Born: February 14, 1940

Died: August 2, 2020.

WILLIE (Billy) Hunter, who has died aged 80, was an exceptionally talented footballer whose tally of three Scottish caps would surely have been greater but for injury problems. He was one of the outstanding Ancell Babes, the young Motherwell team of the late 1950s and early 1960s innovatively led by manager Bobby Ancell who described Hunter as “paradise to watch”. The club’s centenary history referred to him as “poetry in motion”.

Ancell decided youth was the way forward from about 1957 and brought together outstanding players such as Hunter, Ian St John, Sammy Reid, Pat Quinn, Andy Weir and John Martis to mould them into a formidable side capable of brilliant, breathtaking football.

Although they never won a major trophy they secured several good league placings and memorably defeated a series of high-profile opponents in floodlit friendlies at

Fir Park. Victims included the crack Brazilian side Flamengo, whom they trounced 9-2 (shortly after Flamengo had beaten Manchester United 5-0); Leeds United, whom they crushed 7-0, and Athletic Bilbao, whom they beat 3-2.

In 1959 they defeated champions Rangers on four consecutive occasions and in 1961 won 5-2 at Ibrox in a cup tie that was Billy’s favourite match.

In a tribute read at his funeral, his boyhood friend and Motherwell team-mate, Bobby Roberts, recounted the early football days and said “Always, always the best player on show was Billy”, sentiments echoed by another long-time football friend, Davie Gibson of Hibs, Leicester and Scotland.

After making his Motherwell debut in 1957 Billy’s quality soon became apparent, with the leading football writer John Rafferty noting that “he has such ball control, speed and acceleration, grace of movement that it makes him an aristocrat among young players”.

Aged 20 he was capped for Scotland against Hungary in Budapest in front of 90 000 fans at the Nepstadion, marking his debut with a goal before winning another two caps against Turkey and Wales. Either side of those appearances he also earned four Scottish League and four Scottish under-23 caps.

His career was then bedevilled by injury, which caused him to lose almost two complete seasons in 1962 and 1963 after two serious fractures of the same forearm that required surgery and bone grafts. One graft left him with a weakened ankle and it was thanks to his determination he was able to resume playing.

In 1965 he took part in Motherwell’s Summer Cup success against Dundee United, shortly after which the Ancell era came to an end, with Billy leaving the club in 1967 after 300 games and 64 goals.

He spent a year with Detroit Cougars before joining his boyhood heroes, Hibs, for a couple of seasons, during which he was used sparingly. He wound down his playing career over three seasons in South Africa with Hellenic and Cape Town City, where team-mates included Ian St John and George Eastham.

After hanging up his boots he was assistant manager to St John at Portsmouth for three seasons, followed by spells as manager of Queen Of The South and Inverness Caley in the Highland League.

Billy Hunter was born to Willie, an electrician’s mate, and Maggie (nee Neilson) in Edinburgh. He was brought up in Begg’s Buildings, Abbeyhill, which was known as the “Wee World” due to its self-contained community, which Billy later described in a book he wrote.

At Abbeyhill Primary School his football talent, nurtured in street games, saw him selected for Edinburgh Schools. While at Broughton High School he continued playing football with the Boys’ Brigade and well known juvenile club, Edinburgh Norton, supplemented by games on Gullane beach with other future professionals including Roberts, Gibson and Alan Anderson of Hearts.

Although academically bright, his education suffered after the suicide of his mother, who had never recovered from the death of a daughter in infancy. Billy was 15 at the time and his mother’s death would later trigger intermittent depression.

He left school to begin work in a stockbroker’s office in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, where his abilities soon earned him promotion. The office connection led to his signing for Motherwell in 1957 because the cashier also ran Edinburgh Norton and his uncle was a Motherwell scout.

In 1964 at Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, he married Rona Tait. They had first met at the Palais de Danse and they enjoyed a long happy marriage during which they had Jacqueline. Rona was a shorthand typist who later worked in administration.

Off the pitch Billy was a man of many talents as writer, poet, musician and charity fundraiser. He was vocal in his belief that the high incidence of dementia among players of his era was due to heading the heavy ball and through Alzheimers’ Scotland he became ambassador for Football Memories, the nationwide project helping sufferers by sharing football reminiscences.

He contributed poems to their fundraising publications and gave generously of his time to support those affected, particularly former players. The four books he wrote enabled him to donate more than £10,000 to St Columba’s Hospice. A good singer and guitarist, he also enjoyed jamming sessions with grandson Cameron.

A much-loved husband, father, grandfather and friend, Billy was an exceptional human being, characterised as “big-hearted” by Jacqueline. He is survived by his wife, daughter, son-in-law Robbie and grandson.