Bedlington, Northumberland born left half Billy Hardy started with local club Bedlington United before joining Scottish League Heart of Midlothian in 1909, making his Scottish League debut against Third Lanark the following April, making 4 further appearances during the rest of 1910 for The Jambos. He then joined Second Division club Stockport County making his Football League debut at Leeds City in April 1911, his only Stockport appearance before moving to Wales to join Southern League Cardiff City that summer for a fee of £25, which was paid by manager Fred Stewart, and it was there his career flourished.
He spent an amazing 21 years in South Wales, playing for Cardiff either side of the First World War initially in The Southern League, he was a mainstay of the first eleven for the next decade before Cardiff joined the Football League in 1920. He featured in their inaugural match in the Football League at his former side Stockport County, and he was the club’s only ever-present player in their inaugural 1920-21 season. In his tenth year since joining Cardiff, Hardy was awarded a benefit match for a League fixture on 21st April 1921 against Rotherham County, sharing the proceeds of the match with goalkeeper Herbert Kneeshaw.
Incredibly Hardy continued to be virtually ever-present in the following decade for the Bluebirds, including playing in both of their FA Cup Final appearances in 1925 and 1927, when in the latter legendary match Cardiff beat Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley to take the Cup outside of England for the first and only time in its history. In its match report of the final, The Westminster Gazette stated that Hardy’s “tactical knowledge of handling a wing was never seen to greater advantage”. The following September Hardy was also selected in a Football League match against the Irish League at St James’ Park, Newcastle, and he played a month later as Cardiff beat The Corinthians 2-1 in the FA Charity Shield match at Stamford Bridge.
Instantly recognisable – he was stocky and practically bald from an early age – he became less regular after Cardiff’s relegation in 1929, and he was appointed their player-coach in September 1930. He played his last ever game for Cardiff in March 1932 in a 1-0 win over Gillingham at the age of 41 and when he left the club he had played in a total of 585 first team games, of which 398 appearances were during the Football League era (he also scored 7 goals throughout the 1920’s). Hardy’s long career with Cardiff established him as a hero in the town. Described by a local newspaper as “the idol of all South Wales,” it was said that when he appeared on a newsreel shown in Cardiff cinemas, the audience cheered for 10 minutes.
Despite his unquestionable ability Hardy was never selected for England. It was often thought he was denied an international cap because he played for a Welsh team, the selectors from the Football Association being reluctant to include players from outside England. In the later years of his career, The Sheffield Daily Independent wrote “had Hardy been with an English club dozens of international caps might have come his way. As a half back, he had few equals”. He later spent two years from May 1934 to April 1936 as manager of Bradford Park Avenue, having joined them as a player-coach in 1932 (although he never appeared for their first eleven), reverting to his coaching role after his replacement as manager. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hardy was awarded a second benefit match by Cardiff, this time in a specially arranged match against Fulham in May 1939.
NB the image shows Hardy in the foreground in an unidentified match. It is probable this could be an FA Cup Fourth Round tie against Tottenham Hotspur in March 1922, in which case the Cardiff City goalkeeper would be Ben Davies. The unidentified striker climbing above Hardy could be Tottenham’s Charlie Wilson.