William Bassett was born in West Bromwich on 27th January, 1869. Educated at Christ Church School he played football for West Bromwich Strollers and Old Church. He was only 5 ft. 5 in. tall and at first he was considered to be too small to be an effective professional footballer. However, in 1886 he was signed by West Bromwich Albion.
Bassett had a great first season with the club. WBA scored 195 goals in 58 first-team matches. The club also enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup beating Stoke City (4-1), Old Carthusians (4-2) and Derby Junction (3-0) to reach the final against Preston North End.
A crowd of nearly 20,000 watched the final at the Kennington Oval on 24th March, 1888. The 19-year-old Bassett was the star of the game and after one long dribble he passed to Jem Bayliss who scored the opening goal. Fred Dewhurst scored an equalizer early in the second-half but WBA gradually got the upper-hand. According to Philip Gibbons in Association Football in Victorian England: "Bassett tormented their defence". He eventually provided the cross for George Woodhall to score the winning-goal ten minutes from time.
In his book, The Essential History of West Bromwich Albion, Gavin McOwan argues: "He (Bassett) would bewilder defenders by suddenly stopping the ball dead in the middle of a sprint, leaving his marker to carry on running while he had already changed tack or delivered his cross." Ernest Needham, the English international, described Bassett as "without doubt, the best outside right in the British Isles".
On 2nd March, 1888, William McGregorcirculated a letter to Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, and West Bromwich Albion suggesting that "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season." John J. Bentley of Bolton Wanderers and Tom Mitchell of Blackburn Rovers responded very positively to the suggestion. They suggested that other clubs should be invited to the meeting being held on 23rd March, 1888.
The following month the Football League was formed. It consisted of six clubs from Lancashire (Preston North End, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Bolton Wanderers and Everton) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers).
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. Bassett and WBA's other professional players received 10 shillings a week, with no bonuses or expenses. Preston North End won the first championship without losing a single match and acquired the name the "invincibles". West Bromwich Albion finished in 6th place with Bassett ending up as the club's top scorer with 14 goals in 25 games.
Bassett won his second international cap against Wales on 23rd February, 1889. Bassett scored his first goal for his country in the 4-1 victory. Bassett was retained for the important game against Scotland at the Kennington Oval. This time he scored two goals in England's 3-2 win. The England team at this time included players such as Jack Southworth, James Forrest, Bob Roberts, Billy Townley, Charlie Perry, Bob Holmes, Bob Roberts, Charlie Athersmith, Harry Wood, Edgar Chadwick, Jack Southworth, Johnny Holt, John Goodall, George Woodhall and Fred Spiksley.
Preston North End also won the First Division title in the 1889-90 season. West Bromwich Albion finished in 5th place and Bassett only managed to score three goals in 21 games. However, he retained his place in the England team and took part in the games against Wales (3-1) and Scotland (1-1).
West Bromwich Albion struggled in the Football League in the 1891-92 season. However, they did well in the FA Cup beating Old Westminsters (3-2), Blackburn Rovers (3-1), Sheffield Wednesday (2-1), Nottingham Forest (6-2) to reach the final against Aston Villa.
In his book, Association Football in Victorian England, Philip Gibbons argues that: "Villa dominated the early proceedings, with Athersmith and John Devey exerting pressure on the Albion fullbacks. However, the West Bromwich side soon responded as Billy Bassett passed to Roddy McLeod, who crossed the ball to the waiting Geddes. He shot towards the Villa goal and Warner failed to collect the ball clearly. It rolled between the Villa goalposts to secure a surprising one-goal lead for the Albion team."
Billy Bassett was also involved in WBA's second goal. He won the ball on the halfway line and after running at the Aston Villa defence he passed to Alf Geddes. His shot was saved but the goalkeeper could not hold onto the ball and Sammy Nicholls had the simple task of scoring from the rebound. Jack Reynolds scored the third with a shot from 25-yards.
On 28th April 1894, Billy Bassett became the first ever West Bromwich Albion player to be sent off. According to the referee he was dismissed for using "unparliamentary language" in a match against Millwall.
Bassett continued to play for England until 1896. His last game was against Scotland at Celtic Park. Although he scored in the 80th minute, England lost the game 2-1. All told, he scored 8 goals in 16 games for his country.
Billy Bassett retired from professional football in 1898. During his time at West Bromwich Albion he scored 61 goals in 261 games.
Over the next few years Bassett helped to promote the game of football around the world. Frederick Wall, the president of the Football Association, later described a match that Bassett played in Germany: "The first official team sent over the English Channel went to Berlin in 1899. I did not go, but when the players returned, no tale caused so much merriment as the experience of William Bassett on the Tempelhofer Field. A halfback was told never to leave Herr Bassett, to be with him wherever he went. Bassett soon discovered these instructions, and just to see if he was right, he went off the playing area, ran behind one of the goals and re-entered the arena on the other side of the net. The half-back went with him and never left him."
Billy Bassett died on 8th April, 1937.