Obituary: Billy Legg (1948-2022)
Billy Legg was a highly-rated youngster at Huddersfield Town, beginning his career as an apprentice in 1963. He was once the club’s youngest ever debutant but sadly a car accident effectively ended his career in 1969. He later played for Bradford (Park Avenue) and had a long career as a football coach. He passed away this month at the age of 74.
William ‘Billy’ Legg (Heritage Number 400) was born on April 17th, 1948, in Bradford and joined Town straight from school as a 15-year-old in May 1963 and was on the ground staff with players such as Derek Parkin, Frank Worthington, Bobby Hoy and Mick Donnison.
Of that intake, he was particularly close to Worthington. In his 1994 book, One Hump Or Two, Worthington recalled a number of funny tales about the shenanigans they got up to as young players at Town:
“My big mate in the early days was a young left winger called Billy Legg, who with his dark hair and swarthy good looks, was convinced he’d been born in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires rather than Bradford where he was actually from. Billy was a real character. He was always acting the goat. I used to meet him every morning on the No.64 bus from Bradford to Huddersfield and we’d be at it from the word go, laughing and joking and generally taking the mickey out of everybody and everything.”
As part of their duties, the players would sweep the terraces at Leeds Road on a Monday following the game on a Saturday:
“Billy was forever finding coins among the fag butts, discarded pies and Wagon Wheel wrappers and was always taunting me with the shillings, half crowns and threepenny bits he used to take great relish in pocketing. I managed to take the smile off his face one day when I picked up a ten bote note in the main stand!. Ian Greaves said that Billy and I were without doubt the two worst ground staff boys Huddersfield ever had on the books. He once dropped Billy with an almighty punch in the stomach after catching us coming in late the night before a game. On one of our first trips abroad, to play in a youth tournament in Holland with the likes of AC Milan, he and I were so overcome by the fact that we had finally arrived on the international scene that we threw our shirts into the crowd and were promptly ordered to go and fetch them back!”
Road to the First Team
In January 1965, Legg made his debut for the first team in an F.A. Cup tie with Doncaster Rovers, and in doing so, became the club’s youngest ever debutant at just 16 years and 268 days, beating the record of 16 years and 303 days held by Denis Law since 1956. The record was surpassed by Peter Hart when he made his debut in 1974 at the age of 16 years and 229 days. Legg made his debut at outside-left, in the place of the regular Mike O’Grady.
Legg spoke about his time at Town in 2019:
“Tom Johnston gave me my club debut as a 16-year-old. I then became the youngest player ever to play for Town beating the previous player Denis Law. It’s probably been beaten since? Johnston was a quiet man, a very good tactician, he didn't have a lot to say but you knew he was in charge! His coach was Ian Greaves, so between them it was a good time to play for Town.”
Although O’Grady returned to the side for the following match, Legg broke back into the first team again in February 1965, making his league debut against Manchester City at Leeds Road. It was a dream start to league football as he grabbed the only goal in a 1-0 win. He was on the scoresheet the following week as well, scoring Town’s first goal in a 2-2 draw with Swansea Town. He would play a third game in the league, a 0-0 draw with Leyton Orient, before losing his place once again to O’Grady.
Tom Johnston brought him back into the side towards the end of the 1964-65 season, including a 1-0 win over Rotherham United at Leeds, where Legg got the winner. He played one more game, a 0-0 draw with Charlton Athletic. At the end of the campaign, he’d played eight games and scored three goals.
Despite impressing during his breakthrough season, Legg found further appearances hard to come by in the following campaigns. He featured just once during the 1965-66 season, again playing at outside-left, in a 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 1965. In the same month, he featured for an England Youth XI in a match with Stoke City’s U20s. Among his teammates that day were Mick Bates of Leeds United and future Town teammate Dennis Clarke of West Bromwich Albion.
He found his first team opportunities limited in the 1966-67 season too, with his only game of the season coming in the final match of the campaign, a 3-1 win over Cardiff City at Leeds Road, in the position of left-back, a position he would eventually switch to during the 1967-68 season.
In what was Tom Johnston’s final season in charge, Legg spent much of the first half of the season in the reserves with Chris Cattlin occupying the left-back position. He did make one sub appearance in a 2-0 loss against Blackpool in September 1967, before making his first start in December. By the New Year, Legg had made the left-back position his own and as the season went on, managed to keep Cattlin out of the side, missing just three of the final 21 games of the season. He even managed to get on the scoresheet, scoring the consolation goal in a 3-1 defeat to Blackpool on the final day of the season, which was Tom Johnston’s final game in charge of the club before he was replaced by Ian Greaves.
By now, Legg was seen as a promising prospect and despite being around the first team picture for around four years, was still only 20 years old. He went on to become a mainstay in the side, having been selected by Ian Greaves at left-back for the start of the 1968-69 season, and missed just one game from August to January that season. He really impressed with his classy performances at full-back and was said to be the finest talent on the books with a massive future. He was one of a long-line of brilliant full-backs to be produced by the club, which included Ray Wilson, Bob McNab, Chris Cattlin, Derek Parkin and Geoff Hutt.
However, his career was cruelly cut short in January 1969, when he was involved in a car accident in Northowram after hitting a trolley-pole. In the process, Legg crushed his windpipe against the gearstick. A quick-thinking policeman, who was first on the scene, saved his life after performing a tracheotomy with a Biro. Sadly, the accident ruined a promising career, which would have likely seen him plying his trade in the First Division. Town would gain promotion to the top tier in the following season, with Geoff Hutt playing at left-back.
Worthington has since said of Legg:
“Billy was an immensely skilful player who made great strides in a short space of time, but whose career was effectively ended in a horrific car crash. It was a tragic end to what had all the makings of a brilliant First Division career.”
Following the accident, Legg was unable to speak and underwent a number of operations in the months afterwards, having to communicate using sign language while being treated in the Princess Royal wing of the Royal Halifax Infirmary.
During his time in hospital, Legg would be visited regularly by his manager Ian Greaves, his teammates and the Town physiotherapist, Brian Hustler. Hustler would take him through his exercises and have him lifting weights two of three times a week. If the weather was good, Legg would often be found in the hospital grounds doing light exercise.
Months later, in April 1969, Legg was voted as the 10th most attractive footballer in The Football League in a poll for the Football League Review—no doubt this would have lifted his spirits!
Legg remained on Town’s books for a further three years after the accident but left the club in April 1972 and signed for Bradford (Park Avenue). He retired from football shortly afterwards but remained in the game.
He coached junior football for a number of years and was also involved in coaching at Guiseley in the late 1980s, later managing the side between 1989 and 1991. During this time, he managed a certain Frank Worthington and also led the club to the semi-finals of the F.A. Vase in 1990.
Into the 1990s, Legg was a youth coach at Hull City for a number of years and later worked as the Football in the Community Officer at Halifax Town in the 2000s and as a youth coach at both Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers. He was later involved with the Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, coaching their walking football team from 2016 onwards. In 2018, he was named as the North West Regional walking football manager for England.
Billy Legg passed away on August 7th, 2022, at the age of 74.