Billy hangs up his boots after 16 years of coaching

Billy Smillie.
Billy Smillie.

IT was a fairytale finish which would have had Roy of the Rovers scoffing in disbelief.

Billy Smillie had decided to bid farewell to youth coaching at Greenlaw after 16 years, having spent ten of which with the same set of players.

Time and time again, they watched teams from across the region lift one of the Scottish Borders Junior FA’s major trophies, while Greenlaw missed out.

But finally, on May 26, his players had the chance to take the under 17 league title in a match against closest rivals Hawick.

And the Berwickshire outfit produced a brave showing to hold off the Teries 4-2 and finally end their trophy drought.

Hawick gained their revenge with a cup final win on Sunday, but for Billy that failed to spoil a record-breaking year.

“It has been a great season,” said the 47-year-old. “We have got a great bunch of players on the field and they are also good lads off it. We have had no bother with them all year and they always listen.”

It could have been a completely different tale had Billy not stepped in to keep the current crop of players at Greenlaw when they were more interested in playing Cowboys and Indians than kicking a football.

Billy explains: “I had been running the under 14s team but we did not have enough players to go up to the next age group.

“At the same time the boys under eight team were pulled out of the league but I put them straight back in.

“I have had the same players from then until this season at under 17s. Around half of the current team were here when they were seven or eight years old.”

It has not been an easy journey, however. “It was a big struggle getting players at the start but this season we have had to turn players away because they know we have a great junior set up,” added Billy.

A one-club man, having turned out for Greenlaw as a player until the age of 26, he almost packed up his coaching cones and bibs two years ago.

“But I decided to stay as the most important age group is when the players get to 16 because they can be lost from the game. If you let them slip away, they won’t come back again,” Billy claims.

Already six of his under 17 team play for Greenlaw’s Border Amateur League team - which Billy will continue to help out - and he hopes more will follow a previously successful Greenlaw junior side of ten years ago into senior football.

Billy told us: “We had an under 14 team which saw a number of players step up to East of Scotland and junior football. One of them, Robin Brown, is on a scholarship in America, and others include Josh Hebdon, Derek and Bruce Chisholm, Graham Waddell and Alan Anderson.

“There are a lot of guys playing in the Border Amateur League which have come through the Greenlaw club.”

Off the pitch, Billy has also made a lasting impression. A long-standing sponsor of the youth leagues through his Border Embroideries company, he also supports the Border Amateur League.

And he was pivotal in his home club’s successful £330,000 bid to construct a new pavilion and pitch improvements at their Happer Memorial Park, which will open in August.

“We already have floodlights, so along with the new changing rooms it will be a quality facility to equal anybody in the Borders,” said Billy. “Everything is there to go forward and I am pretty positive it will when you see all the Greenlaw teams taking part in the Cameron Gunn Festival.”

Just five days after his title triumph, Billy met Prince Charles as he opened Greenlaw Town Hall. “It was an honour and rounded off a good week,” the understated Billy told us. Even Roy would struggle to match that ending.