Billy Elsdon was a burly Broken Hill footballer, runner, cyclist and swinger of Indian clubs; a publican, policeman and promoter of popular pursuits.He impressed as a lad playing for Broken Hill against Norwood in 1892 in the first match by a NSW team at Adelaide Oval. He captained the 'Brokens' in the Barrier competition in 1895 but switched to South Broken Hill after a dispute.
Early in 1896 he was mining for gold at Boulder, near Kalgoorlie, and reportedly would not play football again because of an injury. By June, however, he had joined Norwood, where he would serve as a dashing back pocket and occasional forward over three seasons.
The Adelaide Observer in 1896 said: "Elsdon ... is a rare good man and knows how to play the game." In 1897 he teamed with Alf Grayson, Bill Plunkett and James Gosse to form the brunt of the Norwood defence.
In 1898, Elsdon and Port's John Shearer were charged by police for fighting on the field. Norwood approached the Premier, Charles Cameron Kingston, who had the charge withdrawn conditional on both men signing an apology for their conduct.
Also in 1898 a writer for the journal Quiz and Lantern commented: "Elsdon made some very showy runs, but as a rule held the ball a trifle too long. For his size he is a very active and tricky player." That same year, a rude onlooker told the expanding footballer and cyclist to "get one of our tramcars to give you a tow, Billy".
He and 'Bunny' Daly moved to West Adelaide as players and committee men under electorate football in 1899. Billy lit up a gloomy day for West at Jubilee Oval - and startled his Norwood opponents - with lightning changes into a variety of brightly coloured jerseys.
In 1900 he returned to Broken Hill as the rubicund landlord of the Silver King Hotel. Attracted again to the Golden West, he played football with Perth in 1902-03 and became a police constable.
In 1915 he captained The Rest of Australia against Victoria in a veterans' football match at the WACA Ground to raise funds for the War and Unemployed Distress Relief Fund. In a display of football from the days when the game was young, he distinguished himself with speedy and valorous play in the centre.
Later that year, he bought and raced an unlucky trotter, Blue Royal, a gelding said to be "as burly as Billy himself". In 1918 he retired from the police force to become a grocer and vegetable dealer - with Blue Royal in the delivery cart.
He took over a Perth billiards parlour in 1924 and handed control to his wife wife shortly before his death at 57 on 2 July 1932. Billy had married Ada Rose Fletcher of Hindley Street, Adelaide, at the New Church, Hanson Street, Adelaide, on 17 August 1897 and there were five children, John, Laurel, Henry, Herbert and Frank
A nephew and great-nephew, both named John Elsdon, played league football for Glenelg.
P Robins June 2017
* Picture kindly provided by Elsdon family historian Nicky Elsdon.