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The Untold Story of Billy Howard


Carl with Billy Howard

I've had the absolute privilege to be able to aid Mr. William Howard over the last couple of months in telling his story. Greats like Billy Howard have gone by unnoticed, since they never really made an impact on the first team, but have given so much to the community of Liverpool, especially through working with the local kids and helping them develop through football. Billy's tale is among the best. A Kopite since the age of three; his love of the club started from watching his heroes from old the Boys’ pen in the 1940s. Billy went on to spending much of his youth living his dream playing for the Liverpool youth teams under the great guidance of the likes of Joe Fagan and Bob Paisley.

Billy not only gives us a fascinating insight into life at Melwood and Anfield during the 1950s but also his life growing up in the post-war Liverpool communities. Furthermore, Billy shares with us his unique encounters with Liverpool legends over the years from showing the great Bill Shankly where the Melwood offices were on the boss’ first day of duty, to becoming a regular in Billy Liddell's shop.

I was delighted to finally meet Billy, a gentleman and a true model of a Liverpool supporter. I'd like to thank Billy personally for the great insight he has given to us and shared so many wonderful stories. An untold story is a story lost forever.

Carl Clemente (@clemente_carl)

1. POST WAR LIVERPOOL

I was born in Dumfries, Scotland on 19th of September 1942. When dad was doing his commando training there, commandos were allowed to live off barracks, so mam and my two older sisters joined him, dad was posted for four weeks. After I was born, mam brought us all back home to Liverpool and my dad went off to war. When dad returned home after the Second World War, the first thing he bought me was a football. He would teach me the basics, ball control, heading, passing etc. this continued for some four years.

After the Second World War, life was extremely difficult for most people. Everything was rationed, some had very little and some had next to nothing. Liverpool had suffered badly from the war; some had not only lost all their possessions, but also their homes as a consequence of the bombings. Others had suffered the loss of husbands, sons, fathers, mothers and daughters who were sadly killed in action. Many more had suffered the loss of limbs.

The blitz had killed and injured many civilians, but the community spirit during the conflict had brought the people of Liverpool closer together. The spirit of the people had been strengthened. Communities were prepared to help each other to start over again. Looking back, with my football head on, it reminds me of a footie team, all pulling for each other.

At the age of five, I start school at Sacred Heart Infants' in Mount Vernon. We lived in Sherdley Street close to the city centre. Liverpool had been decimated by the bombing, leading to numerous “ollers” close to where we lived. The council demolished damaged buildings, levelled the ground and covered over with cinders, these would become our footie pitches. Our mothers must have gone spare, the cinders would ruin our shoes/pumps, our legs and elbows would be cut to ribbons, we wore kecks then till we were about 14 years old. However, we as kids didn’t care and we would be back the next day playing footie. Every bare wall had a goal chalked on it. We would bunk over school walls and play in the playgrounds, one of these was Harrison Jones in West Derby Street, the yard was “L” shaped. On Sundays the older teenagers and some men would organise games there.

In them days, apart from school footie, there was no organised junior football, so we organised our own street v street, school v school games on the “ollers”, coats or bricks for goals, no refs, cheating was out. If someone cheated they were barred from playing again. Balls were different then, made of thick rubber, they would bounce all over the place. We soon realised that our first touch was vital, we learned also to keep the ball on the deck and if it hit anything sharp it would rip to pieces. We would put our pennies together to buy a ball, when we had no money, we would stuff an old case off a case ball with rags or paper and finish the game. The mums would be further down the street turning the rope for the girls skipping, "Ee aye addio..." I myself would take up skipping later when I watched Bob Paisley skip at Melwood, he was amazing. He was also like lightning on the punch ball.



Kop idols of the day: Albert Stubbins teaching Billy Liddell how to punchball

2. MY DEBUT AS A KOPITE
My first footie season is upon us, 1946/7. Dad would take me there on the crossbar of his bike. People, who lived in the streets opposite the Kop, would open up their backyards and mind the bikes for a tanner, an old six pence. Dad would put me in the Boys' Pen as it was cheaper and he would go in the Kop, and then ask the policeman to pass me over the 10 foot high railings to join him in the Kop. 

I turn four years old at the start of the first season after the war. My memories and details of games are vague. However, names such as Billy Liddell, Albert Stubbins, Bob Paisley and Jack Balmer are becoming etched on my mind. I remember dad telling me my first game was against Chelsea and we won 7-4, so I get off to an impressive start as a Red [the debut of Liddell and Paisley]. However, it would get even better when we end the first season after the war by winning the first division title. Moreover, we also get to the semi-final of the FA Cup. What a start to my love affair with the reds. I’m now a KOPITE!!! This still lasts to the present day, near 70 years on! 

