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'I was petrified' - Shane Williams opens up about struggles

By Ian Cameron
A dejected Shane Williams of Wales reacts during the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup bronze final match between Wales and Australia at Eden Park on October 21, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Wales great Shane Williams has opened up with struggles after retiring from professional rugby on an appearance on The Big Jim Show, Jim Hamilton’s new podcast.

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A former World Rugby Player of the Year in 2008, Williams hung up his boots in 2015. The jet-heeled winger continues to work in rugby as an occasional broadcaster, but seven years on from his retirement he admits he’s found the transition incredibly hard.

“It’s been massively difficult,” he told Hamilton. “One of the things I worried about was going from a team environment, which I spent over 16 years in, where you are always with someone, to the realisation you have retired and it is you on your own. It is very daunting, very scary. I was petrified.

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“It is frightening, it is hard and it took me a lot of time to adjust to. There were players in that team who I had played with for 10 years, lads who knew me better than I knew myself. All of sudden, they are gone.

“I certainly felt like a spare part [in family life],” he added. “You spend so much time trying to be good at something that is very unique. Then, when you are pretty good at that and people notice you it is a great place to be and I loved every minute of it.”

Williams earned 87 Wales caps and four British & Irish Lions caps but worried that he didn’t have any real world skills after concentrating for decades on being a rugby player.

“But when I retired I found I wasn’t that skilled at anything else. I felt I lost that importance. I’d played 87 times for Wales and on Lions tours and then on the Monday it was just this whole new world. Obviously being with the kids was great but I just thought ‘hold on, what else am I actually good at?’ I’d spent so long trying to be a very good rugby player, I thought ‘have I neglected everything else? What skills do I have? Am I even relevant to anyone anymore?’ That was in the space of a weekend.

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“I felt completely irrelevant for a long time until you find your feet. I have been retired a long time now and I still think sometimes ‘what am I doing? Are people thinking ‘you’re just a rugby player, what do you know in this life’. It is intimidating.”

The support of his wife Gail has proved vital for the 35-year-old.

“I’ve known Gail a long, long time,” he added. “We started going out when I was 18 and she was 17. She understands me really well. The rugby life was easy. I knew exactly what I was doing and she understood and she dealt with that. I think she was more nervous than I was when it came to the point of retirement. She knew how hard I had trained but we collectively looked at each other and thought ‘what happens here?’

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“When I retired I kind of went into my shell a little bit because I was worried. I was worried about how me and Gail were going to be in a whole different world. She had been in my rugby world for over 15 years and now I was in the family and business life. It was very difficult for her. I was in the house for about three or four days after retiring and she just told me ‘you have to get out and do something’. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t sit down. I was getting on her nerves.

“She is great. She has known me a long time and knows me better than I know myself. She has been so supportive. I am very lucky.”

Williams, speaking as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, admitted that he had lost people to ‘suicide’.

“I have experienced lows and anxiety,” he said. “I have had times I have really struggled. The world is a scary place, no matter who you are, we all get frightened of things and anxious of things. I have friends who have suffered massively, especially during the pandemic.

“I have lost people over the years to depression, to suicide. It is something that affects us all and the important thing I have found when I have been down is just speaking to someone. It is really important it is addressed and everyone is OK.”

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