William Crilley, affectionally known as “wee Willie Crilley”, “Electric Spark” and also “The Mighty Atom” (a nickname more famously associated with the one and only Patsy Gallagher) was born in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, in 1903. He joined Celtic in May, 1922, having been the star man of the Alloa Athletic side which won promotion to the First Division that season. Willie holds the record for the highest number of goals ever scored by an Alloa player in a single season, with forty nine to his name in the 1921-22 season. The Wasps’ own official website described Willie as “without doubt, Alloa Athletic’s greatest player”.
Standing at only five feet three inches tall, and weighing a little over nine stone, Willie was fairly small in stature, even for a forward. However, what he lacked in size, he made up for with ability, determination and imagination on the field of play. One famous story from his time with Alloa describes how he knocked the ball past a tall and slow central defender (of then Division Two side King’s Park) before diving through the defenders legs, catching up with the ball, and slotting it past the oncoming goalkeeper much to the delight of the onlooking Alloa supporters.
Willie signed for the Hoops at the peak of his powers, having had a magnificent season previously and it was hoped that he would soon find a regular place in the first team. Crilley missed the first game of the new season (1922-23) as First Division Champions Celtic travelled to the home of the Second Division Champions, and Willie’s former team, Alloa Athletic. Before the match began, Celtic manager Willie Maley had the distinction of unfurling Alloa’s Championship flag for all to see. Celtic won the close match by three goals to two, although by all accounts they had to dig very deep against a determined and resilient Alloa side.
The following week, Willie made his debut for Celtic as the Hoops defeated Hamilton Accies 2-1 at Celtic Park. However, after a relatively poor start to the season, Crilley was allowed to return to Alloa Athletic less than a month later. In total, he featured three times for Celtic’s first team, scoring only a single goal. Sadly, soon after his return to the Wasps, Willie was injured and this would rule him out for a significant proportion of the season. He played his last match for Alloa in April 1923, as they drew 1-1 in their final game of the season.
As Alloa were relegated, having finished twentieth in the twenty team First Division, Willie left for a new life in the United States of America, where he joined the New York Field Club, before moving to the New York Giants. He then returned to Alloa in 1924, before being sold without him appearing for team on a single occasion. Crilley then had relatively successful spells with Indiana Flooring, the New York Giants (again), and J&P Coats back in the United States.
In 1927, Crilley’s career took a turn for the worse as he began to move from club to club, featuring only a couple of times at most, before being moved on. Between 1927 and 1929, Willie would play for Philadelphia Field Club, New York Nationals, Brooklyn Hispano, New York Hungaria and IRT Rangers. In 1929, Willie returned to Scotland with the intention of rejoining Alloa. However, as he was now a United States citizen, he was deported back to America before he was able to play for the club again.
Short spells with Newark Americans, New York Soccer Club and Fall River followed, before Willie joined the Brooklyn Wanderers in 1931. This was to be where he would rediscover some of his old form, as he scored fourteen goals in only seven matches for the New York based club. During this time, he played against Celtic who were on a tour of the United States, although the Hoops were comfortable victors winning by five goals to nil. Finally, Willie would move to the New York Americans, where he would score nine goals in ten matches. In one last attempt to rejoin his beloved Alloa, he returned to Scotland and contacted the club once more in 1932, but the board were not interested, and this rejection resulted in Willie Crilley retiring from the sport.
In 1942, Willie joined the United States armed forces, before going on to serve in the Air Corps with the Fifteen Air Force later in World War Two. Willie Crilley died at the Fort Hamilton Veterans Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, in 1955 after a prolonged battle with illness. He was only fifty one or fifty two years of age.