Andover, Hampshire born centre forward Bill Rawlings began his football career with hometown junior club Andover in 1914 before joining Southampton as an amateur in 1918 towards the end of the First World War, during which he had served in the Army. He turned professional in May 1919 and quickly settled into the side, building a formidable attacking partnership with Arthur Dominy. He scored 19 goals in their 1919-20 Southern League campaign. The Saints were then elected into the Football League, becoming founder members of the Third Division, with Rawlings playing in their inaugural Football League fixture at Gillingham.
He became the club’s top scorer in 1920-21 with 22 goals, including 4 goals in a 5-0 win over Merthyr Town in March 1921, as Southampton were denied promotion despite finishing in second place. He scored a prolific 32 goals in 1921-22 to win himself attention at a national level, and to help his club win the Third Division South title, with a hat-trick in a 6-0 drubbing of Charlton Athletic followed by 4 goal bursts in wins over Northampton Town and Millwall either side of New Year.
His intelligent play and deadly shooting earned him two England caps. He appeared against Wales at Anfield in March 1922 and a month later against Scotland at Villa Park in the 1922 British Home Championship, achieving the rare distinction of being capped for England while playing for a third tier club. He also toured Canada with the Football Association in 1926 and played for The Professionals in the FA Charity Shield as they were defeated by The Amateurs the same year.
In 1922-23, The Saints posted a respectable 11th place finish in the Second Division, with Dominy finishing as top scorer, Rawlings’ first Second Division hat-trick came in a 4-2 win over Rotherham County in March 1923. Rawlings then returned to form and finished as the club’s top scorer for the third time in four seasons in 1923-24, when he found the net 21 times, with a pair of late season hat-tricks against Clapton Orient and at Oldham Athletic in April 1924 to add to a treble in a 6-0 win over Barnsley that January.
Rawlings went on to remain as the club’s top scorer for another four seasons, hitting 16 goals in 1924-25, 20 goals in 1925-26, 28 goals in 1926-27 including a hat-trick at Chelsea in September 1926 and further trebles in wins over Fulham and Blackpool in November, and 21 goals in 1927-28, indeed he finished as the club’s top-scorer eight times in nine seasons from 1920-21 to 1927-28. He also helped the club to reach the FA Cup semi final in 1927, and scored in what ended a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. He scored a total of 193 goals in 364 appearances in League and Cup competitions during his ten years at The Dell. His 193 goals places him third on the club’s list of all-time goalscorers, behind Mick Channon and Matthew Le Tissier, and he also still holds the Southampton record for the most hat-tricks scored in one season.
In March 1928, he signed for First Division side Manchester United, scoring on his Old Trafford debut on 14th March in a 1-0 win over Everton. He hit a hat-trick on 7th April in a 4-3 home win over Burnley, and finished the 1927-28 season with ten goals for The Red Devils. However he was limited to six goals in 20 appearances during 1928-29. He scored all three goals of the 1929-30 campaign on 14th September, in a 3-2 win over Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park. His United career encompassed 19 goals in 36 appearances.
In November 1929, he moved to Port Vale, after The Valiants paid United a four figure fee. Rawlings scored on his Vale debut in a 5-2 win over Accrington Stanley at The Old Recreation Ground on 9th November. He played a further five games before suffering a serious ankle injury on Christmas Day 1929, during a 2-1 home defeat by Stockport County. The Valiants went on to win the Third Division (North) title in 1929-30. He recovered to full fitness by the spring of 1930, but was unable to return to the first team and returned to Hampshire to play for non league New Milton in 1930, having scored twice in 6 appearances. In 1932 he moved to Isle of Wight and played for Newport, before retiring in 1933.