Cellardyke, Fife born inside forward Billy Birrell began his football career with Inverkeithing United in 1914 and joined Scottish League Raith Rovers in 1919, spending nearly two seasons at Stark’s Park before joining First Division Middlesbrough in February 1921, making his Football League debut in a 1-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion the same month. He scored a hat-trick in a 5-3 defeat at Everton in February 1923, and despite Middlesbrough’s relegation to the Second Division in 1924, Birrell stayed with the club and was an ever present, scoring 18 goals, during their 1925-26 campaign,
The following season he missed only one match, scoring a further 18 goals, as Middlesbrough won promotion as Second Division Champions, but he only played 7 more games for ‘Boro in the top flight before returning to Raith Rovers in 1927 after 63 goals in 235 appearances for Middlesbrough, becoming Raith’s player-manager and retiring from playing in the summer of 1930.
In August 1930 he became manager of Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic, remaining five seasons before becoming the manager of Queens Park Rangers at the end of May 1935. During his four seasons at Loftus Road he led The R’s to 4th and 3rd place finishes in the Third Division (South) before being appointed as manager of Chelsea in May 1939, shortly before the Second World War. During the War he remained their manager and led them through the first six post war League seasons, which included two FA Cup semi finals, before his resignation in May 1952.
His brother Bob Birrell was also a footballer, playing for Heart of Midlothian and St Mirren.