With Sporting KC flying high in the Eastern Conference, there has been clearly a lot to shout about. Behind the voice for SKC is Birmingham Callum Williams. Mr Williams has experienced a long and winding road to get to where he is today but there is no doubt he is one of the best commentators to grace Major League Soccer. I caught up with fellow Brummie Callum Williams to talk all things Sporting Kansas City and how he feels Paul Lambert is settling into life at Villa Park.

First of all for all the readers who are unfamiliar with Callum Williams. What is your role and duties within Sporting Kansas City ?

My official title is the ‘voice of Sporting KC’. I host and commentate on Sporting KC matches home and away in MLS. Being a commentator in the USA is very different compared to the UK. Obviously in England you have ITV, BBC, Sky Sports etc all covering the games along with local radio stations. In the USA each MLS team has a local TV agreement so all their home and away games are shown on local TV. The easiest way for me to compare it, would be by saying imagine if I commentated on every home and away Aston Villa game in the EPL on ITV Central. It’s usually a two-man booth (commentary box) where I host the broadcast with my analyst and I on camera and then we do the commentary after the pre game show and have half time and post game shows also. That’s how it works in the USA with MLS (as well as national broadcasters NBC and ESPN providing coverage nationally on selected games). Other then that, during the week a lot of my time is spent looking at how the opposite team play. I’ll look at their stats, players, history and a lot more to help prepare for the broadcast. I have a weekly local radio show, which I produce myself. That entails grabbing interviews, cutting audio down, making packages etc. Other then that I attend training and assist the Sporting KC media team by grabbing interviews for the website and other outlets. We also have a Sunday night TV show to film. I’ll also occasionally host ‘special events’ and represent the club on that side of things.

What route did you take to get into the position you are today ?

A long one! To cut a long story short, I started out working at 16 on a voluntary basis for my local radio station BRMB (which I believe is now called Free Radio) for about two and a half footballing seasons, just editing clips, answering phones for the football phone in and assisting the producer in any capacity I could. I then moved on to another local radio station called Beacon Radio where I started providing match reports and commentary on AFC Telford Utd and Shrewsbury Town (again for free, but it was a foot in the door). After a training course and a placement with BBC Radio Shropshire, I landed a gig covering football for BBC Radio Sheffield, which lead to freelance opportunities throughout the country for the BBC and a contract. I then had offers from two MLS teams after receiving e-mails after doing some freelance work for another outlets and decided to go for it! Seven weeks after my first conversation with Sporting KC, I was in LA making my MLS broadcasting debut.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in the media industry ?

Absolutely! I was never good enough to play and I wanted to stay in the game.

Has soccer always been a keen interest of yours ?

There is not a better game in the world. Football is my absolute life and unfortunately for my girlfriend, it’s a lifetime affair I’ll always have!

I regularly listen to your match commentaries and podcasts. What does a day in the life of Callum Williams consist of ?

That’s the thing I love about this line of work, you have no idea what lies ahead of you when you wake up each morning.

Like myself you’re a born Brummie. How did your media career start here in England ?

My Dad new the graphics designer at BRMB, a lad called Andy Davies (who was mates with the sports producer). He got me a day in the studios with the sports team just to see how it all worked. I remember the producer, ‘Cosey’ his name was. Benjani scored for Portsmouth and he didn’t know who he was. So I confidently told him everything and probably more then he needed to know about Benjani and before I knew it, on that same day, he asked if I wanted to stick around. The rest is history, as they say.

Did you go to University to gain any relevant qualifications to help with your chosen career ?

Nope, I can proudly say I’ve done this all off my own back by working hard and by making contacts. I’ve not attended a single University class in my life.

Before moving to Kansas City you were a part of the BBC, what was your role within such a big organisation ?

I was only 19 when I joined the BBC, so ‘big’ roles were out of the question. I reported and commentated on games up and down the country for 2 seasons. My first BBC gig was with BBC Radio Sheffield, covering Chesterfield (a club I still follow and route for) in League 2. Along the way I gained a solid reputation and began to work for other BBC outlets, which lead to freelance work outside the BBC also.

How did your move to Kansas City materialise ?

As I said earlier, I free-lanced for other outlets outside the BBC. My only guess is that someone in MLS heard my voice and liked it. I got an e-mail from an MLS club on Christmas eve of 2010. That club and I spoke for several weeks but for a few reasons, it didn’t work out. I spoke to the head of broadcasting at MLS headquarters to ask about this team and he suggested I e-mail someone called Chris in Kansas City. So I dropped him an e-mail not really knowing why I was doing this, but after 5 weeks of conversation I was in London getting my visa and 2 weeks after that in LA commentating on my first MLS match.

How quickly did it take you to settle into life in a new country?

I’m not really sure to be honest. I think the fortunate thing about living in America is that people obviously speak English. I get the feeling that moving to a foreign country would be incredibly difficult if that country doesn’t speak English. Having said that some of the sayings here are very different, but you get used to it and even find yourself saying a few after nearly 2 years! The strangest thing for me was, after a couple of months of being on TV every weekend, people would come up to me and ask for a photo, an autograph or just to talk soccer and Sporting KC. I thought to myself, “hold on, I’m just a lad from Great Barr!”

