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'Diesel'

Greg Williams

show_image.php?id=35618Career : 1992 - 1997
Debut: Round 7, 1992 vs Footscray, aged 28 years, 216 days
Carlton Player No. 983
Games : 250 (109 at Carlton)
Goals : 217 (89 at Carlton)
Last Game: Round 16, 1997 vs Essendon, aged 33 years, 293 days
Guernsey No. 2
Height : 175 cm (5 ft. 9 in.)
Weight : 86 kg (13 stone, 8 lbs.)
DOB : 30 September, 1963
Premiership Player 1995
Norm Smith Medal 1995
Brownlow Medal 1994 (Also 1986 at Sydney)
Robert Reynolds Memorial Trophy - Best and Fairest 1994
All Australian: 1993 (vc), 1994 (c)
Herald Sun Player of the Year: 1993, 1994
Inside Football Player of the Year: 1993, 1994
Leigh Matthew Trophy AFLPA MVP Award: 1994
Team of the Century: Centre
AFL Team of the Century
Carlton Hall of Fame (Inducted 1999)
AFL Hall of Fame (Inducted 2001)


One of the most brilliant and controversial players of all time, Greg "Diesel" Williams was twice rejected by Carlton as a youngster because he lacked natural leg speed. Nevertheless, he went on to carve his name into AFL history as a champion centreman at Geelong and Sydney, before returning to Princes Park and Premiership glory with the Blues. For sheer ball-getting ability, tenacity, and pin-point disposal by hand or by foot, Diesel Williams had few peers.

While growing up in suburban Ascot Vale, Williams was forced to wear callipers on both legs to correct a condition that made him severely ‘knock-kneed’, and he was never renowned for his speed on the playing field. But at the age of 10, he and his family moved to Bendigo, where the sports-mad youngster turned up looking for a game at Golden Square, and began a football journey that most youngsters dream about.

In 1980, aged 16, Williams was selected in the Victorian Teal Cup (Under 17) squad. This led to an invitation from Carlton to join in pre-season training in 1982. But Greg’s sojourn in Melbourne turned into a disaster. Homesick, and unable to cope with the intense competition for places – even in intra-club practice matches – he was soon informed by letter that Carlton no longer required his attendance.

While deeply disappointed by his failure to cope with the pressures of league football, Williams was still convinced that he was good enough to make the grade. He went back to Golden Square, where he had a dominant year in the centre for the Bulldogs, and won the Bendigo League Best and Fairest award by a record margin. When this was pointed out to Carlton, the club promptly reconsidered, and asked him back again for the 1983 pre-season.

But as before, all the Blues training staff could see was a short, somewhat pudgy individual, who trailed off in every time trial. He was tried as a half-forward flanker, not in the pivot, and while some were impressed with his instinctive, accurate hand-passing, and his neat foot skills off both sides of his body – it was generally agreed that there was really no place for Greg in the powerful Carlton side. For the second year running, he packed his bags and went home to Bendigo.

That second rejection could have crushed Williams’ spirit – instead it ignited his determination to prove the bastards wrong. He dedicated himself to training harder and longer than ever, and in September, won the BFL Best and Fairest award for the second year running. Golden Square then met Sandhurst in the ’83 Grand Final, and lost a torrid match by one kick. Best on Ground in the centre for the Bulldogs was 20 year-old Greg Williams, and watching on from the grandstand were two officials from the Geelong Football Club.

When Geelong coach Tom Hafey sent a letter inviting Williams to Kardinia Park in 1984, Greg was much more aware of the challenges ahead, and better prepared to deal with them. He came out on top in a duel with West Australian star Brian Peake in the Cat’s pre-season trial matches, and made his VFL senior debut in Geelong’s blue and white hoops against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park in March 1984. The Cats’ centreline that day featured another debutante in Gary Ablett, alongside Greg Williams and Michael Turner - but it was Williams who dominated the game. His 38 possessions brought him newspaper headlines, three Brownlow Medal votes from the umpires - and the first of more than 30 tribunal appearances.

