If you are reading this and sitting in The Snack Attack cafe in Harpurhey’s indoor market, kindly rip out this interview and hand it to Lisa behind the counter.
Lisa is Brandon Williams’ mum, the owner of the greasy spoon in Manchester where this talented young left back grew up. She sticks his newspaper clippings to the cafe’s wall, like any proud mum would.
The 21-year-old is 200 miles away, on loan at Norwich City from Manchester United, his first time away from the club he has supported all his life.
He is thriving at Carrow Road and is here to talk with Sportsmail’s Jamie Redknapp about thumping tackles, buying his dad a Mercedes and what happens this summer. Kieran Gill listened in.
Brandon Williams (above) is currently on loan at Norwich City from Manchester United
WILLIAMS: Growing up I wasn’t into football. I just wanted to have fun on the playground. But one of my dad’s friends needed to make up the numbers for his son’s game. I bought my boots, massive shin pads, the lot, and went to the game. I did well and something clicked.
REDKNAPP: You’re a lifelong red?
WILLIAMS: I was a season ticket holder the last time we won the title in 2013! It’s my boyhood club. I was 13 when I started becoming a defender and then left back for the Under 18s.
REDKNAPP: As a right-footer, you’re great at cutting in from that wing and passing into midfield. What made you go for left back?
WILLIAMS: We had three right backs in the Under 18s and only one left back! I played there once to fill in and since then I’ve pushed to make that position my own.
REDKNAPP: Why did you tell United to loan you out this season?
WILLIAMS: My first season with United was great. I played 36 games, 17 in the Premier League. Then lockdown came. We went into the new season after a very short break and from there, Luke (Shaw) was on fire and Alex (Telles) had just come in. I could have stayed and trained but I knew deep down I had to get out and prove I was a Premier League player.
The 21-year-old full back is away for the first time from the club he has supported all his life
Norwich’s former manager Daniel Farke seemed reluctant to use his loanees, such as Williams and Chelsea’s 20-year-old midfielder Billy Gilmour. But Dean Smith has embraced his batch of exciting youngsters.
REDKNAPP: How have you found the loan?
WILLIAMS: It wasn’t the best of starts. All I’ve ever known is Manchester United. Coming to a new club, so far away from my family, was difficult. I was in and out of the team and thinking, ‘Is this right for me?’. But since the gaffer has come in, it’s been a real turnaround. He’s helped me and Billy. He’s getting the best out of us.
REDKNAPP: It must have been a big change for you, from the expectation of winning every game at United to scrapping for survival.
WILLIAMS: This team is full of top players and we’ll keep going to the end. Even if it takes us until the last game, we’ll not stop fighting.
REDKNAPP: It’s a big change to move away. I was 17 when I moved to Liverpool and had some down days – I mainly missed my mum’s cooking! I can imagine that was hard when you weren’t getting games. The bonus of being on your own is the lack of distractions.
Defender Williams struggled at first, but now he is thriving under Norwich boss Dean Smith
WILLIAMS: Definitely. My friends are all in Manchester but here it’s strictly train, recover, eat well, sleep, repeat. Even with my eating – last year I wasn’t focused on it, but since coming here, I’ve felt as fit as I’ve ever been. I’m getting stronger and pushing myself like never before.
REDKNAPP: Speaking of eating, how are your culinary skills?
WILLIAMS: At Norwich, we have this app. It gives you low-carb options, high-carb, whatever you need. It gives you ingredients and a recipe for how to make it. I give it a go sometimes… or sometimes I let the chefs at the club make it and I put it in the microwave!
REDKNAPP: Penne arrabbiata. That was my one dish. My mum taught me how to cook it but after four years you get sick of it! Your mum seems so proud of you and rightly so. I’ve seen the pictures of the photos of you at her cafe.
WILLIAMS: All the old folks in the area go there. They’ll have a tea, read the newspaper and rip it out for mum to stick up. She loves it! ‘I’m Brandon’s mum’. She’s great.
REDKNAPP: And what about your dad? I know you used one of your first payslips to buy him a brand new Mercedes-Benz.
Many full backs now are attack minded, but Williams loves defending and making a tackle
WILLIAMS: Rain or snow my dad would drive me everywhere for training and games. I felt like it was something he deserved. I’m happy I could make him happy.
Williams comes from a boxing family. His cousins are Zelfa Barrett, the 28-year-old super-featherweight, and Lyndon Arthur, a 30-year-old light-heavyweight.
REDKNAPP: I know you love a tackle. Too many modern-day full backs are more interested in flying forward and almost look peeved at having to defend. But you love it.
WILLIAMS: I love defending. If I make a good tackle, it gives me a burst of energy and I play off that. I need that intensity to get the adrenaline going. When I make a tackle, it can generate energy into the team. It lifts the crowd and that lifts us. I love it.
REDKNAPP: I’ve not heard anyone say that for years – the last person was Steven Gerrard. The part of the world where you come from, a tackle means so much. If someone pings a 25-yard pass you can say, ‘Aw that’s lovely’. But if someone wins a 50-50 challenge and goes through their opponent at the same time, fans love it. And I love to hear you say that.
WILLIAMS: We played Everton at home in January and Grant Hanley, our centre half, put in a big block. Then we scored two in two minutes because that created energy. The fans don’t realise how much they help. It really is an extra man.
REDKNAPP: Where does that raw aggression and desire come from? Did you box as a kid like your cousins?
WILLIAMS: I didn’t but I do train with them in the pre-pre-season. It’s a different world. It’s just you, your gloves and thinking about your opponent until fight night. It’s so strict.
Full back Williams left his boyhood club in a bid to prove he was a Premier League player
REDKNAPP: Footballers could learn from the discipline of boxers and it sounds like you’ve taken that with you to Norwich.
WILLIAMS: I had a talk with the gaffer recently and he asked me, ‘What have you learned?’. I said I feel more mature. I feel like an athlete now and a true professional. I am going to take that back up to Manchester in the summer.
REDKNAPP: Whatever happens with Norwich, you’ll be a United player again in the summer. They’re scrapping for the top four now. Do you see them finishing fourth?
WILLIAMS: United shouldn’t be in this predicament but that’s the situation right now. I hope they get into the Champions League – the club deserves to be there.
REDKNAPP: You’re tasting first-team football now. Will you have another decision to make in the summer?
WILLIAMS: I’m playing games now and I love it. I can’t wait for the weekend so I can get to the stadium. There would be no point in me going back to United and just sitting on the bench. I want to play and feel I’m better equipped for the Premier League after this experience. Whether it’s at United or somewhere else, we’ll deal with that in the summer. But I’ve got a job to do here at Norwich.
REDKNAPP: I don’t mind telling you I wrote Norwich off. Plenty of us did.
WILLIAMS: We were written off because we didn’t win a game until November. It’s not the start we wanted, but it’s about how you finish. Around the city, you can feel the energy. People believe we can stay up and I want to give them something to celebrate.
REDKNAPP: Tell you what, if you stay up, you’ve got to treat all the boys to a meal at Snack Attack.
WILLIAMS: (laughs) Yes! Snack Attack – get them in there!
REDKNAPP: Don’t forget my invite!