Hanley, Staffordshire born goalkeeper Billy Rowley played for Hanley Orion in 1881, originally as a centre forward, and was an early player for both Stoke, joining them in 1882 and playing for their reserves, and Burslem Port Vale, whom he joined in 1884, by now a goalkeeper, before re-joining Stoke in 1887. By the time of the Football League’s formation in 1888, which included Stoke, he had returned to the club, and made his League debut in their inaugural fixture, a 2-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion that September, missing only one game in their first season. He played at least once in Stoke’s first eight League seasons, all played in the First Division, being a regular in their first four despite a number of serious injuries, making 129 League and FA Cup appearances during the League era for Stoke. He also won The Football Alliance with them in 1890-91 when they dropped out of the Football League for a season.
He won his first cap for England in a 6-1 victory over Ireland at Anfield in March 1889 and after being reserve for two internationals in 1890 he won a further cap in a 2-0 win over Ireland at Cliftonville Gardens in March 1892.He also played in The Football League’s second inter league match, when they beat The Scottish League 4-2 in Glasgow in April 1893. He also played seventeen times for The Staffordshire FA between 1884 and 1890.
He became Stoke’s manager in May 1895, spending two seasons in that post before leaving in August 1897, and on leaving the club he joined Second Division Leicester Fosse, making a single appearance for The Fossils against Lincoln City in September 1898. He became club secretary of Leicester but was suspended from playing by the Football Association in October 1898, which ended his playing career.