Throwback Thursday – Bill Stewart, Box Hill’s first professional player

Box Hill’s first and only Victorian championship team included Bill Stewart, who joined Box Hill at the start of the 1948 season and was a key defender in the historic success that year, even though he was approaching 40 years of age. He can be regarded as Box Hill’s first professional player in an era that was still strictly amateur.
Bill would become a transformational figure at the club, the heart and soul of so many activities. Born in Scotland, he migrated to Australia in 1926 and built a new life around the game he loved. He became one of the best known identities at Box Hill and would make his mark as a player, coach, manager, canteen worker and ground marker.

Bill loved the club and the affection was returned by all who came across him. A framed photograph of Bill, proudly wearing his club blazer that was presented to him for distinguished service to the club, still hangs in the Wembley Park club rooms today. Bill began his career in Scotland in 1924, turning professional with Dykehead in the Third Division. He came to Australia two years later and was in demand for his football prowess. He played for Footscray United in 1928, then joined Royal Caledonians, who won the Second Division championship with Bill the star player. He was named the best and fairest player in the competition. His next stop was Brunswick in the First Division, followed by stints at other First Division clubs Moreland, Brighton, Prahran and Park Rangers. Wherever Bill went, success followed. In 1934, he returned to Royal Caledonians, who that year won the Melbourne Centenary Dockerty Cup. Bill represented Victoria in many high-profile matches against other state teams or visiting European sides.

Bill Stewart with champions and cup winners Caledonians in 1936. Bill is pictured to the left of the trophy with a ball on his lap.

While professionalism was officially prohibited in Victorian soccer, it seems Bill might have been compensated with “expenses”. He was in-demand, renowned as an extremely fit and skilful player, who had brought professional know-how to Victoria. One of his proudest boasts was that every team he left a club it was on top when he departed.

He achieved the same at Box Hill, but this time never left. His constant moving between clubs came to an end. Having helped Box Hill to the top of Victorian soccer in 1948, the ultra-fit Scotsman discovered no man can defy father time. He decided he was past his prime and could no longer compete at the highest level, but he continued to play well into his 40s. Bill became the player / coach of Box Hill’s third team, and coached the club’s under 12 team, which included players aged seven to 10 years of age. In those days, organised sport for youngsters did not usually commence until teenage years, but Bill was ahead of his time in teaching the skills of the game as soon as a young boy was able to kick the ball. Bill and his wife Jean settled in Wattle Park and he found employment with the Tramways Board.

Bill Stewart as coach of Box Hill 3rd team circa 1950s

Car ownership was not common in those days, but forever the fitness freak Bill preferred to walk everywhere. It was not unusual for him to walk to Olympic Park to watch Box Hill play an away game. Bill remained a keen observer of the game. Any junior player who came through the ranks in the 1960s and ‘70s could expect some words of wisdom from Bill. His expert eye could pick a small technical flaw in someone’s dribbling skills, passing style or tackling. Bill would never criticise, but always couch his advice in terms of the player finding a way to improve.

Bill Stewart and his wife Jeanne

When Bill passed away in the late 1970s, Box Hill lost more than a stalwart and a champion club man. Bill personified the ethos of the club, in equal measure pursuing sporting success with strong fraternal and social bonds. He was a classic migrant success story and a father figure for generations of players.

Facts and insights in this story by Kyle Patterson