Interviews

Interview with the Everton secretary Alex Nisbet


December 12, 1887
As all the world knows by this, the Everton F.C. have been adjudged guilty of infringing the laws relating to professionalism and importation, and suspended for a month, the sentence remaining in force until January 5, and thus depriving the club of the benefit of the New Year fixtures. The following seven players have been declared professionals; – Dick, Watson, Izzatt, Murray, Weir, Cassidy, and Goudie. In obedience to our commission, our Everton representative has looked up the courteous secretary of the unfortunate club, and below we are enabled to give the opinions of Mr. Alex Nisbet on the situation.

Well, Mr. Nisbet, I have called this evening to trouble you with a few questions, but before proceeding allow me to express my sympathy with you and the officials, as well as players of the club, in your present difficulties. Now, having got rid of that, can you tell me when your club first started?

Mr. Nisbet: – Yes, it was in the year 1878. Mr. Watson was then the secretary, and through his advice and influence the Old Church and St. Domingo clubs amalgamated under the title of our district and was named the Everton.

I suppose you had no enclosed ground then?
No. For several seasons the club played in Stanley Park, and of course this prevented the club from coming to the front sooner than it did, although on the other hand it helped to foster a love for the game which was then very little understood in this district.

When did you first begin to emerge from comparative obscurity?
I cannot give you the exact date just now; but I may say that the first ground we secured was in Prior-road, Anfield; but it was not a success, as it was too far out.

Then you really date the beginning of your success from the time when the Committee took possession of your present ground?
Yes, but even here we had great difficulties to contend with. After a couple of seasons the then owner was about to sell the field for building purposes, and knowing that there was not another site to be had in the neighbourhood, a deputation was appointed to wait on Mr. John Houlding (“King John” of Everton, as he is familiarly styled), well aware of the interest which he takes in all kinds of sport indulged in by our working men. Our difficulties were placed before him, his support was solicited, and advice asked as to what could be done. Now what he did, in answer to our appeal, was this. He bought the ground and let it to the club at a rental which only amounts to 1 and a quarter per cent on the outlay. From this point we steadily but rapidly worked up to a first-class position, and now our average gate is up to the best in England.

To what cause do you attribute your present difficulty?
To the Bolton Wanderers’ desire to be reinstated in the English Cup. They moved in the matter owing to information voluntarily supplied to them by some person or persons who no doubt had become jealous of the rapid progress made by our club. And in connection with this I consider it a great pity indeed that Mr. Fitzroy Norris, the late secretary of the Wanderers’ club failed in his duty to register Struthers in time, as in our first contest with the club they recorded a win, and of course the present difficulty would never have been heard of.

Do you blame the Wanderers for making the protests?
I do not blame them at all. In a conversation, which I had with the present secretary, Mr. John James Bentley, he said that he did not object to the men referred to playing in ordinary matches, but, if the charges against them were correct, he did not think if fair that they should be played against the Bolton Wanderers in Cup ties.

Do you think that the rule on the subject of professionals is an equitable one?
Most certainly not.

Would you mind giving me your reasons for saying so?
Not at all. It is thus. The simple accident of a player being born in Ireland, Scotland, or Wales debars him from entering into competition with English professionals in England. In point of fact it is protection in its worst form.

Well, but how did such an objectionable rule come to be introduced?
It was introduced in to the English rules sorely for the purpose of pleasing the Scotch Association, which really does not take the slightest notice of Scotch players moving from one club to another in Scotland on inducements of an exactly similar nature to those held out by clubs in this country.

Has it been contemplated by any one in connection with the English Association to move for a modification of Rules 23?
Yes. I tried hard a year ago at a general meeting of the Association to find a seconded to a resolution for the purpose of eliminating the clause, which reads “When of different nationality etc,” but I regret to say I could not find one. My opinion is that it only needs to be considered carefully in all its bearings by a full meeting to bring about a much-required alteration. In fact I know that the opinion of several of the leading lights of football in Lancashire is wholly against the clause named, and that at the next meeting a strong and, I hope, successful attempt will be made to expunge it from the list of rules.

What action will it be necessary for you to take with regard to the players whom the Association have decided to make professionals?
There is only one course open to us. They will have to be registered as professionals before they can play, and so soon as they are registered they come under the professional clause, which requires two years’ residence before they become eligible to play in a match of any sort, and thus we will have the anomaly of men registered as professionals to play football and yet not to be allowed to play.

Is it not a fact that you are not at liberty to play clubs not members of the F.A. during the Month of your suspension?
We could most certainly fill up our month’s suspension by playing Scotch and Irish clubs, but out of deference to the express wish of the Council we will not do so.

