Billy Scott was one of Everton’s great custodians; a brave, agile player who kept the Everton net safe through the Edwardian era. He was also one of the most unlucky players to be associated with Everton; three times a League Championship runner up, once an FA Cup final loser, and also on the losing side at the competition’s semi-final stage, he left Goodison in 1912 with almost 300 appearances to his name but just one medal – that of the 1906 FA Cup win.
He arrived at Everton in the summer of 1904 as a 22-year-old already with inter league and international honours to his name. Twice with Linfield, in 1902 and 1904, he had won the Irish League and Cup double. He cost Everton £600, with the full back, McCartney, also coming as part of the deal. Expectations were high because, in George Kitchen, Everton already had an excellent goalkeeper. ‘The only new recruit in the Everton ranks was Scott, the Irish International from Linfield,’ reported the Liverpool Mercury of his debut against Notts County. ‘Although not subjected to any severe trial, he showed that he is a custodian of real ability. A word of caution, however, would not be out of the place. Coolness is an excellent qualification in a goalkeeper, but there is such a thing as carrying it to success. On more than one occasion when he might have punted strongly down the field, he threw the ball to the backs, and if the Notts forwards had been more alert the Everton citadel might have been captured.’
Yet Scott quickly allayed any doubts about his ability. The ‘famous Irish international’, recorded Thomas Keates, was a ‘safe custodian.’ ‘The goalkeeper was equal to the challenges of his most intimidating adversaries and dominated the penalty area,’ wrote David France. ‘He made up for his lack of size with an abundance of courage, composure and cat-like agility.’
Indeed the Irishman quickly made a formidable impression at Goodison. Not only did he see off the challenge of Kitchen in the Everton goal but also a second great goalkeeper, Leigh Richmond ‘Dick’ Roose, a Welsh international. Injured in November 1904, Roose – who had walked away from football to train as a doctor earlier that year – was drafted in as cover. Everton went on a run of 12 wins and three draws over a sequence of 16 matches and narrowly missed out on the league title. But a squabble between the Welshman and Will Cuff - allied to Scott’s excellence – meant that the Irishman was preferred in the long term.
Scott’s debut season – 1904/05 – nearly brought a League Championship medal. He had to wait just a further year to win the FA Cup, but thereafter his story was one of nearly misses. He was on the losing team in the 1907 FA Cup Final, a league runner up again in 1909 and 1912. In 1910 he was on the Everton team in an FA Cup semi final replay against Barnsley that ended in 3-0 defeat and a football catastrophe. Everton’s captain, Jack Taylor, suffered a freak career ending injury to his throat, while Scott also suffered serious injury.
‘With Barnsley's first goal came the disablement of Scott,’ reported the Liverpool Mercury. ‘Scott was on the ground when the ball was put through, and some means or other the first two fingers of his right hand were injured. The bleeding was profuse, and when the injury had been attended to Scott was little good in goal. A couple of goals were put past him in the closing stages, and the wounds, were reopened to such an extent that he had to leave the field just before the whistle blew.’
Through these years of heartbreaking nearly-misses, Scott was a consistently excellent custodian. In the Athletic News a lengthy controversy arose between the merits of Scott, Roose and Liverpool’s England international, Sam Hardy; Scott was eventually decreed the finest of the three. ‘The nonchalant Irishman seemed to be always chewing, had wonderful anticipation, rarely left his goal and did everything in a quiet cool manner that evoked admiration,’ wrote ‘Red Rick’ in a 1930s profile in the Everton programme. The author cited Scott as the greatest Everton goalkeeper in their sixty-year history.
Perhaps surprisingly Everton replaced Scott with James Caldwell at the end of the 1911/12 season and the Irishman joined Leeds City, where he spent just two seasons. His departure from Goodison surely impacted on his former team, who dropped from runners up in his final year at the club to eleventh in the first year without him.
Scott’s younger brother Elisha emerged in the 1920s as Liverpool’s greatest goalkeeper. Twelve years Billy’s junior, Everton tried on several occasions to buy Elisha. ‘Elisha Scott, the Liverpool keeper, was the greatest I have ever seen,’ Dixie Dean would recall, and the pair shared a formidable rivalry.
But the two Scott brothers, despite their shared background and position were very different people. ‘I don’t suppose there were two such contrasting characters as William and Elisha, but in spite of that they were parallel cases when they took the sport and kept goal,’ recalled Ernest ‘Bee’ Edwards in the Liverpool Echo in 1936. ‘In fact, one would call William Scott the stolid goalkeeper and in dealing with the best shot of old times. William Scott was unequalled in his ability using a knuckle to knock down the hottest shot from a Hampton, a shepherd, or any other driving force.’
After years of working in the pub trade, Scott died of pneumonia in August 1936, aged just 54.