Billy Elliott - 1925-2008 - Part 2

Written by Rob Mason

Billy the England International

Like his old friend and fellow Bradford Park Avenue, Sunderland and England player Len Shackleton, Billy was never afraid to tell it as it was: “I think if I’m correct they; and by they I mean the FA, they had their men who they distributed to cover games. They’d watch me and I honestly think they didn’t know what they were doing” said Billy interviewed in his 2005 programme interview.

He had a point. England never lost on any of Bill’s five internationals, during which he scored three times from the wing. England scored five in each of Elliott’s last two internationals, his swansong seeing him score twice at Wembley. All his caps came in 1952 when he was with Burnley. Two year’s later Shack scored a wonder goal in a 3-1 win over World champions West Germany and never played again!

Back then representing the Football league was also a major honour. Billy played four times, the last while with Sunderland.

Billy at Bradford and Burnley

Bradford Park Avenue were a respected league team. As a 15 year old Elliott debuted for them as his home town team alongside Shack and went on to play 176 league games for them before Burnley bought him for £23,000, a big fee in 1951. After 74 league appearances for the Clarets he signed for Sunderland.

Billy the globetrotting coach and manager

Billy coached the national team of Libya between 1961-63. Following a spell scouting for Sheff Wed in 63-64 he spent two years coaching the US Forces in Germany before becoming manager of Daring FC of Brussels in the moth England won the World Cup remaining there until January 1968 when he returned to Sunderland as trainer. Between 1974 and 1978 Billy coached the Norwegian club Brann again giving life up on the continent for an opportunity at Roker Park. After being passed over for Ken Knighton having come within a point of promotion as caretaker Billy took over at Darlington where he was manager from 1979 to 1983.

Chairman’s tribute

Commenting on the death of Billy Elliott, Niall Quinn said: “By all accounts Billy was as hard as nails as a player and talented enough to deserve more than the five caps he won for England. His love of the game kept him involved for many years after he finished playing and he had two influential spells as caretaker manager at Sunderland. He is remembered by all who knew him as someone who was Sunderland through and through and he will be sadly missed by everyone at the club.”

Rowell recalls

Gary Rowell will forever be a hero, not least for his hat trick away to Newcastle in 1979 when Billy Elliott was caretaker-manager. In the book ‘Sunderland: Match of My Life” Gary spoke of Billy:

“Billy Elliott was great. I love Billy - he’s a legend. He played for England. He was a trainer when Sunderland won the FA Cup. He’s been around Sunderland for a long, long time and I have loads of respect for him. He was delighted. He was always great with me. I have a lot to thank Billy for. I remember after the game, it wasn’t like now – Press Officers didn’t exist then. In one of my last interviews, someone said to me - ‘Gary, would it be fair to say, that this means more to you because you hate Newcastle?’ and I said ‘yeah’. I didn’t actually say the words, I just said ‘yeah’. In some of the morning papers it was all over the page. It’s true, but it might not be the wisest thing I’ve ever done. I just agreed with someone.

Ken Knighton, our coach, came to me the next day - we were in training - he said, ‘the Gaffer wants to see you in his office’. I went in and explained what had happened in a round-a-bout way. I asked ‘Am I in trouble?’ Billy said, ‘No, I *******love it! I think it’s great. Get out and finish your training.’ Billy’s red and white to the core but I was really worried when I went into his office. I was wondering if the FA had said something but I felt even better when I came out. Billy was great.”


Billy Elliott was still a player at the time of the Munich disaster, the 50th anniversary of which will be commemorated before Sunderland’s next home game. 23 people were killed including some of the greatest players of the era or indeed any era. The Manchester United team were on their way home from a European Cup tie in Belgrade when disaster struck on February 6th 1958.

Amongst the players to die were one of England’s most talented players ever, Duncan Edwards and England centre forward Tommy Taylor, the man Charlie Hurley had marked on his international debut. United’s first signing following the disaster was another Taylor, Sunderland born Ernie, who they sold to Sunderland in December of that year after he’d helped the Old Trafford club to get through one of the most difficult times any club has ever experienced.

Sunderland AFC joins with the rest of the football world in remembering the anniversary of one of football’s darkest days.