism hasn’t been a problem for Williams in the Basque country. However, other players are subjected to abuse more frequently and Williams views education as the biggest weapon to fight racism today.
“This message must be transmitted, especially to the next generation. They only copy what they see from adults. You have to educate and infuse lose for your neighbor regardless of their skin, sex, or whatever. In Euskadi the population is extremely respectful. I’ve never had a problem with the color of my skin. I’m proud of it.”
Williams has dedicated his future to Athletic. By rejecting offers from other clubs and regularly professing his commitment to Athletic, he’s become a fan favorite at San Mamés. As a child Iñaki Williams dreamed of wearing the Zurigorri shirt, but now he dreams of retiring as a club legend.