Keeping it in the Family – The Menhams between the Sticks

Rob Sawyer   11/09/2021 3comments  |  Jump to last

Note: An abridged version of this article appeared in Issue 26 of The Black Watch Everton fanzine. Visit theblackwatchfanzine.bigcartel.com to order a copy.

Family links between players at Everton are not unheard of. The early decades of the club had the Bell brothers (John and Laurie), Jack and Bert Sharp as well as the Balmer boys (Bob and Billy provided yeoman service in the back line whilst their nephew, Jack, was an amateur Toffee before finding fame across Stanley Park). Fast forward to the 1920s and we had the O’Donnell siblings. The 1940s and 1950s saw George Saunders and his nephew Ron make appearances at Goodison. Tommy Wright’s nephew, Billy, briefly captained the team in the early 1980s, whilst Tommy’s teammate, Alan Whittle, is the uncle of Tom Davies. Another of that great Everton team of 1969-70, John Morrissey, saw his namesake son make a handful of appearances in the royal blue shirt before attaining legendary status at Tranmere Rovers. Winning, hands-down, is The Rankin family which has had numerous players with links to the club. Less known, perhaps, is that three decades apart, two Everton goalkeepers were from the same stock.

Robert W Menham – generally known as Bob – was born on 7 July 1871 at 90 Gray Street, North Shields. He played in goal for his home-town club before joining the Toffees – being bought out of the Grenadier Guard by the club in April 1896. He replaced Harry Briggs in goal from November of that year – making his debut in a goalless Merseyside derby at Anfield. He held down the place for the remainder of the season, making 23 League and FA Cup appearances – conceding 47 goals. A Sporting Life pen picture described him thus: ‘He is active and decides what to do quickly, is a good punter, fists out well, and kicks cleanly and surely.’

What should have been the high-point of Everton’s season was the FA Cup final – staged at Crystal Palace on 10 April 1986. Only Aston Villa stood in the way of a first cup win for the Blues. Ultimately, in a genuine thriller, the Villains came out on top, 3-2. Early on, John Campbell opened the scoring with a swerving shot which appeared to deceive the Everton goalkeeper. The Toffeemen hit back through John Bell and Richard Boyle, after which Bob helped maintain the 2-1 lead with a remarkable double save. However, 10 minutes before the break, Jimmy Crabtree passed to Freddy Wheldon instead of having a shot himself. This caught Bob flat-footed and Wheldon did the rest. A minute before the interval, Crabtree headed past the goalkeeper to put Villa back in front (3-2). Everton came back in the second half but could not break down the Villa rearguard.

Jimmy Crabtree scores-past-menham-1897-cup-final.jpg

It was clearly not Bob’s greatest match, but there does appear to have been an element of post-match scapegoating by supporters and club officials. After completing the season with four League fixtures, Bob was advised that he was being made available for transfer – with a £50 fee placed on his head. He initially made the short journey to Wigan County – a new club with ambitions of joining the Football League (it failed to get elected), before throwing in his lot with Swindon Town of the Western League in 1898.

Over five years, he made 161 appearances and had the distinction of scoring for the Robins (who were playing in green and white in his first season there) – a unique feat in the history of the club’s goalkeepers. As team captain, he used his authority to step forward to strike home a penalty kick in a 1900 FA Cup replay with Bristol side Staple Hill (in fairness, Swindon were five goals to the good at the time). A less impressive act was him missing the train to a match at Kettering on 29 December 1900. Paddy Fagan, a full-back, had to stand in between the posts – and conceded ten times. Bob was briefly suspended for his transgression, but was soon restored to the side and, three months later, he took to the pages of the local press to implore supporters to ‘subscribe’ to top-up the players’ wages. They had previously agreed to take a pay cut when the club was under threat of folding due to financial woes. Over £33 was raised by the appeal.

Bob Menham of Swindon Town in 1898

Bob Menham (circled) of Swindon Town in 1898


Left: 1897 Cup Final line-ups; Right: 10 November 1902 Castle Hotel ad in the Swindon Adverstier

In 1903, this larger-than-life character retired from playing (although he was later elected as a club director). Prior to hanging up his boots, he’d been working as a steward at the West Swindon Club, switching in the autumn of 1902 to become licensee of the Castle Hotel public house in Prospect Place. He placed a notice in the local newspaper to announce his move, stating: [He] assures his friends that nothing shall be wanting on his part to ensure the comfort and convenience of his customers.

