Birthdate: 10 January 1922
Birthplace: Townhill, Scotland
Other clubs: Lochgelly Violet (1937-38); Chelsea, Linfield, Cambridge Town, Toronto Scottish, Dunfermline (wartime guest)
Bought from: Lochgelly Violet
Signed for LFC: £200, Joined July 1938 - Professional 17.04.1939
International debut: 15.05.1946 vs. Switzerland
International caps: 29/8 - 08.10.1955
Liverpool debut: 05.01.1946
Last appearance: 31.08.1960
Debut goal: 05.01.1946
Last goal: 05.03.1960
Contract expiry: 1961
Win ratio: 41.57% W: 222 D: 134 L: 178
Games/goals ratio: 2.34
Wartime games/goals: 152 / 82
LFC league games/goals: 492 / 215
Total LFC games/goals: 534 / 228
William Beveridge Liddell started his career with local teams Kingseat Juvenlies and Lochgelly Violet. Billy came first to Liverpool in July 1938 and nine months later signed a professional contract. Had it not been for a certain Sir Matt Busby, Liverpool's former captain and later Manchester United's manager, Billy might never have been a Liverpool player. Busby found out that representatives of Manchester City had been to see Billy's parents with a view to getting their son to join the club. After learning that Billy had turned down the invitation to go to City, Busby rang Liverpool manager George Kay and suggested that "this Liddell lad might be worth an enquiry"; and indeed he was ... and how! Before Liddell went to Liverpool, he was hired as an accountant at Simon Jude & West in Liverpool. His parents had it put into the contract that Billy would be allowed to continue his studies because they wanted him to have something to fall back on if things didn't work out. Liddell trained full-time in pre-season, but trained only twice-a-week as the season started, the only Liverpool player who held two jobs. But, he had hardly settled when World War II broke out, so Liddell had to wait six years to make his formal debut. Billy enlisted in the RAF and was sent to a training camp in Cambridge and later on to Manitoba in Canada. Liddell spoke about the start of his Reds' career in his autobiography. "The turning point of my young life came after I had been to a Youth Club dance one Saturday night. On returning home shortly before midnight I was surprised to see a light in the living-room. Normally my parents were in bed soon after ten o' clock. Both mother and father were still up and dressed, and were obviously not there to tick me off for being out so late. There was clearly something in the wind, though what it was I couldn't imagine. Certainly I was not prepared for the words which came immediately I had answered their questions about the dance. Mother could not keep silent longer. Neither could she prepare me gradually for the shock to come. Right out without any preliminaries, she asked: 'Willie, how would you like to live in Liverpool?' I could only stand and stare. I hadn't the slightest idea what the question conveyed. Football at that moment was far from my thoughts and Liverpool had never been in them at all. When I found words at last all I could say was: 'What on earth do you mean?' Then it came out bit by bit, and as it did I realized that, at the age of sixteen-and-a-half, I was at an important crossroads in my young life."
As many professional footballers, Billy tried to play as many games during the war as possible as Phyllis Liddell, Billy's wife of 55 years, noted: "When he was in Canada he went under an assumed name, Bill Tanner, to play. He was just standing on the sidelines watching this match involving a team of Scottish ex-pats called Toronto Scottish. Billy told them he was Scottish, although he didn't tell them he played for Liverpool, and they asked him if he would like a game the next day. He turned up and came on as a substitute. Within ten minutes he'd scored two goals and the other team were asking him if he wanted a rest. He really was football mad!" As well featuring for Toronto Scottish Billy made appearances for Chelsea, Linfield, Cambridge Town and Dunfermline during the war. He finally played his first game for Liverpool and scored his first goal on New Years' Day 1940, beating Crewe 7-3. He was said to have given a "most promising display, his ball control and sense of positioning being features." Liddell made his amateur international debut against England at Wembley on 18 April 1942, four years before making his official debut for Liverpool! His teammates were among others Bill Shankly and Matt Busby, but it was the young Billy that captured everyone's imagination. "Maestro Liddell. Ten minutes was sufficient for this boy to play himself into these criticial, hard-beating Hampden hearts," said a press reporter. "He took the equalizer with a lovely timed header. But it was the way he had in the second goal which put him in the Maestro class. Liddell did the spadework and Dodds did the finishing for what must be one of the greatest goals Hampden has ever seen. The outstripping of the defence, the quick pass with the "wrong" foot, and then Dodds' glorious first-timer. What a goal!" Scotland ran out 5-4 winners. Liddell made 152 appearances in wartime football for Liverpool and scored 82 goals. As early as 1940 a press headline read: "Liddell is war's best find."
