Sunday, 28 April 2013

Billy Walsh

1955 - 1957 : Eastern Suburbs AFC (New Zealand)
1961 : New Zealand
1964 - 1966 : Melbourne Hakoah (Australia)
1967 - 1969 : Melbourne Hungaria (Australia)

The quietly spoken William 'Billy' Walsh was a Manchester City legend and record breaker who lined out for no less than 4 different national teams.

He was born in Dublin in 1921 but moved to Manchester, England with his family in 1928. As a teen became the subject of a dispute between Manchester United and Manchester City, who both claimed he had signed for them. After being signed by a United youth coach who also coached at his school, Walsh was taken to City by his mother, where he was given a job as an office boy. The FA intervened and gave Walsh the choice of clubs; he chose City, but the club was also given a fine of 5 guineas.

Although born in revolutionary-era Ireland, Walsh opted to play for the England Schoolboys as a youngster, earning 3 caps in 1935.

At City, he turned professional in 1938 and would become a first team regular during the 1940s. Naturally, his early career was hindered by the Second World War, but as an Irishman he wasn't conscripted to the British military. A war time league was organised in the UK during the conflict, allowing Walsh to finally prove his talents. He played over 200 games for City during this time, and then played over 100 matches for the Blues in the late 1940s.

When Walsh began his international career in 1944 there were, in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations. Both associations – the Belfast-based IFA and the Dublin-based FAI – claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and selected players from the whole island. As a result several notable Irish players from this era, including Walsh, played for both teams.

In 1944 he made his debut for Ireland (IFA) at Windsor Park against a Great Britain XI, in which Ireland were beaten 4-8. However, in Walsh's subsequent 5 appearances with the team, he was a part of some respectable results.

Then, in 1946 he was selected by the FAI Ireland team, and played 9 times for them. His debut in '46 was a 0-1 home defeat to England at Dalymount Park (the first time England played an FAI side). Walsh was also part of the Ireland team that famously beat England 0-2 at Goodison Park in 1949.

Walsh (back row, far right) with Ireland in 1949

Brief player-manager spells with Chelmsford City and Canterbury in the early 1950s followed, before he took charge of Oldham Athletic in 1955, replacing Liverpool-bound Bill Shankly.

In 1955, Walsh emigrated to New Zealand, where he came out of retirement to play for Auckland-based club Eastern Suburbs, with whom he also acted as player-coach.

Eastern Suburbs AFC were founded in 1934 after a merger of two local clubs. The club gradually became one of the strongest teams in New Zealand during the 1940s and 50s. In 1951 they won their first FA Cup, a competition they would win a further 4 times. Later they were also crowned national champions in 1971. Known as the Lilywhites, they play at the Madills Farm in the Kohimarama suburb of the city.

While with the Lilywhites, Walsh famously played for the Auckland XI in a 3-0 victory over a touring Austria Vienna, which was the more impressive since the Austrians had twice beaten the New Zealand national team 7-1 in the preceding weeks.

Today, the club is a semi-professional outfit playing in the Northern League of New Zealand.

After finally retiring, he took up full time management in Australia. His first job was with a team named Melbourne Hakoah. Founded in 1927, Hakoah means "strength" in Hebrew. They were similar to the better known Vienna Hakoah, being formed by Jewish immigrants to the city. Naturally, as Europeans the main focus of Hakoah was football.

The Victorian league was dominated by immigrant sides in the 1960s. Names like Hellas, Polonia, Slavia, Juventus and Yugoslav United demonstrate this. But Hakoah were the first successful non-Anglo migrant team in Australia, winning the league 4 times prior to Walsh's arrival. They played at the now-demolished Middle Park, which could hold over 20,000 spectators in its heyday.

(Note: Australia didn't have a national soccer league until 1977, so until then football was divided into regional leagues.)

In his time with Hakoah, Walsh signed a number of Irish players such as Michael O'Hara (who in 2002 claimed to be Hitler's son), James O'Neill and John O'Neill who he'd lured from Luton, Darlington and Drumcondra respectively.

In later years, Hakoah's supporter base began to dwindle due to assimilation and a lack of renewal from younger supporters and it was amalgamated into South Melbourne FC in 1983.

A year later, Walsh moved across the city after leaving Hakoah, and took up the reins of Melbourne Hungaria.

This club was relatively new, having only been established in 1957. As with Hakoah, Hungaria had a strong immigrant background and were founded and supported by the city's Hungarian community. Although they began to challenge for trophies in the mid-1960s, by the time of Walsh's arrival they had no major silverware to speak of.

Walsh had a talented players at his disposal, most notably Australian international Attila Abonyi In his first year with the club, Walsh tasted the greatest success of his managerial career. In a memorable season Hungaria were crowned champions of both the league and the cup. This unprecedented double were Hungaria's only trophies and made Walsh a highly respected figure in Australian football.

Walsh with Hungaria
However, Hungaria's success was short lived, and in the following off-season they lost 10 first team players to wealthier competitors. This hit the club hard, and they finished in 10th place in 1968. The following year, another disappointing finish in 9th saw Walsh leave the club to be replaced by Rale Rasica.

The 1970s and 80s were yo-yo decades for the club. Following the season of 1987 the club struggling to stay afloat finally closed its doors.

Walsh settled in Queensland, returning to Manchester on occasion for big matches at Maine Road. In May 2003 he was was chosen in a 'parade of legends' prior to the club's final game at their old ground.

Billy Walsh passed away 2006 aged 85. He was cremated in his Manchester City shirt and his ashes were placed in the Garden of Remembrance at City's new Etihad Stadium.

1 comment:

  1. You have the wrong photo of Billy Walsh. I know this, as he was my Grandfather. Also, he was born in Sligo, not Dublin. He didn't take charge of Oldham in 1955. He took over at Grimsby Town FC, succeeding Bill Shankly.

    Hope this helps.