William Henry “Billy” Mercer was Hull City’s first regular post-World War One goalkeeper. Born at Prescot in Lancashire, a regular source of talent for Hull City during the pre-WW1 years thanks to the association with locally born player William Robinson, Mercer began his footballing career in the forward line before retreating to between the posts in his late teens, when he started playing for Prescot Athletic. By 1911 he was associated with Everton while playing for Prescot, and in April 1911 he had a handful of trial games for Huddersfield Town’s Reserves that did not result in a contract offer. Returning to Prescot Athletic, it wasn’t until August 1914 in his mid-20s that Mercer got his chance in the professional game when he signed for Hull City.
Billy made his Tigers debut in January 1915 when regular keeper Nick Hendry was absent with a knee injury. The game went well for Mercer but Hendry returned the following week and Billy was back in the Reserves. Mercer signed up for the Royal Engineers in July 1915, shortly after the Football League had been suspended due to World War One. He suffered severe mustard gas poisoning in 1917 which affected his health but didn’t prevent him from playing in goal. In September 1918 he played four wartime fixtures for the Tigers then in April 1919 he made two starts for Stockport County. Billy was demobilised from the Army in December 1919 and immediately returned to Hull City, initially in the Reserves. In January 1920 he stepped up to the first team, again replacing Nick Hendry but this time for good. Hendry made only one further start for the Tigers in March 1920 and Mercer compiled a run of 202 starts in 208 consecutive first team games – his absences were limited to Hendry’s final game and five starts Geordie keeper Arthur Briggs, one in September 1922, two in April 1923 and two in January 1924. This remarkable run of consistent service, which ended at the start of November 1924, made Mercer one of the Tigers’ most popular players with all three of his post-war managers – David Menzies, Percy Lewis and Bill McCracken.
In November 1924 Mercer was dropped from the City first team in favour of Gerodie Maddison, anorther keeper that would go on to give long continuous service to Hull City. Within two weeks Mercer had lodged a transfer request and a further week later he was on his way to First Division side Huddersfield Town. The timing of this move was highly advantageous because Terriers’ manager Herbert Chapman (brother of former Tigers manager Harry Chapman) had compiled a squad that was taking on and beating all-comers for the four seasons that Mercer played for the club. He went straight into the Huddersfield first team in November 1924 and ended the season with a First Division winners’ medal as the Leeds Road side won a second successive league title. In 1925/26 season Huddersfield won the League again, this time under the management of Chapman’s replacement, ex-Tiger Cecil Potter. Mercer was used as backup to Liverpudlian goalkeeper Ted Taylor and a similar pattern emerged in the 1926/27 season as Huddersfield finished runners-up in the League. In the 1927/28 season Mercer was used more often as the Terriers again finished second in the First Division and also reached the FA Cup Final. Billy started in goal for Huddersfield at Wembley Stadium as his side lost 1-3 to Blackburn Rovers (for whom another ex-Tiger Austen Campbell started at left half) with the opening goal coming in the first minute when Mercer was charged into his own net.
Mercer left Huddersfield on a free transfer during the 1928 close season and joined Blackpool. He began the 1928/29 Division Two as the Tangerines’ first choice keeper but by December 1928 he had dropped out of the side, returning for three starts in April 1929. His final senior game was against Tottenham Hotspur at the end of April 1929, Billy hung up his boots that summer.
As well as a footballer, Mercer was a genuine sporting polymath. He played cricket for Hull Cricket Club for many years and into the early 1930s, he was also an accomplished bowls player (his brother Peter was an England international bowler). Billy was also an excellent golfer and tennis player, but billiards was the sport that came to prominence after his football days were over. Billy was a champion billiards player himself in the Yorkshire area and when he opened a billiards salon in West Hull it gave him a second career during the 1930s and 1940s. He lived on Chanterlands Avenue during this time, but by 1948 his health was deteriorating due to the impact of gas poisoning during WW1. He therefore retired to Worthing on the Sussex coast to live with his brother Peter, and that is where he died of a heart complaint in June 1956.
Date/Place of Birth: 27 May 1888, Prescot
Hull City First Game: 23 January 1915, Clapton Orient A (Division Two), 26 years, 241 days old
Hull City Final Game: 1 November 1924, Chelsea A (Division Two), 36 years, 158 days old
Prescot Athletic (1908-1914), Hull City (1914-1924), Huddersfield Town (1924-1928), Blackpool (1928-1929)
Hull City Record
Career: 203 apps, 0 goalsBilly Mercer