Do you miss England (if yes, what do you miss most)

From time to time, like anybody, you naturally get home sick. I’m not so sure I miss England that much, but I definitely miss the people there. My best mates Carl and Jim I miss all the time and even though they just visited, I really do miss my parents. Family is important to me. But I’m lucky; I’ve made some great friends and met my girlfriend here. They all help me take my mind off things back home. However, its not that difficult when you’re lying next to the pool in scorching heat on a Sunday afternoon.

What is it like to work for such a huge MLS organisation like SKC ?

It’s wonderful! There are a lot of hours, but it’s a lot of fun. We travel for the away games to cover them on TV so even though we don’t get to see a lot (in Friday evening, out Sunday morning), we can say we’ve been to cities like Seattle, New York, LA, Vancouver and a whole host of other places.

Currently SKC are sitting top of the Eastern Conference. With two games remaining, how would you describe the performances and displays that SKC have produced this season ?

They’ve been exceptional, undoubtedly one of the most entertaining MLS teams to watch.

Sporting KC face a trip to New York and a home game at Philadelphia Union in their two final regular season games. What do you think will be the main objectives for Peter Vermes and the lads ?

Undoubtedly, to claim 6 points. The higher the points total, the easier the path should become in the play offs.

With the play-offs just around the corner. In the MLS what is key to success in the play-offs ?

Consistency. If you head in to the play offs with a bit of form, the chances are, you’ll go far. In 2009 and 2010 both Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids finished 5th in the Western Conference but went on to win MLS Cup. Form is key in the play offs.

Sporting Kansas City are within four points of Western Conference leaders San Jose Earthquakes for the Supporters Shield. How important is it to the organisation that the Supporters Shield is won ?

I’m not so sure its that important. It’d be nice and its something Peter Vermes has targeted since it became apparent the club could win it. I think now, he and the rest of the coaching staff just want to win MLS Cup so badly and have it at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park; they’re just taking one game at a time.

Can SKC win the 2012 MLS Cup ?

Absolutely, there’s no reason why they cant be considered strong favourites this season.

Sporting KC have already won the US Open Cup with a 3-2 penalty shootout win over Seattle Sounders as the game after extra time finished 1-1. What was it like to commentate on such a huge game ?

For those reading in England, the US Open Cup is the American version of the FA Cup. So it was a huge honour. It was the biggest night in the clubs history in recent years. Winning the cup was a big deal for soccer in this town and its only going to help the growth and popularity of Sporting KC.

Who was your US Open Cup Final Man Of The Match ?

Paulo Nagamura was sensational. Peter Vermes brought him and a few others in to add experience. Nagamura made Vermes look very smart on this particular occasion.

Many people I have interviewed previously have mostly highlighted Livestrong Sporting Park being their favourite MLS stadium. What makes this stadium so special ?

I think it’s the fine-tuning of things and the attention to detail which separates LSP from most. Over $200m was spent on making it what it is. The locker room for example is like a scene from star treck!

Peter Vermes is the Head Coach at SKC, how well do you think he has done in his time in charge ?

Superbly. His confidence in his players is admirable and the style of soccer he’s implicated is both effective and deadly.

What is his playing philosophy ?

Fast paced, with a 4-3-3 when attacking and 4-5-1 when defending. It’s proven difficult for a lot of MLS teams to deal with and the front line is now known as the ‘three headed monster’.

 

Becoming an MVP is a great honour to achieve for any player if you casted the decisive vote for the award who would your MVP be for SKC and why ?

Right now I’d probably say the goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. His shot stopping ability is unlike I’ve ever seen before. 14 shutouts (clean sheets for those in England) this season, his personal best in MLS. I have no doubt Sporting KC have come away with three points on more then one occasion thanks to his miraculous saves. Kei Kamara also has to be in with a shout. He plays on the right hand side of the front three and has eleven MLS goals this season.

What will Sporting KC be looking to achieve in 2013 ?

Continue exactly what they’ve done this year and more.

In a time period of five years, where do you see Sporting KC ?

I can see them being one of, if not the most dominating force in MLS.

As you may well know yourself the MLS in England is seen as a retirement home for veteran players. Which is clearly not the case. How would you describe the standard of soccer in Major League Soccer ?

