Poppy Day! Tributes Pour In For Kettering Legend

RIP Billy Kellock

Billy Kellock during his brief Wolves career.

It was brief, with a couple of highlights and an obvious low. Billy Kellock was in and out of Molineux in the space of six months in 1983.

His death at the age of 70 this week, though, has brought fulsome tributes in the Northamptonshire town where he lived and settled. Quite simply, he was a Kettering Town legend and was honoured at the Poppies’ home game against Alvechurch this afternoon.

At a much higher level, Wolves saw fewer flashes of the talents that were in demand on the football circuit for a decade or more. Kellock netted on his debut in a mid-March draw at Derby when Graham Hawkins’s side were starting to run short of goals and hit a brace in the early-May 3-3 draw at Charlton that secured an unexpected immediate return to the top flight.

But there was a flashpoint, too, that led to the club washing their hands of him. The manager has been quoted in more recent times as saying the Scottish midfielder was transfer-listed for ‘an incident’. He declined to enlarge on what it was but it’s believed to have been high jinks on the pre-season tour of Sweden.

On the record, Hawkins said simply of the decision to quickly recoup, from Southend, the £20,000 he had paid Luton: “He had done what I bought him to do.”

Whatever the trigger, the two-division drop to Roots Hall must have been painful for a player who a few weeks earlier had been talking excitedly about playing in the top flight.

“The thought of starting afresh next season with hopefully First Division football to aim at is a very exciting one,” he told reporters when he moved to the West Midlands.

Ironically, the word from Molineux had been that they wanted Kellock to help stir things up again in a promotion challenge that was losing its spark. Jim Barron had coached him at Peterborough and knew him as the sort to cajole an extra push from those around him.

Of his playing preferences, Kellock had added on signing day: “My favourite position is the centre of midfield but it doesn’t matter. I always set myself a target of 20 goals.” Fighting talk, indeed, from a man who had got close to realising such aims only at Fourth Division Posh and in non-League football.

Derek Dougan with West Midlands-based keepers John Osborne (standing) and Jim Cumbes as he contemplated off-field options that soon led him to Kettering.

The Glaswegian was a youngster at Villa without reaching the first team and then played in the Cardiff team who reached the FA Youth Cup final in 1971. He also played in a Welsh Cup final while at Ninian Park but some three dozen League appearances in a side struggling in the Second Division brought him only a couple of goals.

An unfulfilling £50,000 move to Norwich brought him the briefest taste of top-flight football and he didn’t make a single League appearance for Millwall after returning to the Second Division.

Not surprisingly, though, he stood out when joining Chelmsford, scoring four and missing a penalty in one Southern League Cup win and netting goals at the rate of much better than one every other game across a stay of two seasons.

It was then that the seeds for his move to Molineux were sewn. He was transferred to Kettering and shone in the Derek Dougan era there – surely a factor for when Wolves were player-seeking late in 1982-83.

With the Poppies, he scored 94 goals in just under 250 appearances, including the one against Dagenham that took them to a Wembley date with Stafford Rangers in the 1979 FA Trophy final.

The game was lost but his impact earned him a return to the League with Fourth Division Peterborough, who were serial promotion challengers. He rose to the status of club captain and a member of the PFA team of the year, leaving for Luton for £30,000 in 1982 after reportedly criticising the lack of ambition at London Road.

After only seven senior appearances for David Pleat’s side, he moved to Molineux and quickly made his debut in place of the unwell Wayne Clarke on a day when John McAlle (Derby) and John Richards (Wolves) were the substitutes.

Promotion here was followed by relegation to the League basement at his next club, Southend being managed at the time by his former Posh boss Peter Morris.

The reasonable impact he made in Essex led to a move to Port Vale but again the stay was brief and, well into his 30s, he embarked on a Halifax spell of 17 goals in 43 League games.

The Express & Star headline and photo announcing the arrival of Billy Kellock at Molineux in 1983.

Kellock, who subsequently returned to Kettering, is said to have since worked as head of sales and marketing at a country club near Oakham and as a painter and decorator.

He had been in poor health in recent years and been diagnosed with cancer and was not up to the task of being interviewed when we spoke to him by phone in the autumn.

A minute’s silence was held for him at Kettering’s Latimer Park ground on match-day today.

We extend our deepest condolences to Billy’s family and close friends. 

*John Richards, George Berry, Colin Brazier, Steve Daley, Mel Eves, Mick Kearns, Geoff Palmer, Phil Parkes and former Albion defender Paul Raven were among the mourners at the funeral of former Wolves keeper Paul Bradshaw in Altrincham yesterday. 

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