First published on 23 Feb 2013. Updated on 25 Mar 2013.
During the 1890s Constable Bill Proudfoot worked a beat that ran through the rundown tenements and industrial warehouses of depression-era Collingwood. He tested shop doors for burglaries, checked that hotels were closed on time and made sure there was no trouble from the sly grog shops, gambling dens and low class brothels that were common to the suburb. Armed with a baton and schooled in the arts of boxing, wrestling and ju-jitsu, he also had the job of keeping the larrikin pushes (gangs) in check. In return the larrikins seemed to enjoy the sport of testing themselves against a lone policeman and would attack with any weapon that was handy including bottles, bricks and fence palings. Though it cost him his front teeth and also a replacement false set, Proudfoot seemed to relish the challenges of his chosen profession. He once attempted to detain three men who had broken into a grocery store and though he had two under control the third hit him on the head with a sling-shot before escaping.
Constable Proudfoot was also fullback and captain of the Collingwood footy team. A big man at 184cm and 102kg, he had surprising speed, agility and defended his goal with the same bravery, tenacity and brute strength as he did the streets on his beat.
Melbourne’s footy crowds were notoriously violent in the old years and players and umpires often had to run the gauntlet just to get home safely at the end of a game. North Melbourne (the Shin-boners), had a particularly aggressive fan base. At half time their female supporters would line the passage to the dressing rooms in order to jab their hat pins into the limbs of opposing players, sometimes right to the bone. After a close loss to Collingwood in 1896 the North crowd mobbed the oval, dragging umpire Roberts to the ground by his hair before attacking him with fists, boots and lengths of pipe. Proudfoot saved the umpire by carrying him through the mob and to the dressing rooms before he himself was felled by an iron bar.
The deteriorating reputation of the game prompted Chief Commissioner O’Callaghan to ban members of the police force from participating. Proudfoot defied the edict and played in the 1903 and 1904 seasons under the fictitious name of Wilson. His superiors were seemingly oblivious until a notorious Collingwood criminal informed the Chief Commissioner by mail and Proudfoot was thus warned that any further breaches would end in his dismissal. Eventually Commissioner O’Callaghan had a change of heart and authorised him to play the game he loved. Proudfoot would go on to fulfil a career for Collingwood which spanned from 1892 to 1906 and won him three premierships.
Seven years after retiring from football he was on police duty at Collingwood’s home ground when he entered a nearby Hotel to quell a half-time disturbance. He was severely dealt with by a local push and found himself having to purchase another set of false teeth.
1868 Born at Kilmore to Scottish immigrant parents
1892 Plays in Collingwood’s first ever VFA match. (wins Premiership 1896)
1897 A member of Collingwood’s inaugural VFL team. (wins Premierships 1902 & 1903)
1913 Organises a team of volunteer fire fighters and leads them in saving the town of Mitcham from an approaching bushfire.
1918 Awarded Bronze medal by Royal Humane Society for bringing two bolting horses under control and steering them away from a packed tram carriage in Swanston St Melbourne.
1923 Retires from Police Force and takes over license of the Wall’s Hotel, Wallsend.
1931 Dies in a private hospital in Richmond after a battle with cancer. He leaves behind his wife Evelyn and only child Stanley
2005 Inducted into Collingwood Football Club Hall of Fame
2006 Inducted into the Victoria Police Sporting Hall of Fame