February 15, 1892
How many of the present supporters and followers, or even members, of the Everton Football Club are fully acquainted with its origin, rise and fall? Very few. In the old days when ”gates” were not forthcoming, when the workingmen knew nothing of the game, when the number of spectators could be counted on fingers, it was a struggle for existence, and it was only by the generosity of some of the members that enough money could be raised weekly to pay the traveling expenses for matches away from home.
At that period of the club it had no enclosed ground, but played and practised in Stanley Park. As the game became more popular the number of spectators increased until (the ground not being enclosed or fenced) the matches were seriously interfered with owing to the encroachment of the onlookers. It became necessary, if good fixtures were to be obtained, that the club should possess an enclosed ground, and after considerable trouble a field on a farm in Priory-road, Anfield, was rented, and for the first time the Everton Club could boast of “gates”.
But such gates! The total proceeds at the opening match were 14s 7d, and 30s was considered fair; the largest amount taken for admission on the old ground only reached a few pounds.
Some of the players at that time were working lads unable to contribute to travelling expenses, rent materials &c., and the club was in debt – among other items, part of the rent being due. The outlook was not bright, but it became more gloomy when the landlord gave notice to quit, as he found he could turn his land to better use.
Fortunately at this period influential friends of the game and the club came to the rescue, and the permission was given the members to play on a piece of waste land lying between Anfield and Walton Breck-roads, on condition that a benefit match should be played annually in aid of the Stanley Hospital.
It became necessary to enclose the ground from entrances and exits, and remove a large quantity of rubbish in order to make the ground fit for play. This cost a large sum of money, which was entirely subscribed by the old members and their friends while some of the more skilful gave their valuable aid with shovel and saw and hammer. Not a single penny spent in the erection of the first stands, boarding, fencing &c, came out of the funds of the club. With a suitable and convenient enclosed ground the gates began to increase, but even at that time £20 to £25 was considered very good, and £40 was wonderful.
By pursuing a strong policy, enrolling new members, engaging clubs of renown, such as the Rovers, Burnley, Bolton Wanderers &c, to give exhibition matches, securing good players, the executive were soon able to welcome an increase of public interest, and at the close of that season the club was in a satisfactory financial position.
About this time the executive had to face another difficulty; the ground so kindly lent them was in the market to be sold for building, and it was felt that unless something could be done to secure the ground for the use of the club a collapse would be inevitable. Many anxious consultations took place, inquiries were made as to other grounds, meeting after meeting was held, and, amongst other things, a company was suggested. The capital raised, however, did not give much encouragement, the amount being somewhere about £11.
At this juncture Messrs Barclay and Jackson, who for some time had cordially worked together for the welfare of the club, arranged to approach Mr John Houlding and ask for his aid in the matter. The bold suggestion that these gentlemen made to Mr Houlding – that he should purchase the land, and rent it to the club – was carefully considered by him. He was naturally taken aback by their proposal and his inquiries as to security&c, only elected guarded replies. Mr Houlding asked what rent the club would pay? The answer was that the club might see its way to £100 a year.
– Do you know the cost of the land?
– And you advise me to purchase it at the cost of nearly £6,000 with the prospect of having only a return of £100 per annum, and no security that even that amount will be paid to me. Is the club, or any responsible member of it, prepared to lease the ground if I buy it?
Messrs. Barclay and Jackson could give no assurance. They simply threw themselves on the generosity of Mr Houlding, who, whilst giving them no hope, promised to think carefully over the matter and give a reply at an early date. And now let it be known to those who knew it not before, how the ground was secured, and who saved the club from complete collapse.
Not withstanding that there was no security, that the land at that time was a bad investment, seeing that the same land is now valued by his detractors at 3s per yard less than he paid for it, that the club had not a penny in the bank, that it involved a large expenditure of capital which could have been spent to infinitely better account; that he was placing himself at the mercy of the members, who might if they chose leave him at any moment, Mr Houlding bought the land, and placed it at the disposal of the executive.
The odd members, the backbone of the club in its dark days, who knows him as a man of integrity, honour and generous disposition, are with him to a man and are also determined to stand by him in the present crisis. But unfortunately the general body of the members appear to have been led or misled by the vapouring and plausibility of a few irresponsible individuals who joined the club long after Mr Houlding purchased the ground, and when financial success was assured – men who have never contributed a penny to the funds beyond their entrance fee and annual subscription, for which they receive more than full value because members’ tickets entitle them to admission to ground and covered stand to all except a few charity matches.
Mr Houlding has a large amount of money at stake, and has advanced large sums to the committee from time to time at the rate of 5 per cent, without any security whatever beyond the treasurer’s receipt. This is the man who has been called a shylock, who has been and is attacked in a most unscrupulous manner from a quarter and by men whence and by whom he had the least reason to expect such cowardly tactics and such base ingratitude.