I understand that the rule the breach of which has brought discomfiture to Everton has also been broken by members of others clubs throughout the country?
We are now threading on delicate ground, and you will pardon me if I confine myself to a mere general answer. I am told on good authority that such is the case, and, unfortunately, that our club, which is ambitious to come to the front, has achieved the unenviable notoriety of being the first to be dragged forward and made a scape-goat.

Then I suppose you would not care to name any of the clubs, which you consider as deep in the mud as yours is in the mire?
Not at present, if you come some other day with a bigger piece of paper than that perhaps I may tell you.

Do you think case has been fairly commented on by the Press?
No, definitely not. In cases which creep into a court of law the Press reserve their opinion until judgement has been given, but in our case newspaper after newspapers has prejudged us and written us down week after week.

Do you think that the prestige of the club will suffer in consequence of this unfortunate business?
No, I am glad to say that many expressions of genuine sympathy have been received, and I do not therefore anticipate any falling off in our supporters when we emerge once more from under the present cloud.

I will just ask you one more question. How do you stand with respect to the Liverpool and District Cup?
First-rate. We lived long enough to beat Bootle, and I have no doubt that we will be able to obtain an extension of time for the next round, and even leaving out the men who are now ineligible we can still put a team in the field strong enough to keep the cup at the Sandon.
Why they were suspended.
It seems to us that the evidence given before the Commission ought to be published or at any rate a resume of it given for the purpose of enabling clubs to define for themselves what constitutes professionalism. Though we have not been able to obtain any official information on the subject, we believe we are correct in stating that there was no absolute proof of payment to any of the players implicated, and that they all denied having received any. That being so, it follows that the Commission decided that there was some other consideration –which has been spoken of as “veiled professionalism” –and that was doubtless obtaining for these men. We understand that they had employment at jobs, which they were not accustomed to, such as labouring, and received more than a fair rate of wages for such occupation, and that was the reason why the F.A. decided they were professionals. If a man comes from Scotland to Lancashire, finds a situation for himself and then joins a football club, from whom he receives no wages, that man is not a professional; but if the club engages him to come on the understanding that he will be found employment if he plays football for the club, than that man is a professional, though he may not receive a penny in payment from the club. We cannot see the force of this ruling, and we are not alone, for why should not a man better himself of he is a football player, without being a professional? Again, Grimsby Town seems to have got off all right. We don’t know the nature of the evidence, but on the face of it would appear identical with that of Everton. Here men are brought from Edinburgh, they are found employment by members of the football club and play for the club. Everton were the first and evidently had to be punished, but the F. A. only inflicted a nominal penalty, and in that case we think they might have made it so that the club could have fulfilled its holiday engagements –it would have had the same effects as the month’s suspension on outsiders. The club has suffered enough in losing at least five of their best men, and we feel sure that a memorial signed by the leading Lancashire clubs would be favourably considered by the Council if the Football Association, and so far as we know Everton have not any enemies outside their own immediate districts.

The “wholesale importation” business has brought another club in the Football Association Cup competition to grief. Everton, after having carried on the system for years and made its position through it, has been suspended for a month. It obtained large sums of money through the Cup ties with Bolton Wanderers and Preston North End, and having been defeated by the latter, could not be punished by being disqualified for the competition. The sentence of the Council in this case is so absurdly lenient that it is not likely to discourage other offenders; but we may point out that it affects the whole of the members of the club, none of whom may take part in any match until January 5th. A decision which will give rise to general surprise is the re-admission of the Bolton Wanderers to the Cup competition. The Preston North End, although they have by defeating Halliwell reached the fifth round, will now have to hark back and re-play their tie in the second round on Saturday next. Should the Bolton Wanderers win they will have to meet Halliwell, but otherwise the result will stand as it is. The Bolton Wanderers hardly deserve the consideration they have received at the hands of the Council, for they undoubtedly knew as much about the “wholesale importation” by Everton when the competition commenced as they did when they were defeated, but, notwithstanding, they took part in three ties with that club and only protested after being defeated. A club which connives at such law-breaking forfeits its right to complain. It is probable that the revelation with the protest against Everton may lead to some very pertinent inquires as to the method in which other clubs in the same district have obtained players from over the Border, and found them the appropriate employment which good football players from over the Border, and found them the appropriate employment which good football players appear to obtain so easily.

