Watching Blackbird play one would be placed in a constant state of waiting. There was always a growing expectation among the crowd, since he was either frustratingly invisible or would produce instants of uncanny brilliance. Thus his lack of consistency was his most consistent attribute. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons he never made it to the Old Firm, only a mild ambitious club could support such erratic performances.
William began his football career with Heart of Midlothian F.C. He spent two years in the youth team, before making his debut on October the 5th 1964, a 1–0 league victory over Falkirk. It was a rather timid start, yet William displayed signs of being a good prospect. After a couple of seasons he would establish himself in the starting eleven and eventually spend the bulk years of his career at Hearts.
Although, truth be told, Hearts supporters weren’t fond of him at first, mainly because of his lack of physical commitment to the game. His unusual complexion also didn’t help: very thin, not particularly tall or fast, he hardly looked like an athlete.
With long dark hair and skinny constitution, his appearance provided his early career nickname“Edinburgh Beatle”. Which didn’t stick with him since his personality, unlike the Liverpool’s four, was anything but popular media material: secretive, quite, he seldom gave interviews or provided any shocking photograph opportunities. He mostly kept to himself and could often be seen reading in the dressing room and fishing in his days off. The latter ‘Blackbird’ nickname was more fitting to his persona, considering his dark hair and unrestrained movement in the field.
Eventually William won the fans hearts on account of his rare moments of brilliance and strange ability to produce them in the most difficult and crucial circumstances. What he lacked in physical prominence he made up in flair, agility and technique. He also possessed an odd preference for soaked pitches. Where others would struggle to keep balance, William effortlessly glided trough the opposition. Even in impracticable pitches of mud, you could pinpoint where William was because his kit remained immaculately clean throughout the match.
While playing he could usually be found wandering between midfield and attack, where he would see the ball flying over his head more frequently then arriving at his feet. William calmly roam around, hands laying in his hips, socks resting around the ankles, eyes gazing into nowhere. When he did have an opportunity to touch the ball he was the epitome of subtlety. Kicking it with such ease that it hardly produced any sound. You could say he was as unusual in a Scottish field as a cold beer in an Edinburgh pub.
His talent was altogether out of the norm. He appeared to move at a slower rate than everyone else and yet, as if time behaved differently around him, he would simply walk past his opponents tackles. On the other hand he was notable for “disappearing” for long periods of a game and sometimes for a few games in a row.
William’s ghostly presence on the pitch was paired with his off the field quietness. In the words of Tommy MacLeod, Hearths team captain of that time:
“He was a nice lad, very calm, but when he talked everyone tried to listen. He rarely said anything ordinary, he spoke only when something deserved to be told. I remember complementing him after scoring a tremendous goal and he said ‘Well a good goal is one that serves it’s purpose’…This was the sort of remark you could expect from him.”
Trying to separate real stories from folklore regarding Blackbird is a challenging ordeal, specially following the “Anfield Road Feat”. A lot has been written and discussed about it and if one would count the number of Scots who claim to have witnessed the event live, then the assistance would have to be around 5 hundred thousand people. Therefore, the details that follow try to focus on the written reports that were produced at the time, along with the testimonial from a couple of people who were actually there.To be continued in Chapter II.