Here at Talking Bull we continue to build up our career archive detailing former players, and this week came the sad news that the inspirational striker Billy Meadows has passed away. We take a look back at one of the famous Hereford ‘Giantkillers’ team that beat Newcastle United and then took West Ham to a replay in the FA Cup.
Centre-forward Meadows joined the Bulls from Barnet for a transfer fee of just £300 in July 1970, and was promptly made captain for the opening day fixture as Hereford returned to Underhill in a Southern League clash on 15 August 1970. He celebrated the occasion by putting his new side in front in the sixth minute. Dudley Tyler got the second on the quarter-hour mark, and Hereford went on to gain a well-merited victory.
Billy was born in Bushey in 1942 during the height of the Second World War, the youngest of seven football mad brothers and sisters. His elder brother Tony signed for Tottenham, whilst Billy began his career at Arsenal.
‘The great Ron Greenwood was assistant at Arsenal. I must have impressed him at County & District level. Tommy Docherty was at the club at the time. It was incredible, and I stayed for 5 years trying to make the grade at left-half. Things didn’t work out, probably because of my youthful arrogance and I became slightly disillusioned with football and I took a break for a couple of years’.
Billy regained his mojo after moving up front, scoring regularly for Hillingdon, Hastings, Dunstable and finally Barnet in 1968, gaining a formidable reputation for a superb left foot and for his excellence in the air – although he lost teeth, and broke his nose three times!
He will no doubt be best remembered for his part in the Bulls ‘Giantkillers’ FA Cup run in the 1971/72 season, but recalls his England youth cap against Wales in 1959, and his 35-yard strike against Kettering at Edgar Street in November 1970 as is personal highlights. He also cherishes a hat-trick he scored for Barnet in a 4-1 London Challenge Cup win over Arsenal who included George Graham, George Armstrong, Ian Ure, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson in their side.
However, the on-off fiasco of the Newcastle United cup-tie at Edgar Street remains a vivid memory, as on one occasion the match was postponed ten minutes after Billy had booked into his hotel after a five-hour drive! After beating Newcastle and being held by West Ham at Edgar Street, Billy also recalls the replay at Upton Park.
‘We left the Britannic Hotel in Grosvenor Square at 12:30 and only made it to Upton Park with 25 minutes to spare. It was an amazing sight as we had got stuck behind what looked like hundreds of Hereford coaches. The Police escorted us through the crowds and we had to walk the last 200 yards. The skip with the players’ kit was laid across two motor cycles just to get to the players entrance’.
The match had grabbed almost fever pitch nationwide interest and a lock-out crowd of 42,271 inside Upton Park was swelled by thousands outside on sky-scraper blocks and roof-tops.
Billy went on to score the Bulls’ consolation goal in the 3-1 defeat, in reply to a Geoff Hurst hat-trick. His goal appeared to generate more noise from the crowd than any of the Hammers’ goals, as many neutrals were obviously vying for Hereford. Harry Redknapp tells the story of Bill’s ‘despicable and outrageous’ verbal wind up of Bobby Moore during the game, ‘Meadows had more front than Sainsbury’s but Mooro took it all in his stride, and never lost his cool’.
The strikers all-action style ensured he became an instant hit with supporters at Edgar Street, and he went on to make 104 appearances for Hereford between August 1970, and his last game against Margate in the Southern League on 29 April 1972.
He had been signed by the legendary John Charles and loved the atmosphere around the club saying at the time, ‘Great guy, great bunch of lads, terrific team, fantastic supporters.
‘Playing at Edgar Street is like nowhere else. The ground always looks full with 5,000 or so inside for every game’.
Wishing to remain in part-time football he decided to return to Underhill and Barnet during the close season. Hereford sorely missed his prompting and power in the air during their initial matches in the Football League following the Bulls’ election to the elite that summer. Indeed, many claim it was not until his position was filled by Eric Redrobe that Hereford made an impact in Division Four.
Billy’s 47 goals in two seasons had certainly gone a long way towards providing the launching pad towards future success at Edgar Street.
His return to Barnet was initially short-lived as he was snapped up by AOS Ostende, but three years later Billy was offered the managers post at Underhill. He gained promotion in his first full season, and in 1977 signed Jimmy Greaves and Terry Mancini. His side shocked Peterborough in the FA Cup before losing 2-1, but a year later he was subject to a ‘giant-killing’ himself as his side lost to Woking. His departure led to the reign of Barry Fry at Barnet.
Billy regularly returned to Edgar Street over the years, enjoying many reunions with his playing colleagues from 1972. Living in Berkhampstead he was a fully licensed cab driver who loved his speedway.
Once described as the ‘complete centre-forward’ he will be remembered fondly by Bulls’ fans, not only for his goal-scoring feats, but for his humour.
‘I was nicknamed Billy the Shoot because that’s what I did. That’s how you score goals. It’s not rocket science is it!?’
By Keith Hall