Bob was eventually elected as president of the Swindon and District Licensed Victuallers Association but by 1930 was managing the Trafalgar Hotel in Bath, 30 miles away. Bob’s son, Fred, became a noted footballer in local circles – representing Swindon Corinthians. Fred inherited his father’s height – measuring 6’-2” – but played at wing-half rather than in goal. The 1939 National Register had Bob living with wife Bessie (they had married in London in 1894, when Bob was a Grenadier Guardsman) in Park Lane, Swindon, and working as a collecting agent – presumably for an insurance company. He passed away six years later.

This branch of the Menham family has continued to follow Swindon Town’s fortunes. Bob’s great-grandson, John Menham, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair – but this has not stopped him attending matches around the country and gaining cult status amongst the fanbase. He has even merited a mention in the autobiography of one-time Robins’ manager Lou Macari. For John, the teetotal Robin’s boss (who many Toffees associate with laying on Manchester United’s late, late winner in a 1983 FA Cup tie) would make a rare exception to the alcohol-free rule in his County Ground office. He wrote: ‘After home games they would wheel him into my office. I would go down to the boardroom and stock up with beers just for him. At six o’clock his parents would collect him and wheel him down to the local at the end of the road – where he went most nights, incidentally – and leave him there until closing time. He could shift eight or nine pints no trouble … Wonderful lad. Swindon without John Menham would not be the same. John and people like that are a club’s lifeblood.’ The story goes that, on one occasion, Macari even invited John to join him in on the Swindon bench at Wembley.

Bob’s nephew, Charles George Gordon Menham, who answered to ‘Gordon’, followed in his footsteps as a custodian, but had a very different career path. Born on 28 August 1896, he worked at Bibby’s in Liverpool (dealing with the supply of food produce) and served in the Great War. He enlisted in 14th Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, initially as a Private but eventually being promoted to second lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. His younger brother, serving with the First Battalion, Fifth Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, died in April 1918 from injuries sustained in the Givenchy Engagement.

Post-war, Gordon had a successful career – rising to a directorship at J.H. Raynor and Co. Ltd. (Liverpool and London Produce), and being elected as vice-president of the Seed, Oil, Cake and General Produce Association. Therefore, he treated football as a pastime – playing for the celebrated Northern Nomads – much like fellow Merseyside ‘gentleman amateur’, ‘keeper Benjamin Howard Baker. It was reported that he had a ‘hefty punch’ and once broke two fingers in doing this during a game. He joined Everton, on amateur terms, in March 1925 and turned out for the Reserves when his Nomads commitments permitted. Not only did his amateur status distinguish him, so did the spectacles that he wore (although he tended to remove them once a match kicked-off). Bespectacled goalkeepers were not unique in this era – Manchester City’s amateur J.F. Mitchell was another example.

Bob Menham at Everton 1925

Left: Gordon Menham at Everton in 1925; Right: Cartoon celebrating his amateur status at Nomads

His elevation to the Blues first team came about in October 1925, because of an injury sustained by first-choice goalkeeper Jack Kendall. The 7-3 defeat to Sunderland at Roker Park was a baptism of fire but he emerged with credit. The Daily Courier wrote: ‘Menham had a trying experience in his first game with the Blues. The shots which beat him were extremely difficult ones; on the other hand, he made many fine clearances, for which he was deservedly cheered.’

Gordon was retained in goal for the trip to Turf Moor and repaid the director’s faith with a solid and brave display in a 3-1 win. Dixie Dean, making his 14th appearance for the Toffees, grabbed a hat-trick. Bee wrote in the Liverpool Echo:

‘Menham was the guardian of the goal, and after his baptism of seven goals one wondered how the old Wallaseyan would shape. I liked his run-out; I liked his general style of punching away and his pick-up; twice the wet ball might have eluded him, but he had it “clutched” to his body. His save from Roberts was really a bonny one. All this served to stem Burnley’s confidence, and after a grueling first half Everton fought back uphill against the rival side.’

