An apprentice plumber to trade, Willie arrived at the club on the same day as Archie Baird. However, as Archie's career stalled, injuries to both centre halves, Syd Nicholson and Donald Grant gave Willie an early chance. Making his debut against Falkirk in October 1938 he evidently struggled with the more physical nature of the senior game but it was obvious that he had sound positional sense and that he, "should develop into a good half back." (P&J, 3-10-1938) Two months later he would find himself back in first team action in somewhat unusual circumstances. A combination of injuries and defeats to Queen's Park and Kilmarnock saw Aberdeen directors and manager take the unprecedented step of changing out the whole halfback line. Out went Frank Dunlop, Syd Nicholson and George Thomson (moved to left back) and in came George Scott, Donald Grant and Willie Waddell. All three played well at Dumfries as the Dons secured a 1-1 draw against Queen of the South. However, despite defeating Raith Rovers 6-3 in the next match it was obvious that Willie was not yet ready for first team football as he looked totally out of his depth. While Scott and Grant kept their places it was not surprising to find that for the following week George Thomson was restored to his usual left half role and Willie found himself back in the reserves.
Willie began the 1939-40 season as the reserve centre half but when war was declared he soon found himself a regular place in the side when Syd Nicholson returned south. As Aberdeen were not fielding a senior side for the 1940-41 season Willie guested for Celtic. Further guest appearances followed for both York City and Huddersfield Town while serving in the Army. He was to make a solitary appearance for the Dons against Dunfermline Athletic in April 1942 prior to serving abroad, where he was to see initial action in the Western Desert in July 1942. He then fought in Italy and was in the BAOR in 1945. By the time he returned to the club in February 1946, the centre half position was occupied by Frank Dunlop. However, he found that his excellent positional sense could be put to good use at either right or left half.
Although only playing a handful of games at the end of the 1945-46 season he started the following season as the regular centre half but the arrival of Joe McLaughlin in October saw him lose his place. However, his finest hour in an Aberdeen shirt was yet to come that season as the Dons won through to the final of the Scottish Cup. There appeared little chance of Willie appearing in the Final line up but an injury to Willie Cooper, who had played in every round and was injured in the semi-final, saw a positional change with George Taylor moving from left half to left back. This meant the left half slot had to be filled and manager Halliday turned to Waddell, a player whom Norman MacDonald would admit in the local press, had been knocking on the door of the first team all season and, "has been unfortunate not to find a regular place." (P&J, 18-04-1947) However, he would have a vital role to fulfill in stopping Finnegan from supplying Gordon Smith. If he could do that then, "the Dons will be well on the way to victory." (P&J, 18-04-1947) It was a job well done as Aberdeen went on to beat Hibernian 2-1 to win the Scottish Cup for the first time. The Glasgow Herald pointed out that the Hibernian defeat was the fault of the Hibernian inside men, "who were blotted out of the game by the tall and strong McLauglin and Waddell." (The Glasgow Herald, 21-04-1947) Even the Scotsman was to comment on the first-class service from McLaughlin and Waddell (The Scotsman, 21-04-1947). It was however, the days before squad medals and it appeared that Willie Copper would miss out as only eleven medals would be issued. However, after the match Willie Waddell told local reporter Norman MacDonald that, "It's tough luck Willie Cooper missing his medal. He's worth one and if he doesn't get one then I intend to offer him mine." (P&J, 21-04-1947) MacDonald would remark that it was one of the most sporting gestures he had met in his twenty years of involvement in the sport. In the end Willie Cooper turned down the gesture and the club received permission to obtain a medal for the long serving full-back and Waddell would be able to retain the medal he won on that famous day.
Willie was to be a regular for the next two seasons, amassing over sixty appearances but injury kept him out of the side for the first match of the 1949-50 season. He returned for the following games against Celtic and Rangers but heavy defeats in both games prompted a reorganisation of the Dons team and Willie was one of those dropped. Returning to the side in October 1949 he turned out for eleven consecutive matches, the final one of which being a 5-0 victory over Motherwell in December 1949. Unfortunately he was injured in the match which proved to be his final one in Aberdeen colours as he was unable to regain his place. By the end of the season he was on the Open-To-Transfer list at £1,500. When the 1950-51 season started Willie was not even considered for the trial matches nor the reserve team. Keith made and audacious attempt to sign him on loan during August but the SFA ruled that temporary transfers were not allowed.
At the beginning of September 1950 Willie had walked out on the Dons for non-League football where better terms were on offer (and Aberdeen were not due a transfer fee) and signed for Kettering Town. The "Press and Journal" would later state that the Aberdeen manager David Halliday had no knowledge of the signing. However, in October 1950 the club granted Willie a Free Transfer to allow him to play for the Northamptonshire club. Kettering Town was run by people in the ball-bearing industry of which Willie gained a knowledge before starting his own enterprise. From modest beginnings, he built up a prosperous business of sixty employees and sold it for £500,000. He was asked to remain as managing director and went on to become an extremely wealthy man. Willie died near Rotherham aged sixty in December 1979 after suffering from a heart attack while driving between his home in Glasgow and Kettering.
Research by: Derek Giles
Footnote: Some years later, Willie's famous medal was stolen from his car but eventually turned up in an auction in August 2013. It was procured by the AFC Heritage Trust and put on show in the Pittodrie Boardroom where not long afterwards his family, including his wife Elizabeth, were able to visit and view the recovered medal.