What sticks in my mind, is the deafening Kop roar and the “clacking” of the air raid rattles many fans had, including myself, mine was painted red and white, with the name Billy Liddell painted on top. I also witness Jack Balmer making history by scoring three consecutive hat-tricks. Singing was not like today, but there was one short song that went....

 "After the ball was centered, after the whistle blew,
Liddell got excited and down the wing he flew,
he crossed the ball to Stubbins,
Stubbins scored a goal,
and knocked the poor old goalie,
sitting on his old banjo." 

 
A view from the Kop in the 1949/50 season

3. OUR “SPEC”

The following couple of seasons are not as eventful as my first season on the Kop. However, My dad and I would also follow the same routine. Excitement is growing for me and I can’t wait to see my heroes as each home game draws near. During the 47/48 season I attend my first away game, at Goodison Park! But we aren't playing the blues, no, it’s Man Utd, in the cup. I think their ground is still damaged after the war, we go down 3-0, although, in them days scores didn’t really matter much to this young fanatic. Watching my heroes is all that matters.

Also during that season, Albert Stubbins nets four in one game [vs Huddersfield]. I never have forgotten my dad screaming: “That makes four for Stubbo!” My admiration is growing for the awesome Billy Liddell with each game. I would glare at his every move, he was just brilliant. Once dad got me out of the pen into the Kop, we always made our way to the “spec”, right hand side of the Kop, about 20 steps up, facing our left wing when attacking towards us. Dad would stand in front of the barrier and I would sit on top. What a spec and although I may not have realised at the time, my own football influences are taking shape.


The 1949/50 team

From the spec I could see every move building up down our left, between Paisley, Balmer and Liddell. My future is already mapped out, although I’m right-footed, I tell myself I’m going to play on the left when I grow up. The 1949/50 season is a momentous season, I'm in the spec when we beat Everton 3-1 on Christmas Eve and Everton's Peter Farrell scored after just 15 seconds. We also beat the Toffees in the semi-final of the cup at Maine Road. The clamor for tickets meant I was unable to get to neither Maine Road nor Wembley. I remember the reds fans were confident we would beat arsenal as we beat them twice in the league, “We’ll murder them in the final." Sadly we went down 2-0. Dad said Alex Forbes kicked Liddell all over the park. The lads came home on Sunday and come out onto the balcony at the town hall, we are near the front of the crowd. I was on my dad’s shoulders cheering my head off, all our heroes waving to us. Albert Stubbins holding the mascot, a teddy bear.



Captain Phil Taylor holds aloft the lucky mascot at the town hall celebration

On a personal level at this team I have already made my debut for the junior footie team. My memory of my first game is quite vivid, ones that follow not so. I was so nervous; I'm playing left wing, the touchline is packed with parents and older boys, a couple of minutes in, the ball is at my feet, I panic, “What do I do now?” I just back heeled it, to get rid, luckily, it went to one of our players, the crowd was clapping me, “Well done, son!” and my nerves just disappeared. I soon move to left half on dad's advice, “Wingers only have one way to go,” said my dad. He always told me to always watch Bob Paisley and learn from the “best left-half in the game". I took his advice on board.

Dad and I suffered a setback at the start of the 1950/51 season. As always I would go into the pen and dad would as usual to get the copper to pass me over. It’s now a new copper and he wouldn’t allow it. Therefore, I'm stuck in the pen for a few weeks on my own, wondering why dad wouldn't pay another tanner to get me on the Kop. It cost six pence, two and a half pence today in the pen and 1 shilling in the Kop, 5 pence today. I realise later, money is in short supply after the war, times are hard, and the other 5 pence would buy the match programme and a Dundee cake for me.

The pen was situated in the top right hand corner of the Kop, as you looked up from the pitch; it had 10 feet of railings all round to keep us safe, with a 3 foot wall three quarters of the way down. One week my dad tells me to stand by the wall, shortly after kick off, I look around and there’s dad almost lying on the floor, feet against the wall, two hands on the one inch square steel rail, bending it just enough to get my head through, "Yippee, I'm back in the “spec,” it only lasted a few games till the copper realised why the pen was emptying out. I was stuck in the pen now, until they opened the gates 20 minutes to go, then I would run round to the spec.



