Meredith was the best of his day.
George Best was once the idol of the football fans. In the ‘forties it was Stanley Matthews, in the ‘thirties Dixie Dean, but in the ‘twenties it was Billy Meredith a man who became a legend in his own lifetime, who played first-class football till he was 50, yet never really looked like a footballer.
Chirk’s most famous son, born a few hundred yards on “the right side” of the border, had bony, bow legs and he acquired the curious habit of always playing with a tooth pick in his mouth.
His razor-sharp runs, his amazing ball control, his uncannily accurate centres and his ability to shoot hard and straight with either foot made him the uncrowned King of Wingers and of Manchester sport.
Only one player has since emerged as a challenger for Meredith’s title England’s Stanley Matthews, who also graced first-class football with Stoke City until the age of 50.
Meredith, who was born in 1875 and died in 1958 in Manchester, played in 1,568 games for the two Manchester clubs and Wales and scored 470 goals. He played 50 times for Wales 48 times in the international championship and twice in “victory” matches in 1919.
He won 40 medals, including two English Cup, one Welsh Cup, two First Division championships, one Second Division championship and six Manchester Cup medals. Yet the medal he prized most was one awarded to him at Chirk School for dribbling.
Meredith owed much to the keenness on football of his schoolmaster, Mr T. E. Thomas, who was also treasurer of the Football Association of Wales.
Meredith acquired, among other things, his amazing ability to centre accurately in the East Denbighshire schoolyard. Mr Thomas used to place pennies on the ground as “targets” for little Billy’s centres. Every time the lad hit one he kept it.
Meredith always used to contend that if a winger put in six accurate centres during a game he had done his job. But Billy used to work overtime by scoring too. As well as being the King of Wingers he was the Prince of the Penalty Spot.
Meredith played in first class football for more than 25 years. He first made his reputation with Manchester City, the club he joined when he was 18, but in 1908, when his career seemed almost over, Manchester United obtained him for a transfer fee of £150.
Later, however, he was transferred back to City and actually played in an F.A. Cup Tie for them against Brighton in 1924 when he was 50.
Meredith’s ability to cross pin-point centres was not the only uncanny thing about this soccer genius. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about him was that he was never injured sufficiently to keep him out of a game. In his first seven years with Manchester City, he played in every match.
That Meredith could take scoring chances as well as make them was never in doubt. For example, in season 1898-99 he scored 32 goals in 37 League matches for Manchester City.
He gained his first Welsh cap in 1895, and his last in 1920 and he was a member of the Welsh team that won the international championship for the first time in season 1906-7.
In 1920 Meredith was presented with a silver plate by the Welsh FA. to commemorate his jubilee for Wales and in 1925 he retired. Meredith could, and did, pass on many tips to young players but perhaps the best one of all was on the occasion when a crowd of youngsters came to see his array of cups and medals. One boy said: “What a fine collection of caps, Meredith replied: “Yes, and they are all six and seven eighths”.