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13 January 2008

Billy Mitchell

Name: William Mitchell
Born: 22 November 1910, Lurgan
Died: 1978, Belfast
Position: Half-Back

Representative Honours: Ireland: 15 Full Caps (1931-1937); Irish League: 4 Caps (1930-1932).
Club Honours: (with Distillery) Irish Cup Runner-Up 1932/33; Gold Cup Winner 1929/30; City Cup Winner 1933/34; Belfast Charity Cup Winner 1928/29 (shared), 1930/31.

Club Career:
FA Cup
111/ 2
Bath City
(Southern League)
* all games.

Billy Mitchell was initially a forward with Linfield Rangers and Cliftonville before a brief spell with Dundalk, where he played at inside-forward in a Leinster Cup Final replay defeat by Shamrock Rovers. Mitchell was one of a number of Northern players signed by Dundak manager, and fellow Lurgan-man, Joe McCleery during this period.

Mitchell's big breakthrough when he joined Distillery as an eighteen year-old. He made his Whites debut on 9 May 1929 and within a few days was turning out in a 2-2 Charity Cup Final draw with Glentoran. The follow campaign saw him established in the firstteam at right-half and he picked up the Gold Cup in 1930 (with a 3-0 final defeat of Bangor) and in 1931 the Charity Cup outright (Belfast Celtic beaten 4-2).

A great tackler, but with a fiery temperament, Mitchell served a number of lengthy suspensions after being sent-off. That didn’t prevent the representative selectors taking an interest and Mitchell as he made his debut for the Irish League in a 3-0 defeat by the Scottish League in October 1930 and a year later made his Ireland debut in a 6-2 defeat by England. In all he made four inter-league and four international appearances while on the books at Grosvenor Park.

On 3 June 1933 Mitchell was signed by Chelsea, where he was to spend the following twelve years. His time at Stamford Bridge continued in a similar vein to his Irish League career. He remained famous for his terrier-like tackling and fall-outs with referees. He continued to feature regularly at both left and right-half as required, though was often troubled by injury. The outbreak of World War Two essentially ended Mitchell’s top-level playing career, though he remained on Chelsea’s books until 1945.

Mitchell was on the field for one of the most infamous matches in the history of English football. On 1st February 1936, as Chelsea faced Sunderland at Roker Park in an ill-tempered game, Mitchell was sent-off and a number of Sunderland players were injured. The worst of these injuries was to goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe who received several kicks during a goalmouth melee and, although he completed the game, was admitted to hospital suffering from broken ribs and bruising to his head. Thorpe, who had been receiving treatment for diabetes for the previous two years, died four days later in a diabetic coma sparked by a blow to the head. He was just 22 years-old and when Sunderland claimed that season's championship his medal was presented to his widow. It was incidents such as this that forced the authorities to bring in a rule forbidding players from raising their feet when the goalkeeper had the ball in their hands. (There is nothing to suggest that Mitchell was directly involved in Thorpe's death).

In a six year international career the undoubted highlights for Mitchell were consecutive and richly deserved 2-1 wins over Scotland in 1933 and 1934. On one occasion, against Wales in 1933, Mitchell lined out for Ireland alongside his brother in-law and Distillery teammate Sam Jones. In 1937 Mitchell won his fifteenth and final cap, and once again it was on a frustrating day for the heavily fancied Scots who were held 1-1 at Aberdeen.

Ireland Cap Details:
17-10-1931 England. H L 2-6 BC
05-12-1931 Wales... H W 4-0 BC
17-10-1932 England. A L 0-1 BC
07-12-1932 Wales... A L 1-4 BC
16-09-1933 Scotland A W 2-1 BC
04-11-1933 Wales... H D 1-1 BC
20-10-1934 Scotland H W 2-1 BC
06-02-1935 England. A L 1-2 BC
19-10-1935 England. H L 1-3 BC
13-11-1935 Scotland A L 1-2 BC
31-10-1936 Scotland H L 1-3 BC
18-11-1936 England. A L 1-3 BC
17-03-1937 Wales... A L 1-4 BC
23-10-1937 England. H L 1-5 BC
10-11-1937 Scotland A D 1-1 BC

Summary: 15/0. Won 3, Drew 2, Lost 10.

Photo kindly supplied by Roy Cathcart. Dundalk details by Jim Murphy.

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