The Boys' Pen seen in the left-hand corner

We finished mid table that season, but Billy Liddell was still banging the goals in. The following season I’m allowed to go the match with older lads from our area, no disrespect to dad, but I enjoyed walking to the game more, even though it takes about 45 minutes. The banter and listening to the older guys talk about footie is great, not many cars in them days, plenty of bikes and overloaded trams.

One comparison to today's crowd is I never remember players getting slagged off, we applauded our wins and found excuses for our defeats, and we also appreciated our opponents. How could we not admire the likes of Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, John and Mel Charles, the Allchurch brothers, Jackie Milburn, Raich Carter, Wilf Mannion, the Busby Babes, and many many more. The list is endless; the lads could be excused for losing some games against such talent. Moreover, I was learning so much from the best around for my own game too.



Queuing for the Kop in the 1950s

The next couple of seasons are rolling on; we are dropping down the league. 1952/3 we finish about 5th from bottom, worse was to follow in 1953/54 when we finish bottom. We can’t seem to win a game away from home; we are dropping like a stone. Three games to go, we play Cardiff at home, we need all the points we can get to have a chance of staying up. Cardiff's keeper went off injured, Alf Sherwood takes the jersey. Liverpool are awarded a penalty. The Kop is jam packed. In them days you could walk around the Kemlyn to the other end, to get behind the goal we were kicking into. I stayed in the Anny Road for comfort. Billy puts the ball on the spot, runs up, Sherwood saves and we are beaten, 1-0. Our next game is at home to Middlebrough we thrash them 4-1. The last game is away at Blackpool, we got beat 3-0, we are relegated, but worse still, Everton are promoted. Among the highlights of the 1950s was when Harlem Globetrotters came to Anfield, Meadowlark Lemon and all, what an absolute treat! Also at Anfield the Liverpool marathon used to finish with one lap of the pitch, after the Reds vs. Whites pre-season game.



School camp 1953 - Billy on the above right (a blond lad places his hands on his shoulders).

4. SOMEONE PINCH ME PLEASE

It’s coming up to my 12th birthday and we moved house. I’m ecstatic; we are now a stone’s throw away from Anfield. I can see the Kop roof from the top of the street. I also had to change school called our Lady Immaculate just off St. Domingo Road. Mam takes me on my first day, and first thing the teacher, Charlie Bullen, asks, “Do you play football?” Mam chirps up, “He’s excellent,” how embarrassing! I get my place in the team and play right through until 1958. My position is left-half, our left-back Frank Spencer would become my lifelong friend and teammate. At the end of my first season playing for the school team I am invited to train during the summer months with Liverpool schoolboys, under the guidance of the great Tom Saunders, a great honour and something I had dreamed of but never thought I would achieve. However, I found it hard to hold down a place in this team. The lad in front of me at left half was a smashing player, by the name of Gannon, who played most of the games and later went to Everton.


Lady Immaculate

At the end of this season I went to a summer camp with the school. One day we played a game against another school and at full time the teacher called me over and introduced me to Tom Moore, a scout for Liverpool Football Club, he invited me for a trial at Melwood and luckily, they kept me on! My head was spinning, how can this happen to a little kid who used to bunk into the Kop?

I continue going to watch the Reds and in our first season in the 2nd division we finish mid table. That is the season we beat Everton 4-0 in the FA Cup. There was a 72,000 crowd, Billy finished up at left-back and had a blinder. Liddell, A'Court and Evans (2) got the goals. I will never forget that game. We then improved during the 1955/56 season and ended up finishing 3rd. I travelled to Scunthorpe for a fourth round FA Cup replay tie. The terraces were constructed with wooden rises filled with yellow clay which is wet with rain. Everyone was ankle deep. Liddell and Arnell scored in a 2-1 victory and everyone leaves with bright yellow shoes.


Frank and I travelled to Maine Road for the next round. We sat on a wall in the Kippax end. Billy Liddell picked a ball up in the middle and hit a thunderous shot past Bert Trautmann, for what we thought we thought was the winner. The referee gave Jimmy Payne offside, standing a yard into their half. It finished 0-0 and the replay is the following Wednesday. Like many other lads we bunked school and got into the Anny Road end. In the dying seconds of the game; Billy blasts one in the net, just as the ref puts the whistle to his mouth to end the game, we go out, 2-1.

My head is now somewhere in the clouds, is this really happening to me? I think back to when I was a small boy, thinking about would I ever get to play for the school team or even the city team. Somehow I had achieved that, but getting to play for Liverpool Football Club, nah, that could never happen, could it? Wear that shirt? With the Liverbird emblazoned on my chest, nah. However, here I am, at Melwood with Phil Taylor, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Reuben Bennett and Jackie Balmer. How did I land here? How many Liverpool legends have trained and played here? Someone pinch me please!


