Plasterer and Footballer, Rachel Williams talks to Professional Builder

Plasterer and Footballer, Rachel Williams talks to Professional Builder

Plasterer, Rachel Williams has enjoyed a highly distinguished career in women’s football and plans to return to a hawk and trowel when she’s hung up her boots. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones finds out more from the Red Devils forward.

Next time you’re struggling to get a job done on time spare a thought for Rachel Williams, star of the Women’s Super League (WSL) – and experienced plasterer. When the now Manchester United W.F.C player was wearing a Birmingham shirt – and playing in the UEFA Women’s Champions’ League – she had to confess to her then coach that she couldn’t make the away fixture because she was needed on site.

“It was 2012 and we’d already won the FA Cup that year. It was only because the club agreed to fund what I would have lost in earnings plastering that I was able to make it – basically, they really wanted me to play.”

In fact, Rachel has balanced the demands of the building industry with the highest level of the women’s game for much of her career. “I started as a plasterer when I was 19, in around 2008,” recalls the 35-year-old, “and was initially just helping out my ex-partner, Matt, as a labourer. I’ve always been quite physical, so it was something I really enjoyed. Then, on a very hot day, the finish was going off so I set to work trowelling it up. He couldn’t really believe the job I’d done and that’s when I started to learn the trade in earnest.”


Maintaining both roles would, however, require huge levels of commitment: “At the beginning of my career there was no prospect of making a living from football. I’d work on site all day, and train twice a week in the evenings, then play on a Sunday. When the Women’s Super League (WSL) was formed by the FA in 2011 that all changed, because we were training four days a week across two sessions – one in the gym and the other on the pitch – plus the matchday.

“That meant I only had two days a week off from football, but I still used that time to undertake plastering jobs. A lot of the other girls thought I was mad and would tell me they just don’t know how I did it. As anyone who has done it can testify plastering is a demand profession on your body but I found it actually really helped with my training and conditioning and I was able to use it to my advantage.

“It did make for long days, though. When I was at Chelsea I’d finish at three, my partner Matt would drive me and a teammate to the club’s Cobham facility. We wouldn’t get back until midnight and could be up at four the next day for work.”

Whilst women’s football has gained mainstream recognition, Female plasterers are still quite unusual today – and even more so when Rachel started as a spreader – so we asked her what attitudes she encountered on site? “I’ve had mixed reactions, to be honest. There were times when the homeowner thought I was Matt’s daughter and just there to help out for the day rather than a tradesperson in my own right. There was also one occasion when a chap refused to let me in. I told him that if he didn’t like what I did he could have the work for free. When he saw how good the job was, and how clean and tidy, he soon changed his mind. In fact, he made contact just a couple of months later with more work.”

“I’ve also had fellow builders who’ve been very supportive. Once you’ve shown you can do the job as well as anyone you’re almost always accepted. When they found out about the football they’d invariably like to chat about that as well.”

“Of course, as the game has progressed football is very much full time. One of the consequences of that, however, is that I’m doing more work on the gym because I don’t have the baseline strength that I got from plastering, and if I could still ply my trade I would. Having said that I do keep my hand in by helping out friends, teammates and family. I’m at a stage of my career now when I only play when needed,” Rachel admits, “and I’m also thinking about what I’ll do when I finish. The building industry is definitely something I’d like to go back to, and the PFA do run courses for ex-players who want to retrain, so I’m considering other trades as well.”

Higher standard

Indeed, the last couple of years have seen a seismic transformation in women’s professional football, as Rachel reveals: “The standard today is on another level from when I started. The analysis, and the focus on technique and tactics, means girls are actually learning about the game as well as just playing. There has to be a balance, of course, because you don’t want to detract from the enjoyment. I have always played football because I loved it and there have been so many professional highlights including the FA Cup triumph in 2012, and this season’s run with Manchester Utd that saw us come so close to toppling reigning champions Chelsea. By contrast I’ve lost the league twice on the final day and suffered defeat in the 2023 Cup Final.”

Whilst the female game is making huge leaps forward, sadly, women are still woefully under-represented in the building trades, but Rachel firmly believes that it doesn’t have to be that way. “I fell into it because of the relationship I was in, but more could be done to convince new entrants that it’s not just a man’s job. In the same way that football’s for everyone, so should any profession, and I would encourage any woman to have a go. There’s no doubt more needs to be done to demonstrate the positive side of it to young girls in particular.”

For more information on Manchester United’s Rachel Williams visit Rachel Williams | Man Utd Women Player Profile | Manchester United.

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