Stuart Basson pays tribute to former Spireites player Billy McEwan, who recently passed away at the age of 70…
Born in the mining town of Cleland, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Billy came to the notice of Hibernian while playing for Pumpherston Juniors, and joined the Easter Road side in 1969. He was able to play in both full-back positions but showed the potential to grow into a classy midfielder. Unfortunately for Billy, that was the god-like Pat Stanton’s role at Hibs, and Billy was forced to contemplate a move away to find consistent first-team football. After 60 games in four years for the Hibees, Billy joined Blackpool, in the summer of 1973.
The Seasiders struggled at the start of 1973/74 and didn’t get a win in Billy’s four league games. He was among a number of players left out as they looked for the right blend, and with no prospect of a recall, it seemed, he was traded to Brian Clough’s Brighton for £7,500 in February 1974.
Events at the Goldstone in those days were usually more about the managers; Clough left at the end of that season, but his assistant Peter Taylor stayed to manage Brighton for the following season. McEwan got slightly less of a look-in under Clough’s successor, but it was still quite a coup for Chesterfield to sign him, at 23-years-old and in his prime. It cost the club the services of the unsettled Kenny Tiler, who made the journey south as Billy and Ronnie Welch came the other way in a player-exchange deal in November 1974. Chesterfield’s midfield had lost the likes of McHale to discontentment and Stott and Bentley to long-term injury, so replacements were needed.
Billy went straight into the side and made an impression with a “non-stop” performance in a 2-0 win over Peterborough that was interrupted by a bomb hoax during the first half. Billy’s early form was affected a little by the club’s slowness in fulfilling a promise to find him a house, and the issue came to a head with a transfer request in February 1975, but when this problem was settled, the player settled too, performing well in Joe Shaw’s new 4-4-2 formation. Accurate with crosses and dead balls, he set up many for the likes of Ernie Moss and Rod Fern. When deeper, perceptive through-balls often fed the team’s pacier players.
He scored comparatively few goals for the club, in midfielder’s terms; only seven came from 80 Football League appearances. The best of these may have been the curled shot from a Fern knock-down that made up one of the seven scored against Bury on the famously half-icy Saltergate pitch in December 1976.
Billy was sold to Mansfield a month later, for £15,000. He left a Spireites side that had lost five on the trot and joined a Mansfield one that won seven out of his first eight games for them. He joined ex-Spireites Ernie Moss and Kevin Randall, and the former Chesterfield coach Gerry Clarke, and helped the Stags to promotion to the second tier for the first time in their history. The following season was a calamity for the Stags, who were on their way back down when Billy was sold on to Peterborough for £17,000 in November 1977.
Rotherham paid £30,000 for him in the summer of 1979 but he had the misfortune to miss the entire season when the Millers won the Third Division in 1981. Billy retired from playing in 1984 after 95 Millers games, scoring 10 goals, and probably being happier there than at any of his other English clubs.
After working as a coach and manager at Sheffield United, Billy went back to Millmoor as manager in April 1988, and took the side up as Fourth Division champions in 1988/89. He had spells as a manager at Darlington, Mansfield and York City, and served as a caretaker-manager at Derby twice, after joining their coaching staff in the late 1990s.
Most recently, Billy found a coaching position in Antigua in 2010, but left that after a year. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2014 and confronted the condition with typical bravery until his passing on February 17. We extend our sincere condolences to Billy’s friends and family.