Saturday, December 19 – 1891
There is an element of heroism in the spectator of modern football matches which ought not to escape notice. He throws down his glove – or perhaps I ought to say his umbrella – at Dame Nature’s feet, and defies her utterly. If she grants him a serene sky, a windless day, and a nice dry ground for the game, she is a brick and he feels a vast deal of gratitude towards her. But on the other hand she may be in one of her worst humours – and we have had plenty of reason to know how bad these can be!
Still, it is all one to the enthusiast. Let there be a driving snow with a blighting wind, and inches of half-congested ooze on the ground: let the wind howl its most furious menace of congestions, pleurisies, inflammations, coughs, colds and consumptions, and the snow descend at the neck-nape till it be a drift an inch in vertical height – it is all one to the man who has made up his mind he will see the match.
He is content to take his chance.
He may (it is perhaps even betting he will) by next Saturday be lying in his coffin as the result of his temerity.
No matter – he will gather his pleasures while he may – a all costs.
Of such human stuff it seems to me much may be expected in the hour of need. Where else in the world, save among Anglo-Saxons, is there such ublime self-devotion?
Our dear friends on the continent must really some day invade our tight little island with half a million fighting men just that we may show how the same qualities which set us watching a football match in a snowstorm and shivering quietly all the while, will serve us well enough to pack the relics of their half million fighting men in double-quick time back across the Channel.
This is rather a stately exordium for Everton; and I hope the Anfield Road team and its committee will appreciate the compliment of it. But truly it is provoked rather by the vile weather of the other day than by any feeling of inordinate regard for the little suburb of Liverpool which is already known all over the world for its toffee. It does not do to carry one’s prejudices into the football field. I neither love nor hate any football team: they all inspire respect or contempt merely according to the qualities of their play. I leave to others the fits of infantine feeling and bellowing if that team of their predilection does not satisfy them, or if its antagonist gets the upper hand of them.
There is a deal too much of this idiotic petulance abroad. I suppose “money” is at the bottom of much of it. Certainly no one can aver that the Everton League team has not been well supported by shekels. If money makes a team win matches, Everton ought again to be at the head of the League, and to stay there.
In blinding snow and a high wind I journeyed on the top of an omnibus to the Anfield Road football field. The vehicle, like many of its fellows, went thither and nowhere else this morning. Its patrons were therefore of the kind one knows so well on the football field: the public house potman side by side with the impressive bank clerk in chessboard overcoat. No one individual among them was effeminate enough to carry an umbrella: for the most part indeed they faced the elements without even a waterproof.
They talked of the coming struggle with an ardour that warmed them and their neighbours alike. Now and then from our perch we looked upon the top of a house the slates of which had been battered in the other night by a fallen chimneypot. There were many such. Liverpool, including Everton, seems to want to repetition of its experience of December 10, 1891. As for the fragments of tiles and terra-cotta in the streets and gutters, by their abundance they reminded me of a visit I paid some years ago to the site of a pre-historic city in an Hellenic island where the hillside was littered with broken earthenware pots and pans even to its temple steps.
And even as we looked we beheld one chimney-pot, already overthrown and recumbent on the slates, glide with the added impetus of a gust and the slippery snow, plunge over the precipice of the gutter-spout and crash into a thousand atoms on the pavement. It seemed well that no human head had been at hand to give us an unrehearsed tragedy on our way to the football field.
At the entrance a leaflet is thrust between the yielding fingers of the visitors. It is a sign of the times with a vengeance. “The Everton Committee earnestly request the assistance of the supporters if the organisation in protecting the referees officiating on the ground from insult and abuse.” The leaflet proceeds to remark upon the arduousness of the position of the referee, and the excellent character hitherto borne by the Everton spectators; this latter it hopes will never be lost. Here’s a pretty picture of actualities if not in Everton, elsewhere! but there is no need to dilate on it.
There are times when the ordinary witness of a football match feels ashamed of his race. I do not claim to be immoderately endowed with gentle instincts; but I have several times writhed with disgust at the brutal and dishonourable clamouring of my fellow bipeds against players and referee. No doubt the latter wear a cuirass upon his breast and wool in his ears. He is supposed to be concerned with his eyesight only, but there are times when he is off his guard; and then he suffers in the same degree as the rest of us.
The referee who two three weeks ago stopped the game to protest against the blackguardly speech of two or three gentlemanly personages did well. It is a pity he was not empowered to do more than this. Anon we may expect the law of libel to be involved in aid of order on the football field, and enforced too with profitable severity.
