Dragon Wings: The Billy Meredith Story

Delighted to welcome readers to a new series entitled Dragon Wings, which looks at the many great wide men Wales have produced over the years and that has graced football fields all over the world. The first person I cover is Manchester City, Manchester United and Wales legend, Billy Meredith, a genius of a footballer.

Caricature of Billy Meredith

William Henry Meredith was born in 1874 in Chirk, Denbighshire. “Billy” as he was known by all. In 1890, he played for his local side Chirk for 2 years before signing for Northwich Victoria. His career really kicked off when in 1894 he signed for Manchester City. Many clubs whilst Meredith was at Northwich Victoria, looked at the young amateur footballer, but many shied away from signing the undoubted talented footballer due to concerns over his frail build, Meredith stood five foot nine inches in height but was very thin. However, Manchester City grasped the opportunity, Meredith initially signed as an amateur and continued to work down the pit as a coal miner, commuting back to North Wales to work and then back to Manchester to play.

He made his debut for Manchester City in November 1894 against Newcastle United. The following week he made his home debut against Newton Heath (Manchester United in later life), Meredith scored 2 goals in the match. In his first season, he was top goalscorer, and the following year he was made club captain, at the tender age of 21 years of age.

In the 1898–99 season, Manchester City won the Second Division, Meredith was the star player, scoring 30 league goals in 35 league appearances, a fantastic goal tally for a man who more often than not played as a right winger. For the number of seasons, Meredith consistently played to a high level, creating goals and scoring a big numbers. Controversy was to hit the player in 1905 when he was found guilty of bribing an opposing player, during the investigation it came to light that Meredith approached the player through a request by is manager, but it was only him charged. Meredith was banned from the game for the whole following season, and in May 1906, Billy Meredith was put on the transfer list by Manchester City.

Whilst still under a ban, Meredith joined Manchester United on a free transfer with a £500 signing on fee. He made his debut for Manchester United in 1907. The following season, Manchester United won the First Division and the start of the following season won the first ever FA Charity Shield. Meredith would win many trophies with Manchester United throughout his career with them which ended in 1921.

At the age of 47 years old, Meredith was to return to play for Manchester City, he played until 1924, his final game being the semi-final of the FA Cup in a defeat to Newcastle United, Meredith was at the time, 49 years of age, an incredible achievement for a player to be playing at the top level at that age and for that length of time.

In terms of his international career, Meredith made his debut for Wales in 1895 playing in a score draw against Ireland. As has happened with over Welsh internationals, Meredith regularly was not released by his club to play for his country. He was selected 71 times to appear for Wales but due to club commitments, played 48 times for his country. In 1920, he played a starring role for Wales, defeating England and winning the British Home Championship. The match against England would be his last international cap for Wales, the defeat of England was only the second time in twenty attempts that Meredith would be on the winning side against the old enemy. When Meredith won his final international cap he was 45 years of age, and he is still the record holder for oldest player to play for his country, a record I doubt will ever be surpassed.

As a footballer, Meredith was a footballing genius. He could beat players for fun all over the pitch and his goal scoring exploits were outstanding. Teams would try to man mark him many times with strong arm tactics, but more often than not, Meredith would overcome these challenges and either create goals for his team mates or score goals himself all the time, chewing on a toothpick, a habit he was well known for. His professional career spanned 30 years, which is incredible, even more so for an outfield player. His career statistics 740 games with 176 goals, including 48 appearances for Wales and 10 goals. Meredith won 10 major trophies in his career.

A fantastic footballer and the right person to start this series of Welsh footballing wingers, Billy Meredith, a true footballing great.

Craig Muncey

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