Updated: Friday, 24th November 2017 @ 8:08am

Salford meets Norway: Team GB handball star Ciaran Williams mixes it with the best in Scandinavia

Salford meets Norway: Team GB handball star Ciaran Williams mixes it with the best in Scandinavia

| By Mike Taylor – MM exclusive

Salford-born handball star Ciaran Williams is the latest top-level British athlete to move abroad and lap up the culture in a country that lives and breathes the sport he toils away at for a career.

Williams’ country of choice is Norway, whose women are the best in the game and won their second straight Olympic gold medal in 2012 to go with their European and world crowns.

Such is Norway’s pride and passion for winter sports, British cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave calls the country home and it is also where 2013 skeleton world champion Shelley Rudman spent long hours training for this year’s Sochi Winter Olympics.

After captaining Team GB at the London Olympics, Williams says the move to Scandinavia with his Norwegian girlfriend has shown him a different side to the fast-paced sport.

“In Norway, as with the rest of Europe, you just can't escape handball. Crowds here often average between 2,000 and 5,000 per game,” Williams told MM.

“Moving here was a decision we had made prior to the Olympics, but I have landed on my feet after a successful trial with Sandnes HK and I am really happy at the club.

 

 

“The hardest part is missing family and friends, but I have dealt with this since I was 18 when I moved to Denmark with the GB national team, so it's not exactly an issue now.

“I am a huge fan of Scandinavian culture and the way of life here – it isn't vastly different to the UK in many aspects – so I'm really happy out here.”

But as with most home athletes who competed at the Olympics two summers ago, the 26-year-old says the London 2012 experience remains the highlight of his career.

“ I still get goosebumps remembering walking out into the Copper Box in front of 7,000 people,” he said.

“To feel as though the whole nation was behind you was a fantastic feeling, and one I'll never forget.

 

“When you're competing you are in a bit of a bubble, so you're a little oblivious to the buzz, but as soon as you step on the court or outside the village – it is unreal.”

The GB skipper noticed a spike in popularity in the sport during the hype of London 2012, and maintains the games have had a lasting effect on handball, despite a subsequent cut in funding from UK Sport.

“There was a huge increase in the sports coverage and a massive upturn in terms of outside interest.

“It was amazing to be able to showcase our sport and for it to be so positively received by people, many of whom were watching for the first time.

“Since the games, the coverage has reduced significantly, which will happen when a national team disbands, but in terms of participation it remains on the increase.”

Williams was first introduced to handball aged ten by his parents, Colin Williams and Diane Baillie, who both played for Great Britain in the 1980s as well as for Salford HC, where he learnt his trade.

“Ever since I can remember, I followed them up and down the country to watch’, he recalled.

“I started playing when I was around seven, when Bill Baillie had a junior Under-11s training session.”

His talents soon began to catch the eye of some of the European big guns, and, as a result, a move abroad became inevitable, Williams having turned out for Tusem Essen in the German 1st Bundesliga and also for Halden Topphandball in the Norwegian first division.

Williams said the club he plays for now has a similar ethos to Salford, who qualified for European competition in March.

“My current club are quite similar to Salford in that they are both based around young, local players, which I believe to be a great foundation for any team.

“Salford are a great team with a fantastic mix of youth and experience based around homegrown talent.

“For me, the biggest positive is that the team has been built around young British players, who are vital to the sport growing at home.

“It's also great because in the 80s and 90s Salford competed numerous times in Europe, so to be back on that stage is a brilliant achievement for the team, and especially [head coach] Baillie and [Secretary] Kristian Marsh.”

 

 

 

On a personal level, Williams, who is currently studying a Business Administration degree while trying to help Sandnes reach the first division, hopes to succeed in the classroom as well as on the handball court in the coming years.

“I would like to be involved in coaching handball. I am involved with the club here in Norway, and hope one day I can use my experience to help the England & GB national teams.”

Main image courtesy of British Handball Videos via YouTube, with thanks.