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The Founding Fathers of Merseyside Football

By Dr David France :  02/07/2009 :  Comments (7) :
It was with no little trepidation that I darkened the threshold of our old home last week. While many of my royal blue friends refuse to set foot in the place, I’ve always considered Anfield to be something of a home from home. That said, I must admit that I've only visited it on a dozen occasions but I've yet to see the Reds win there.

Yes, I’ve rather fond memories of the old place. I witnessed Bally make his debut in Blackpool tangerine on Liverpool’s tearful return to the top flight. And from high on the Kop I saw the Blues humble Shankly’s finest 4-0 and from the Annie Road End I celebrated Kanchelskis’s double and Campbell’s single. Then of course there were the nail-biting draws — far too many to mention.

Last week the atmosphere at the old ground was more spiritual. I had never ventured inside an empty Anfield before and can confirm that it echoed the ghosts of 19 League titles (albeit 18 for the Reds plus one of our own thanks to Fred Geary and Edgar Chadwick).

I must add that I was not on my own. I had taken two great Evertonians with me — namely George Mahon and his pal James Baxter. We were in good company because Ben Chambers, John Houlding, John McKenna and Will Cuff had tagged along also. The purpose of my mission was to stretch a hand of friendship across the park while clutching six new portraits of our ancestors in the other.

Maybe it was because I was in the company of the fathers of Merseyside football but my hosts put aside their usual five-fingered taunts and I stifled my customary three-word mantra. We exchanged pleasantries. Several Reds even thanked me for saving the history of Merseyside football. They purred proudly: ‘It’s our DNA too’. But as all Blues know, there are some things that money can’t buy. And history was one of them!

Anyway, moving on to the portraits of our ancestors … they came about as a result of the search for an image of Rev Ben Chambers to provide the reference material for his Hall of Fame caricature earlier this year. Local historian Peter Lupson had traced the Chambers bloodline and succeeded in unearthing photos of the minister’s descendents. Then the challenge was picked up by Paul Wharton, an Everton shareholder and member of the Everton Heritage Society, who tracked down a long-forgotten photo album of the Methodist ministers who had served the St Domingo congregation. S

Stimulated by these discoveries, I commissioned Wasan Suttikasem to produce a formal portrait of Rev Chambers. The resulting oils on canvas were magnificent. So much so that, on behalf of the Shareholders’ Association, I expanded the scope of the project to include all six founding fathers. For those unfamiliar with their deeds of these great men who contributed so much to the development of the city's football institutions in the later part of the nineteenth century, I offer these pen-pictures: (Click thumbnails to view larger versions of the paintings)

Alt_TextReverend Ben Swift Chambers … Born in the village of Stocksmoor near Huddersfield, he is credited with kicking off the activities of St Domingo Football Club in Stanley Park in 1878. A member of the New Connexion Chapel, the Methodist minister was an avid supporter of the Band of Hope movement which was committed to keeping young people away from demon alcohol. This advocate of muscular Christianity persuaded St Domingo’s bible class to start a cricket team and subsequently a football team.

Alt_TextJohn Houlding … Known as ‘King John of Everton’, the Liverpool-born brewer was a councilor for the Everton & Kirkdale district who progressed to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool. As the first President of Everton Football Club, this Orangeman masterminded the conversion of the embryonic Sunday school team into members of the Football League within 10 years. During that time, he also led the club from Stanley Park to Anfield. He owned the nearby Sandon Hotel which served as the club’s HQ. He is later credited with starting Liverpool Football Club.

Alt_TextGeorge Mahon The Liverpool-born accountant was the organist at St Domingo Chapel. As a member of Everton’s management committee, he clashed with John Houlding over proposals for further improvements to the rented ground at Walton Breck Road and to the magnitude of proposed rent increases. He spearheaded the search for an alternative ground and subsequently agreed to lease Mere Green in 1892.

James BaxterDr James Clement Baxter… The Liverpool born-doctor was a devout Roman Catholic who served the Irish immigrant community from his surgery in Robson Street. He was a member of Everton’s management committee and supported George Mahon after ‘The Split’ by providing substantial interest-free loans to help finance the move to Mere Green and the construction of Goodison Park. He served on the club’s board for three decades.