At the tribunal, Williams appeared as the victim of a striking charge laid by a field umpire against Fitzroy’s Michael Coates. The charge wasn’t proven and Coates walked free. Sometime during the following week, Mick Turner began calling Williams ‘Diesel’ (because he was slow, but reliable) and one of the most familiar of all football nick-names stuck.
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After a remarkable start to his career at Geelong, during which he collected 7 Brownlow votes in his first 12 matches, Williams suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee against Footscray, and the Cats missed the ’84 finals on percentage. In naming Diesel as their Recruit of the Year, two Melbourne newspapers echoed the widespread opinion that Sleepy Hollow had unearthed a potential champion.

Season 1985 began full of promise for Geelong, but ended in disarray when they missed a finals berth for the second year in succession. Williams played all 22 matches and continued his meteoric rise in the game. He picked up a swag of media awards (including the VFL Player’s Association’s Most Valuable Player, and the Geelong Best and Fairest) on the way to finishing equal fourth in the Brownlow Medal. Nevertheless, after two years of perceived failure, Tom Hafey was sacked by Geelong and replaced by John Devine.

Hafey was quickly snapped up by the private consortium running the fledgling Sydney Swans, and asked to do whatever was necessary (at whatever cost) to make the team a finals contender. Hafey knew that four of Geelong’s stars – including Williams – were out of contract, so he wasted little time in arranging big offers to each of them to switch clubs.

Williams later claimed that he would have been happy to stay at Geelong (and told the Cats that he would stay) for a reasonable increase in contract from $45,000 to $50,000 per year. Unbelievably, they refused, saying that a rise for one meant a rise for all, and that was out of the question. So Diesel became a Swan - on somewhere near twice the money that Geelong had paid him.

With Sydney, Diesel linked up with a galaxy of stars poached from other clubs, and immediately kicked sand into Geelong’s face by winning the 1986 Brownlow Medal, in a tie with Hawthorn’s Robert Dipierdomenico. Surrounded by classy, quick moving team-mates, Williams’ uncanny ability to win the ball in heavy traffic, then to fire it through the smallest gap with a lightning handpass off either hand, quickly made him the most influential player in the game. And when he found the space and time, his kicking skills were almost as good.

But this ability also made him a target for close-checking taggers intent on stopping him, by fair means or foul. Often frustrated by being held, blocked, niggled, punched, and abused by his opponents – while receiving little or no protection from the umpires - Diesel generally fought fire with fire. This made him a regular visitor to the tribunal, and a thorn in the side of the men with the whistle.

Although Sydney were finalists in 1986 and ‘87, their short-sighted experiment with private ownership began to crumble after that. As the team slid down the ladder toward insolvency and off-field crisis in 1988, the VFL stepped in to assume control of the club’s football operations. Tom Hafey was sacked by his third club, and all Swans players were told that their payments would be cut by up to 20%. In the midst of all this, Diesel continued playing superb football. He was named All Australian in 1986 and ’87, and captain of Victoria in 1989.

By mid-year of 1991 however, Diesel had had enough of Sydney. His knees were showing signs of wear and tear from the hours of training and playing each week, many of the original Sydney Swans had been sold off or retired, and his dream of playing in a Premiership team seemed further away than ever. After 107 games and 118 goals in the red and white, it was time for a fresh start at a new club.

When the news broke in Melbourne that one of the most influential players in the game was looking for new horizons, the media (in all its forms) went into meltdown. Eventually, the choice was narrowed to St Kilda and Carlton, with the Saints slight favourites because of Diesel’s previous bad experiences at Princes Park. But the Blues were determined to get him back, and were prepared to do and pay whatever was necessary.

