The Eventful Life of Billy Kirsopp.

William Henry James Kirsopp was a Liverpool born inside forward who, like many of his generation, was to have his football career interrupted in order to serve his country in World War One. Having first worked on the Mersey Docks he volunteered for the armed forces and, after seeing action in Europe, returned to the family home having been wounded.

Kirsopp was born, 21st of April 1892, the 2nd son of Charles, a Landscape Gardener, and his Scottish born Wife Elizabeth. The family first resided at Drysdale Street, in the Southend of the City, and by 1911 they are living off Kingsley Road at 4, Solway Street.

Kirsopp was working for Cunard Shipping Company, as a Dock Labourer, when his scoring ability attracted the attention of the Everton Talent Scouts while wearing the colours a team who played under the name of the Borough of Wallasey. Based at Mill Lane in Liscard, they were members of the Liverpool County Combination. During the season of 1913-14 Kirsopp scored over 40 goals for this club before he joining Everton on the 28th of April. He immediately travelled to Scotland for an end-of season tour and scored, on his debut, in a 3-3 draw against Hamilton Academicals. Next season he was placed in the Everton Central League side.

Kirsopp took part in the opening game of the season, away at Burslam Port Vale, and scored the only goal as Everton lost 3-1. He had to wait until the 1st of January, following an injury to Frank Jeffries, to make his first team debut, at Goodison Park, in a 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur. Kirsopp next made his FA Cup debut.

Everton had been granted a home tie against a Barnsley side who, 5 years previously, beaten them in the Semi- Final of the contest at Old Trafford, Manchester The Merseyside side, who finished the game with 9 men on the field, lost 3-0. This time however, they were to be victorious but end the game with just 7 still standing.

James Galt had given the home side a first half before Jud Harrison, along with visiting player Baron, clashed and were ordered from the field by the referee. The next person to try his patience was Bobby Parker who, after doubling the lead, was sent off for foul on the Barnsley goalkeeper. The Scot had yet to reach the tunnel when a second goal from Galt gave Everton a 3-0 lead. The visitors were now a beaten side and their exit from the tournament had been assured when Joe Clennel broke down, due to ill health, and was carried from the field leaving the home side with just 8 men. Tom Fleetwood, injured in the final minutes, was next to be carried off leaving just Sam Chadgozy and Billy Kirsopp to make up the Everton forward line. They won the tie 3-0 and continued their FA Cup run with an away tie against Southern League side Queens Park Rangers.

Park Royal, the then home the West London club, was considered “not suitable” to stage the game so it was switched to spacious home of neighbours Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The match attracted a crowd of around 30,000 who saw Everton win by the odd goal in 3. There then followed at home win over Bradford City which saw Billy Kirsopp and his team mates through to the penultimate round of the contest where a tie against Chelsea awaited them. The game, played at Villa Park, saw Everton beaten by 2 goals to 0. Nevertheless, they were top of Division One when they again faced the same London side, in the last game of the season at Goodison Park.

Kirsopp took part in the match as Everton clinched the title, with a 2-2 draw, for the second time in their history. He had made 17 appearances for the club so the football authorities granted permission for Everton to strike for him, a Championship Winners medal. William Kirsopp thus became the first Liverpool born man to be honoured in this way.

He also won a Silver Medal when Everton, after beating Tranmere Rovers in a charity game, won Birkenhead Borough Hospital Cup at Prenton Park.  The Football League was then disbanded by the Government on account of the terrible war that was raging in Europe. Billy Kirsopp continued to play for Everton in the Regional League until he enlisted, on the 4th of February 1917, in the Armed Services.

He joined the Scots Guards Reserve Division and gave his address as 28 Broadwood Street in Liverpool. After his basic training he was stationed at Wellington Barracks and was promoted to Lance Corporal. During his time in London he was reported to be playing football for the 1st Battalion of his Regiment and also assisting West Ham United who were then members of London Combination. On the 26th of January 1918 he scored the only goal for the East London side in 2-1 defeat by Arsenal at Upton Park and played for them again against Brentford and Crystal Palace. Early in 1917 his Battalion disembarked in France and arrive at the front line some 55 days later.

Billy Kirsopp took part in the action around the town Arras where he was wounded twice and, after treatment in Hospital, he was shipped back to Blighty. Once home he wrote the following correspondence… Just a line to say I am back in England and feeling fairly well considering I got hit in the leg and hand. The former is only a flesh wound and mending well but the 1st finger of my left hand has been amputated. (Liverpool Echo 17th of April 1918.)

The War in Europe had ended when Kirsopp returned to Wellington Barracks and re-joined his Battalion. The Everton executive, in a hope to strengthen their depleted side, attempted to resign their championship winning player by finding a position with his former employer. His Commending Officer however, refused to release him.

The next sighting, we have of Billy Kirsopp is when he is selected to represent the London District Command, 8th of February 1919, against the RAF (South Eastern Area) on the home of Fulham at Craven Cottage. He is listed, in the newspapers, as a player with the: Scots Guards, Everton and West Ham United. Two weeks later, he mysteriously went missing”.

Records reveal that Billy Kirsopp was “Absent Without Leave” between the 25th of February and the 4th of April and yet, on the 15th of March, he is reported to be playing for Everton, at Deepdale, in a 3-2 win over Preston North End. He did in fact return to Wellington Barracks where was tried by a Military Court and sentenced to 55 days detention that was later, for good behaviour, reduced by 9 days. Kirsopp, following his discharge from the Army, returned to Liverpool and signed again for Everton.

He made his reappearance on the 6th of September 1919 in a 1-0 win over Chelsea before a massive crowd of 60,000 people at Stamford Bridge. The Everton team went on to have an indifferent season, which saw the line-up change frequently, and finish in bottom half of the league table. Billy Kirsopp however, who had played in several difference positions, was the leading scorer with 14 goals to his credit. The club re-engaged him and payed a wage of £9 per week just before he was married.

His bride to be was Catherine McColl a local girl who was now a Widow. The couple were married, 12th of August 1920, at the church of St Bede in the Toxteth area of Liverpool where Kirsopp gives his occupation as a Professional Footballer. They then set up home at 41, Langton Road in Wavertree.

 

The season that followed saw Kirsopp begin to lose favour with the Everton selectors and, at the end of the season, they placed on the transfer list from where he joined Football League Division 2 side Bury. He had played 63 league and FA Cup games for the Goodison Park club and scored 29 goals.

The fee was undisclosed but it was stated that the player received a share of £50. Kirsopp spent 1 season with the Gigg Lane outfit before leaving to sign for a Grimsby Town side who played their games in the 3rd Division North of the Football League. He remained with the Lincolnshire club for 1 season before returning to Wallasey where he signed for a New Brighton club who themselves had just been elected to the Football League 3RD Division North.

Billy Kirsopp, pictured left, with his New Brighton team mates.

On the 6th of October 1923, Billy Kirsopp took part in the first Football League Derby Game, to be played on the Wirral Peninsula, when his new club faced Tranmere Rovers on their home ground at Rake Lane. The occasion produced a sight never previous witnessed in Wallasey as over 11,000 filled the enclosure to breaking point. The game ended on a 0-0 draw. He played 2 seasons with New Brighton before retiring from the game.

Billy Kirsopp spent the remainder of days in his native Liverpool and, towards the end of his life, was often to be found, playing the Piano, at the Grosvenor Public House in Wavertree. He was living at 32 Bartlett Street when he “passed away” on the 21st of April 1978, his 86th birthday, and was buried, alongside his Wife, in an unmarked grave at Allerton Cemetery in Liverpool.

 

Acknowledgements

Keith McColl

 

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