Victorian Football


Liverpool FC was founded by former Everton club president John Houlding in 1892. Everton played at Anfield at that time, and Houlding was their landlord. A dispute arose between Everton and Houlding regarding rent and ownership of the ground. As a result, Everton decided to move to Goodison Park, leaving Houlding with an empty Anfield.

His response was to form a new club – also called Everton FC. Houlding even approached the Football League requesting to take over the original Everton’s fixtures and league position. The request was refused, and Houlding was also told to change his club’s name. He did so – and the club became Liverpool FC.

So Houlding had a ground and a name, but he didn’t have a team. He turned to his friend ‘Honest’ John McKenna, an Irish businessman who effectively became Liverpool’s first manager. McKenna used his connections in Scotland to sign 13 Scottish players, including Duncan McLean, James McBride and Malcolm McVean. Known as the ‘team of Macs’, Liverpool was the first English club to field an entire side of non-English players.

The club won its first-ever match 7-1 against Rotherham Town. Within a year, the club had won the Liverpool Senior Cup, defeating Everton 1-0 in the final – although the amateur match isn’t considered an ‘official’ Merseyside derby.

After a season in the Lancashire League, in 1893 Liverpool were elected to the Football League second division, alongside fellow newcomers Newcastle United and Woolwich Arsenal. Liverpool topped the division in their first season, and beat Newton Heath 2-0 in a test match play-off to secure promotion to the first division.

The club had now reached the same tier as Everton, and the first ‘official’ Merseyside derby was played at Goodison Park on 13 October 1894. Everton won 3-0, and it wouldn’t be until 1897-98 that Liverpool finally registered a league win over their rivals.

It was the arrival of manager Tom Watson in 1896 that really propelled Liverpool towards greatness. The club would win the league twice during the Edwardian era under Watson’s leadership.

Above - Liverpool team photo 1905-06 season, from the Book of Football.

This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany.

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