Farewell to a true Harrogate football star who trained with George Best and played key role at Harrogate Town and Railway

The funeral of a much-loved Harrogate football star who played a part in the history of both of the town’s football clubs takes place today, Friday, December 11.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 10th December 2021, 12:05 pm
Good days - The late Billy Conroy, right, at Harrogate Railway with players John Bowman, Tony Outhart and Gary Cox in 1990 with club physio Ian McCreadie.
Good days - The late Billy Conroy, right, at Harrogate Railway with players John Bowman, Tony Outhart and Gary Cox in 1990 with club physio Ian McCreadie.

Born in 1955, William ‘Billy’ Conroy started his football career as a schoolboy at Manchester United in 1971, went on to become a player at Harrogate Railway in the 1980s and held a significant role within the management team at Harrogate Town in the 1990s.

A talented forward and keen all-round sportsman, Billy was renowned from an early age for his zest for life, self-confidence and 100% commitment at all times.

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The late Billy Conroy pictured front row, bottom left, in his days of management at Harrogate Town.

While still at St John Fisher Catholic High School in Harrogate, the young Billy was spotted by his teacher Max Mills who alerted major clubs such as Manchester Utd.

Freshly signed as a 15-year-old apprentice by Sir Matt Busby, those early days saw Billy train with Bobby Charlton and George Best.

Billy made his debut for the national team against Holland, scoring a goal for England Schoolboys in front of 55,000 people at Wembley, before going on to win further international caps.

After moving to New Zealand as a professional footballer in the 1970s, he returned to Harrogate and become a key figure, firstly at Harrogate Railway, then Town with his knowledge and passion for the game - as well as an unstoppable sense of humour.

Later years saw this larger-than-life character adopt a variety of careers, from running pubs, including the Travellers Rest in Harrogate, to roofing for Luty Roofing company in Spofforth before becoming a director of Maxspray UK in Harrogate in semi-retirement.

As well as being a family man, Billy was proud of his Irish roots weaned from his beloved mother Elizabeth, who survives him, and father William. But Billy’s great passion remained sport - golf, horse racing, cricket and football... always football.

He carried on playing both football and golf as a veteran though two hip operations eventually took their toll.

It was while playing golf that he died suddenly, despite being airlifted to hospital.

In the immediate days after his unexpected passing, Billy was honoured with a minute’s silence at both Harrogate Railway and Harrogate Town.

The much-loved partner of Isobel, Billy will be missed by many, especially his extended family in Ireland.

He was the proud father of Joanna and Louise and stepson Joe, dearly-loved brother of Suzanne, Noel and the late Dolores. He was the grandfather of Lola, Oakley and Colton and proud uncle to two nieces and six nephews.

His partner Isobel is full of praise for the much-loved Billy and cited his humour and passion for football as just two of his memorable attributes.

Isobel said: "He was the life and soul of the party. He warmed up any room he walked into.

"If things were awkward, he broke the ice. He made people feel comfortable.

"He was proud of his extended family and proud of his Irish roots.

"He loved football, it didn't matter whether he was watching or playing, whether it was an international or walking football.

"It was the game itself.

"He was extremely funny and loved to play pranks. You never knew if he was telling a joke or if it was true.

"He didn't have a nerve in his body. He once said "once you've played in front of 55,000 people you don't get flustered by anything."

Billy Conroy’s funeral service takes place at St Roberts Church, Roberts Street on Friday, December 10 at 12.45pm.