The more City have become entrenched in non league football, the more restricted our wage budget has become. Weíre unable to offer extended contracts, one year (maybe with a one year extension option that City can invoke) being the norm. Every year, this results in a struggle to retain our top players, a large turnover in playing staff and a steep settling in period where the new squad get to know each other and to gel as a team. The only upside is we only keep the dross for a season.
Iím sure wage constraints must have influenced some of the decisions Billy had to make when releasing players, he even said as much when he re-signed Anthony Lloyd.
Equally, wage constraints meant that our star players, first Andy Bishop and then Clayton Donaldson and Neil Bishop sought greener pastures afresh. Something thatís gone on in all the years Iíve supported City.
Billy had to work within the constraints set by the board. The board that grew out of the mess the previous board left us in. After the Brass / Busby era, at least he bought some stability back to the club and gave us some pride and good times.
He was an old school manager, not afraid of hard work. Ex City player Paddy Atkinson recalled, "Some coach this bloke was, talk about dedication and hard work that was Billy ... Fitness ran the bollocks of you so you were fit, set plays drilled them into you until you dreamt them, humour funny as ... once said, 'see that cow in the field just eating grass all day ? Bet he wishes he could train everyday and get paid. What a life a cow has!! ' ".
With an eye for spotting talent, he signed Clayton Donaldson (a youngster who'd freely admit that he was virtually on the scrapheap when he joined City), Martyn Woolford, Richard Brodie, Daniel Parslow, Manny Panther, Neal Bishop and Onome Sodje.
Last season (2006/7), I was surprised we retained Alex Rhodes, this season, again, heís barely had a look in. Under Billy, Rhodes got released as a youngster, then a few months later, came back, first to make up numbers in the reserves and then to get 2 successive year long professional contracts.
Iím not going to knock Billy for not playing youngsters. Historically weíve struggled to get our youngsters to bridge the gap between youth and first team football. In Billyís era, David Stockdale, Bryan Stewart, Byron Webster and Graeme Law spring to mind. No need to say anything here about Davd Stockdale and Byron Webster whilst aroond this time, Graeme Law regularly kept Alan Hutton out of Scotlandís Under 19 team. None can say they made it with City under McEwan.
At the start of the 2007/8 season, I thought our squad was top heavy with strikers, the numbers have meant that weíve never had a settled strike force, theyíve never had the chance to build an understanding across a number of games. Even so, Daniel McBreen, Billyís last signing, probably proved the pick of the crop.
Meanwhile, the defence struggled, injuries and suspensions havenít helped, but the late signings of Kelly, Jones and Lloyd suggest we started the season light in defensive numbers.
Iím not sure Iíd even apportion any blame to Billy over Tommy Evans. He let us down only once last season. No one could have foreseen his many lapses this season. Maybe a stronger contender for the number one shirt would have been welcome, but we managed with just Evans last season.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of his sacking, recently, our away form has been far superior to that our home form. Last season as we challenged for the play offs (and even the championship) our home form let us down. A club record 13 away wins ensured our play off position. This season, all Billy needed was a 2 or 3 game winning run to lift us back into mid table. We did the away wins (Northwich, Woking and Farsley included), but then came unstuck with the home games. The players still have some ability, but maybe not the motivation.
Despite his ultimate failure at City, Iím sure even his fiercest critics would argue heís been one of our more successful managers of recent times, even those who blame him for letting Donaldson and Bishop go, players he brought to the club. Meanwhile, he leaves behind a nucleus of players who have the ability to play at a higher level.
Sadly, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2014 and died on February 17th 2022. A minute's applause was held in his honours before the game against Guiseley on February 26.