Former West Ham academy defender Billy Bates is a player that is used to making comebacks despite his short career so far.

He has had to come back from two major knee surgeries and has recently returned to his boyhood club Cheshunt FC, who currently play in the Isthmian Premier Division. Billy was highly rated at the Hammers, with coaches spotting his talent at a very young age but injures have halted his career in recent years. However, fortunes are really changing for Billy as he has been crucial in the Ambers’ fight for survival since arriving in January.

On his career so far, Billy Bates said: “it’s been crazy. I’ve played for three different clubs, had two major knew injuries. A lot of setbacks and a lot of highs. I’m just happy to be back enjoying my football and playing in front of the fans.” Billy joined the Hammers in September 2020 after being let go by Norwich City. He said: “I actually knew a coach from West Ham, I used to do one to one sessions with him. When I left Norwich, I was without a club, I saw him at the park, and he spoke to the academy manager and got me a trial. I was at the trial for six weeks; I made a good impression, and they signed me.”

The defender suffered an ACL injury in the summer of 2021, just as he was hoping to break into the U18 team at Rush Green. It ruled him out for a massive fourteen months. This meant he had to wait till September 2022 before he could line-up for the U18’s.  On recovering from the injury billy said: “It got quite lonely in the gym doing rehab programmes when you’re watching all your mates playing games and training, but it was good mental resilience to come back. Not a lot of people go through those kinds of injuries when you’re young so it’s good to kind of get it out the way.”

This wasn’t the only time Billy had suffered a serious knee injury, as well as the ACL injury in his left knee, he tore the meniscus in his right knee in 2020, not long after joining the Hammers.

Despite these major setbacks, Billy thought back and had a good 22/23 season with the U18 side that won the FA Youth Cup. Billy officially graduated from ‘The Academy of Football’ when he was awarded with his first professional contract in June 2023. He went on to make appearances for the U21’s before being allowed to leave. When asked about Billy, Mark Phillips, one of his former coaches at West Ham coaches was full of praise: “I would describe him as competitive and determined, he is a character and was very popular. The injuries really hindered his development, but he can 100% make it to the top given the right circumstances, the correct style, and the correct management.”

Billy jumped at the opportunity to return to his boyhood club Cheshunt FC in January 2024. Billy and his father were big Ambers fans, he would often be off kicking a ball around Theobalds Lane or on the other pitches while his dad was cheering on the team. He was once even a mascot at the stadium. Billy started his football career with the Ambers, representing the Youth teams at different age groups before being picked up by Leyton Orient. So, this move was a real homecoming for Billy, who’s family home is still based just up the road from the ground. “It’s mental, I was at Cheshunt from the really young age of six. I grew up with the coaches, some of which are still here. Growing up as a fan, watching the games and now playing in front of the fans is special. It feels like I’m giving back to the community.

Bates has really settled in since returning to the club, making fifteen appearances since joining on January 23rd. He said: ‘The boys have been excellent and welcoming ever since I’ve come in. Same with the gaffer and the staff. It’s always good to feel at home and welcomed as a player because it shows on the pitch when you go out and play.” Billy named Sam Granville and Finlay Tichmarsh as two names that have really impressed him since joining the club.


The difference between academy football and senior football is something that is talked about a lot in football. But how does it compare to senior non-league football? “Academy football is more focused on playing on the floor and getting the ball ticking, whereas non-league is just much more physical, a lot of long balls and different pitches. At an academy it’s like playing on a carpet, but in non-league its often bobbly. It’s a new experience for me. In certain aspects non-league is harder. From the outside looking in you’d think it’s easy but it’s really not.”

Billy is currently partnered at the back with Samuel Kuffour, they have both been crucial in the team’s recent brilliant run of form. Kuffour Jr, son of former Bayern Munich and Ghana defender Samuel Osei Kuffour also spent time with the Hammers as a youngster before moving on to Brentford, then Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel before arriving at Cheshunt. Billy didn’t quite cross paths with Kuffour at West Ham as he left the summer before Billy joined. “When I come to Cheshunt a lot of people were saying to me about the West Ham link-up. But yeah, he’s a top guy, very easy to get along with and play with him,”

Central defence is a position Billy has played all his life and has never really played anywhere else. However, Cheshunt manager Craig Edwards has recently tried him in a holding midfield role. Bates said: “I’ve never played there before but when the gaffer put me there, I quite enjoyed it. It’s a different position, you have to get on the ball more and do a bit more running. In a couple more games I think I’ll get there.”

To round up the interview, Billy was asked who in the current West Ham team he is most excited about. He is very close with Lewis Orford who made his first team debut against Freiburg in the Europa League Round of 16. He also mentioned how George Earthy and Kaelen Casey deserve a chance in the first team spotlight. “They’re playing well for the U21s, George scoring goals, Lew dictating in the midfield and Casey solid at the back. Jacob Knightsbridge has been on the bench as well. They’re doing well and I’m proud of them to be fair. I hope they keep doing well, try to impress the gaffer and go from there. They’re all great players and hopefully all of them can make it.”

Billy also pointed out Mason Terry who is on loan at fellow Isthmian Premier side Concord Rangers. The two sides faced each other recently with Cheshunt coming out on top on both occasions. “He’s a nutcase but a top keeper as well”.

You can watch the interview with Billy on Cheshunt FC’s website:

Written by Daniel Luker