|Billy Ewan by Alex Service, with additional information from Mike Latham |
In November 2015, there was a special ceremony on the site of the former Knowsley Road ground to mark the placement of a plinth and blue plaque, commemorating the first-ever Northern Union game between St. Helens and Rochdale Hornets on 8th September 1895. The Saints team that day contained several players from Cumberland and Westmorland, not least the first try-scorer, Bob Doherty and goal-kicker Billy Cross, who had associations with the Kendal Hornets club. Another former Hornets player was to join the club shortly after the start of this momentous season.
Billy Ewan was a native of Kendal, who cut his teeth with the local club before going south like many of his team-mates. Billy went to Leigh for the start of the 1890-91 campaign, where he made 143 appearances, scored 25 tries and kicked 52 goals. He had good hands and his passing game certainly changed the way his new club played when he became an established first teamer. However, he did not seem to make any appearances in their inaugural Northern Union campaign and subsequently was signed by the Saints. He was the typical half-back of the day, small in stature, but quite durable. He made his debut on 12 October 1895 against Warrington at Knowsley Road at scrum-half. Freddie Little partnered him at stand-off and the Saints came up with a welcome 3-0 victory.
Billy remained the first choice number seven until the end of the campaign. His last match for the club was another home fixture against Oldham on 18 April 1896, when the Saints lost 3-5 to their powerful Lancastrian rivals. In that match he was partnered by Billy Cross and it should be noted that including Ewan, there were five Cumberland and Westmorland players in the blue and white stripes that day, the others being Bob Doherty, Bill Whiteley and James Graham. He played in 25 matches for the Saints overall, but did not score any individual points.
Some further information about Billy Ewan has come to light. The 1881 census tells us that 12 year-old Billy lived in Kendal, where he was one of a family of twelve, six sons and six daughters. His father, Thomas, was a labourer. Ten years later, Billy is recorded as the Head of the family, as a grocer and tobacconist in Chapel Street, Leigh. His parents had moved with him, together with five of his brothers and sisters. To complete the story, Billy left the UK in the late 1890s for South Africa. He was in charge of a government store and farm and passed away in Bloemfontein on 25 august 1928 aged 58, leaving a widow and five children.
Further information about Billy is also forthcoming when he played for Leigh against the Saints, at Knowsley Road, in December 1894. It all goes to show that medical and player care has changed, thankfully, for the best since those somewhat perilous early days! Billy Cross was the landlord of the Duke of Cambridge Hotel, in Duke Street, which also served as the Saints’ Headquarters at the time, where both teams would change and catch the waggonette to Knowsley Road, play the match and return to take a bath. Unfortunately, the Leigh Chronicle of 28th December 1894 highlights a particularly distressing injury to Billy Ewan: He was taken to the hotel occupied by W. Cross the Saints captain and the St. Helens officials did all they possibly could for him, Cross putting him into his best bedroom and Mr. Dennett, the Secretary, being very assiduous in his attentions. When Dr. Knowles examined him, he pronounced the opinion that it would be very dangerous to attempt to remove him home as his breast bone was split, and the broken edges might, by the jolting in a railway carriage, penetrate some of the vital organs such as the heart.”
Thankfully, Billy made a full recovery, although he had to stay as a guest of the captain for some time before he could return home, presumably after Christmas. Hard times indeed!
After his playing days were over Billy ventured overseas to South Africa to make his fortune. Billy died in Bloemfontein, South Africa in August 1928 at the age of 58.
|Season (Official Matches)||Tries||Goals||DGoals||Matches|
|Season (Other Matches)||Tries||Goals||DGoals||Matches|
|12th Oct 1895||W||7||Warrington||L||1895~96||H||3||0||VIEW|
|19th Oct 1895||W||7||Hull||L||1895~96||H||3||0||VIEW|
|26th Oct 1895||D||4||Tyldesley||L||1895~96||H||3||3||VIEW|
|2nd Nov 1895||D||3||Leigh||L||1895~96||H||6||6||VIEW|
|9th Nov 1895||L||7||Hunslet||L||1895~96||A||0||12||VIEW|
|16th Nov 1895||D||3||Wigan||L||1895~96||H||0||0||VIEW|
|23rd Nov 1895||W||7||Leeds||L||1895~96||H||9||0||VIEW|
|30th Nov 1895||W||7||Huddersfield||L||1895~96||H||11||3||VIEW|
|7th Dec 1895||D||7||Wakefield Trinity||L||1895~96||A||0||0||VIEW|
|14th Dec 1895||D||7||Oldham||L||1895~96||A||0||0||VIEW|
|28th Dec 1895||L||7||Halifax||L||1895~96||A||0||3||VIEW|
|1st Jan 1896||L||7||Manningham||L||1895~96||H||3||8||VIEW|
|4th Jan 1896||L||7||Brighouse Rangers||L||1895~96||A||4||6||VIEW|
|11th Jan 1896||W||6||Halifax||L||1895~96||H||6||3||VIEW|
|18th Jan 1896||L||6||Stockport||L||1895~96||A||3||18||VIEW|
|25th Jan 1896||W||7||Batley||L||1895~96||H||11||5||VIEW|
|14th Mar 1896||L||3||Leigh||L||1895~96||A||3||11||VIEW|
|21st Mar 1896||L||3||Wigan||L||1895~96||A||0||10||VIEW|
|28th Mar 1896||L||5||Tyldesley||L||1895~96||A||10||11||VIEW|
|4th Apr 1896||W||6||Wakefield Trinity||L||1895~96||H||7||5||VIEW|
|6th Apr 1896||D||6||Brighouse Rangers||L||1895~96||H||0||0||VIEW|
|7th Apr 1896||L||6||Leeds||L||1895~96||A||3||15||VIEW|
|11th Apr 1896||L||7||Huddersfield||L||1895~96||A||4||7||VIEW|
|16th Apr 1896||W||7||Liversedge||L||1895~96||H||14||7||VIEW|
|18th Apr 1896||L||7||Oldham||L||1895~96||H||3||5||VIEW|
|*Unofficial Match. **Non Playing Sub.|