Mick Williams: I'm realistic, going to Portsmouth games could kill me. I’m going to die one day, but not yet, I've always been a fighter

Mick Williams no longer attends Fratton Park, his life may depend on it.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:54 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th January 2022, 7:30 pm

The irony is not lost on the Purbrook-based businessman, having been at the forefront of resuscitating Pompey and ensuring their survival under fan ownership.

Williams was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in December 2020, a condition which has destroyed his immune system.

Despite receiving three vaccinations against coronavirus, he is classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ and, as a consequence, has been shielding for the last 18 months.

To put it simply, catching the disease could prove fatal to the 73-year-old.

Williams fought valiantly to secure a future for Pompey, even dipping into his own pocket to help prevent liquidation, before later becoming a board member upon fan ownership in April 2013.

He went on to become a passionate owner and chairman of Pompey Women, saving them from going out of existence, such is his immense devotion to the star and crescent.

Yet fear of catching Covid now prevents him from visiting his second home for the last 63 years.

Former Pompey director Mick Williams has been attending Fratton Park for 63 years - yet currently, for the sake of his health, cannot watch Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘I have a young family, a daughter aged 14, a son aged 18, and lots of grandchildren from my older children. I don’t particularly want to die,’ Williams told The News.

‘I know I’m going to die one day, but I don’t want to die because of some poxy virus which is charging around like a loony.

‘I have blood cancer, which means my immune system is really bad. Leukaemia affects the B cells, which are the very things which protect you, creating immunity.

‘I feel fatigued and also have diabetes – but I’m more scared of the virus than leukemia at the moment. If I get Covid, I could become very seriously ill because my immune system is shot.

Portsmouth Supporters' Trust board members Ashley Brown, Mick Williams and Mark Trapani celebrate the fans seizing ownership of their club following a High Court hearing in April 2013. Picture: Sarah Standing

‘I’ve had my two vaccinations, the same as everybody else, then received a third primary dose in October. In the middle of this month, I will also have a booster.

‘I’m not holding my breath about how effective it will be for somebody like me. Following my first two vaccinations, I took an antibody test and it was negative – no detectable antibodies whatsoever.

‘If a healthy person gets the flu, the antibodies kick in and fight it, so you’re okay. Whereas people with blood cancer are very susceptible to infection.

‘Those of us who have chronic lymphocytic leukemia are on what they call “watch and wait”, which means you need active monitoring for quite a long time.

Three generation of the Williams family at their beloved Fratton Park. The late Harry (left), Mick (right) and Will (front)

‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen to me, I can only hope I’m on watch and wait for a long time, with treatments progressing even more.

‘In the meantime, I’m shielding. Blood cancer is not something I can get rid of and the kids don’t want to lose me, so we’re all being as careful as we can.’

It has been two years since Williams last visited Fratton Park, halcyon days before the coronavirus wrecking spree got underway.

Even as a Pompey director, he retained his long-time South Stand season ticket, despite relocating to the directors’ box on match-days.

Now health concerns have grounded his visits, nonetheless Williams remains in good spirits.

The former Pompey Supporters’ Club board member is reassured that appointments with his haematologist are presently booked for every six months, rather than with worrying frequency.

Mick Williams (far right) has served as owner and chairman of Pompey Ladies. Seen here paying his respects following the death of their president, Dave Coyle, in September 2016. Picture: Joe Pepler

Although there’s anger over how those forced to shield during the pandemic are regarded by the public as well as the government.

He added: ‘I have read the horrible social media comments. There are people who more or less say let Covid run riot and those that are vulnerable should continue to hide away, quite nasty things like that.

‘We’re human beings, remember. And we all feel as though we’ve been abandoned by the government.

‘They’ve sent us a letter saying we are no longer considered to be shielding. The term they use for those whose immune systems are pretty much shot is “clinically extremely vulnerable”.

‘Apparently there are some antibodies and anti-viral treatments which are just about to be introduced. Great, but they aren’t actually readily available.

‘If a clinically extremely vulnerable person tests positive for Covid, should they access one of these treatments within five days then it can dramatically reduce the severity of the illness.

‘The government announced it with a big fanfare and hoo-ha, except when you try to get these treatments, you can’t. Sometimes in the NHS, the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing.

‘As I’m shielding, I don’t go anywhere. Back in the summer we went for a meal for Ann’s birthday and sat outside, but I haven’t been inside a pub for 18 months.

‘We don't allow visitors into our house, although in the summer it’s lovely sitting out on the patio and meeting people there. We have a big garden, so I’m fairly comfortable being out in the open air.

‘I’m not afraid to go into Sainsbury’s wearing a mask, but I’m very careful not to get too close to people. I put sanitiser on my hands when I go in and when I come out.

‘Obviously it’s frustrating not being at Fratton Park, but common sense has to prevail.

‘Pompey Women had a game against Southampton at Fratton in December and, being an ex-chairman, I was invited into the directors’ box and hospitality, but couldn’t do it.

‘The directors’ box would be full, the hospitality would be full, and you cannot eat with a mask on. I had to reluctantly decline.

