Jonny Williams: Box-set star goes from Wearside woe to play-off Addick

By Carl RobertsBBC Sport Wales
Jonny Williams praises Charlton 'faith and belief'

In the week that millions of people watched the finale of Game of Thrones, Jonny Williams has only just dipped his toes into the first of the eight seasons.

"I can see why everyone's raving about it, but I've got a long way to go," the Charlton midfielder says.

The box-set phenomenon has been key to boosting the 25-year-old's profile above that of a regular League One player.

Last season, while on loan from Crystal Palace to Sunderland, he melted hearts as he dealt with an injury setback combined with a crisis of confidence in front of the cameras filming the 'Sunderland 'Til I Die' series.

"I had great support from the Netflix documentary and it showed that there were some really nice people that can see that life is bigger than football sometimes," Williams says.

"It was tough, there's no hiding from that and it was a tough time in my career because I went to Sunderland at the start of the season with the hope of doing really well and hoping to help them get promoted. Unfortunately I ended up getting injured."

On Sunday he could be breaking Sunderland hearts rather than melting them if his new club Charlton Athletic can beat the Black Cats at Wembley in the League One play-off final.

Williams is fit and looking forward to the game. He has just finished training on a warm Wednesday morning and jokes of getting sunstroke after he forgot to put sunscreen on his now shaved head.

Jonny Williams is mobbed by Charlton fans after their League One Play-off semi-final win over Doncaster
Jonny Williams is mobbed by Charlton fans after their League One Play-off semi-final win over Doncaster

It will not keep him out of Sunday's game though, where a win would cap a tumultuous three years for the Wales international.

In the summer of 2016 he played for Wales alongside Gareth Bale - and against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal - in the Euro 2016 semi-final.

Two years later he was relegated while on loan at Sunderland from boyhood club Palace.

In January 2019 he left Selhurst Park after 17 years and joined Charlton until the end of this season.

For many people Williams will forever be associated with Sunderland because of that documentary, chronicling the club's miserable relegation from the Championship last season.

But the midfielder only played 13 times on loan at the Stadium of Light.

He has played more games for Charlton since January of this year and he is proving to himself, and everyone else, that he can shake off a reputation of being injury-prone.

"The manager [Lee Bowyer] has shown faith in me and belief. He's played me in more or less every game he's had me fit for and I thank him for that, and I've been really welcomed here," Williams says.

"He's been fantastic for me since I stepped in. He played in similar positions [to me] and he's helped me with my game… and he's played me at the end of the day, that's the main thing.

"He's given me the opportunities to go and play to prove to people that I am fit and I can play a number of games continuously, so I can't thank him enough."

Jonny Williams (C) celebrates with his Wales team-mates during the Euro 2016 campaign
"I probably had the best time of my life in a Wales shirt in the summer of 2016."

Winning at Wembley on Sunday would be a fitting way for Williams to show his gratitude to Bowyer - and a good performance might catch the eye of another former Premier League star, the Wales manager Ryan Giggs.

Wales travel to Croatia and Hungary in June for back-to-back Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Three years ago in France Williams featured in four of Wales' six games in Euro 2016 but has not played for his country since November 2017.

"It's been hard for me, to be honest," he adds.

"I probably had the best time of my life in a Wales shirt in the summer of 2016 and I'm desperate to stay fit and show what I can do and get back in the Wales squad."

Is he available should Ryan Giggs call him up to the squad when it is announced next week?

"I've got no holidays booked yet! I always have that in mind in case I get the call-up. I'm desperate to get back involved and get back to being part of it," he says.

An eye-catching performance at Wembley on Sunday might lead to more football before his summer break.

Game of Thrones will just have to wait.