Bellshill's forgotten soccer hero was Juventus manager

BELLSHILL has produced many footballing greats over the last century only one one of them went on to manage European giants Juventus.

To mark what would have been his 100th birthday we turn the spolight on William 'Billy ' Chalmers.

There is very little information readily available in the record books about Billy's career but with the help of historians from Scotland, England, Wales and Italy I have managed to follow his footsteps from Bellshill through ten clubs until he disappears completely from public record in 1950.

Billy was born in Bellshill on July 24, 1907 but to confuse matter in a March of the same year another William Chalmers was born in Mount Florida and he would also go on to become a professional football enjoying a good career with the likes of Manchester United, Hearts and Dunfermline Athletic before retiring in 1938 to become an accountant.

Unfortuntely the two William Chalmers both started their senior careers at Queen's Park and from then on untangling their two careers was like solving the world's most difficult cat's cradle.

Billy was known as A. William Chalmers while at the Hampden club, presumable to distinguish him from his namesake William Stewart

Chalmers who ultimately would turn out to be the better player, winning caps for Scotland at both senior and amateur level, something Billy never achieved.

An amateur cap has been attributed to Billy but Kenny Strang of the Scottish Football Museum says he can't have won one as amateur internationals didn't exist until 1926, two years after Billy had joined the ranks of the professionals.

An inside left by trade, Billy stayed at Queen's Park from 1922 to 1924 playing 68 games and scoring 18 goals which attracted the attentions of Rangers manager Bill Struth, who took him to Ibrox.

He made his debut in the Rangers first team on October 18, 1924 in a 3-1 home win over Falkirk. He scored his first goal a fortnight later in a 4-0 home win over Partick Thistle. Ultimately though his Rangers career only yielded 26 first team appearances and seven goals from 1924 to 1928 although it was reported in the papers in 1926 that a William Chalmers had broken his leg playing for Rangers reserves — so this may explain his few appearances.

He would sign for his first English club on March 16, 1928 when former Ger Andy Cunningham who was now manager of Newcastle United signed a number of his ex-team mates including Billy in a 2,500 deal.

Known as a 'character' who enjoyed entering into banter with the fans he would make his debut against Leicester City on April 7, 1928 and would go on to make 42 appearances and score 13 goals for the Tynesiders from 1928 to 1931.

In his book 'Who's Who of Newcastle United: The Black and White Alphabet', Newcastle historian Paul Joannou says of Billy: "William Chalmers was an elegant player who always looked to have the ability to reach the very top of the game.

"United's Andy Cunningham claimed he was "among the best inside-forwards who have been prevailed upon to leave Scotland".

"Hailing from the same Scottish town as Hughie Gallacher, he followed the famous centre forward to St James Park and played alongside his more celebrated contemporary in United's eleven.

"Scoring on his debut, in a 5-1 defeat, Willie performed well in season 1928-29 netting eight goals in 19 appearances when he delighted the Newcastle crowd with flashes of brilliance.

"Possessing a light physique, Chalmers was a crafty schemer, who perhaps lacked the bite and determination to succeed."

In May 1931 Grimsby Town paid 1,000 for his services but he scored one goal in six appearances for them as they were relegated from the First Division, before leaving for Bury Town in June 1932 and enjoyed arguably the most productive part of his career as he scored 23 times in 98 games during four seasons of Second Division football at Gigg Lane.

In May 1936 he dropped down a league again as he signed for Notts County in the Third Division South where he was once again partnered with former Newcastle team-mate Hughie Gallacher.

His new side narrowly missed in promotion before sinking to eleventh the next years but having scored 17 goals in 65 league games over two seasons he is still fondly remembered at Meadow Lane.

In his book 'Meadow Lane Men: The Complete Who's Who of Notts County", Garth Dykes says: "Willie Chalmers had an excellent first season, providing the perfect foil to leading scorer, and former Newcastle United colleague, Hughie Gallacher.

"A typical Scottish inside-forward with perfect ball control, vision and an exemplary work-rate, Chalmers was a vocal footballer with an over-enthusiastic tendency to direct operations. A traitnonetheless that proved a distinct advantage in his successful career as coach/manager when his playing days ended."

In June 1938 he moved to Aldershot where he scored 8 goals in 39 matches, forming a partnership on the right wing with another ex-team-mate, George Rayner, with whom he had played at Bury.

On finishing playing, Rayner became national team manager for Sweden between 1946 and 1954, and then again from 1957 to 1960, when they finished runners up to Brazil in the 1958 World Cup, and would also follow in Billy's footsteps by becoming Juventus manager for season 1954/55.

In 1939 Billy became trainer at Aldershot during the Second World War, and then acting manager at a time when the team from the garrison town was filled with international players stationed there during their army service.

In total he turned out 95 times for Aldershot scoring 33 goals before it seems he hung up his boots for good in 1943 as he moved to South Wales and became amanager of Ebbw Vale.

Sadly Ebbw Vale went out of existence some years ago and at the moment nothing is known about his time in Wales although hopefully that will be rectified in the future, asWelsh historians are currently looking into this period of his life.

In 1948 Juventus were in need of a new manager as their former player Renato Cesarini decided to return home to Argentina after just one season in the hotseat and city rivals Torino dominating Serie A.

According to Antonio Labbate of Calcio Itaila, youthful Juventus president Gianni Agnelli wanted a British coach after seeing England beat Italy 4-0 in a Turin friendly in May 1948.

Presumably as he hoped the club could return to playing the disciplined game they had under Edinburgh man George Aitken in the late 20s.

Antonio though and indeed Juventus themselves could not explain why Agnelli turned to Billy as they only link he seems to have with Italy was scoring for Newcastle in a friendly against Ambrosiana Inter in 1929 at Milan's Stadio Arena.

Unfortunately, things didn't go well in Turin where he was considered to be eccentric and incompetent.

He apparently used to train players while on trains and even in hotel corridors!

However, the extra fitness did his players little good and they finished the season fourth as Torino once again lifted the title.

Billy returned to England that summer as former club Bury offered him a job as coach which he accepted and he was included in the team photo for the 1949/50 season.

However, a year later he was gone with Bury having no record of where he went and it seems that was the end his career in football.

If you know what happened to Billy next or can shed any light on his time in Wales or why Agnelli chose him for the Juventus job get in touch with the Times & Speaker. Email editorial@bellshillspeaker.co.uk

Reporting: Brian Yule