Melwood in 1956

5. LIFE AT MELWOOD

Our new house has a garden 20 yards long with a solid brick wall at the bottom. I spent hours banging a ball against the wall, at all angles, imagining the opposition and getting there before they intercept. In later life, I would impress upon my children, and the youth teams I coached, “The best coach in the world is a brick wall and a good imagination”.

Anyway, so there I was, at Melwood; training was tough, but enjoyable. At this point I'm not yet 14 years old, so I don’t expect to get games anytime soon. After training, the more experienced players would have practice matches and us “kids” could go home if we wanted. I, however, would grab a ball and go in the shooting box, which consisted of wooden planks with side walls, a back wall and a roof. The floor had about 9 inches of sand spread on it; the back wall had blocks of wood nailed on at intervals. You were able to smack the ball and it would come back at you at all angles. It was murder ploughing through the sand to reach it before it hit the ground. I loved spending time in there; it built up leg strength and speed of thought and would really sharpen you up.



In the back garden where Billy practiced constantly

We would then go in for a shower; they were in the basement under the pavilion back then. From time to time the coaching staff would throw buckets of cold water over us, and laugh their heads off. I never could understand why they did this, because we only ever had cold water showers at Melwood and there was no hot water ever to be seen. After a couple of months, I’m allowed to join in with the practice matches, and I even get a few games in the junior teams. I have a good feeling and I'm learning to cope. All in all I'm extremely happy with my first season at Liverpool Football Club.

For the 1956/57, we report back for training, we amble out of the dressing room and Joe Fagan says; "Right lads, follow me," off we go running through Huyton, Prescott and further, we get back to Melwood, 8/10 miles later and that was on the first night back. We then started to make our way back to the dressing rooms, “Where you going lads?" Joe shouted, "We start training now!" Joe Fagan was a lovely man, fit as a flea; he had a knack of telling you off, with a smile on his face.



Smilin' Joe

Meanwhile, the Reds finish 3rd again in the Second Division, we just can’t get over the line and get promoted. Billy has moved from centre forward to outside-right, A’Court is holding left wing for a second season running but Billy is still our main goalscorer. Johnny Wheeler (pictured left) has come in from Bolton, and would remain a fixture in the team until Gordon Milne comes in in 1961.

I didn't know it at the time, but my brother would marry Johnny's niece some years later. Johnny is a very private man, still living in the outskirts of Liverpool. His brother, a plumber, did some work with me. He tells a lovely story of him and his mates going to watch the Reds play Bolton away. Johnny was playing for Bolton, after the game, the reds lads are invited to a working man’s club with the Bolton players. Money was scarce at the time, Nat Lofthouse takes his cap off and passes it all round the members, players and fans, “That’s ale money for the Scousers,” he says as he hands it over. What a lovely gesture, typical of the time.

6. THE TRULY HONEST JIMMY MELIA

During this season I was joined at Melwood by my mate Frank “Spenno”. It was good to have him here. Jimmy Melia and Bobby Campbell, both local lads, are now regulars in first team. I know both quite well as we attended Sunday evening mass together at St. Anthony's in Scotland Road. Just like all players of their time they are gents. Jimmy once played in a final against our school first team when I was a kid, they played it at Anfield. He scored the winner but got injured in the process with a broken collar bone. He was protesting to the ref who thinks he’s crying out because of his injury, he was actually telling the referee to disallow the goal because he had handled it. However, the referee gave the goal; Jimmy didn’t want to be known as a cheat.



A young Jimmy Melia on the right

Near the end of February, I played for the “A” youth team away at Blackpool. On the coach back, some more senior players are playing cards opposite me; Tommy Lawrence, Phil Ferns, Reg Blore, Willie Carlin and Alan Banks. The first team is playing Blackburn and it is announced over the radio that Billy Liddell, who else? had scored a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw. We all started to cheer. When I didn't get a game for Liverpool I used to play for anyone I can. I left school at Easter in 1958. My first job was at the rope works in lodge lane. The first thing I did was build a footie team; management constructed a pitch for us on land they owned in Speke. The rope works manager, a jock, also got me involved in an old Corinthian club called Earl Town. Therefore, my week now consisted of Mondays and Wednesdays; training at Earl Town, Tuesdays and Thursdays; training at Melwood, Wednesday afternoons I played in the business house league, Saturdays I played for Liverpool, Earl Town or Old Boys and finally Sundays I'd play in the Liverpool Sunday league.Therefore, I only had Fridays all to myself, cleaning and dubbing my boots, washing laces, those kinds of things.

