Bill Harvey was born in the Royal Victoria military hospital at Netley, in Hampshire, in 1896. His father was a corporal with the RAMC and served in South Africa before the family moved to Leeds.
The young Harvey managed to resist any lure of professional football and came to prominence with the Leeds-based Yorkshire Amateurs side in the run-up to The Great War, winning an England Amateur international cap. His prowess at cricket may have been a factor in this, for it appears that Bill’s career might have gone in either direction.
After war service with the West Yorkshire Regiment Bill came back to England and joined Sheffield Wednesday, playing nineteen times in the side relegated to division two in 1919-20 (and playing in the same side as Teddy Davison, his predecessor at Chesterfield.) He spent time out of football the following winter, spending much of the season playing cricket in South Africa. He made four appearances in the Currie Cup for the Border Province but could not affect their apparently long-standing reputation as that competition’s whipping-boys.
1921 saw him back in England. He signed on at Birmingham and stayed four seasons, making seventy-eight Division One appearances for Brum and playing cricket for Warwickshire. The wing was his domain and pace was his principal weapon; that, combined with his habitually well-groomed appearance, persuaded contemporary biographers to refer to him as “The moustachioed speedster.” A short spell at Southend ended with a return to St Andrew’s as coach to their second eleven. He became City’s manager in 1927 but stood down after one full season. When Chesterfield advertised for a new manager in the wake of Davison’s departure he was given the nod over Billy Hampson, the Carlisle manager, and Sheffield Wednesday player Jimmy Seed. The decision was evidently not unanimous, though.
Harvey was astute enough to avoid tampering with the legacy that Teddy Davison left, and the club had the sense to stick with him when his first season ended in relegation from Division Two. It was not Harvey’s way to steamroller in and make radical changes for the sake of them, and he formed a strong bonds with Shirley Abbott and Ollie Thompson, trainers to the first team and reserves.
Steady but certain progress in the side’s development came in an era when matters off the field dominated, with an ambitious ground improvement programme culminating in the opening of the new main stand in 1937. By this time Harvey had piloted the club back to promotion from the Northern Section to Division Two, and his tactical awareness saw his side match the likes of Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Out of the blue, Harvey was asked to resign towards the end of the 1937-8 season. Unspecified differences over changes in policy were cited, and history holds few clues as to what they were; the club’s all-round approach was becoming more ambitious, with sides joining the Central and Yorkshire Leagues and ground developments planned, and perhaps it was felt that Harvey couldn’t produce a side to match that ambition, or perhaps the board already had Norman Bullock lined up. Having asked him to go, though, the club acceded to his request to be allowed to stay on until after the Football League’s AGM that summer. That AGM saw Gillingham voted out of the league and it was the Priestfield side that offered Harvey his next management post. When they failed to gain re-election at the first attempt in 1938-9, Harvey was sacked as an economy measure.
Having left Priestfield, Bill returned to his wife’s home town, North Shields, and took a job with the Tyne Brand food company. He passed away in North Shields in 1972.