Bob Menham at Northern Nomads Dinner 1965.jpg

Bob Menham (8th from right) at Northern Nomads Dinner in 1965

A week later, Gordon made his Goodison Park bow and looked on as Dean bagged another hat-trick in a 4-2 win. The board sounded him out about going full-time, but he advised them that his Nomads and other commitments prevented him from being available for most away fixtures. The club, therefore, went out and acquired the services of Harry Hardy, Stockport County’s England international goalkeeper. Although he made himself available to play for Everton the following season, Gordon did not grace Goodison Park’s pitch again.

For Northern Nomads, he played in their 1926 FA Amateur Trophy final 7-1 win over Stockton, staged at Sunderland. The medal remains in the family as a cherished possession. 39 years later, the goalkeeper was reunited with three of his victorious teammates at a Northern Nomads celebratory dinner. BBC sports commentator Ken Wolstenholme was in attendance, as was Bill Slater, another ‘Nomad’ who had retained amateur status whilst starring for Wolves and England.

Gordon Menham enjoying tennis in Hoylake

Gordon enjoying tennis in Hoylake

Gordon appears to have been a trendsetter – one report noting that he wore style of eye shade/visor made famous by the tennis player Helen Wills, when facing the sun in the first half of the semi-final against Redhill at Highbury. The attire, which subsequently became commonplace on the heads of female golf and tennis players, was said to have ‘greatly amused the spectators round the goals’.

A keen tennis player and golfer, Gordon lived with his wife at Cornerways on Column Road in West Kirby before moving, in 1969, to Lenchwick, a village in Worcestershire close to where his daughter and son-in-law lived. Gordon passed away in 1979.

The Everton links to the Menham family don’t quite end there. Gordon’s grandson, Simon, was raised an Evertonian on account of hearing, first-hand, tails of his grandfather’s sporting exploits. He moved to a village in Oxfordshire in 2005 and discovered that the house next door was the childhood home of Kevin Brock – an accidental Everton hero due to his famous back pass in a Milk Cup tie in 1984.

Sources and acknowledgments

Ian Menham
Simon Pettit
Billy Smith – bluecorrespondent.co.uk
Kjell Hanssen - Playupliverpool.com
Hans Henrik Appel - footballandmaterialculture.com
The Black Watch
Daily Courier
Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Mercury
Sporting Life
Athletic News
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News
Swindon Advertiser
Find My Past

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Reader Comments (3)

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Peter Mills
1 Posted 12/09/2021 at 22:02:38
An interesting read, as usual from Rob. Good to read something of Northern Nomads, a somewhat mythical name from boyhood days watching Lancashire Combination football.

Good too to read of Swindon Town, a club for whom I’ve had a soft spot since travelling there for an FA Cup tie in 1977 and finding myself sitting behind Brian Harris. He seemed surprised that I recognised him, which amazed me as he was a 1966 hero.

Lou Macari comes across as a thoroughly decent guy, not least because he was due to sign for the rs before turning them down after having a chat with Paddy Crerand.
John McFarlane Snr
2 Posted 12/09/2021 at 23:13:02
Hi Rob, an uncle of mine told me about the Browell brothers who were on Everton's books in the 1920s, Tom [Boy] and Anthony [Andy], were two of three footballing brothers, all born in Walbottle Northumberland. The way my uncle related it to me, was that 'Andy' was signed to keep his brother Tom under control. They were both signed from Hull City, Tom in October 1911, and Andy February 1912, it appears that Tom was a 'lad about town'. Andy had played over 100 times for Hull City but only made one appearance for Everton, deputising for the injured Tom Fleetwood against Manchester City in November 1912.

Tom made his Everton debut against Manchester United in January1912, scoring twice, his record at Goodison was 37 goals in 60 appearances, prior to that he had netted 32 goals in 48 games for Hull City. His record at Manchester City was 157 goals in 280 outings, he went on to claim 223 goals in over 400 competitive matches at club level. [The three brothers played together at Hull]

My uncle also told me that Everton got Tom a job on a trawler, in order to keep him out of trouble during the close season, but that would require a fair bit of research.

John McFarlane Snr
3 Posted 12/09/2021 at 23:43:19
HI again Rob, I meant to write the pre-20s, it's age, fatigue, and late nights getting the better of me.

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