Legendary William Henry “Billy” Meredith is arguably the greatest of all Vintage Footballers and almost certainly the greatest player to play for the Manchester clubs. Born at Chirk in Wales he was considered one of the early superstars of football due to his performances, notably for Manchester City and Manchester United. He won every domestic trophy English Football and gained an incredible 48 caps for Wales between March 1895, when he made his Welsh debut in a 2-2 draw with Ireland at Cliftonville’s Solitude Ground in Belfast, and a win over England at Highbury in March 1920 (at a time when there were only 3 or 4 international matches a year, and no substitutes!), for whom he scored 11 goals and won two British Home Championship titles. He is the oldest player ever to play for Wales. His favoured position was outside right, and his key skills were dribbling, passing, crossing, and shooting. A dedicated and extremely fit professional, his habit of chewing on a toothpick during games made him instantly recognisable.
In 27 seasons in the Football League from 1892 to 1924 (not including the four seasons lost to World War One and the 1905-06 season in which he was banned for bribing an opposition player), he scored 176 goals in 740 league and cup appearances. He played for Black Park in 1889 and Chirk from 1890, and also played for Wrexham before joining Second Division Northwich Victoria in 1893. His Football League debut came in a heavy home defeat to Burslem Port Vale in September 1893. His career took off when he signed with Manchester City (then Ardwick) in 1894 after 5 goals in 11 matches for Victoria, and he turned professional in January 1895. He scored 30 goals in 1898-99 as City won the Second Division Championship and were promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history. Although they were relegated in 1902, he scored 22 goals as they again won the Second Division Championship in 1902-03.
He captained the team to the club’s first major honour, a 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the 1904 FA Cup Final at The Crystal Palace. He then moved to Manchester United in May 1906 after being banned for bribing Aston Villa half-back Alex Leake £10 to lose a match. There he won the League Championship twice in 1907-08 and 1910-11, the FA Cup in 1909, as well as two FA Charity Shields. He also helped to set up the Players’ Union, which was a fore-runner of the PFA. After the First World War, he resumed with Manchester United although he was no longer a first team regular. After 36 goals in 335 appearances for United, he returned to Manchester City in the summer of 1921 at the age of 47 and played a further 32 games before retiring in 1924, making him the oldest ever player for City, United, and Wales. His total record for City saw him score 152 goals in 394 appearances.
Truly a legend and an automatic inclusion in the Vintage Footballers Heroes Section, his memorabilia today is as collectible as pretty much any footballer of all time with the possible exception of Pele and only one or two others.
His older brother Sam Meredith played 8 times for Wales and also played for Chirk, as well as for Stoke and Leyton.
NB This photograph was taken on 15th April 1922 during a 5-2 defeat to Burnley at Turf Moor. He scored the first of City’s two goals. The Burnley player appears to be centre half Alf Basnett.