There was little doubt in the public mind that the Bolton Wanderers had made out a case against Everton, after the meeting of the Commission of the Football Association at the Compton Hotel; and the only question which agitated the minds of the locally interested parties, was the severity of the sentence. This turned out more lenient than was generally expected, but I rather fancy the effect of the Association decision upon the seven Scotchmen declared professionals is not fully appreciated. Dick, Weir, Izatt, Goudie, Watson, Murray, and Cassidy have by this fiat been practically debarred from following the game either as professionals or amateurs for a very considerable period. One of the rules relating to professionals forbids the registering of any player not of English birth (that is so far as English clubs are concerned; of course, professionalism is unknown beyond the Tweed), until he has resided two years in England. The English Association has declared the players in question to be professionals; the Scotch Association will therefore have none of them, and they cannot be played as professionals in English club matches, so that their position is not a very pleasant one. The month’s suspension will mean a serious financial loss to Everton, but the loss of prestige is a far more serious matter, and it would be well, in the interim, for the members of the club to consider well the policy, which has brought about this calamity.

It was undoubtedly a very difficult problem, which offered itself for solution to the Everton Committee at the close of last season. A phenomenal growth in public favour, a support promising to exceed that accorded to any Lancashire club, demanded from them the provision of a team capable of ranking in the very forefront of English clubs. During the summer months rumors were afloat regarding the selection of a most formidable eleven, but when the Everton season opened disappointment was keen, for all these rumours proved unfounded. For a time matters went badly at Anfield-road. None of the imports were at all brilliant, several were rank failures galling defeats were sustained, and the general form of the team was decidedly inferior to that of last season. That any risk should have been run for the purpose of securing such players was undoubtedly bad policy; they could not be registered as professionals, and here is where the hardship is felt. It seems, indeed, an arbitrary proceeding to forbid a man making a livelihood in England, even though it be in the interest of sport. All would, no doubt, have been well had Everton abstained from the English Cup competition, which has, undoubtedly been to them the source of much misfortune. Of course great bitterness is felt over the question; there will undoubtedly be a setting of the house in order before the New Year, and let us hope that out of all the unpleasantness will spring a sound policy in the future conduct of the affairs of the Everton club. Who are the real informers? Naturally the credit has been attributed to their neighbours father North; but the incriminating evidence came from within; and it is one further illustration of the fact that the only safely is to be found in the strict adherence to the rules laid down by the Football Association. The facts disclosed to the Commission were such as could not have been furnished by anyone outside the very innermost circle of the club.

It is difficult to write calmly about the exhibition at Anfield-road last Saturday, when the two leading clubs of this district met in the second round of the Liverpool Cup competition. Too long, however, has it been the custom to wink at or to gloss over the shady side of Association football, and unless a firm stand is made, it will become impossible to attract to an Association game anything but the residuum. I have spoken with many of those who were present at the match, and have been met on all hands with expressions of sorrow, of anger, of disgust at the sport to which we were treated. As a result of the match there were three players seriously hurt. Weir, of Everton, had his shoulder put out, Hastings, of Bootle, received a most cruel and painful hurt, whilst Morris, of the same club, got an ugly kick on the head. Dick emerged from the contest as he might from a brawl, with a black eye, and many of the other players will not readily forget the heavy charges and cruel kicks. Added to this, for a portion of the game one of the combatants acted on the defensive, and the ball was allowed to roll out of playtime after time, merely to waste time. Thanks! Messieurs, for these delectable! Many Thanks!! In last week’s issue I once more called upon the rivals to shake hands and bury the hatchet, alluding to the concentrated bitterness imparted to the only meetings of the clubs. But really I had failed to appreciate the depth of the antagonism, an antagonism not as of English rivals in sport, but of bitter enemies. The referee’s task was a difficult one, and Mr. Hull undoubtedly did all that was possible, but much might have been gained by the securing of an entirely strange official, for the repeated free kicks for foul play were quite ineffectual to prevent its recurrence. Everton won the match by two goals to nil, but their disqualification may effect what no club in the district has been able to do in the last three years, and the Liverpool Cup thus find a new resting-place at the close of the present season.

There was a grand gate, the attendance passing 12,000, and the magnificent weather, together with the presence of the Mayors of Liverpool and Bootle, rendered additional éclat to the proceedings. The arrangements for the accommodation of the vast crowd were admirable, but there was a lot of grumbling about the raising of the price for the bottom stand. Bootle do not consider themselves fairly treated in the matter of division of the spoils, but Everton were quite within their right in refusing to raise the price of admission whilst the charge for a seat on the vast Oakfield-road stand. In any case a very large sum must have been taken, and though Everton assert that their cup ties with Preston North End and Bolton Wanderers caused them a serious loss, it may be safely asserted that something like £300 has fallen to them as their share of the takings in the last six Cup ties. Both clubs showed perhaps worse form than in any previous engagement, but there were several brilliant episodes. None more so than that which resulted in the first goal for Everton. A fine combined run of the whole front rank was wound up by a splendid goal from the foot of Farmer, one of the best-tempered little fellows that ever toed a ball. Hastings of Bootle was frequently cheered for a brilliant flashes, and once all but scored a magnificent goal.
(Cricket and Football Field: December 12, 1887)

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