January 25, 1892
Rival companies in the field.
A few days ago it seemed inevitable that the decision arrived at by the members of the Everton Football Club last week would involve their early departure from the ground in Anfield-road.
Mr. John Houlding has repeatedly declined to reduce his rental of £250 per annum as long as the club are financially able to pay that sum; and as the general meeting last week decided only to offer him £180 a year, or in the event of his refusal to remove to Goodison-road, it appeared to be beyond doubt that the present tenancy, with all its historic associations, was virtually at an end.
And such would unquestionably have been the case had not Mr. Houlding promptly taken measures to form a new company and register it under the existing title, with the view of still carrying on the club on its present ground.
The College-hall. Shaw-street was the scene of this, as of so many other Everton meetings. Mr. W. E. Barclay, by virtue of his position as vice-chairman of the club, presided, and conducted the business throughout with such curtesy and strict impartiality as to win the hearty approval of both sets of combatants.
Between three and four hundred persons were present, and of these I bet to tender my special and individual thanks to the gentleman seated next to me, whose delicately scented breath – and he generally supplied me with vast quantities of it – betrayed an intimate acquaintance with something far stronger than tea.
Mr. Molyneux set the ball rolling by submitting the report of the “Special Committee” which has been investigating this ground question.
These gentlemen, it appears having first ascertained that Mr. Houlding required £250 and Mr Orrell £100 as rental for their respective plots of land, applied themselves to the question of other sites, with regard to which they reported as follows:
1) The ground in Goodison-road, at the top of Spellow-lane may be acquired on lease, for any period from 7 to 12 years at £50 per annum. The owners are willing to give the club the option of purchase, but the price is not fixed yet.
2) The ground in Lower Breck-road, about 100 yards from Breck-road, at present used by Walton Breck and other football clubs, is offered on lease for 12 years at £100 per annum, the club having the option of purchase at 5s 6d per yard.
3) We have received an estimate of the cost of removing and rebuilding the erections from the present ground to either of the above grounds, including drainage of new ground – the cost being £330.
Signed: W.R. Clayton, William Henderson, Robert Wilson, J Griffiths, George Mahon and Dr James Baxter.
When the question had been thus laid bare before the members, the chairman asked someone to make a definite proposal. He repeated his request several times, but no one volunteered to step into the breach until Mr. Clayton, with characteristic modesty and self abnegation, proceeded to take over the whole conduct of the meeting.
This was extremely thoughtful of him, especially as his one desire had been to remain a silent spectator of the proceedings. He told the meeting so.
Mr. Clayton’s first proposal was that the members refuse to form a company and buy the land on the terms mentioned by Mr Houlding – namely 7s 6d a yard.
In vain the chairman pointed out that this proposal was of a purely negative character.
In vain Mr. McKenna argued that a resolution to remove to some other site would effectually dispose of the idea of a company.
Mr. Clayton, with the firmness peculiar to all great men, loftily discarded the suggestion of inferior mortals, and said he had it on excellent authority that land in the vicinity of Anfield-road, was not worth more than 4s 6d a yard.
He communicated the plesant intelligence that probably little, if any, balance would be in hand at the close of the season, and asked, very pointedly, and with every appearance of reason, how the club was under such circumstances to pay four percent on their mortgage and five percent as dividend to the shareholders.
This statement about the finances of the club necessary led to the shelving of the company project, and Mr. Clayton’s motion was carried almost without dissent.
Then Mr. Clayton, having again his aversion to take any active part in leading the members, moved:
“That we offer Mr. Houlding £180 per annum for the ground used by Everton Football Club on lease for 10 years, rent to be paid quarterly in advance, the tenants to have the option of purchase at 7s 6d a yard, such purchase to be arranged between now and the 30th April 1894. All fixtures to be the property of the club. Mr. Houlding not to have the right of a nominee on the committee. This offer to be open for three days and failing, – Mr. Houlding’s acceptance the committee lease one of the other grounds on the terms of the committee’s report.”
Mr. Clayton, assuming for the nonce the role of the Old Man of the Sea, announced that he should follow the members wherever they went.
If they decided to pay Messrs. Houlding and Orrell £350 as rental, he should agree.
