William Kelly was born in 1915 in Maryhill in the west of Glasgow and the tough reputation of the area back then perhaps forged the footballing character of the young centre back that moved from his local club to Saints in 1934.
Very quickly Kelly became known as an uncompromising and extremely tough player, who not many forwards got the better of in Scotland and was mentioned on multiple occasions in the media as suitable candidate for the national squad, where he was a ‘reserve’ on a number of occasions, which today would equate to a squad player as only 11 players were called up at this time.
Kelly was uncomplicated in what he done on the football park, and was described by one hack as a “…..strong, forcing player. Not a stylist, but highly effective…..” a fact that the Paisley support enjoyed, and the Glaswegian was very much a fans favourite due to his no-nonsense approach on the park.
After five years at Saints it looked as though a big transfer to England was in the making however after the club reluctantly agreed to sell their star defender to raise income, but the bid from Middlesbrough of just under £2,000 was ceremoniously rejected by Saints who wanted four times that.
Later in the year as war broke out Kelly joined the RAF and that move to England never transpired, but other than playing for the RAF Select which often looked like an international side so strong was it, Kelly didn’t guest for anyone else during this period and often played for Saints when he returned on leave to Scotland, resulting in him playing in the famous 1943 Summer Cup win and picking up a winners medal.
On the 19th of August 1944, Kelly was sent off following an incident at Love Street during a 1-0 defeat to Rangers, and following a disciplinary hearing the following month was banned from all of football until March 6th 1945, a full six months without playing, which seems incredibly hash!
This disciplinary hearing appeared to hasten his departure from the club though and after 274 appearances and eighteen goals; Kelly was sold to Dundee United in August 1945 in a record deal for the Tannadice side which held great excitement for the second division club in anticipation of such a well know player appearing for the Terrors.
The centre back didn’t spend long in Dundee however as he failed to settle, and after only twenty appearances was transfer listed at his own request and subsequently sold to Morton in January 1946. Before the year was out however Kelly was back in front of the SFA after being ordered off against Clyde in November of that year, and sensationally on the 4th December 1946 the defender was suspended “sine die” and his career effectively over despite the football authorities overturning this in 1950, but by this point Kelly was 35 years old and had not played for four years making the decision completely futile.
Willie Kelly may not have been the artistic flamboyant type usually found as a hero by football supporters, but he had a tenacity and will to win that every side needs and qualities that through the ages have always been respected by the St Mirren support. Kelly had an iron man, indestructable image and he appeared late in his life in the 1991 Marching In video where he recalled the 1943 Summer Cup victory.
In 2005, Willie Kelly passed away aged 91 years of age and is buried beside his wife Jeanie and daughter Ellen at the St Kentigem Cemetry in Glasgow.