‘I can’t stop my family going out. I can't stop Charlotte going to school, Will is at college and has a part-time job at Currys. Any one of them could bring Covid back – and I can’t do anything about it.

‘But what I can do is look after myself.’

Williams was elected to Pompey Supporters’ Trust board in August 2011, just four months before Convers Sports Initiatives put the club into administration.

During the battle to win ownership of the club, he was among a group of local businessmen who put in a minimum of £50,000 to prevent administrator Trevor Birch from liquidating the Blues.

Following success in the High Court in April 2013, when fan ownership seized control of Pompey, with Williams join the club board alongside Trust colleagues Ashley Brown and Mark Trapani.

He would spend two years on the board, before representing the club’s presidents on the Heritage and Advisory Board under Tornante.

While he became owner of Pompey Women in March 2015, before quitting in the summer of 2018.

‘I think I’m the only person who can say they saved Pompey and Pompey Women. That’s a nice little double, isn’t it!’ laughed the 73-year-old.

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‘What happened to Pompey is something people can’t seem to get into their heads. There was a time when Trevor Birch said: “Unless you finance the administration from now on, I am going to have to liquidate the club”.

‘The object of an administrator is to save money for the creditors, not spend more. There were eight or nine of us that agreed to finance the administration to stop him liquidating it.

‘Every week we had to write out a cheque for the expected losses – we just kept paying money. We had to, it was our club.

‘Some people can't understand that. There was no knight in shining armour waiting to come around the corner. They say “Somebody would have come in” – no, wasn’t going to be.

‘Loads of us were crying in court that day Pompey were saved, it was such a massive relief. I don’t think people will ever understand what we had to go through.

‘I still get emotional speaking about it now, soppy old so-and-so.

‘There were so many people who were a big part of the cause, everybody who put £1,000 in for a start, when many couldn’t afford that. It was wonderful – and a remarkable achievement.’

On Christmas Eve morning, Williams received a call informing him that his 96-year-old father, Harry, had passed away.

It was hospital restrictions, rather than Mick’s own precarious condition, which had separated the pair at the end.

With QA Hospital prohibiting visitors following the latest global surge in coronavirus cases, they had last met seven days earlier.

Mick’s dad had introduced him to Pompey in 1958 and remained a regular South Stand attendee well into his 90s.

Yet they were denied a farewell in heartbreaking circumstances.

Williams said: ‘Dad died on the 24th – and the last time I saw him was the 17th. I didn’t think he was going to die on day, so never said goodbye.

‘The week before he passed, they temporarily wouldn’t accept visitors in his ward because of sickness and diarrhea there. Then the restrictions came in and no visitors were allowed whatsoever.

‘He was 96 and not very well, so it wasn’t unexpected, but to get that phone call was a hell of a shock.

‘Dad hadn’t been to Fratton Park for a few years, but when I was a director at Pompey he loved coming into the directors’ box with me. He was very proud of me for doing that.

‘He was too young to be called up for World War Two, so served in the Home Guard, stationed on an anti-aircraft gun in Alexandra Park.

‘Despite Dad’s age, mentally he was as sharp as a razor before entering hospital at the end of last year. He was initially admitted with a fast heart rate, then picked up a urine infection and went downhill from there, passing away with pneumonia.

‘He was so passionate about Pompey, seeing them win the First Division title on two occasions, yet was an intelligent football fan, he didn’t get extreme one way or another.

‘I’ll miss my Dad.’

Harry Williams was this afternoon laid to rest at Portchester Crematorium, with his son in attendance.

A Zoom meeting held with the vicar in advance provided the assurance Mick required, with protocol establishing compulsory mask wearing among mourners, although for safety reasons no wake took place.

Williams will not be present at Fratton Park on Saturday, however, when sixth-placed MK Dons visit.

Instead he will be shielding at his Purbook home, monitoring his beloved Blues through BBC Radio Solent and their commentary team of Andy Moon and Guy Whittingham.

‘My daughter said to me a couple of months ago: “I wish we could still go to Fratton Park”. She’s been very understanding, though,’ said Williams.

‘It’s heartbreaking, I miss it. When you've been part of Pompey, like I was, and also a fan for 63 years, then all of a sudden can’t go, it’s tough. It’s a little bit of your life gone.

‘I’ve not been to Fratton Park for two years, although did renew my flexi-season ticket in the hope I would get better and return to attending matches again.

‘I’ll be back there one day, I’m Pompey aren’t I, through and through. Just like my dad.

‘And I’m a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter, I’m no quitter. I’m living life as normal as I possibly can – this thing is not going to beat me.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Mick Williams was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award at The News Business Excellence Awards in January 2014. Picture: Sarah Standing
Mick Williams in Pompey's boardroom during his time as a board member. Joined by son Will and dad Harry
Pompey Supporters' Trust launch their bid to buy Pompey in March 2012. (Left to right) Mick Williams, Mark Trapani, Penny Mordaunt, Ashley Brown and Tom Dearie. Picture: Ian Hargreaves