If they offered a smaller rental he should equally be a consenting party; and if the resolved to remove to another ground he should be there also.
Having thus satisfactorily assured the members that under no circumstances would they lose the benefit of his services, he warmly repudiated Mr. Houlding’s right to nominate a member of the committee, and explained the process by which he came to £180 as a fair rental for the present ground.
Mr. Houlding, he said, had always asked four per cent, on his outlay, and as his outlay only amounted to £5,400, he ought simply to be paid £216.
But there were portions of the ground which the club did not use and for which he contended they ought not to pay, and these if subtracted from the total, would reduce their rent to £180.
He condemned Mr. Houlding for procrastination in this matter, and said the members would long ago have been called together to settle this matter had the committee been able to get a reply from that gentleman.
Finally, he concluded with a glowing, eulogium upon the Goodison-road ground, which he pronounced to be altogether superior to the present enclosure; but at the same time he confessed his preference for the Anfield-road ground because of its associations.
Mr. McKenna was the only real opponent of Mr. Clayton during the evening, but his utterances were not to the liking of the members, who frequently interrupted him, the perfumed gentleman next to me being particularly noisy and troublesome.
Mr. McKenna boldly accused Mr. Clayton himself of procrastination, and hotly declared that personal animus was the bottom of his action.
This assumption produced great uproar and loud cries of “Withdraw” with the result that Mr. McKenna was listened to with but scant courtesy, as he subsequently attempted to show that the initial cost of draining and equipping the Goodison-road ground would be so great as, even spread over a number of years, to saddle the club with a larger rental than Messrs. Houlding and Orrell were now jointly asking.
Once when speaking of Goodison-road, Mr. McKenna used the profane expression, “God forgive me for calling it a road. It is not even made ground.”
Mr. Mahon earnestly asked that a spirit of compromises should characterise all their deliberations.
He preferred to remain where they were if Mr. Houlding would accept the £180, and he pointed to their recent defeats as evidence of the necessity of avoiding if possible all the internal dissension.
He also added the significant phrase, “Mr. Houlding is not a weak man to compete against.” Had he the establishment of a rival football club in his mind?
Mr. Crosthwaite’s remarks hardly received the attention they deserved.
He said that Mr. Houlding had expressed to him the willingness to accept 7s a yard, while Mr. Orrell had refused to take less than 7s 6d. This was rather at variance with the view put forward by the “Special Committee”, but no-one seemed to pay heed to the matter.
Mr F. C. Everitt remarked that the allusion to “three days” in the resolution had a kind of “stand and deliver” appearance, and it would certainly be more courteous to Mr. Houlding to extend to seven or ten days.
Mr. Clayton agreed to respite Mr. Houlding for seven days utterly regardless of the fact that that gentleman had declared again and again that he would agree to no reduction of his rental as long as the club is in a flourishing financial condition.
After considerable discussion, Mr. Clayton’s motion was carried almost unanimously, and immediately afterwards the meeting decided to lease the the Goodison-road site in the event of Mr. Houlding refusing their terms.
With a suspicious haste which seemed to betoken little faith in the success of the new policy, Mr. Clayton then rose to his feet, then moved that the club be formed into a limited company, with a capital of £500, in £1 shares, each member to be allocated one share.
He strongly advised the members to adopt this course, as it would protect from financial loss – a protection which they do not enjoy at present.
But he failed to explain who is to pay the piper in the event of the club sustaining loss.
Is John Houlding still to bear the brunt of the battle? Or are the confiding creditors to be the victims?
This resolution was also carried, and upon a member asking what were to be the qualifications of the directors, Mr. John McDermott promptly replied, “cheek.”
No one else, however, vouchsafed an answer.
A very cordial vote of thanks having been passed to Mr. Barclay for his admirable conduct in the chair, that gentleman, in a few dignified and earnest words, bade farewell to the club as at present constituted, and expressed a hope that it might be long continue to have a prosperous career.
He added with a touch of irony, that a company with a capital of £500 was too great a financial responsibility for him to bear.
He should send in his resignation immediately believing that the club had not on that occasion adopted the right course, but that it has taken a leap in the dark.
(Field Sports: February 1, 1892)