|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.