Last year Mr Orrell, the owner of the land adjoining the present football ground, gave Mr Houlding notice that it was his intention to build, and, calling upon him to give up part of the ground for the purpose of making a street. It may be explained that when the land was divided by the late Mr. Orrell between his two sons there was a covenant made to the effect that in the event of either party building the dividing line would be the centre of a street, and both parties should join at the making of such street. When Mr Houlding bought the land he had to buy it with this covenant inserted in the deeds. This was known to the old executive, but not much attention was paid to it for several reasons
1) because the committee were only too glad that Mr Houlding had secured the ground
2) the ground necessary for playing purpose at that time was not so wide, so that even had a street been required there would have been ample room for football
3) because it was felt that Mr Orrell was not likely to begin building operations Of course the present would be rulers of the club knew nothing of the motives which actuated the old committee. Mr Houlding was called upon to fullfil his part of the covenant. He interviewed Mr Orrell, who expressed his determination to build, but as an alternative suggested that Mr Houlding should purchase his land. Mr Houlding could not see his way to undertake any further financial responsibility, and finally seeing no other way out of the difficulty, recommended the committee to consider the question of purchasing both grounds, and advised them to adopt a scheme of limited liability, to be laid before the members. After some delay and much deliberation the committee passed the following resolution:
“That the committee consider to form a limited liability company to purchase Mr Houlding’s interest in a portion of the adjoining land.”
Mr. Houlding drew up a scheme which the committee approved of, and he at their wish presented it to a special general meeting, at which about one half of the members attended. This meeting led by a member of the committee who had previously signified his assent to the scheme, rejected it. Mr Barclay presided at this (as at subsequent meetings), but in spite of his earnest appeals to the members to avoid personalities most disgraceful epithets were hurled at Mr Houlding, and any chance which might have been to afterwards approach the question in a calm and thoughtful spirit was ruined by the unnecessary heat thrown into to debate by Messrs. George Mahon and William Clayton, and by the indiscreet and uncalled for remarks of some of their adherents.
And now a paper-warfare was inaugurated, in which the leaders to the opposition to Mr Houlding, took a leading part. All sorts of wild schemes were suggested as to the removal to other grounds &c. It was ascertained, however, that Mr Orrell would be willing to suspend building operations until the close of the season on condition that he be paid £100. This course was strongly advocated by Mr Barclay, who moved a resolution to the effect that the club pay Mr Orrell the £100, and in doing so he pointed out that it would give the members’ time to think over the matter and secure possession of the ground till the end of the season.
But no, the majority on the committee would not have this. Mr Houlding must pay £100. Mr Houlding peremptorily refused, but offered to pay £20 onwards the amount if the club could not afford it, provided the committee would raise the rest among them. It was one thing to ask Mr Houlding to put his hand in his pocket: a different matter altogether for these gentlemen to “fork out”. No, they “did not see why they should be taxed”.
Another meeting was called. All sorts of promises were made to the members as to some mysterious ground which could be had for the proverbial old song, and which would prove a veritable El Dorado. There was a hitch somewhere, however, and in spite of questions frequently repeated, Messrs Mahon and Clayton would not disclose the situation, rental, or any other particulars regarding the “coat tail pocket scheme”. Something had to be done, however, and it is significant that the members decided to do what the majority of the committee refused viz., adopt Mr Barclay’s suggestion, and pay Mr Orrell’s demand out of the funds of the club. A special committee was appointed to make full inquires as to rental, purchase, leasing &c, of new and old grounds and to report to a future meeting.
Mr Houlding, who had grown thoroughly tired of the whole business, and disgusted with the tactics of his opponents, had previously given the club notice to quit, not that he wished the members to go elsewhere, but he felt that an end must be put to the difficulty somehow, and as one of the charges laid against him was that he only supported the club because of the custom it brought to his licensed hotel the Sandon – it would be advisable to prove to his detractors, as his friends already know, that no such base motive actuated him. This public house-question will be referred to further on.
Well, the special ground committee got to work, and after a long interval, during which they endeavoured unsuccessfully to induce Mr Houlding to reduce his rent, which the members themselves fixed at £250, they, or rather a sub committee appointed by them, drew up a report which left things worse than before, owing to the uncertain information given, and the absence of any recommendation or even suggestion for the guidance of the members.
Two new grounds were mentioned, one most inconveniently situated at Goodison-road, and the other, equally inconvenient at Breck-road. The rental of the Goodison-road ground was stated to be £50 per annum, but mark this well; the price had not been fixed. It was not stated whether the ground was freehold or leasehold. No proper and authenticated estimate, as to the cost of enclosing, fencing, draining, leveling and turfing the ground, and erecting stands &c, was laid before the meeting.
