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Billy Meredith 1906-1921 335 games 36 goals

November 15, 2009

Written by: Adam Carpenter

A long time before the status of celebrity had been branded about, Billy Meredith was a superstar in his time. Along with Edward VII and the prime minister David Lloyd George, billy was one of the most famous people in britain in the first two decades of the 20th century, an instantly recognisable icon whose image dominated the public prints. Even the people who knew little of football and cared less knew all about Meredith: he was widely admired for his raffishness and rebellion, just as much as his prowess on the park.
If cricketer W.G. Grace bestrode the sporting world in victorian times, the edwardian era belonged to Meredith without question. His roots in the tiny, strictly god-fearing village of Chirk, in Wales, could not have been any humbler. Aged 12, Meredith went to work in a local mine. However, football turned out to be his saviour. He had shown some talent as a player in local football and Meredith wanted to try his luck in England. His family were reluctant to let him go, but in the end he joined Northwich Victoria as an amateur in 1892. He was soon spotted and signed by Manchester City and became an instant sensation, dazzling spectators up and down, right accross the country, with his breathtaking wing play. Billy won his first cap for Wales in 1895, the second division championship in 1903 and the F.A. Cup in in 1904 with City. Meredith was already showing signs of the anti authority streak that was such a feature of his career. In 1905 he was implicated in a financial scandal and accused of bribing an Aston Villa player to throw a match. He always denied the allegation, but was one of a number of players to be banned from playing for the club ever again. What a costly mistake this ended out to be as City’s loss was very much neighbours United’s gain, as Ernest Mangnall (the present United manager) snapped up Meredith and a number of his City team mates for United. It was the start of one of the greatest United careers.

If someone was to see Meredith in the street you wouldnt recognise him to be an exceptional athlete. He was as pale as a ghost and had bandy little legs which wouldnt ‘stop a pig in a passage’ as the saying has it. Yet get him on a football pitch and he was transformed. Meredith’s skill with a ball, devastating acceleration and pin point crossing, allied with the ability to inspire his team mates, all played a huge part in United’s rise to the summit of english football. Meredith was the teams best player as they won two championships and the F.A. Cup in the years before the first world war. Meredith’s links with United ended acrimoniously after the war and the money was the main root of the problem. No player chafed against the restrictions of the maximum wage more than Meredith. He remained bitter throughout his career that players were not allowed to earn wages commensurate with their skills. Football was generating fortunes in gate money those days and Meredith was keenly aware that he pulled in more spectators than anybody else. He therefore left United in July 1921 to rejoin city as a player-coach, but nothing in the rest of his career matched his achievements with United. He also played for Wales 48 times and scored 11 times. In his career Meredith was muchly operated as a winger, where he could do the most damage to the opposition, but could also be used as a striker.

Meredith died on 19th April 1958, much to the dismay of Manchester City and United fans together. This of course had already been a heartbreaking year too football fans and in particular United fans, following on from the Munich air disaster.

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