Billy Mehmet was part of the golden generation who came through the West Ham United academy. Whilst the forward was at the club, he played with the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, it’s no wonder it’s become known as the Academy of Football.
Although he may not have played for England like his aforementioned former teammates, the 34-year-old become an international last year and has played in nine different countries, scoring goals wherever he has gone.
“It was a privilege to be there to train with those players,” says Mehmet. “Harry Redknapp gave me the chance when I was a youngster and it’s something I’ll never forget. It was probably one of the best times of my career and helped me become the player I did.”
He never got the chance to play in the first team with the Irons, instead, Mehmet embarked on a career which has taken him to his father’s homeland of Turkey, through Australia, Malaysia, India, Singapore and Brunei and he is still playing now in the top flight of football in Northern Cyprus.
Having been captain of the youth team at the Academy of Football, Mehmet was highly rated but with Paolo Di Canio, Les Ferdinand, Frédéric Kanouté and Jermain Defoe all ahead of him in the pecking order, the Londoner decided to to cross the border and join Scottish Premiership side Dunfermline in 2003 with the promise of first team football.
His first season in Scotland, and his first season in senior football, coincided with one of the Pars’ most successful campaigns in recent times as they finished fourth in the league and reached the Scottish Cup final. Mehmet made 21 appearances that season, scoring his first ever senior goal in a 2-0 win over Dundee United in November 2003.
The following season the Londoner further cemented his spot in the Dunfermline side making 33 appearances but it was a less successful season as his side finished second bottom in the league. After his two year stint with the Pars, he joined St Mirren in 2005, who at the time, were in the second tier of Scottish football.
The transfer would prove to be a great decision for former West Ham youth player as he would go on to enjoy an impressive five-year spell with the Buddies.
“I had great times in Scotland, up there with the best in my life,” he says. “I have some great memories, obviously getting promoted from the First Division in my first season, scoring the winning goal to send us up.
“We also got to the Scottish League Cup final . We were drawing 0-0 with Rangers, who had had two men sent off, but then they scored late as we were trying to put all the pressure on and go for the win. That was a sore one.”
His first season was an an impressive one for Mehmet and his teammates, winning the Scottish First Division league title and also the Scottish Challenge Cup.
That promotion would lead to the forward spending another four seasons in the Scottish Premiership as he continued to add more goals to his game. Having scored six in his first two seasons combined, the Londoner went on to score 8, 12 and 11 in his next three seasons, scoring the goals to help keep St Mirren in the Premiership. Two of his more memorable appearances came in the cup competitions, when he scored five goals in a single match during a win over East Stirlingshire and later followed that up with the winner against Celtic in the League Cup quarter-finals.
“Scotland has great people, they really help you out. The banter is great as well, they love a drink the Scottish! The football was brilliant and I loved playing against Celtic and Rangers.”
After seven years in Scotland, Mehmet set his sights on playing abroad for the first time. With the support of his Turkish Cypriot father, Mehmet first joined Turkish Süper Lig side Gençlerbirliği in 2010, scoring twice in 14 games and playing in a famous 2-0 win away against Galatasaray.
“After St Mirren, I moved to Turkey and it was a great honour as it was something I’d always wanted to do as my dad is Turkish,” he says.
“It was a dream to play against the big teams like Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas and it was a dream come true to play alongside some of the players as well. Playing against Galatasaray was a dream since I was a little kid.”
“It was definitely a step up, though. Some of the players out there were world class – the likes of Ricardo Quaresma, Guti, Alex de Souza, it was amazing. The atmospheres were great, we played Galatasaray in the last game at their old stadium and their fans were ripping out the seats and chucking them on the pitch – it was a bit different from Scotland! Definitely the atmospheres were intimidating but was a great learning curve for me.”
He finished off his season in Turkey with a spell in the second-tier with Samsunspor, scoring a further two goals for them and helping them to promotion to the top flight.
After a year in Turkey, Mehmet headed to Australia to join A-League side Perth Glory and his first campaign in the country was almost a massive success, as he scored seven times to lead the Glory to the Grand Final, only narrowly losing out to Matt Smith‘s Brisbane Roar in the final.
“It was brilliant in Australia, Perth Glory were amazing. We got to the grand final but lost unfortunately and it was a devastating one to take, they scored in 85th and 90th minute so that was a hard one.
“It wasn’t hard to move out there though. Obviously you miss your family but I was single at the time so it wasn’t like I had baggage. It got a bit lonely sometimes but the boys always helped me out, taking me out for meals to keep my head up.”
Mehmet would spend another six months with the Glory before heading to Thailand in 2013 starting a tour of Asia for the former St Mirren man. He first joined Bangkok Glass, then joining Dempo in India’s top-flight before starting a successful spell in Malaysia where he scored 25 goals in two seasons with Kadah and Sarawak.
In 2016, with his stock high in Asia, Mehmet joined Singapore Premier League side Tampines Rovers joining compatriot Jermaine Pennant at the club as they attempted to go one better on the season before and lift the league title as well compete on the continental stage. In the end, Tampines finished as runners-up once more, missing out on the title by a single point. They also reached the AFC Cup quarter-finals, Asia’s equivalent of the Europa League, the furthest stage they’ve ever reached. It was an enjoyable season for the former West Ham youngster.
“I scored a lot of goals but it wasn’t just down to me, it was down to players I was playing with putting in good deliveries,” he says. “I played with some good players, especially Jermaine Pennant and [Canadian forward] Jordan Webb, they created a lot for me.
“I had a great scoring record over there and thoroughly enjoyed it. Playing in the Asian Cup was brilliant, it was a good time and I would recommend it. It is different but you learn and see the world so it was brilliant, something I will remember.”
The following season Mehmet had a short spell with fellow Singapore Premier League side Brunei DPMM before in the summer of 2017 when he headed to his father’s homeland to join Merit Alsancak Yeşilova of the KTFF Süper Lig, the top flight of Northern Cyprus. He continues to play for the club now, having made 50 appearances for them so far where he is known as Bill Osman Beyza.
Northern Cyprus has not only played a big part in the forward’s club football in recent years but it has also provided him with his full international debut. Having played for Republic of Ireland U21s during his early days through his mother’s heritage, his father’s heritage saw him called up to the Northern Cyprus national team for last year’s ConIFA World Cup of Football in London. The tournament is a major competition which sees countries not recognised by FIFA take each other on. In the end, it was another case of very nearly for Mehmet as his country lost on penalties in the final to Kárpátalja, a side representing the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, in a match held at Enfield Town’s ground refereed by Mark Clattenburg. Despite that, it was a positive experience.
“It was brilliant to play for Northern Cyprus, the country where my dad was born. It was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They looked after me, welcomed me, it was really professional, I was shocked, to be honest.
“It was unfortunate we didn’t win it, we deserved to win it. We lost the final on penalties which was devastating. I enjoyed scoring goals, it made my dad proud. It’s definitely something I look forward to doing in the future. I don’t think we’re going to the qualifying this year so maybe next year. I just hope next time we can win the thing instead of losing in the final.”
It has been an incredible career for Mehmet and at 34, he is still plying his trade. It has taken him around the world and although it could have been more successful following several near misses and cup final defeats, it has earned him the life experiences that he simply could not have had, had he had stayed in the UK.