John McKenna – The new Football League President

June 20, 1910
Quite a unique honour was accorded to the Liverpool Football Club when their chaiman was elected President of The League by an overwhelming majority, and when their secretary Mr. Tom Watson, was presented with a gold medal to mark appreciation of his services as secretary to Sunderland and Liverpool – both members of The League – during a period of twenty-one years.

For reasons which must be obvious to all who take an interest in such matters I have held aloof from expressing opinions concerning the presidency of The League, but as a change was deemed advisable Mr. John McKenna was the man whom The Leaguers were pleased to honour. That they have made an excellent choice cannot be doubted, and The League has acted wisely in refusing to accept any regulations as to the presidential chair. Where there are no rules there is absolute freedom to act in the future as either experience may prompt or judgment decide.

An impression of John McKenna.
There is very reason to believe that Mr. McKenna will uphold the dignity of his office. He will bring to the discharge of his duties an ideal of integrity, a fund of experience, shrewd common sense, a ripe judgment, a capacity for work, a tone of impartiality, and an amount of fearlessness that will be appreciated by The League.

Mr. McKenna is not an orator. He is an administrator, an organiser, and a man with an appreciation of order and discipline. There are many talkers, but there are few hard workers in committee where so much is done – without applause from lookers on.

It has been my fortune to know Mr. McKenna for many years, and I have set down my opinion of him as I have seen him. Blessed with all the energy of a North of Ireland man, he had the loyalty to serve in the Volunteers for long years – and in many respects he has the characteristics of a good soldier – deeds, not speeches.

Not to be caught by an impersonator.
But for his association with football has been almost lifelong. The other day we heard of the death of Mr. Alec Nisbet, who was one of the men who met on March 15, 1892, to form the Liverpool Club. Mr. John McKenna attended that gathering, and was one of the most active prospectors in search of players. Many were the journeys that he took over the Border, and in the end a very able team was selected.

I have told this story before. I am going to quote myself. If a man cannot reproduce his own writing, whose matter can he lay hands on? Mr. McKenna had had several fruitless excursions in the hope of securing John Bell and Richard Boyle, of Dumbarton. But when some men asked for £150 as a signing fee, £3 a week all the year round, and a situation in the summer, Mr. McKenna mildly inquired if they would not like one of the Liverpool docks thrown in as a bait. No terms would, however, induce Jack Bell and Dickie Boyle to go South. No doubt they had set their minds on Everton.

One morning a messenger arrived at Mr. McKenna’s house saying Bell and Boyle were in Liverpool and had been up to the Anfield ground the previous evening, and were ready to sign on. This seemed too good to be true. However, Mr. McKenna was requested to keep an appointment at a well-known hotel. He went, and took John Miller, of Dumbarton, with him. They met a “young gentleman” who announced himself as the real Simon Puer, the veritable Dicky Boyle, and he was willing to sign for a comparatively modest consideration. Mr. McKenna knew that the man was a rank impostor, and the “young gentleman,” under the stimulus of a boot-toe, propelled by a lusty leg, made tracks from that hotel. He disappeared with a celerity worth of a record sprinter. His address is not know.

The poor policeman.
Mr. McKenna was not imposed upon like the police sergeant at Burnley. One day when Mr. Ernest Mangnall was the secretary of the Burnley club he was waited upon by a youngster who asked for a loan on the strength that he was Stephen Bloomer and had just had his pockets rifled of every penny. This audacious person was not successful in negotiating a loan because Mr. Mangnall knew that he was a swindler.

Leaving the Burnley club offices the adventurer met a sergeant of police and told him the same story. The constable, who happened to be a rare football enthusiast, gave the lad a few shillings – especially as he had just been to see Mr. Mangnall. This gave a similitude of truth to the tale. However, the confiding sergeant went on to interview Mr. Mangnall. The officer then discovered that he had been a dupe. To this day that police sergeant is looking for the man who had the fearlessness to assume the character of the great Stephen Bloomer.

The spirit of fair play.
However, to return to Mr. McKenna (the one story prompted the other) I may add that he has never severed his connection with the Liverpool Club. When Mr. William Barclay resigned the office of secretary Mr. McKenna acted as honorary secretary until Tom Watson could be persuaded to leave Sunderland. When Mr. Edwin Berry gave up the chairmanship of Liverpool, Mr. McKenna was chosen to succeed him. And an excellent leader he has been.

As a member of the Lancashire Association, as a Councillor of the Football Association, as a Vice-President of the League, as the chairman of the Lancashire Combination, as well as various other minor offices, Mr. McKenna has had an ample experience, and I have no doubt whatever, that he will act in such a manner as to gain the goodwill of the club and the public. One of his favourable proverbs is “Fair play is a jewel.”

If he strives might and main to keep the spirit of fair play in the game he will enhance the good report that all men now give him.

Tom Watson’s enthusiasm.
The honour that was done to Mr. Tom Watson was richly deserved, for he has been able to do anything – except arrange a team which can win the English Cup. Perhaps his day will come.

Tom Watson, who was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne on April 9 – 1859, obtained his love of football when at school at York. One of the originators of the Rosehill Club, which became Willington Athletic, he remembers the time when he used to steal out in the dead of the night with a pot of whitewash and a brush, and by this medium announce on the walls the coming football match. There was not sufficient money in the treasury to pay a printer’s bill.

It was this kind of enthusiasm which led to his becoming the secretary of Newcastle West End, who used an open field out at Gosforth, where collections were made among the spectators to obtain funds. Mr. Watson was one of those who were instrumental in obtaining the present ground that Newcastle United play upon, and the first gate realised less than eight shillings.

Later Tom Watson became secretary of Newcastle East End, and from thence he migrated to Sunderland. But all the persuasive eloquence of Messrs. Tyzack and Marr was needed to induce him to leave his birthplace. At Sunderland Tom Watson obtained a team which was described by such terms as “The Stars of North” and “The Team of all the Talents.” It may interest some people to know that the wages of these players in the first year were twenty-five shillings per match, twenty-seven and sixpence when they drew, thirty shillings when they won, and ten shillings per week in the summer. Although, of course, employment was found for the men.

Sunderland won the championship of the League three times, and in the first year that they did so, 1891-2, each player received a bonus of 5s. per match. Sunderland were also thrice in the semi-final of the English Cup. Mr. McKenna was one of the men who induced Tom Watson to join Liverpool in 1896.

Liverpool had their ups and downs but also their share of honours, and there are those who still think that in 1899 Liverpool ought to have won both the League championship and the English Cup. It is very doubtful if any man in an official position in connection with football has enjoyed, or still enjoys, more popularity than our old friend, Tom Watson. A jannock north-countryman, he has endeared himself to people in every grade of society all over the country.
(Source: Athletic News: June 20, 1910)

John McKenna, Liverpool F.C.

Tom Watson, Liverpool F.C.
Tom Watson Liverpool F.C.


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