Eventually, St Kilda dropped out of the contest when Sydney insisted that the Saints’ young star Robert Harvey had to be part of any deal. Only days later, Carlton’s CEO, Ian Collins made the announcement that Diesel Williams was on his way back to Princes Park. He had joined the Blues in a complicated three-way deal that saw Carlton’s promising full-forward Simon Minton-Connell and Fitzroy speedster Darren Kappler packed off to Sydney, while the Lions added Blues Peter Sartori and Ashley Matthews to their list. Williams’ contract at Carlton was rumoured to be more than $350,000 per year, and it proved to be worth every cent.

Before he could pull on the famous number 2 guernsey for the Blues, however, there was one more ordeal that Diesel had to face. As part of their efforts to keep him in the Harbour City, the Swans had complained to the AFL that Williams had breached his contract by negotiating his switch to a rival club while he was still a registered Swans player. The AFL agreed to examine the matter, and promptly found that for some time, Williams – with the full knowledge and agreement of the Swans – had been receiving ‘under the counter’ extra payments of around $65,000 per year direct from one of the club’s major sponsors. Furthermore, Williams had signed a statutory declaration (as required by the standard player contract) that did not disclose these payments.

In a curious move by the AFL, both the Swans and Williams were charged with bringing the game into disrepute, and summonsed to a judicial hearing. Each party pleaded guilty. Sydney was fined $50,000, with half suspended on a good-behaviour bond for two years.Williams - who claimed that he had simply done as he was asked, and signed a form placed under his nose by a former club chairman – was also fined $25,000 - and deregistered by the AFL for eleven weeks! It was a savage penalty that stunned even the most vehement of Carlton-haters, and brought protests from all quarters. But in the end, the idea of a protracted and expensive appeal was shelved, while Diesel and the Blues looked forward to his long-delayed first senior match.show_image.php?id=1477

That day came on May 3, 1992, when almost 50,000 people turned up at the MCG to see Williams take his place in the centre for Carlton against Footscray. In spite of all the hype, however, the Bulldogs proved way too good, and won by almost ten goals. Under coach David Parkin, and captain Stephen Kernahan – the men who would lead Carlton throughout Diesel’s entire career at the club - the Blues ended a sporadic year in seventh place, and missed the finals.

While that first year in navy blue turned out to be somewhat unspectacular for Williams as he settled into his new environment, a full pre-season program had him rearing to go in ’93. He began the new football year with a series of dominant games, as the Carlton rucks and mid-fielders gained ever more confidence in him. By May he was amongst the leaders of many media awards, and strengthened his position with a brilliant showing in Round 10 of the season against Melbourne at Princes Park. Totally dominating the middle of the ground that day, he gathered 44 possessions and almost single-handedly drove the Blues to a 54-point victory.

Only much later on, during the Brownlow Medal count, was it revealed that the field umpires in that match, Peter Russo and Murray Bird, had not seen fit to award Diesel even one point for his efforts against the Demons. The utter disbelief among Carlton’s contingent at the awards later turned to righteous anger, when Essendon’s Gavin Wanganeen outscored Williams by one vote to claim the game’s most prestigious individual honour.

Worse still, Wanganeen’s Bombers then rubbed salt into Carlton’s and Williams’ wounds, with a 44 point victory over the Blues in the 1993 Grand Final. This was the game that set the scene for many a spiteful clash in the future between Diesel and Essendon’s belligerent midfield tagger, Sean Denham, who finished the match on report for striking Williams, and with a broken nose to boot.

That loss burned deep over the summer of 1993-94, yet was still plenty of optimism at Princes Park. The previous year’s finals had provided invaluable experience for the whole side; the Blues’ settled goal to goal line was the equal of any in the league, and emerging stars Anthony Koutoufides, Brett Ratten and Fraser Brown all had their best football in front of them.

Williams required clean-up surgery on his degenerating right knee in the off-season, but clicked into top form early in ’94. He was ruling favourite again for the Brownlow Medal when Carlton dished out an 80 point thrashing to St Kilda in Round 13. Diesel copped a smack in the mouth (which required eight stitches to repair) and his 15th career report for striking Robert Harvey.