Liverpool's future talisman played his first official game for the club in the FA Cup against Chester at Anfield on 5 January 1946. Liddell scored one goal in a 2-0 win. The League competition started in the autumn, but he missed pre-season, because he was still in the air-force. Liverpool had already played two games when Liddell made his League debut in a 7-4 win over Chelsea. He scored two goals, the first of which came straight from a corner kick in front of the Kop in the third minute. Despite the 24-year-old left-winger had never turned out in the League previously for Liverpool, he was already viewed as a key player for the side evident by "Bee" Edwards' report for the Liverpool Daily Post. "Liddell like Fagan is still not his fittest, and I believe this condition led Chelsea to their great chance in the later stages. Liddell means so much to his side." In the first post-war season Billy scored seven goals in 35 games and Liverpool celebrated their fifth League title. But Liverpool couldn't match their triumph despite Liddell's brilliance. Billy twice represented Great Britain against Europe, in 1947 and then in 1955 when Liverpool was playing in the Second Division, which goes to show how highly-rated he was. Only Billy and Sir Stanley Matthews managed to be chosen to play both these games. Billy was disappointed to miss out on the FA Cup after being kicked from pillar to post in the 1950 final defeat against Arsenal. Liddell was especially painfully fouled by the Arsenal right-half, a fellow Scotsman, Alex Forbes. "I couldn't put my jacket on the next day," Liddell recalled. A couple of months later he was tempted by two offers from Colombian club Santa Fe in Bogota but refused its agent's advances claiming "the disadvantage of leaving home, family and friends outweigh the financial benefits. All my interests are here at Anfield, and I should hate to leave." Nobody could have blamed him for abandoning ship when after promising seasons that always ended up in mid-table Liverpool were relegated in 1954. Liddell had established himself as Liverpool's greatest star, the club's top-scorer four seasons out of eight in the top-flight, but there was only so much one man could do.
Goalkeepers, footballs and goal-nets were not safe from the power in Liddell's boots. The Liverpool Echo reported on Liddell's hat-trick against Tottenham on 1 December 1951. "Liddell was there at centre forward again to crack home another canon round in the 17th minute. This time the goalkeeper was not within close proximity and the net caught another flood blooded shot. This time the referee took a close inspection of the net as it appeared to be ripped off the hooks behind the bar." Liddell scored the winner after 70 minutes from the spot. "Liddell took the kick himself and recorded his hat-trick with a shot that Ditchburn could only watch go speeding into the net, at the pace of a bullet. He could have dived and tried to save the shot, but chose to stand still and avoid any injury. At this point you must ask yourself the question, would you get in the way of a Liddell penalty?" Harry Nicholson, Nottingham Forest's 'keeper, made the mistake of stopping a Liddell shot. "From the free kick Liddell hit the keeper with a pile driver and it went over the bar off the keeper's outstretched arm, little did we know at the time but it had fractured Nicholson's right arm." The Echo reporters were privileged to witness the phenomenon of "King Billy" as in this instance in September 1954. "When the ball came out of the crowd the referee's attention was drawn to some defect in the ball. Seemingly Billy had burst the ball with his head, so the ref had to call for a new ball. I know I have written many things over the years watching football, but never have I seen a ball burst with the power of a header. Liddell was known for bursting balls with both his right and left feet, but with his head? I guess that's just another bit of footballing history from Liddell, that will eventually have people in the future doubting the power of this man."
