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William Henry "Billy" Meredith (30 July 1874 – 19 April 1958) was a Welsh footballer. He was considered one of the early superstars of football due to his performances, notably for Manchester United and Manchester City. He won each domestic trophy in the English football league and also gained 48 caps for Wales, for whom he scored 11 goals. 22 of these international appearances were gained while playing for Manchester City, while 26 were gained while playing for Manchester United. His favoured position was outside right.

Early life

Meredith was born in 1874 in Black Park, Chirkmarker, a small mining town in North Walesmarker, just south of Wrexham. He started work at Black Parkmarker Colliery as a pit pony driver at the age of 12. An interest in football was kindled by his elder brothers. Elias, the eldest, was a train driver for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. His work allowed him to take Meredith to watch professional teams such as Everton. Football was a keen pastime for the miners, and the standard of amateur teams from towns and villages in north east Wales was high as a result. Chirk won the Welsh Cup five times between 1887 and 1894, with miners making up a large proportion of the team. All the Meredith brothers played football, but Sam, two years older than Meredith, was the first to make an impression. He left Chirk to attempt a professional career, and went on to play for Stoke as a full-back.

Meredith made his debut for the Chirk first team in September 1892. The club played in The Combination, a league which contained a mixture of town clubs and reserve teams of clubs from big cities. At the end of his first season Meredith played in the 1893 Welsh Cup final, which Chirk lost 2–1 to Wrexham. 1893 was a time of industrial unrest for the miners, who chose to strike in response to a pay cut. Chirk withdrew from the Combination and entered only the Welsh league. In an attempt to make ends meet, Meredith not only played for Chirk, but accepted an offer to play for Football League club Northwich Victoria as well, who gave him a small fee on top of his expenses. Northwich were a struggling side, who withdrew from the Football League at the end of the 1893–94 season after finishing bottom of the Second Division. The club won just three League matches; Meredith featured in each win. Back at Chirk, Meredith gained his first honour as part of the team which beat Westminster Rovers to win the 1894 Welsh Cup.

Club career

Meredith's performances for Northwich gained the attention of several League clubs. Bolton Wanderers' Di Jones, a former Chirk player, spoke with Meredith about a possible move, but Bolton secretary J.J. Bentley regarded Meredith as too inexperienced, and his frame too slight. Lawrence Furniss, an official at Ardwick, had first noticed Meredith while refereeing a Northwich match. Meredith also played in both meetings between the clubs that season. Later in 1894, Ardwick, by then known as Manchester City, vigorously pursued Meredith's signature. Two club officials travelled to Wales to meet the player. One was secretary-manager Joshua Parlby, the other either Furniss or chairman John Chapman. The pair were met with suspicion. Anecdotes by contemporary figures suggest they were initially chased away by locals, and were only allowed to speak to Meredith after they bought drinks for his mining colleagues. Meredith did not wish to abandon life in Chirk. His mother was particularly against the idea: "It is all very well for you gentlemen to leave your big cities and come to our villages to steal our boys away... Our boys are happy and healthy, satisfied with their work and innocent amusements... if Billy takes my advce he will sick to his work and play football for his own amusement when work is finished." Meredith did eventually sign for Manchester City, but as an amateur. He continued work at the pit for at least a year, commuting back and forth for matches.

Meredith made his Manchester City debut against Newcastle United in November 1894, in a 5–4 defeat for City. The following week Meredith played his first home match for the club, and scored two goals against Newton Heath — who would later become Manchester United — in the first Manchester derby to take place in the league, though the Heathens won the match 5–2. In January 1895 Meredith turned professional.

In his first full season at Manchester City, Meredith finished as top scorer, despite playing on the wing. He repeated the feat the following year, but was outscored by Billie Gillespie in 1897–98. The final match of that season saw Meredith score his first hat-trick for the club in an emphatic 9–0 win against Burton Swifts. He was loved by the City fans and would draw huge crowds for any public event he attended.

Meredith's career with City was distinct in two parts. His first time was tarnished by the allegation that he bribed Aston Villa's Alex Leake £10 to lose a match and in 1904 he was hit with an 18 month ban from playing for City.

