He returned in 2005 as manager, and went on to become the longest serving manager in Scottish football in the twenty first century, and the most successful Accies manager since the 1930s.
In almost eight full seasons in charge, he finished third, fourth and first in the SFL First Division, then ninth, seventh and twelfth in the SPL, and fourth in the First Division, prior to this season (incomplete). He also reached two Challenge Cup finals and three Scottish Cup quarter finals, achievements that eluded all his predecessors, for 20 years in the case of the Challenge Cup, and for nearly 80 years in the case of the Scottish Cup.
He introduced a crop of young talent to the Accies first team, including the so-called “three diamonds” of James McArthur, James McCarthy and Brian Easton, who all starred in Accies most successful post-War side before signing deals to join Premiership clubs. His other signings included long-serving captain Alex Neil, the flamboyant Paixao twins, Marco and Flavio, Simon Mensing and Dougie Imrie.
Highlights of Billy’s time as manager include:
· a fightback to beat Clyde 3-2, after being 2-0 down at Broadwood in January 2008,a key moment in the title-winning season
· a 5-0 demolition of Dunfermline at East End Park, also in 2008
· a 1-0 crunch win over Dundee at NDP the same season
· a 2-0 league cup win over Kilmarnock at NDP the same season
· a 3-1 win over Dundee United in our debut SPL game, before a live TV audience
· back-to-back wins over Hibs, 4-1, and Kilmarnock, 3-0, en route to a seventh place finish in the SPL in 2010
· historic wins over Aberdeen and Hearts, and draws with both Celtic and Rangers
In his last couple of seasons Billy suffered criticism from a section of the Accies support, who had perhaps grown accustomed to unprecedented success, but continued to play the game the way he believes it should be played, keeping possession with patient passing football. Hopefully even his sternest critics will recognise that he leaves Accies much stronger than he found us, and with a legacy that will be very hard for any other manager to follow.
I'm sure he leaves with the good wishes of the overwhelming majority of Accies fans.