Aryn Williams’ decision to move from Perth to Imphal coincided with the relegation of Mumbai FC.
As the former Perth Glory player signed for I-League newcomers Neroca FC last season, the absence of an I-League team from India’s financial capital, Mumbai, robbed him of the chance of playing league football in the city where his grandfather had made a name for himself.
There aren’t many third-generation footballers with their roots in two different countries, Williams is one of them. The Australian’s mother Audrey, born in Mumbai, played football semi-professionally, following in her father Lincoln Grostate’s footsteps.
For Williams, the 6,500-km move wasn’t merely symbolic as the coveted blue shirt of the Indian national team and a spot in the Asian Cup squad are a continuity of the Grostate legacy.
“My granddad, he used to tell me to go to India and play. This is what he would have liked me to do.”
An Indian link
Grostate played for several teams in the Mumbai region – Central Railways, Tata Sports – and made his mark on the right flank, charging at opposition defences.
Williams also played his own part in Neroca’s debut I-League campaign, where the Manipuri club finished second, challenging Minerva Punjab for the title till the last day. The 24-year-old was used primarily as a midfielder by coach Gift Raikhan, and started 17 of 18 league games.
Having started his senior career at Burnley, Aryn moved to Perth Glory where he linked up with elder brother Rhys. The eldest Williams sibling turned out for Australia after having played at the Under-21 level for Wales. Aryn’s twin, Ryan, also represented Portsmouth and Fulham before plying his trade for Rotherham United.
Aryn hopes to start his own international career representing India, “I think I can bring something different to the national team. I hope to seize the opportunity once I’m eligible.” Williams will have to trade his Australian and British passports for an Indian one, in order to have a shot at making Stephen Constantine’s Asian Cup squad.
He can start this process in a few months from now and his performance for Neroca should make him a contender for a spot in the national squad once the formalities are completed.
Neroca conceded the least amount of goals in the league, 13, and part of the credit must go to Williams who ended up clocking 1,458 league minutes. “It was a great season. We dropped some crucial points. Two losses to Minerva, a 0-0 draw against Aizawl and that loss to [Shillong] Lajong.”
Gelling well at Neroca
The top-tier debutants had reason to cheer in the Super Cup after they defeated two-time ISL runners-up Kerala Blasters, before losing to eventual champions Bengaluru FC. Neroca came back from two goals down to beat the Blasters.
“In the early proceedings, we were dominated by Kerala. But then we regrouped at half time, we man-marked them, pegged them back and applied pressure,” says Williams about his side’s Super Cup victory.
He scored for Neroca in that decisive victory over the Blasters, but decided to chop his locks off earlier when he first got on the scoresheet against the Churchill Brothers, a 86th-minute winner against the Red Machines fetching his team all three points.
Joining Williams at Neroca were fellow Aussie Nick Ward and Haitian Fabien Vorbe, who he gelled really well with. He also praised the standard of football in the state, and stated that Manipur is a powerhouse of football.
“There are many great players, like Gauramangi [Singh] and there are some in the Indian Under-17 World Cup team. This place has potential to produce outstanding players,” Williams feels.
‘Folks in Australia watch every game’
The midfielder makes little distinction between the I-League and the ISL. “The Indian Super League, there’s big money that attracts household names, big foreigners. But as I-League teams have shown [in the Super Cup], there’s not much of a difference on the pitch.”
Aryn makes sure the Williams household back in Australia catch all his games. “I’ve got them to download Hotstar and they’ve watched my game. They’re impressed with what the club [Neroca] has done this year.”
One day, Williams hopes that folks back home won’t have to catch separate games and that the three brothers will play for the same team, lining up side by side. Right now though, the tattooed medio seems to be enjoying his Indian homecoming and hoping that it ends in a national team call-up.