In May 1906, he moved to Manchester United, made his debut on 1 January 1907 in a 1–0 win against Aston Villa, and quickly became a firm favourite amongst the fans there.

During the First World War he actually played a match against United, making a guest appearance for Port Vale, with Vale recording a 5-2 home victory.

In 1921 he returned to City where he continued to play with his customary toothpick in his mouth until the age of 47. In 1924 he played for City in the FA Cup where he was still able to score against Brighton. His last match was against Newcastle in the semi-finals at the age of 49 years and 245 days, making him one of the oldest players ever to play in the FA Cup. In total, Meredith appeared 390 times for Man City and scored 150 goals and won 1 FA Cup with City. Meredith played 335 games for Manchester United, scoring 36 goals, and won 2 Football League Championships, 1 FA Cup and 2 FA Charity Shields while with them.

In 1928, together with former colleague Charlie Roberts he became a coach for the ambitious Manchester Central. Meredith's son-in-law, former City captain Charlie Pringle, was a player.

International career

Meredith made 48 appearances for the Wales national football team during his career, scoring 11 goals in the process. He was chosen by the selectors for 71 consecutive matches, but only made 48 appearances as on many occasions his club refused to release him for international duty.

Controversies

Meredith was regarded as a controversial figure, despite his immense talent on the football pitch. During his time at both the Manchester clubs he fell out with managers, threatened to walk out and was also the leader in a demand for higher wages.

Bribery scandal

Meredith was found to be involved in a bribery scandal at the conclusion of the 1904–05 season. He was accused of bribing an opposition player to lose.

Death and tributes

Meredith died in Withingtonmarker, Manchester, England in 1958 at the age of 83, the same year as the Munich air disastermarker.

After spending many years in an unmarked grave, the Professional Footballers Association, the Welsh FA, Manchester City and Manchester United, in a remarkable tribute to the man's influence, all agreed to cover the cost of upkeep on a new headstone and, after consultation with Meredith's 94-year-old daughter, a special service was held to mark the new headstone.

Meredith is honoured in the Hall of fame at the City of Manchester Stadiummarker.

It was announced in August 2007 that Meredith was one of the 10 new inductees for 2007 to the English Football Hall of Fame.

Career statistics

Club Season League Cup Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Northwich Victoria 1892–93
1893–94
Total 11 5
Manchester City 1894–95 18 12 18 12
1895–96 29 12 4 1 33 13
1896–97 28 9 1 0 29 9
1897–98 30 12 2 0 32 12
1898–99 33 29 1 1 34 30
1899–1900 33 14 2 0 35 14
1900–01 34 7 1 0 35 7
1901–02 33 8 3 0 36 8
1902–03 34 7 1 0 35 7
1903–04 34 11 6 2 40 13
1904–05 33 8 2 1 35 9
1905–06
Total 339 129 19 4 4 1 362 134
Manchester United 1906–07 16 5 2 0 0 0 18 5
1907–08 37 10 4 0 2 1 43 11
1908–09 34 0 4 0 0 0 38 0
1909–10 31 5 1 0 0 0 32 5
1910–11 35 5 3 0 0 0 38 5
1911–12 35 3 6 0 1 0 42 3
1912–13 22 2 5 0 0 0 27 2
1913–14 34 2 1 0 0 0 35 2
1914–15 26 0 1 0 0 0 27 0
1919–20 19 2 2 0 0 0 21 2
1920–21 14 1 0 0 0 0 14 1
Total 303 35 29 0 3 1 335 36
Manchester City 1921–22 25 0 25 0
1922–23 1 0 1 0
1923–24 2 0 4 1 6 1
Total 28 0 4 1 32 1
Career total 681 169 52 5 7 2 740 176


Honours

Manchester City


Manchester United


References

  1. Harding, Football Wizard, p. 16
  2. Harding, Football Wizard, p. 22
  3. Harding, Football Wizard, p. 23
  4. James Manchester City - The Complete Record, pp. 280–28
  5. The Billy Meredith Story by John Harding contains a lengthy quote from a letter Meredith subsequently wrote to the Athletic News referring to his "severe punishment" for the attempted bribe: "Why ME ALONE? when I was only the spokesman of others equally guilty."


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