John McKennaJohn McKenna… Born in County Monaghan, the Freemason and Orangeman supported the like-minded John Houlding after ‘The Split’. He is celebrated for recruiting Liverpool’s famous ‘Team of Macs’ which facilitated the new club’s speedy admission to the newly established Division 2 of the Football League. For the next four decades, he concentrated on administrative duties at Anfield. In addition, he served as President of The Football League.

Will CuffWill Cuff … The Liverpool-born lawyer, from a Welsh speaking family, was the choir-master at St Domingo Chapel. Celebrated as ‘Mr Everton’, he served Everton Football Club as secretary, then as director and finally as chairman for a total of four decades. During that time, he converted Goodison Park into a world-class stadium. He also masterminded the formation of the Central League and then followed his friend John McKenna as President of the Football League.

So thanks to the initiatives of Peter, Paul and Anne Asquith (chairman of our rejuvenated Shareholders’ Association), I was able to share these family portraits with our siblings. Not surprisingly, they were impressed and keen to participate in an unveiling ceremony to be scheduled shortly after the start of the new season. The intent of the Shareholders’ Association is for ‘The Founding Fathers of Merseyside Football’ to be readily accessible to football fans of all persuasions throughout the city and be put on display at venues such as Goodison Park, Anfield, local museums, etc. Certainly, we don’t want them hidden away in a boardroom or some executive box.

Now back to Anfield — or Walton Breck Road as we knew it. To be honest, I was taken aback by the state of our old starter-home. It was in near immaculate condition. The concrete floors weren’t just clean, they were spotless. The walls smelt of fresh red paint and everything I touched seemed to work. But while the new owners have looked after the place and added more than a few mod-cons, personally I still think that there is something extra-special about our current abode.

The Old Lady maybe irregular but she oozes character and, like every other cathedral, has god in her corner. Of course, the era when Reds and Blues stood together on the terraces and dominated British football together may be long gone so perhaps my mission was a very, very tiny footstep towards the two clubs putting aside their sibling rivalry.

Even though I won’t speculate on the unlikely scenario of them swallowing their pride and re-evaluating the benefits of meeting half-way to share new accommodations in Stanley Park more befitting the most successful football city in the land, Warren Bradley is not alone is asserting that neither Anfield nor Goodison compare to the modern world-class facilities at the other end of the East Lancs.

Finally, over the past couple of days I’ve been inundated with suggestions for the commissioning of similar portraits of other ‘non-playing’ heroes such as John Moores, Philip Carter and Harry Catterick of the Blues and the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan of the Reds. I wonder if members of the ToffeeWeb family have other nominations?

Reader Comments

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Adam Cunliffe
1   Posted 02/07/2009 at 08:59:15

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Fantastic article, David. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a picture of the names you mention so it was a very enlightening read.

Thank you on behalf of all Evertonians for taking the time out to do so much research on the history of our great football club.
Dave Davies
2   Posted 02/07/2009 at 09:52:31

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Dr France, you missed one of the members of the triumvirate that ousted the likes of Messrs Houlding and McKenna... a certain Robert Clayton.
Paul Hardcastle
3   Posted 02/07/2009 at 18:35:11

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Those look fantastic... but can’t you show bigger versions? I’d like to see the whites of their eyes!
Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
4   Posted 02/07/2009 at 18:38:40

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You can click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the paintings.
Dennis Stevens
5   Posted 02/07/2009 at 19:15:58

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Thank you yet again, Dr Everton. Once more you have the imagination and drive to achieve things the rest of us might only dream of — all Evertonians are forever in your debt. I do wonder whatever else you may have up your sleeve!
Tom Hughes
6   Posted 04/07/2009 at 19:15:33

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I only hope the club has the courtesy to ensure Dr France’s own portrait resides alongside these at some point. No-one has done so much to ensure that our history is preserved forever. A remarkable life’s work!!! Thanks.
Derek Thomas
7   Posted 07/07/2009 at 03:49:38

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Dr David France, what a debt we (and others in football) owe him.

Reports say his health is none too good, so before the Big Yellow Taxi gets called, as it must for us all sooner or later, somebody must know who you write to get on the Knighthood list (the keeper of the Queens Birthday lists???).

If you do, speak up NOW and we can all get on with the job, txt David to HRH?? There must be a way...

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