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City DNA #59: The Ballad of Billy Telford

SENT TO COVENTRY: Billy makes his one and only league appearance for City
The name Billy Telford won’t mean very much if anything to City supporters.

That might sound cruel, even if it’s not meant to be... but it is undoubtedly a fact.

Telford is the focus of this feature, but he represents so many other players who had unsuccessful trials with City during their career journey.

For some, a trial with City means they could forever (with some truth) claim to have been a former Manchester City player to family and friends and, even if it was just for one game, two or a handful, it is a claim that few can make.

Triallists are part and parcel of football and before 2000, they weren’t that rare.

They would be given their opportunities to show what they were capable of in training and, if they suitably impressed, perhaps even in a pre-season game.

There have been some pretty high profile trialists over the years – Ali Benarbia could be claimed to have been one of them.

The Algerian genius travelled to Sunderland to train with the club as he looked for a new club.

He left Wearside feeling that maybe he hadn’t been treated with the respect his impressive career demanded but stopped at Carrington for lunch with Kevin Keegan who was alerted to the situation.

It’s fair to say that Keegan signed him pretty much on the spot!

Some City fans will recall one of Ali’s friends, Karim Kerkar, who first appeared in a pre-season friendly against Rochdale in 2002, trying his luck on trial – he did enough to earn a three-month spell before being released.

So, the list is long and varied… but where does Billy Telford fit in and, moreover, who was he?

Telford arrived at City with the reputation as something of a natural goal-poacher.

READ: City DNA: LS Lowry and City

He began as an apprentice at Tranmere Rovers and scored 82 goals in two seasons for their reserve side, without ever being given a first team opportunity.

His manager, Ron Yeats was a tough-as-old-boots former Liverpool legend having a stab at management and, very much in the style of his mentor Bill Shankly, he told Telford that, “Goals aren’t everything, son.”

He was briefly loaned to Burnley, scoring 12 goals for the Clarets’ second string, but failing to win a move to Turf Moor.

Tranmere were relegated and Telford released – but City were understandably curious about the striker and invited him to trial during pre-season.

It was August 1975 and it looked as though it might be a dream come true for the 19-year-old when he was handed his debut against Sheffield United in the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Telford did well alongside Joe Royle in attack and had Rodney Marsh and Dennis Tueart alongside him in attack.

When he was withdrawn ten minutes from the end, the 12,000-plus Maine Road crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Telford received a hug from manager Tony Book and must have been floating on air afterwards.

And he didn’t have long to wait for his next chance to impress, starting against Northern Premier League side Macclesfield Tow in a friendly two days later.

Telford’s 76th-minute goal earned City a face-saving 1-1 draw. He had earned himself some time and though he didn’t play in the opening Division One (top flight) win over Norwich City or 1-1 draw with Leicester, but the third game against Coventry offered Telford the chance he’d dreamed of.

Just 12 minutes in at Highfield Road, Joe Royle picked up an injury and had to be substituted -Telford had his chance.


                        STAR TURN : Billy Telford on his Anglo-Scottish Cup debut for City
STAR TURN : Billy Telford on his Anglo-Scottish Cup debut for City

The teenager battled gamely, but City went down 2-0 to the Sky Blues.

Tony Book had to make a difficult decision and at training a few days later, called Telford into his office.

“I can’t offer you anything,” said an apologetic City boss, who added, “but play well in the reserves against Blackpool because there are a lot of people going to be watching you.”

And there were, with Peterborough United manager Noel Cantwell suitably impressed enough to sign him for the Posh and, it took him just 13 seconds of his debut to score.

He would score another goal and play four times before falling out with Cantwell and being banished to reserve team football thereafter.

He would move on to Colchester and play for another dozen clubs in the space of seven years before eventually drifting out of the game at the age of 30.

His one game for City would remain the only time he played in the top division.

Billy, no doubt never forgot that game for City and perhaps even today this day wonders what might have been, but such is the lot of a trialist…

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