Stray leaves: Recollections of Mr. W. Cuff

September 24, 1918
Links with the past keep on snapping. Football in Liverpool without either Tom Watson or William Cuff will not seem quite the same to visiting teams. Mr. George Patterson has succeeded the late Tom Watson, but it is not yet known who will take up the work at Everton now that Mr. Cuff has resigned from the office of secretary, a position he has filled for 17 years. He has laboured full long for Everton, to the manifest advantage of one of the greatest clubs in Britain.

Born on August 19, 1868, he was educated at Liverpool College, where he spent four happy years in his native city. In his student, or salad days, he formed an Association football club at the college. This was not an ambitious effort, but the youths obtained exercise and exhilaration. Young Cuff was the outside left for most of that time.

When Everton was founded on the Anfield-road ground he was a boy of ten years old, but he became a member quite early in its history, as the club sprang from the Domingo Vale Congregational Chapel, where his father was an office bearer.

From Director to Secretary.
In 1888 William Cuff was articled to the profession of the low, and admitted a solicitor in 1894. His leisure was devoted to the Everton reserves, who then took part in the Welsh Combination. In fact, he was in charge of what was called the Combination team. That was his hobby. But in the same year he began to practice, 1895, he was elected a director of Everton, then at Goodison Park, when Messrs. James Griffiths, John Atkinson, and George Mahon resigned. He had not sought the position, but it was thought that the enthusiastic amateur, who looked after the juniors should be on the Board.

William Cuff, from the EFC & LFC Match Programme, October 4 – 1913.
Cuff 1915

When it was necessary through the absence of the secretary Mr. Cuff used to record the minutes of the meetings. Eventually in 1901, when the late Mr. R. Molyneux closed his connection with Everton, Mr. Cuff was requested to act as honorary secretary until someone was appointed. For seven weeks he discharged the duties, and was then asked by some of his fellow-directors to apply for the position. He resigned from the directorship, did so, and was appointed.

Ever since he has been associated with the vicissitudes of a club which, if subject to the common, lot of disappointments, has won the English Cup, carried off the League championship, and remains the one First Division club which has never been in te Second Division and never been re-elected. To the maintenance of the standard of safety, with periods of brilliancy, Mr. Cuff has devoted much thought, toil, and travel.

A very big club.
Since 1901 there has been a great development of Everton, which owes an estate, with huge buildings round the arena, and even an adjoining street, of 24 houses. As a going concern I should say that the Everton estate is worth £50,000. The revenue, broadly speaking, of normal times has varied from £18,000 to £25,000 per annum. Apart from the players there were before the war some 50 people to control every week. The duties of secretary to such a concern were very considerable.

A few months ago Mr. Cuff was asked to become the solicitor and secretary to the Liverpool and District Retail Meat Traders’ Association. With the consent of the Everton directorate, he accepted the position, but feeling that the time had arrived when he had to choose between the club and the Association, plus a growing practice, he resigned his football work. His official connection with Everton will cease just before Christmas.

Player hunting.
During these seventeen years probably 600 players, with all their differing temperaments, have been under Mr. Cuff’s control. To do justice to all, to show favouritism to none, to maintain his respect and authority without harshness, to keep the players happy and blend their foibles and fancies, and to get the best of their ability has been a stupendous work and been well done. The successful management of an opera company is proverbially supposed to be the greatest test of patience, tact and common sense, but a group of about 30 footballers calls, at least for equal endurance and diplomacy.

Then there is getting the players. Sometimes the fish jumps from the landing net, and the lost are invariably the biggest. Mr. Cuff, one night somewhere in Great Britain told me about some of his journeys for players. About Joseph Donnachie, that neat and artistic forward, he related this story: –

“I left Liverpool one Friday at 10:45 a.m. for Newcastle, and got to the United ground at 3:50. I told them I had come for Joe Donnachie. That was the first intimation they had. I came to terms with them, and subsequently with Donnachie. It was necessary for him to play us at Nottingham the following day.

“He went home and packed his bag. We caught the 4:55 from Newcastle – the south express. I signed the player in the train and posted his papers at Darlington. I wired to Joe Lofthouse, the assistant trainer, instructing him to call at the League secretary’s offices in Preston on the Saturday morning to obtain his registration receipt, and wire me to Nottingham that the matter was in order. I left Donnachie at Newark, and sent him on to Nottingham to stay the night and await my return the following day.

“I went on to London, arriving at mid-night. I was on the F.A.’s doorstep the first thing next morning, got Donnachie registered, took the next train to Nottingham, and met the team on their arrival from Liverpool. Donnachie assisted us that day to draw with Notts County. The whole journey was accomplished in 25 hours.”

“On another occasion with two directors we went to Hull and signed Joe Smith. The next morning I journeyed to Blackburn for a meeting of the Central League. It was the day of the replayed English Cup tie between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. I had my pocket picked that day at Darwen railway station, attended the meeting, saw the Cup-tie, and travelled on to Belfast, where I secured Johnny Houston, now a sergeant and Military Medallist. I got him from under the nose of Glasgow Rangers, and I consider that Houston was one of the best forwards who ever stepped on to a football field.”

The competition for men.
Mr. Cuff related the barest facts of these journeys. Negotiations for the player was a subject he carefully avoided. Often they are prolonged, possibly intricate, and require power of persuasion. For instance, he heard of Angus Douglas at Dumfries, and went up to the old headquarters of the Queen of the South Wanderers. The first man he met in Dumfries was Lawrie Bell, who evidently suspected Mr Cuff’s intention, for within an hour or so there was a telegram from Bolton Wanderers for the player. Mr. Cuff made four journeys to Dumfries, interviewed Douglas’s father, who was a signalman on the railway, and talked to his mother, but David Calderhead of Chelsea, booked this fine outside right. The call of the clans turned the scale.

On one occasion Mr Cuff went to the Heart of Midlothian and asked for Bobby Walker! With a hearty laugh the Everton secretary, who enjoys a joke, said “They put me out of the office, and I don’t wonder.” For many hours he sat in a coal merchant’s office at Falkirk waiting for John Simpson. One club, however, ad sent in a blank checque. Newcastle United were on the trail. And then Blackburn Rovers scooped the pool!

Some discoveries.
Still there were compensations for such unprofitable excursions. Mr Cuff found Val Harris, of Dublin, playing for Ireland against Wales at Cardiff, and after the much pressure signed him in the express between Hereford and Crewe. He found that versatile player William Lacey, picked Bert Freeman out of the Woolwich reserve team, git a bargain in Frank Mitchell, the goalkeeper, and perhaps above all discovered Sam Chedgzoy in the team belonging to an ironworks. If Everton paid £1,500 for three or four players, they have, through the shrewdness of their able secretary made some excellent investments.

As a man of marked geniality and strong personality, Mr Cuff has made many friends both in football and out of it. He tells a good tale, is a rare listener, and has a cultured tenor voice. He loves his home and his garden. The dignity of the Everton club he prized highly, but not more than the respect which he felt was due to his office and himself. The club, the players, and the public will miss both the man and his work.
(Source: Athletic News / Sporting Chronicle: September 24, 1918)

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