Back in February our popular City DNA series featured a story entitled ‘The Ballad of Billy Telford’.
It told the tale of a prolific lower league striker who was handed the dream opportunity of trialling for Manchester City and how his month at Maine Road progressed.
Billy spotted the story a few months back and contacted this writer to say he’d enjoyed reading it and would be happy to recall that month in August 1975 when it seemed everything was possible…
Briefly Blue: THE STORY OF Billy Telford
For some footballers, all the pieces fall into place at one pivotal moment of their career.
Call it luck, destiny or just because their talent demanded it happen for them and when it does, they are on their way to realising their aspirations and dreams.
But for others, the stars don’t always align.
Perhaps they didn’t take the chance when they had it, or maybe their face didn’t fit or even the finances dictated their fate – there are numerous reasons why some players just don’t get to where they feel they should have been.
That’s the business of football, but for Billy Telford, his trial period at Maine Road left him with more questions than answers and to this day, he still can’t understand how his spell with City didn’t turn into something much more.
Today, Telford is a retired police officer with a successful shooting business in Cheshire, but when thoughts turn to City, he can’t help but recall the time when he rubbed shoulders with Rodney Marsh and Dave Watson and, believed he had finally found his spiritual home.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see the feature on me on the City website and it was incredibly accurate,” revealed Telford.
“I stumbled across it through a reference on Wikipedia and it was great, I really enjoyed it and it actually made me sit down and start writing a book about my playing career and also my life and times in the police force.”
Telford had been a prolific striker for third tier Tranmere Rovers’ reserve side and during the 1974/75 campaign, had bagged an incredible 48 goals for their second string.
Still only 19, he was left scratching his head when manager Ron Yeats spoke openly about not having the funds to bring in new strikers for his ailing side while he was banging goals in for fun in the Central League.
He decided to speak with the boss about the apparent vacancy in the striking department…
“He told me, ‘You’re not ready, son – goals aren’t everything’, recalled Telford who had also spent some time out on loan with Burnley.
The teenager was then given a free transfer, but a friend of his father’s was none other than City’s chief scout Ken Barnes who invited him along to Platt Lane for what was something of a triallists week.
“I wasn’t sure how long we’d be there but there were about 30 of us,” recalled Telford.
“I turned up on Monday, 4 August 1975 and the City players were well into their pre-season, whereas I hadn’t had hardly any at all apart from my own fitness regime.
“We were gathered together waiting to see what we’d be doing when City’s first team coach Iain McFarlane came over and asked if there were any centre forwards among us.
“I raised my hand – and was the only one who did – and he said, ‘Right, thanks – come with me’.
“I knew the City players were around somewhere because we’d seen them arriving and I was led to their group where I was told I’d be playing in a game between the first team and the reserve side.
“I was just filling a gap, really, and I knew I had nothing to lose.
“I was up front for the first team, but they’d put Dave Watson and Joe Corrigan on the reserves’ side to even it up a little.
“So, I was up against the England centre-back and one of the best keepers in the game, but I still managed to score a couple of goals.
“At the end, I got changed and nobody said much, so I just went home and returned the next morning.
“I was careful not to make assumptions, so I went back to the other lads on trial and very quickly the manager, Tony Book, turned up and said, ‘Where’s Bill Telford?’ I responded and he said, ‘Right, you’re with the first team until I say different.’
“Later that day, Tony signed me on a month’s trial contract on about £45 per week. I think the idea was to try and get me fit and take it from there.
“I was on cloud nine – here I was, with a real chance of making it with one of the biggest teams in the country and I felt really at home.
“I’d had a rough couple of years at Tranmere, so to have this come along was a dream come true. I didn’t feel out of my depth at all and at the end of the first week, we were playing Sheffield United in the Anglo-Italian Cup.
“The plan was for me to play half of the reserve game the day before and then be on the bench against Sheffield.
“I turned up for the game against Oldham Athletic, but Peter Barnes had the phone in his hand and it was Tony Book telling me not to play for the reserves and to get over to first team training as I’d be starting the game against Sheffield United the following day.
“Peter ran me back in his mini and I trained on the Maine Road pitch and we had a lovely morning’s session.
“At one point, Dave Watson put his arm around me and waked me away from the group and said, ‘Don’t do anything different tomorrow because you’re a bloody handful!’ – it was a really nice touch and it was greatly appreciated.
“I played the next day and I was credited with a goal – but it was actually Tommy Booth’s goal – but I put myself about and gave it everything and as I came off, I got a standing ovation from the Maine Road crowd and a hug from Tony Book.
“The game was shown on The Big Match on ITV the next day and I was in dreamland. A few days later we played a friendly against non-league Macclesfield Town at Moss Rose. It was a full-house and we were losing 1-0 when I managed to grab the goal that earned us a face-saving 1-1 draw.
“I was then named on the bench for the third game of the season against Coventry and I came on as a sub after just 12 minutes after Joe Royle picked up an injury and would have had a goal too, had Rodney Marsh not being adjudged to have handballed in the build-up.
“Things couldn’t have been going much better, but my trial month was almost up. I’d been training hard and remember physio Freddie Griffiths saying, ‘Bill, this time next year, we’ll have you knocking on England’s door.’
“I thanked him for the kind words and then told him I still had to have a chat with the manager about what happened next – he told me that was just a matter of a bit of paperwork and not to worry.
“The next morning, I went to see Tony in his office and he sat me down before saying: ‘I’m sorry Bill. I can’t offer you anything.’
“He told me there were a lot of scouts coming to what would be my last game for City in the reserves against Blackpool and told me to do well and get myself a club.
“I was stunned and utterly deflated. All my aspirations had suddenly crashed and I cried my eyes out when I got home. I couldn’t understand why it had happened and I was left with a lot of unanswered questions.
“But I had to pick myself up, and I did, scoring two goals against Blackpool and later winning a contract with Peterborough United.
“By the age of 30, I had drifted out of the game and ended up working on building sites to be able to feed my family. I eventually concluded that fate was guiding me down a different path and I decided to start a career in the police.
“During a 28-years with the force, I ended up helping save a lot of people’s lives - and maybe that was my true calling and what I was meant to do all along?
“But I never forgot my time at City and it remains a golden month in my life.
“I still think about what might have been… it’s impossible not to, but I’m glad I had the opportunity.”