William “Billy” Ayre was born in Crookhill, a suburb of Gateshead in May 1952. A qualified teacher, he began his playing career at Scarborough in the early 1970s. After seven successful years on the north-east coast, having won the player of the year accolade in 1977, he completed a transfer to Hartlepool United where he played in over 100 league games. Four years later, he moved to Halifax Town for his first spell at “The Shay”, which was equally as successful. A two year stint at Mansfield Town followed, before returning to Halifax where he was to end his playing career.
His first managerial role also came at “The Shay”, taking the reigns in December of 1986. Having failed to secure a much sought after promotion from the Fourth Division, he was relieved of duty after just over three years in charge, in 1990.
Billy didn’t spend long out of the game, and having originally taken over as Assistant Manager at Blackpool, he was catapulted into the First Team Managers role following the sacking of Graham Carr. Within six months Ayre had transformed the Bloomfield Road club, and they narrowly missed out on promotion, losing in a dramatic penalty shoot-out to Torquay United in the Play Off Final at Wembley. Despite the set-back, Ayre guided Blackpool back to Wembley the following season where this time they managed to book their passage into the newly renamed “Division Two”. In his three and a half year tenure, he was widely regarded as one of the most successful managers, and certainly one of the most popular, in the history of the club.
Ayre left Blackpool in June 1994, with his side having failed to impress at the higher level, and arrived at back at his original starting place, Scarborough. By this time however, the decline had begun at his old stomping ground, and he was relieved of duty within four months, having been unsuccessful in his bid to climb the Division Three table.
Billy succeeded the ever popular Brian Kettle in the Haig Avenue hot seat in time for the 1995-96 season, with Steve Joel acting as his assistant and managed to guide the Sandgrounders to a very respectable sixth place finish, With no play-offs, and a single club promoted from the Conference to the football league at that time, Billy was left with little to show for his brief foray into the world of non-league football, and with the draw of League football too hard to resist, he was persuaded to team up at Swansea City with ex Liverpool player Jan Molby. The pair arrived too late to halt the Swans slide into Division Three, but they reached the Play Off Final a year later. Ayre’s experience in play-off finals however, could do nothing to prevent a last minute goal to deny them promotion, and both Molby and Ayre were relieved of duty shortly after.
Ayre moved on to another Welsh club, and joined Frank Burrows at Cardiff City in 1999. After a successful promotion campaign, Burrows surprisingly resigned from his post, with Billy stepping in to the fray in January 2000. Although initially instilled on a temporary basis, he stayed on until the end of the season, despite slipping into Division Three. With a change in chairman, he remained at Cardiff as Assistant Manager to Bobby Gould, albeit only temporarily when Alan Cork took over, with Gould becoming general manager.
Billy’s final job in football came at Bury, where he became assistant to Andy Preece, but in 2001 it was found that the lymph node cancer that he had been diagnosed with whilst manager at Southport, had returned. In early 2002, Billy suffered a setback in his treatment and died a month short of his 50th birthday at his home in Southport, on April 16th.