I can’t leave the season 1957/58 without remembering the awful disaster suffered by the Busby Babes in Munich in February, 1958. Duncan Edwards, who was their left-half, was one of my idols. I had watched him play for England youth at Anfield a few years earlier; he took a throw-in whilst lying on his back, reaching the penalty spot. I saw him play earlier in this season at Goodison as well; more than 70,000 packed in to see a great 3-3 draw. Years later I visited his grave whilst working in the Midlands, "R.I.P to all the babes who lost their lives, it was a pleasure to have seen them play".



You couldn't get away with anything when Reuben Bennett was around
 
8. TRAINING AT ANFIELD


The pre-season of the 1958/59 season went well. We started going to Anfield to train a bit more, getting the feel for the “big time”. It was tough at Anfield, we would start by running step by step up the Kop and down the other side to the turnstiles, about 5 times each way. We would then run backwards on our toes, from Anny Road to half way line, turn and sprint to Kop. Then walk up the Kop, and repeat, around the ground, about half a dozen times. We would be three abreast doing this. One night the group in front tripped and landed in the Kop, we helped them back up scraped and bruised. I remember them start to make their way to the dugout, when Reuben shouts, “Get back in line, you will get worse in a game." You didn’t argue with Reuben! We would then go to the car park where Bob [Paisley] would give us some ballet exercises for balance. Bob had also introduced a gallows at Melwood; it had a ball tied onto a string. We would take a run up and time a leap in order to head it. Now and then Bob would pull the string a bit and we would have to adjust our leap, this was brilliant for timing.

At this stage training is going great and I’m getting more games. One I remember was against Bolton; they had a couple of first-teamers playing for them who were getting fit after injury. I was playing left-half marking one of them and I hardly touched the ball, it was getting pinged all over the place, “You’re not there yet, Billy,"  I would think to myself. However, I learn to put games like this behind me and stay focused.

9. THE GREAT TOMMY LIDDELL

In January 1959, disaster struck the first team as we got beat by Worcester City in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Billy wasn’t playing; in fact he plays less than half the season, but still chips in with the goals. Jimmy Melia is now our chief goalscorer.

As usual when I fail to get a game at LFC, I went to play for one of the others. One week I remember turning out for my old boys’ team. Our keeper fails to show up and I volunteered to go in goal. The opposition, the Catholic Ramblers, have the great Billy Liddell's brother; Tommy a former Reds reserve, playing at right-back for them. Tommy, just like his brother, is a fine specimen of an athlete. I must be the shortest goalie ever. Tommy hit a bullet, heading for the top corner. I managed to get to it, but on the way down I bang my head against the post. Tommy is first to me to see if I was ok. Furthermore, just before the end they were awarded a penalty; up steps Tommy Liddell and I saved it. As the whistle went Tommy ran up to me thinking he was going to shake my hand, no, he lifts me on his shoulders and carries me all the way to the dressing room. What a moment; my all-time hero’s brother giving me a triumphant lift, I couldn't believe it.



Tommy Liddell with his more famous brother Billy!

As this season was coming to an end I felt quite content with my progress, although I'm not getting ahead of myself and still had a lot to learn. My old boys team reached a cup final, the manager arranges a friendly on the Saturday before the final, which was on the Thursday against a team they said had not been beaten for seven years. We took them apart 4-0. With a couple of minutes to go I've already scored two, I ran through and score my hat-trick. However, I was unable to celebrate; I had gone over on my ankle. I knew immediately was serious because my boot was bursting at the seams. I had learned not to take it off. I finished up in Whiston hospital with my ankle ligaments badly torn. They put a plaster cast on from my foot to the top of my thigh.

The gloom was lifted somewhat, when a week later I met Rita, who will eventually become my wife. I didn’t mention football to her; I just gave her a cock and bull story about saving a dog from a bus to explain the state of my leg. I was on crutches for about nine weeks and then used a stick for there. Before the cast was removed, most of pre-season had gone, along with my fitness and muscle waste. At this point I was in despair, were my dreams coming to an end?

PART 2: Liverpool are set for their biggest transformation when a compatriot and namesake of Billy's arrives from Huddersfield. The club would never be the same... An exciting chapter in Billy's life will be published on LFChistory.net soon.

Interview conducted by Carl Clemente (Carl@lfchistory.net / @clemente_carl on Twitter). Copyright - LFChistory.net
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