As part of the HTSA's Heritage Project, author Lee Morris profiles one of Town's most prolific goalscorers, and sheds light on football during the Second World War along the way.
In August 1929, George ‘Bomber’ Brown left Huddersfield Town after eight and a half years of remarkable success. In that time, he’d scored 159 goals and become the club’s record goalscorer. That record still stands today, with only a select few coming close to breaking it. Jim Glazzard (154) and Andy Booth (150) are the ones who stand immediately below Brown in the list. But how many supporters are aware of Billy Price? And how many know that he actually scored 234 first team goals for the club in a 10 year spell?
In October 1937, eight years after the departure of Brown, Albert James William Price arrived at Leeds Road from Wrockwardine Wood Juniors following a short trial. He’d been offered the trial after Bill Boyman had recommended him to friend and then Town manager Clem Stephenson. After the triumphs of the 1920s, and high finishes of the early 1930s, Town had started to flounder and were no longer the force they had been.
Price’s trial went well, to say the least. He scored three goals in a 4-2 Yorkshire Cup tie victory against Bradford Park Avenue ‘A’, signing for the club in due course. He went straight into the reserve team and remained there until the following April. On 18th April, Price was called into action to replace the injured Willie MacFadyen, with his debut coming against Derby County. It was looking pretty gloomy for Town, who had won only three league games in 1938, and stood second bottom of Division 1.
It was a dream debut for Price as he scored the third goal in a 4-0 win at the Baseball Ground. The return fixture fixture took place the following day at Leeds Road and he was on the scoresheet once again with Town running out 2-0 winners. That victory sent Town up to 15th in the table. However, Willie MacFadyen returned from injury for the following game and Price found himself back in the reserves.
Despite this poor league form, Town still managed to reach the FA Cup Final, the club’s fifth, and in a twist of fate faced Preston North End, the team they’d beaten in 1922. MacFadyen kept his place for the final. Price later spoke about this in 1987: "I thought I would have got in. I did really. I went away on the special training but when I got back they put Willie MacFadyen in the first team. It didn’t materialise. I wish it had have done."
Stephenson had decided not to pick him, feeling he didn’t have enough experience. Ironically, MacFadyen would never play another game for Town, leaving for Clapton Orient at the end of the following season.
The penalty he referred to came in the 119th minute, with George Mutch converting it. The final was a reverse of 1922, where Town had run out 1-0 winners thanks to a penalty from Billy Smith. Town have never reached another cup final since.
After such disappointment, Price was back in the frame for the home game against Stoke City on 2nd May where he scored again in a 3-0 win. He also featured in the final game of the season, a 1-0 home victory over Manchester City. After three goals in his first four games, Price was a permanent fixture in the first team by the time 1938-39 came around. He did miss the odd game during, but at the finish he’d scored 17 goals in 33 appearances, with an extra 7 FA Cup goals in as many appearances.
It was around this time that Price was being tipped for the national side. He spoke about this in 1994: "They kept saying it was between me and Tommy (Lawton). He was a terrific player and he was probably a bit stronger in the air than me. He never let England down but I wish I’d had a chance with them."
Although no consolation, he did later play for the Football Association representative side in December 1944. They took on The Army at Bradford Park Avenue’s ground, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw.
Although war was looming, the 1939-40 season began in earnest, with Town losing 1-0 at home to Blackpool. The following game saw Town win 2-1 away at Sunderland, with Price scoring the winning goal, and then the final game came away at Brentford, where Town lost 1-0. Shortly after, the season was curtailed by the outbreak of war. Another Football League match would not be played until August 1946.
As the men were expected to do their bit for King and country, Price was called up for active service and was stationed in Aldershot, where he would guest for the club. However, for most of the war he worked as an engineer, his original trade, and continued to turn out for Town, as well as moonlighting for other clubs, including Wellington Town (later Telford United), where he picked up a Welsh Cup medal in 1940.
In the absence of the Football League, ten divisions were set up around the country. The FA Cup, meanwhile, was suspended and replaced by the War Cup, which was also regionalised. Town were in the North East Division for the 1939-40 season, with the first wartime match taking place on October 21st 1939. Town beat Bradford Park Avenue 4-1 at Leeds Road.
Price was absent for much of the campaign, but when he did appear, the opposition knew about it. He played 5 games and scored 6 goals during a season where Town finished as champions of the Regional League North East Division. He also played in three of the six games in the War Cup, but failed to score in any of them before Town were knocked out of the competition by West Ham United.
The league’s structure changed for the 1940-41 season, with the ten divisions being shaved down to just two, the Northern Regional League and the Southern Regional League. Price featured heavily in the first team, playing 29 out of 33 games and scoring 16 goals. He also played in both War Cup games against Middlesbrough. Town were knocked out after losing 6-4 on aggregate, though Price scored in the second game along with Vic Metcalfe.
Town handed out some beatings during the season, with Price at the forefront. Perhaps the most memorable was an 11-0 win over Rochdale in March 1941, with Price bagging his first hat-trick of the War. He also chipped in with a brace during a 7-3 mauling of Bury in April and scored two in a 5-0 battering of Bradford City on Christmas Day 1940 at Valley Parade. Amazingly, the reverse fixture took place at Leeds Road on the same day where Town lost 4-3.