Understandably, the Brownlow bookies weren’t happy when Williams was found not guilty, nor when he maintained his great form and fitness throughout the rest of the season. On the Monday night prior to the Grand Final, Greg Williams won his second Brownlow Medal when he polled a massive 30 votes to beat West Coast’s Peter Matera by two. Geelong’s Gary Hocking was next, with 20 votes.

The only dampener on another brilliant individual effort by Diesel (in a year when he was also named All Australian captain, AFL Player’s Association MVP, and Carlton’s Best and Fairest) was the Blues’ capitulation in the finals for the second year running. After finishing second on the ladder to West Coast, Carlton went down to Melbourne and Geelong in successive finals to be bundled out of flag contention in straight sets.

Yet in the wake of those two empty seasons for the Blues, there was little recrimination or searching for scapegoats. Instead, the team bonded in steely determination to make 1995 a year of redemption. David Parkin said later that his side almost coached itself in the second half of ’95, simply because each player was focussed on the principle of team first.

The Blues jumped out the blocks with seven straight wins, stumbled against Sydney and St Kilda, then clicked back into gear with another 13 victories to finish the home and away rounds as minor premiers, four wins clear of second-placed Geelong. Because by then he had of a wealth of other mid-field stars like Brown, Ratten, Craig Bradley and Koutoufides at his disposal, Parkin was able to free Williams up by playing him forward, with often devastating effect on the opposition.

Although another late-season tribunal appearance brought a week’s suspension for abusive language toward an umpire, and a heavy hit from a North Melbourne opponent put him off the ground with concussion during Carlton’s ten-goal Preliminary Final thumping of the ‘Roos, Williams was passed fit for his second Grand Final appearance in navy blue, against the team that that had kick-started his career in Geelong.

The Blues went into the 1995 Grand Final as warm favourites, although wary of a Geelong side that on its day, was capable of matching the Blues in most aspects of the game. And at full-forward they had Gary Ablett, who had played alongside Diesel in his first VFL game for the Cats, before evolving into one of the greats. He had already steered through more than 100 goals from full-forward that season, and he relished the big occasions.

The video record of that match, played before almost 94,000 spectators at the MCG on the last day of September 1995, allows us to witness one of the great teams in the long history of the AFL at the peak of its form. After an even first quarter, the rampant Blues dominated the rest of the game and ran out winners by 61 points. Stephen Silvagni at full-back kept a tight rein on Ablett, Peter Dean was courage and commitment personified at half-back, while forwards Kernahan and Brad Pearce kicked nine goals between them.

But the dominant player on the ground was Greg Williams. Given a licence to roam at half-forward, Diesel mesmerised the Geelong defence to set up countless forward thrusts for his side, and kicked five goals. He was a unanimous choice as Best on Ground, and was greeted by a huge roar of approval from the delirious Carlton masses when the Norm Smith Medal was slipped over his head. That day was also Greg’s thirty-second birthday. The Blues claimed a 16th Premiership with our sixteenth successive win, and the pigeon-toed kid who couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night - yet who was blessed with uncanny ability – had reached his finest hour.
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Although he played on for another two seasons, Diesel’s knees became steadily more troublesome. He was selected in the Victorian state team for the ninth time in 1996, but was unable to take his place in Carlton’s ultimately unsuccessful finals campaign. Denying rumours of retirement, he fronted up again in 1997 as the curtain came down on the careers of a list of Carlton champions. Stephen Kernahan, Justin Madden, Mil Hanna and Earl Spalding all bowed out in ’97, as did Diesel Williams – but not before one or two more controversial episodes.

In Carlton’s first match of the year (against Essendon at the MCG on Easter Monday) it didn’t take long for hostilities to be renewed between Williams and his tormentor Denham. Fists and elbows flew all match, culminating in the pair grappling as the teams left the ground after Essendon’s seven point win. Field umpire John Coates attempted to defuse the situation by stepping between the pair, only to be shoved aside by Williams in his attempt to get at Denham.