Of the Everton field itself more in praise might be said in dry weather than in wet weather, and herein of course it is not singular. Its arrangements are upon the whole admirable for the populace. They have the two ends to themselves, and a nice hard, airy wooden tier to sit upon; of course, however, there is no better for them; and as umbrellas are not to be endured because of their obstructiveness, a man must be tolerably robust to join the mob in bad weather.
For those with an extra shilling or six-pence in their pockets there are covered stands the whole length of the field on both sides. This at once argues the Everton clientele a rich one; and we all know what Liverpool is not a poor place. It is also a somewhat varied one; never was I more astonished than to find myself neighbour here to a woman with three small children. The audacity of the ordinary football spectators is considerable; but this woman surpassed it. I think she must have been a baby farmer – though, to do her bare justice (in spite of the inclement weather), her charges looked healthy enough. But neither they nor she took the least interest in the game.
We must certainly have legislation to keep football to our own sex, or at least to keep aloof mothers and their tender offspring. The influences attendant upon the league football matches are not exactly of the educative or idyllic kind.
Everton must be congratulated on having so good a field so near (speaking comparatively) to the centre of Liverpool. It is about a quarter of an hour’s ride from the shipping offices, and, like the course of the boy in Excelsior ever upward. The streets of residence on the way are fair to see, save for the man who is enamoured of dull uniformity. But they debouch at length upon a tolerably spacious bit of common land (as we call it), which on match days is soon trodden into a bog.
The enclosure adjoins, an undesirable suburban rows press it on all sides: so closely too that from the stand during the interval in the game I could see a family eating buttered toast by the fire, and two canaries in one cage, billing and cooing with an ardour that told how little they felt the marrow-piercing rawness of the outer air.
The spectacle of the unlovely boards of the football field stages so contiguous to their own back yards, and so obdurately opposed to any further prospect, must be galling to the tenants of these houses – nor have they compensation in the frenzied shouts which intermittently break into their domestic privacy, spite of shut windows and conversation ever so engrossing. There’s no need here to tell of the trials the Everton Club have had about their field. Suffice to say they pay a rent for it that none but a rich club could pay.
It is the same with their team. You soon learn – either through observation or the prattle of your neighbours – that the Everton players are chefs d’æuvre of their species. They are not paid quite enough to enable them to keep yachts and country houses and dogcarts with tigers in crimson livery (a washed out crimson being the Everton colour), but it seems not improbable that a time will come. It is much that they receive gold pieces a week each, even though they may be still in their teens, and quite silly from an intellectual standpoint.
I believe I am right when I say that Everton throws its cash at the feet of Scotchmen and even able Englishmen with a lavishness far in excess of any other football club in the known universe.
But if Everton is this the Mecca of the football player, How is it, one asks, that the team does not again, as last year, head the league list? The answer is not difficult; it is due to the very opulence of the club; they are like the millionaire in search of happiness. This compassionable gentleman wastes his time in indecision whether this course or that will bring him most felicity, or else he takes pleasure after pleasure in full doses until he becomes sick of the sweet feast.
The former parallel better fits the case of Everton, The club has such a plethora of talented players that it does not know how best to combine them; an embarrass de pieds. They cannot all be adequately exercise at once, and they must not be allowed to stiffen in inactivity and fall into the snares that beset the idle athlete.
Fate too has been a little unkind in injuring the rare-legged young men one after the other. Fred Geary, their centre-forward has long been on the sick list, Adjectives have been exhausted in praise of this prodigy, who a year or two ago was “in the market” at a cheap rate. His reappearance on the field will result in such a tumult of joy as no one except a leading statesman, a prima donna, and a centre-forward nowadays inspires.
These various circumstances have concurred in disappointing Everton; they have yet to learn, however, that, spite of proverbs and general belief, money is not at all, even in football.
As for the play of the Everton League team at Everton, it is characterised by the same all compelling vigour which other league tams must for their credit (nay, their existence) sake display in their home meadow.
It is only “away” that the league team can afford to take matters easily, and be beaten. I am mortally afraid that we shall soon find all league matches “foregone conclusions;” then the rage for the carnivals of Saturday afternoons – “Our Grand Winter pastime,” the phrase runs – will suddenly burst like a defective balloon.
(Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 19-12-1891, signed ‘F’)