This interview with seven trophy hero Billy Wilson appeared in Look at Linfield for the recent Coleraine game. The interview, completed by Roy McGivern, is re-produced here for the benefit of our many overseas supporters.
Following the recent article on Bobby Braithwaite, Look at Linfield recently caught up with another hero of the famous seven trophy team, Billy Wilson. The quietly spoken Co. Armagh man played 48 games in that wonderful 1961/62 season but enjoyed a number of other highlights in his football career. He made the provisional 22-man Northern Ireland squad for the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden but in a cruel twist of fate, the IFA took the decision to trim the squad to just 16 players and Billy missed out.
His football career began at home town club Portadown where he made his first team debut at the tender age of 16. He was selected for the NI youth team and eventually came to the attention of some English scouts. This led to him signing for First Division Burnley in 1955 and it was the start of a great football adventure. Billy takes up the story. "I think the Burnley scouts were watching me play for the youth team and it was Tommy Coulter who invited me over to the club. I went over to play a match and they wouldn't let me go home. They invited my mum and dad over and within a week asked me to sign professional terms. The manager was called Alan Brown and he seemed to rate me very highly. Burnley had five teams at the time and I was put straight into the reserve side. I captained the reserve side and played a few games for the first team against Blackpool and Notts Forest. After three years, Alan Brown left to join Sunderland and I decided it was time to move on."
There was no shortage of offers on the table for Wilson but when he became aware of interest from Linfield there was only going to be one outcome. "I managed to negotiate a free transfer from Burnley and could have gone to a number of other English clubs. Notts County were interested and I recall a Crewe Alexandra director arriving in a Rolls Royce to sign me. But I wanted to go home and I think the move to Linfield came about through Jimmy McIlroy's contact with Gerry Morgan in the international side. There was also the possibility of signing for Glentoran but there was only one team I would have come back for and that was Linfield. Jackie Milburn was manager then and I signed for the Blues in October 1958."
Just a few months earlier Billy had endured the heartbreak of just missing out on making his country's World Cup squad. "I was in the 22-man squad and it was an honour to be considered. But the IFA decided to reduce the squad to just 16 and I was told on the grapevine that it came down to a straight choice between myself and Derek Dougan. He got the nod because of his experience in playing in more than one position. I think it was a short-sighted decision by the IFA and I often thought that I should have paid my own way over to Sweden."
Billy soon put this behind him to play a starring role for Linfield. He was thrust into early first team action due to injuries to regular wing halfs Ray Gough, George Nixon and Billy Rodgers. "I knew a number of the Linfield players from the NI youth side including Ray Gough, Bobby Braithwaite and John Parke and that helped me settle in very quickly. After Jackie Milburn left, Isaac McDowell took over as manager and I got on very well with him. He was a top class manager and deserves a lot of credit for our achievements. “
Like many of his playing colleagues from that era, Wilson will be best remembered for his performances during the 1961/62 season. He recalls, however, that he was almost tempted away from Linfield before that glorious season. "Leeds were interested in taking me to Elland Road in exchange for Wilbur Cush who didn't really settle over there. They came over to watch a Linfield game and were impressed with John Parke and myself. They spoke to both of us after the game and decided to move for me. A straight swap was proposed between the two clubs but Jackie Milburn did not want to let me go and that was it. I wasn't keen to leave anyway as I was happy at Linfield and had a full-time job as a draughtsman in the shipyard."
Wilson's decision was vindicated as he went on to play a vital role as Linfield carried all before them to capture an incredible seven trophies. He almost missed out on one of the seven medals though as he was injured before the Co. Antrim Shield Final. "I had a knee injury and missed the final at Solitude but still got a medal as I played in all the previous rounds. They only allowed 12 medals in those days and it was Isaac McDowell who managed to get me one to complete my collection."
Wilson's Linfield career ended in 1963/64 and, after a brief spell with Ballymena, he retired from the game. He took the opportunity to complete some coaching badges at the FA’s National Centre at Lilleshall and had a brief spell back at Linfield as a coach under Ewan Fenton. He left after one season although his coaching skills were put to good use in his full-time occupation as a PE teacher.
Billy still gets along to the occasional Linfield game and retains plenty of passion for the game at all levels. "Linfield made several of the seven trophy team Life Members of the club and I was privileged to receive that honour. I still attend the occasional game but to be honest I get as much enjoyment from watching a match in the local park. Linfield are a great club and I was proud to play for them."