And, so far as those best capable of judging could see, the numbers in adopting Mr Clayton’s proposal that the club remove to Goodison-road were committing themselves to a scheme which, instead of involving them in an expenditure of £1,800, according to an approximate estimate would mean the expenditure of at least £4,000, including the players` wages during the summer months, and this too, in the face of Mr Clayton’s strongly expressed opinion that there would be no balance at the end of the current season. Of course something was said about the cost of removing and rebuilding the old stands &c, and the report stated that the cost, including the drainage of the new ground, would be £330.
The members could not have given this statement the slightest consideration, or they would have at once seen its uttest absurdity. Why, to drain, level, and turf the Goodison-road ground alone will cost nearly £600 if it is to be rendered fit for play. This is not a mere approximation, but is based on careful calculations. Assuming, then, that Mr Houlding is willing to permit the removal of the stands, this will be an additional charge. But are the stands worth removing? And, if so, by the time they are pulled down and removed, what will be their value? The timber might sell for chips, the iron for scrap, and the bricks, such as are whole, might be used for building; but as to putting the stands up in anything like the condition they are at present, it cannot be done without a very large expenditure, because the greater part will require renewal.
The readiness with which the majority of those present at the last meeting swallowed Messrs Clayton and Mr Mahon`s scheme, supported not by argument but only by declamatory clap – trap,would be ludicrous were it not for the fact, since patent for every unbiased supporter of the club, that an organisation which has been the means of bringing first class football to Liverpool, and providing healthy outdoor sport for the workingmen, is threatened with absolute ruin by a set of irresponsible nobodies, who have never been a penny out of pocket through their connection with the club, and who risk nothing in their foolishness except their own reputations. And think of it. Mr Houlding has nearly £6000 at stake – money sunk in land which he personally did not want, and which he was persuaded to buy on the strength of promises which are now ruthlessly broken. Of course Mr Houlding is wealthy enough to let the club have the ground for nothing, or he might let it for a mere normal rent; but Mr Houlding and those who support him are fighting for principle and fair dealing, and are not to be browbeaten or intimidated into adopting proposals contrary to their conscience. One part of the report says: —
Mr Orrell is willing to accept seven shillings and sixpence per yard for his land, and he is prepared to take any lower price that Mr Houlding will be willing to accept for his land.”
The writer has seen a letter in Mr Orrell’s own hand denying the accuracy of this. Notwithstanding all the talk about Mr Houlding’s procrastination, his opponents at the same meeting (and subsequently) evinced a string desire to procrastinate, as, in spite of repeated refusals to reduce his rent, they were good enough to move and carry a resolution, offering him (their final ultimatum) £180 per annum and giving him three days to consider it. This was immediate afterwards increased to seven days, and at a subsequent committee meeting another seven days were given him. Finding, however, that their game of procrastination did not succeed, the mechanical majority of the committee instructed their solicitor to arrange for leasing the Goodison-road ground. Meantime Mr Barclay and Mr Joseph Williams had resigned their seats on the committee, finding themselves so completely at variance with the majority that they felt there was no other course open to them. And to the disgrace of the mechanical majority let it be known that, notwithstanding long services, neither gentleman was asked to reconsider his decision.
The Goodison-road party sought to institute a comparison of the rentals of the Anfield-road and the grounds of other leading clubs. For all practical purposes this was useless. Everyone knows that for accessibility, convenience, accommodation, and power to attract the “crowd” the Anfield-road ground is unique. Besides, no sensible person would argue that because other clubs paid only from £25 to £60 a year, Mr Houlding should perforce bow to the mandate of his opponents and accept whatever rentals paid by other clubs, ignoring altogether what would be a fair return on the money sunk on the ground, and the fact that the members themselves fixed the rent at £250 per annum.
As to the limited liability scheme, with a capital of £500, of which £250 was to be called up, it should never have been purposed by Mr Clayton, as Mr Houlding distinctly told him, “that he would not consent to such a company being formed to carry on football on his ground. “If we are to have a company, said Mr Houlding, “let it be a real, bona fide one.”
What do sensible men think of a capital of £500 to work an organisation such as the Everton Football Club – at Goodison-road, too – with an initial expenditure, as before stated, of some thousands before the ground is fit to accommodate the public in sufficient numbers to even defray the players` wages?
The absolute failure in the very near future will be the lot of the Goodison-road club cannot be doubted. As to the old ground, the scene of some many triumphs, Mr Houlding, supported by the great majority of the spectators, by all the old members, and a considerable section of the new members, is determined that good football shall be played on it, not for the benefit it is to confer on his hotel – for the Sandon Hotel is only one of many licensed houses in the close proximity to the ground, and all of which benefit (if there is any benefits at all) quite as much as the Sandon but because the workingmen, who have a large share in building up the club by patronising the matches, want to see football there, and because the ground was bought for the purpose of football.
(Field Sports: February 15, 1892)