Within days, Williams was charged with interfering with an umpire. Coates himself took no action, the charge was laid after the AFL reviewed the videotape of the match. Williams was found guilty, and suspended for 9 matches. Outraged, Carlton appealed to the Supreme Court, whose judges found in Williams’ favour, and allowed him to continue playing pending an appeal by the AFL. As a direct result of this decision, the AFL quickly established its own Appeals Board.

The very next week there was more controversy when Diesel was charged again – by a field umpire – in the Monday night match against North Melbourne at the MCG. He was cited for kneeing North’s Dean Laidley, found guilty, and this time outed for three matches.

Diesel’s 250th and last AFL game was played at the MCG in July 1997, against Essendon. Well aware of the significance of the occasion and the opponent, the Blues lifted to give one of the club’s favourite sons an appropriate send-off. Ratten, Koutoufides and Bradley dominated the midfield, while Stephen Silvagni kicked 6 goals at full-forward as the Blues handed the Bombers a 78-point hiding.

Williams rotated through the centre off the bench, picking up 28 possessions in yet another workman-like performance. More than 58,000 people were there that day, and all but the most one-eyed Bomber supporters gave Diesel a heartfelt round of sustained applause as he left the ground.

Williams finished his career with the highest average disposals per match of all time in VFL/AFL History & this record still stands today. The fact this record was set in an era where there were much less possessions per match compared to modern football is testament to how far above the rest of the competition Diesel was when it came to finding the ball.

In the years after his retirement, Williams continued to be awarded honours for his on-field exploits, including his induction into the Hall of Fame at both Carlton and the AFL, as well as selection in Sydney, Carlton and the AFL’s Teams of the ( 20th) Century. A shining example of triumph over adversity, prodigious talent, and will to win, Greg Williams achieved all that was possible in one of the all-time great football careers.

Bendigo All Stars Team (1972-1997).
In 1997 the Bendigo FL compiled their best team for players originating from the BFL VCFL zones for the period from 1972 - 1997, Williams was named as Captain and in the centre position in that team.



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Couldn’t jump over a flattened jam tin or run out of sight on a dark night but did possess a near ferocious desire, that when combined with the leagues softest hands and sharpest brain gained deserved prominence as one of the truly great competitors. The epithet of Diesel one of the most fitting in sports.


Milestones

150 Games (AFL) : Round 15, 1992 vs Richmond
50 Games (Carlton) : Round 12, 1994 vs Melbourne
200 Games (AFL) : Round 23, 1994 vs Richmond
100 Games (Carlton) : Round 7, 1997 vs Richmond
250 Games (AFL) : Round 16, 1997 vs Essendon

Career Highlights

1992 - 9th Best & Fairest
1993 - Herald Sun Player of the Year
1993 - 3rd Best & Fairest
1993 - Peter Sullivan Memorial Trophy (Most Carlton Votes in the Brownlow Medal)
1993 - All Australian (Vice-captain)
1994 - Herald Sun Player of the Year
1994 - All Australian (Captain)
1994 - Best and Fairest
1994 - Leigh Matthew Trophy AFLPA MVP Award
1994 - Brownlow Medallist
1994 - AFMA Most Valuable Player
1995 - Premiership Player
1995 - Norm Smith Medal
1996 - VFL/AFL Team of the Century
1996 - Team of the Century
1997 - 6th Best & Fairest
1997 - Pre-Season Premiership Player
1999 - Carlton Hall of Fame
2001 - AFL Hall of Fame

Articles: Trading for Williams | Big Name Recruits to the Carlton Football Club | Carlton's Controversial Finishes | The Longest Roads to Glory!

Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Diesel | Career Breakdown | Brownlow Medallists | Norm Smith Medallists | At the Tribunal | Williams' Blueseum Image Gallery