It really frustrates me when people say that about MLS. The problem is, the first and last time quite a few people in England saw MLS was when Beckham came over in 07 and he was playing in a University American football stadium (which still had the American football markings on the pitch) at Real Salt Lake. That’s not the case anymore. 15 of the 18 stadiums in MLS are ‘soccer specific’ and those who don’t have that are either getting it sorted or don’t need to. Seattle for example, play in an NFL stadium. Last weekend vs Portland Timbers (their arch rivals) they announced an attendance of 66,000. Seattle will draw a crowd of 40,000 usually (more then a lot of EPL teams). Attendances and TV ratings are on the up; the highest in league history right now and continue to rise. Soccer is now the number 3 sport in the USA behind American Football and baseball but its ahead of both the NBA and NHL. Years ago, this was unthinkable. I know Robbie Keane could have signed for Blackburn before he joined LA, but he wanted a new challenge and he got it. Kris Boyd, 28, 101 goals in 143 league appearances for Rangers, he’s struggled this season at Portland Timbers with 7 league goals all season. Alessandro Nesta said he thought he’d come to MLS and play ‘easy football’, but in actual fact he’s said he finds it ‘more difficult’ playing in MLS then he ever did in Serie A! The quality here is good and players now come here to challenge themselves rather then take a final pay day (they go to the Middle East for that). People need to remember this is also a very young league, its only in its 17th year. So many players, (not just Americans) are getting picked up out of this league to go and play in England and elsewhere in Europe and not disappointed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. MLS is basically identical to the Championship back in England. The attendances, the player wages, the stadiums and of course the quality of the football. I remember pre season this year, one MLS player asked me about football in Europe as he had a chance to go to Sweden. I said “don’t do it, MLS is better”. Needles to say he didn’t go and is having another solid year in MLS. The league here is better then the likes of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Scotland and Poland and because its in arguably the most forward thinking country in the world, they aren’t shy of spending a penny or two on the league to improve it. Facilities and quality are better then most in Europe.

Many top European players have made the move to North America over the past few season, the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry. Who do you see making the move to MLS in the near future ?

I think the next one will be Kaka. I know he’s had offers and wants to come. Thing is, you can never dismiss an average EPL player from just turning up as well. Hendry Thomas (ex Wigan Athletic) for example, left the north west to join Colorado Rapids. You hear names linked all the time, but the difference is now compared to maybe 5 years ago, the player and his agent take the offer very seriously. Djibril Cisse, Michael Owen, Steven Pienaar, Nicolas Anelka are all names I’ve heard mentioned in the past around MLS.

How big can the MLS become ?

I don’t think it’ll ever be as big as the English Premier League, but it can certainly get to a position where it rivals other top European leagues for players and coaches. I think in the next 10 years it’ll have a big say in world football.

Not many people know you’re an Aston Villa supporter. How did you following of the Claret and Blue come about ?

Unfortunately my Dad took my to a match when I was very young, from then on out, I was hooked.

How long have you supported Aston Villa for ?

Since I can remember.

Over the past number of seasons Aston Villa have seen many managers come and go. Currently in charge is Paul Lambert. Was you happy with the appointment of his in the summer ?

Yes and No. I have no idea who else we could have got. I like Lambert because he’s an up and coming manager who one day I think could be very good. Right now though, I just think this Villa job is too much for him. He’s never really managed a big club (with all due respect to Norwich City) with needs to succeed. We all know how fickle Villa fans can be and I just hope they and the board give him the time he needs to turn us around.

The Claret and Blue are currently occupying 16th spot in the Premier League, how would you describe the start to the season ?

Disappointing, but not unexpected.

What will Paul Lambert be looking to achieve this season ?

He’ll be looking to stabilise and look for something to build on for next year. As I said previously, he needs time.

Where would you like to see your career in five years’ time ?

I have no idea. Who knows in this industry!

What advice would you give to any budding people who are looking to make it into the soccer media industry ?

Work hard, have thick skin, show how much you want it and believe in your own ability. The most inspirational line someone ever said to me was “you’ll never be a football commentator”.

Best Game Commentated On

I remember a game a few years back between Chesterfield and Crewe Alexandra. It ended 4-3 to Chesterfield and from memory, Crewe were 3-1 up! It was chaos!

Best Person Commentated Alongside

Jake Yadrich – Sporting KC analyst

Best Player You’ve Interviewed

Sol Campbell in his second spell at Arsenal

Favourite Sporting KC player

Jimmy Nielsen – Made me feel very welcome when I first arrived.

Favourite Aston Villa player

Brad Guzan, although after his start this season I think I’m going to like Brett Holman.

Best Friend(s) In Soccer/Media

All the boys I do the TV with.

Favourite MLS Stadium (Other Than Livestrong Sporting Park)

Its between Vancouver’s BC Place and Portland’s JELD-WEN Field, it has lots of character (it used to be a baseball stadium and they did a great job making it ‘soccer specific’).

Favourite Food

My Nans Irish stew (top notch).

Favourite Drink

Not to fussy, I’ll drink most beer and love a glass of wine occasionally.

Favourite Hot Spot In KC

Love ‘the plaza’. Fantastic shopping area where chilling out is also on the agenda. Has a Spanish look to it with the architecture and is fantastic in the sunshine.

Favourite Holiday Destination

Marbella in the south of Spain.

Favourite Film

The Hangover.

Favourite Music

Big fan of Oasis, but also love club, dance and trance music.

Hobbies And Interests Outside Your Work

Big fan of Football Manager and FIFA. Try and watch as many travel documentaries as possible (love Long Way Down). Enjoy socializing with friends and family and finding new things to explore.

What Would You Do If You Won $1Million ?

Invest and save most of it. Other then that, treat all my close friends and family to a trip somewhere they’d never forget.

I would like to personally thank Callum for his time and efforts during the interview process.

By Anthony Bedworth

@usbritain05

@maplesoccer123

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