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It’s often said that a manager’s first signing for a club is key to how things might go for him. I’m not sure of that but there is no doubt that when Brian Miller took over from Harry Potts in 1979, his first Burnley signing proved to be an influential player and a crowd favourite at Turf Moor.

In the final week of November of that year, we’d just beaten Cambridge 5-3 at home; our first win of the season and our first win since the 2-1 victory at Ewood Park in the previous April. Youngster Jeff Tate scored our final goal that day and he formed a really good partnership with the experienced Paul Fletcher.

Was this going to be the partnership that would take us up the table? The answer was very much no with neither of the two forwards pulling on a Burnley shirt again. One week on, we travelled to Bristol Rovers. Back in the side was Malcolm Smith, a player who had been banished by Potts. Alongside him was a Northern Irishman by the name of Billy Hamilton who had signed that week from Queens Park Rangers for a fee of £38,000.

With the new pairing up front, we had something of an upturn, winning five and losing just two of the next nine games, and Smith missed one of the two defeats defeats, although the new strikers were hardly contributing much in terms of goals with them only finding the net in two of those games.

Boxing Day brought Hamilton’s first Burnley goal. He scored the first in a 3-2 home win against Newcastle in a game that penned the line: “Hark now hear the Burnley sing, the Geordies ran away, and we will fight for ever more because of Boxing Day.”

He scored in the next game at Notts County but at the end of that run of games with five wins, we weren’t to win another game for the remainder of the season with six draws and ten defeats in the final sixteen games.

Derek Scott scored in a 2-1 home defeat against Leicester in March of that year. That left us with eight more games to play. We scored just four goals in those games with Hamilton scoring all four. Relegation was confirmed; we were heading for the Third Division for the first time in our history but there was some hope that the Northern Irishman might be the answer up front.

The 1980/81 season didn’t offer too much hope of a return to the higher division. We did hit fourth place at one point but finished in eighth place. Hamilton played every game but scored just nine times in those 46 league games. It was his new partner Steve Taylor who was always the more likely; he netted sixteen league goals.

The next season would be special for Burnley and also for Hamilton. He’d arrived from QPR with one international cap having played as a substitute in a 1-1 draw against Scotland in 1978. The summer of 1980 had seen him establish himself with the national team and by the time the 1981/82 season had ended, he’d added a further fourteen caps with more to come in an exciting time for his country.

We made a shocking start to the 1981/82 season, suffering six defeats in the first eight games. Hamilton missed two of those games but hadn’t found the net in any of the other six. Those were the only games he missed but his first goal of the season didn’t come until the 12th game when he scored the opener in a 2-2 home draw against Fulham.

The season was one of triumph for Burnley. Only two more defeats followed those opening six games and we went on to win the league as champions. Hamilton was leading scorer with eleven goals, ahead of Taylor who scored nine times although he only played half of the games with Paul McGee, who scored seven, coming in to replace him.

By now, Hamilton was the most popular player at Burnley. The crowd loved him and his all-action style; the only real concern was perhaps his inability to score goals away from home. In a 1-1 draw at Walsall in March, the final game of our run of twenty unbeaten in the league, he scored our equaliser. It proved to be his only goal away from home all season in the league although he had scored in a 4-2 League Cup defeat at Tranmere.

If he was hugely popular with the Burnley fans by then; the popularity was to rise even further when he pulled on the green shirt of Northern Ireland in the World Cup in Spain. Yes, England were in the tournament, and went out unbeaten, but for most Burnley fans it was the presence of Hamilton that grabbed our attention, notably in two games against Spain and Austria.

The game against Spain was the third of their group games, played on a Friday night in June. If my mum had had her way, I’d have missed it. My dad retired that day and I was duty bound to attend his big leaving party in Colne. With my dad’s blessing, and I’m sure he’d have rather been watching the football, I travelled over having seen Billy set up Gerry Armstrong for the only goal of the game to take them through.

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Having gone through, six days later he scored both goals in a 2-2 draw against Austria. I missed that afternoon game due to work but I was in a shop in Preston with a fellow Claret when we saw him score one of those goals on a screen behind the counter. You’d have thought Burnley had scored the way we reacted.

Northern Ireland, like England, went out in the second phase of the competition, a heavy defeat against France confirming their exit and Hamilton was ready once more to play Second Division football for Burnley.