The 1941-42 season was split into two, with the first Northern Regional League beginning in August 1941. Town played 18 games, finishing 11th in the first competition. Price played 12 games and scored six goals in this period. The second phase of the competition began at the end of December. Town played 15 games in the league, twice in the War Cup and five games in the Combined Counties Cup.
In the Combined Counties Cup, Town had a record of one win, three draws and a single loss. Price played four and scored five including a hat-trick against Leeds United. He also scored 11 in 14 in the second competition of the league, helping Town to a 6th placed finish.
At the end of that season, after 13 years as manager, Clem Stephenson stepped down and was replaced by coach Ted Magner. For the first competition in 1942-43, Price was unstoppable, scoring 19 goals in just 14 games, which included five braces and a hat-trick against Leeds United just before Christmas. Town finished 5th in the table before the second phase began in January. Another 19 goals followed in just 17 games, with Town finishing 8th.
By August, the 1943-44 season was under way, but after just four games, Ted Magner reverted to his previous position of coach and Thrice Champion David Steele returned to the club to takeover. The Scotsman steered Town to a decent 6th placed finish in the first competition. Price was ever-present, scoring 26 goals in 18 games. This included four goals in a 7-4 win against Bradford City, another four in a 4-0 away win at Bolton Wanderers and seven in an 8-0 win over Crewe Alexandra.
Price later recalled the Crewe match: "I don’t mean to sound big headed, but it was one of those days when everything I touched flew into the net. We were so on top that I got tired of running up and down the pitch."
The War Cup began in December, with Town playing a total of 10 games in the competition. It was a disappointing campaign. Town won just three, finishing 37th. Price played all 10 games, scoring nine goals. The second competition followed in March 1944. As was now customary, Price impressed, scoring 11 goals in just as many games. Town finished 33rd.
The 1944-45 season began at the end of August and it was to be a successful campaign as Town finished as champions of the first competition of the North Regional League. Price missed just one game, scoring 22 goals in just 17 outings. He was on fire during the War Cup campaign, too, bagging nine goals in just as many games, helping Town finish a respectable 34th in the final competition. Price surpassed his own achievement in the second competition, scoring 10 goals in 13 games, firing Town to a second respectable 13th place.
Towards the end of that season, news filtered through that Adolf Hitler had committed suicide and Germany had surrendered. The war was over. As the new season was due to begin in just three months, the authorities felt there was insufficient time to organise a proper Football League season, so the regional competitions continued.
For 1945-46, the league returned to its usual format of 42 games. It also saw the return of the FA Cup, though Town were out at the first hurdle after losing to Sheffield United after a replay. The first game had ended 1-1, and no prizes for guessing who scored Town’s goal. This meant that Price had the distinction of scoring Town’s final competitive goal before the war and the first competitive goal following the war. Interestingly, this was the only time the FA Cup has been played over two legs.
Town’s season was average, finishing 15th in the league. Price finished top scorer with 23 goals, having played 28 games. He missed much of the opening months, but he was back in the side by late October and remained so until the end of the season.
Finally, the Football League returned for 1946-47 and Town began the campaign with a home game against Blackpool, losing 1-2 with Jim Glazzard getting Town’s goal. Price also had the distinction of being the only player to have started the last game before the war and the first game after it.
Despite playing the majority of Town’s games during the War, Price played very little of the 1946-47 season due to injury. His two goals both came in a 5-2 victory over Derby County in September. He played just five games and scored one goal the following season before leaving Leeds Road for Reading in October 1947.
Who knows what he could have achieved at the club had Germany not invaded Poland? Wartime games do not count towards official statistics, but if they did, the record books would show that Billy Price played 268 games and scored 223 goals. Officially, he played 60 games and scored 31 goals, with the three appearances and single goal from the 1939-40 season wiped off as the league was declared null and void.
Price remembered his time at Town fondly:
"I enjoyed myself at Bradford and still keep in touch with some of my old teammates, but my time at Leeds Road was special. It was always a great surface and the fact that the pitch sloped downwards in every direction from the centre spot meant that as a forward, you were always running onto the ball with some momentum. You couldn’t have wished for a better club."
Billy Price would’ve gone down as Town’s highest goalscorer, his name rolling off the tongue along with Brown, Glazzard, Smith and Booth. However, he was unlucky that his career coincided with the war. He didn't mind, though: “The war couldn’t have come at a worse time but I can consider myself lucky because I was still around when it was over”.
Price rounded off his career with spells at Reading, Hull City and Bradford City before hanging up his boots in 1952. After his career in football ended, he moved into the pub game, becoming landlord of the Metropole. He later returned to his original trade as an engineer, working for International Harvesters in Bradford and also Metal Box in Shipley before his retirement. Price later lived in Eccleshill and then the Bolton district of Bradford before his death in September 1995 at the age of 78.
Never again will Town see such a lethal predator on their books.
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