William (Billy) Thirlaway was born in Washington, County Durham, on 1st October, 1896. After leaving school he worked for Usworth Colliery near Sunderland. He played football for his company at outside-right.
In 1921, Syd King, the manager of West Ham United, signed Thirlaway. The team at the time included Edward Hufton, Jack Young, Billy Henderson, George Kay, Jack Tresadern, Sid Bishop, Syd Puddefoot, George Carter, Billy Brown, Tommy Hodgson, William Thirlaway, Vic Watson, Billy Williams and Jimmy Ruffell.
Thirlaway made his debut against Bradford Park Avenue on 29th August, 1921. He held his position in the team for the rest of the season and scored two goals 36 cup and league games. Although his scoring record was poor he made a great number of chances for Syd Puddefoot and Vic Watson.
Syd King purchased Dick Richards from Wolves for a fee of £300 in 1922. As a result Thirlaway played in only two league games in the 1922-23 promotion winning season. He also failed to make the 1923 FA Cup Final team.
Thirlaway played his last game for West Ham United against Birmingham City on 3rd November, 1923. The following year he joined South Shields. After eight games for his new club he was transferred to Luton Town. He also had a spell with South (four goals in 29 games).
Billy Thirlaway died in 1983.