It proved to be the craziest of seasons, one where we reached the League Cup semi-final and the sixth round of the FA Cup, but one where we couldn’t win anything like enough games to avoid an instant relegation.

Hamilton, with thirteen league goals, beat Taylor by one in the league, but again only one of those goals came away from Turf Moor and that was the fourth goal in our 4-1 win in the opening away fixture at Middlesbrough. That goal was one of three he scored away from home that season. The other two came on that memorable night at White Hart Lane when we beat Spurs 4-1.

In the previous season, he’d scored his first Burnley hat trick in a 6-1 home win against Altrincham in the FA Cup. He added two league hat tricks in this season. Three days after his goal at Middlesbrough, he scored three as we beat Carlisle at home 4-1, and both he and Taylor netted hat tricks in the 7-1 win against Charlton when we scored an astonishing five goals in the final thirteen minutes after Charlton had been reduced to nine men.

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Back in the Third Division, it was all change at Burnley with a new manager and new players. One of the constants was Hamilton in the number nine shirt and arguably he had his best ever season for us. Playing alongside new signing Kevin Reeves and with Tommy Hutchison on the left, he hit a new best for goals, scoring eighteen in the league.

He scored nine in the first eleven games, including a hat trick against Bournemouth, and fourteen of them came in the first half of the season. Once Reeves had suffered his career ending injury, it was never the same for Burnley and never the same for Hamilton.

On 5th May 1984 he scored in the first minute of a home game against Orient and six minutes later, Micky Phelan doubled our lead. We went on to lose the game 3-2 and Billy had scored his last ever Burnley goal.

Never prolific, he scored 58 in 200 league appearances with a further eighteen in 48 cup games. But it wasn’t just his goals. He led the line brilliantly, he was superb in the air and his all action, barnstorming style endeared him to the Turf Moor crowd.

Ten days after that Orient game, we played Hull at home in the final game of the season. It was a Tuesday night and after the game we were surprisingly joined by some of the players in the Centre Spot. Alan Taylor had played against us for Hull that night when a three goal win would have seen them promoted; they beat us 2-0. Taylor told us that he’d just played his last game for Hull and would be signing for Burnley, which he duly did. Hamilton added that he’d just played his last game for Burnley; he had and by the time the next season kicked off he had signed for Oxford who had won our league that season.

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Three years earlier, Brian Miller had hoped to partner him with Newport striker John Aldridge and that came to fruition at Oxford. In his first season he and Aldridge formed the goalscoring partnership that took Oxford into the First Division as champions.

Sadly, a knee injury began to have an effect although he did go on to make over ninety league appearances for them in not much over two seasons and he did go to another World Cup with Northern Ireland in 1986 where he made his 41st and final appearance for his country although he was clearly not fit enough to be starting games.

On leaving Oxford, he returned to his native Northern Ireland and played for a number of clubs but the last time I saw Billy play was in a trial match one pre-season for Colne Dynamoes in a game played at the Rolls Royce Sports Ground at Barnoldswick.

The Colne back room staff, including a number of ex-Clarets were all rolling up in their big club cars but sadly Billy looked some way short of playing even at that level even though, by then, he’d have only been in his early thirties.

He continued in football for a while at Distillery, who he also managed, but he still had a part to play at Burnley. His former Burnley and Northern Ireland team mate Tommy Cassidy was manager of Glentoran at the time and Billy was involved in the deal that saw Glen Little become a Burnley player.

In 2006, a television programme was produced in Northern Ireland about the links between Burnley and Glentoran. It led to an evening at Turf Moor that featured both Billy and one very famous former player of both clubs Jimmy McIlroy.

It was held on the night after we’d beaten Leeds 2-1 at home with goals scored by Gifton Noel-Williams and Andy Gray. It was fitting that Northern Ireland internationals Michael Duff, Steve Jones and Kyle Lafferty were in the Burnley side that night along with fellow Irishmen James O’Connor, Chris McCann and Alan Mahon.

Whether he’s been back since, I don’t know, but that was the last time I saw Billy in Burnley and I can assure you he got the warmest of receptions from those there that night. That’s how it should be for a player who was rightly such a huge favourite of the Turf Moor crowd during his four and a half years as a Claret.

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