I’ve known for some time that there’s film out there of football’s “first superstar” Billy Meredith, but only now have I found it, and here it is:
Hokum, obviously, but the tracking by the camera is interesting and one wonders at the skill with which Meredith’s opponents muff their tackles..
Like Herbert Chapman, Meredith was originally set on life as a mining engineer – and it’s noticeable that both men began playing professional football in response to uncertainty in the mining industry in the 1890s. Unlike Chapman, Meredith was unsatisfied with the pay and conditions of footballers at the time, and, following his two-year ban on charges (which he denied) of match-fixing and accepting illegal payments, the Welshman took a leading role in the formation of the Players’ Union. He had need to: in 1909, a fire destroyed his Manchester sports shop and left him bankrupt.
Like Chapman – and like many players of his day – Meredith was an educated, highly intelligent man. Ahead of his time, too: the ODNB states
in an era when jogging and physical jerks were considered sufficient preparation for a game, he wrote many articles placing great emphasis on developing ball control. Until his fiftieth year he continued to polish his skills, insisting that no professional player could ever cease learning his trade.
The above film, Ball of Fortune, dates from 1926, two years after his final professional game. In the same year, Meredith made a number of coaching films, and made personal appearances in cinemas showing his films in order to answer audience questions.
This, also from the ODNB, illustrates something of the social status of the Edwardian game and its essentially showbiz nature:
He was good friends with many music-hall stars of the pre-Second World War period, including George Robey (who designed Manchester United’s cup final shirts in 1909) and Harry Weldon (who played Stiffy the Goalkeeper in a Fred Karno sketch that also featured Charlie Chaplin). The catch-phrase ‘Meredith, we’re in!’ from another pre-First World War Karno sketch was said to have been inspired by Meredith.
Now all I have to do is find his 1947 Radio Wales interview. Meredith would live another eleven years, dying shortly after the Munich air disaster so devastated his old club. (One of his old clubs – his time at United was sandwiched in between long and relatively unsuccessful spells with Manchester City).