Liddell had number of admirers but felt at home at Liverpool. He was moved up front and made captain in the 1955/56 season. Goals came easy to him and he scored 115 in five seasons in the Second Division. All careers must to come to an end, even Billy Liddell's! At the start of the 1958/59 season Liddell was relieved of the captaincy and on 18 October 1958 he was dropped by Liverpool for the first time in his career against Fulham at Craven Cottage. This was unheard of and created much anger among Liverpool's followers and the press. David Jack at the Liverpool Echo made a beeline for Anfield to talk to Liddell himself and the man responsible for this outrage, manager Phil Taylor. Jack pulled no punches and asked Liddell: "Are you on the way out?" "Have you seen the red light?" "Are you thinking of retiring?" Jack reported that "Gentleman Bill was equally frank, with a firm "No" to each question. When I told manager Phil Taylor that I intended to write about his star footballer the air could have been cut with a knife. And although I see no reason why a player's relegation should be akin to a keg of dynamite, I respect Mr. Taylor's request not to use a single quote from him about Billy Liddell." Arsenal legend, Joe Mercer, who was Aston Villa's manager, made a move for the 36-year-old offering him a chance to return to the First Division in December 1958. "He'll get goals anytime. He's a goal-getter. He always was and will be", said Mercer at the time. "Not for £100,000," said veteran Liverpool president TV Williams, adding with foresight, "There will never be another like him."
Liddell retired 39 years of age when the Shankly revolution was about to start. Shankly did enjoy the powers of his compatriot on occasion and certainly wished that Liddell had been twenty years younger. "Liddell was some player... He had everything," Shankly enthused. "He was fast, powerful, shot with either foot and his headers were like blasts from a gun. On top of all that he was as hard as granite. What a player! He was so strong – and he took a nineteen-inch collar shirt!" It was no coincidence that Liverpool became to be known as "Liddellpool". Ian Callaghan considers Billy, Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard as Liverpool Football Club's finest and there's no reason to argue with Cally. "Billy was my idol when I was at school and it was fantastic to take over from him," Callaghan said. "I had so much respect for him. Great man - He was a god in Liverpool. I took over from him on the wing and he finished playing not long after that. When I went to my first professional football match it was Liverpool. When Billy got the ball the anticipation from the crowd was just huge. What is he going to do with it? Is he going to shoot from 30 yards or take it past people? He was wonderful. Billy played with a heavy ball on the heavy pitches. The way he used to kick the ball, wow! He was so strong."
On 31 August 1960 Liddell made his last-ever appearance for Liverpool in a 1-0 defeat to Southampton in the Second Division. No other player had made more appearances for the club than King Billy, a total of 534 eclipsing Elisha Scott's total of 468. Three weeks later Liddell's testimonial took place against an International XI which included several greats such as Bert Trautmann (Manchester City), Sir Stanley Matthews (Blackpool), Nat Lofthouse (Bolton) and Sir Thomas Finney (Preston North End's legend). Liverpool won 4-2 with Liddell scoring for the opposition and netting £6,000 for which he bought a house. On the eve of his testimonial Billy revealed once more his affection for his club and the city it was based in. "It has often been said that there is no sentiment in football, but I believe that my career, at least, has proved that wrong. Every Scot is proud of his heritage, but I am equally proud to know that in the city of my adoption I am accepted as a fellow-Liverpudlian. It hardly seems 22 years since I was being warned about the "terrible" city which has meant so much to me. I cannot recall who said that a city is not just bricks and mortar and fine buildings, it is the people in it, but it expresses what I think. I would like to take the opportunity of thanking the much-maligned Liverpool supporters for the encouragement they have given to me. I have always been happy at Anfield for I know we have the staunchest bunch of supporters in the land."
Even before the end of his footballing career Billy became Justice of the Peace in Liverpool, in 1958. He came off the bench in 1992. When he shelved his boots Billy joined the Guild of Students as Deputy Permanent Secretary and Bursar at the University of Liverpool, a post he held until 1984. "Maccakhan" who was Billy's neighbour for many years has only good things to say about him. "I remember speaking to him and his wife, who introduced him to me as a retired accountant! I looked at her in amazement! This was Billy Liddell, not some accountant!!!! I remember Billy looking at me and he gave me a wink and a smile, he could see my amazement at him being described as a retired accountant and my reaction to it. A really lovely fella and a true gentleman. His wife was a lovely lady too. Very modest and respectful couple." In his role as a magistrate Billy encountered many of his fans as he revealed. "I've been recognised a few times. Once a street seller who traded without a license shouted hello to me as I walked past and said, 'Billy, I was up before you last week!'"
"What can you say about him? Liverpool have had some good club players, but I think he is the finest in their history. Look at him today. I used to do a bit of running around, but he does a lot more than I ever did," said Donald Mackinlay, Liverpool's captain from the 1920's, in 1955. He added poignantly: "Matthews is a great entertainer, but for me that Liddell man is “It”. He is one of the greatest club men ever to have played football.”