Rhinos stalwart Billy receives a heroes send off

Leeds Rugby League stalwart Billy Watts received a send off fit for his heroes who wore the blue and amber of his favourite club as over 150 guests gathered at Cottingley Hall Crematorium for his funeral service.

Billy, who passed away on Easter Saturday, had worked for the club for over 40 years, initially selling the club lottery in pubs and clubs to raise vital funds before becoming the club's first and only official timekeeper in 1975 and did the job, home and away, for over 30 years until the RFL brought in independent timekeepers as part of the matchday officials team. As well as his many roles at Headingley Carnegie, he was also a regular appointment by the Rugby Football League for time keeping at Test matches.

Billy had been a fixture at the club since his first game as a 12-year-old supporter in Christmas 1938. His first game saw Leeds beat Salford 5-0 in a game that was remarkably played in the cricket outfield due to freezing conditions. He was a scrum-half with East Leeds in his younger years before lying about his age to sign up to join the Royal Navy during World War II. During the service, club chaplain Rev Steve Mitchell gave an insight into Billy's life at war in good and bad and how Billy had never forgotten his best friend who had died alongside him during a battle at sea.

Billy was born in Sheffield Street in Leeds in 1923 and spent his entire life in the city apart from his time in service. He worked as a delivery driver for E. J. Arnold, the suppliers of registers, books and exercise books to the education establishments of Leeds. It was here that he met his beloved wife Audrey, who he married on Christmas Eve and they were together for over 60 years until her death last year.

He was a regular behind the scenes at Headingley in the 1970s as he made sure the players had hot soup after training and was remembered by current Chief Executive Gary Hetherington from his playing days for the help he gave players at training and on matchdays. Following his retirement from the security firm, Chubb, in Leeds, his involvement at the club became more regular at the Tetley's training ground in Weetwood and then subsequently down at Kirkstall, where he was given his own room to keep all his equipment in.
Watts was a former Clubman of the Year in 1999 and in 2003 was presented with an Outstanding Service Award by the Leeds ex-players association.

Rhinos captain and fellow East Leedser Danny McGuire gave the eulogy at the funeral service and spoke wonderfully about his 'little pal'. McGuire recalled how Billy was always the first person the players saw on a morning as they arrived at the training ground and he always greeted them with a smile. No matter what highs or lows the team were going through, Billy was a constant source of encouragement and never compared players from across the eras. Danny recalled how Watts was also particularly proud of local lads who had come through the system and whom he had watched turn from nervous teenagers into young men and fathers during Billy's time at the club. Billy did have a soft spot for Leeds legend Lewis Jones so much so that Danny revealed Jones had pushed McGuire a close second for Billy's favourite player but the East Leeds connection swung it for Danny.

The service was attended by the entire first team squad along with dozens of former players from the recent past to older generations of Loiners. Head Coach Brian McDermott was joined by his predecessors Tony Smith and Daryl Powell whilst former Chief Executive Alf Davies was also in attendance along with a host of current and former staff from the club and officials from the RFL and opposition clubs. It was a fitting farewell for a true hero who had not only served his country and his city but who had become a legend at Leeds RL in his 92 years despite never having played for the club.  

Rest in Peace