October 25, 1924
Before the League matches had absorbed every available Saturday and holiday fixture date, Everton, and later on Liverpool, made a feature each season of arranging friendly matches with some of the foremost Scottish clubs, and, home-and-home fixtures with Queen’s Park, Celtic, and Rangers took place in rotation almost every season.
With the extension of the English and Scottish Leagues, however, and the increasing importance of national Cup ties to the financial outlook of all first-class clubs, the fixtures were gradually relegated to mid-week date, and so lost a lot of their interest. Another and more deciding factor is gradually extinguishing the public interest in these attractive exhibition matches was the fact that valuable players were too precious to risk in these mid-week “friendly” matches.
It was, and is, notorious that “friendly” games are frequently source of severe injuries, and a club with an onerous League match or Cup tie in view would not risk their “star” performers being damaged. The public too, had their objections. If a match were staged with an attractive club, they had a right to expect the best team of that club to take the field, and they were prompt to realise that a team composed of three or four good reputable names, with a filling-up of seven or eight reserve or unknown players, was not fair value.
If the matches gradually dwindled in interest and in gate drawing capacity, and then, very naturally, came along at long and longer intervals, until now -! Well, how many Liverpool men under, say, forty, have ever seen Queen’s Park or Celtic or Rangers, play? Or Third Lanark, Dumbarton, or the ‘Hibs’?
Still, they were spacious days of football when they did come down, and they brought bonnie football and welcome and honoured friendships. Queen’s Park being strict amateurs in those days, played a stylish game, full of the finer art of the Scottish school, and their players were clean and gallant exponents. Waddle, Arnott, Berry, Christie, Gulliland, William Lambie, R.S. McColl, Donald Sillars, Robert Smellie, and Tom Robertson were names to conjure with; and their visits to the Mersey clubs always included a convivial meal before or after the match, and an exchange of hospitalizes between officials and players.
The Celtic club, too, were prime favourites in Anfield and Everton, and the names and personalities were as well-known here as at Parkhead. What memories some of their old names recall? Alex “Sandy” McMahon, or “the Duke” as the Celtic people nicknamed him; prince of dribblers, and the “handiest” header of the ball Scotland ever produced. Johnny Divers, the marvelously clever forward, who, like his club man, big.
Barney Battles afterwards migrated to Goodison Park (*). It was this same Barney Battles, who, as we told in a former article fought so valiantly with Jack Bell, in the Everton team in the famous cup final against Aston Villa at Crystal Palace. And who that ever saw the Celtic team of those days can forget the incomparable Jimmy Kelly, at centre half? He afterwards went into public life in his native Glasgow, and held the most honourable position in the city life his fellow citizens could award him, including the chairmanship of the Glasgow Education Committee.
Willie Maley’s name will also come to mind as a member of that brilliant Celtic team that won every honour that Scotland had to offer, including Cup, League, and Charity Cups galore. Willie Maley afterwards became secretary-manager of the club on the termination of his playing career, as did his brother Tom Maley, for English teams. Blessington, Campbell, Dan McArthur, Dan Doyle, and Johnny Madden are other Celtic productions.
Then the Rangers, too, were a great side for football and conviviality wherever they went. Genial Willie Wilton, most lovable of souls, was their secretary in those days, and though like Mr. Cuff, of Everton fame, practising as a solicitor, and conducting an extensive and lucrative practice, he found time and inclination to serve the higher interests of the game, and his own club at all times, despite his onerous professional duties.
In Scottish Football legislative councils no higher authority could be found, his wise foresight and prudent counsels helping to found and preserve the best interest of Scottish sport, and football in particular. Mr. Wilton’s untimely death in a boating accident while on holiday, a few years later, cast a gloom over the whole season in Scotland, and robbed the game of one of its most brilliant architects and the Rangers club of their greatest asset.
Of the players individually of the Rangers, whole chapter would but skim the record. Neil Gibson, Drummond, Macpherson, Mitchell, A. Smith, Hamilton, Stark and Speedie are familiar names even yet. Among the football visitors to Glasgow in those days the directors and officials of both Everton and Liverpool were always assured of the warmest welcome.
Although the main object of their wanderings in the far north were thoroughly understood – and frequently checkmated – among the officials and players of each club there were warm friendships and the best of good feeling. Sure enough, the sight of an Everton or Liverpool face in the Sauchiehall-street would set the telephone bells ring and keep the club trainer on tenterhooks for a few days, watching his pigeon cote; yet the evenings would find players or officials foregathering in the foyer of the theatres or in the hotel smoking rooms, exchanging experiences or yarns, as if the poaching of players was the last thought in any of their minds.
It was a favourite joke about one of the Everton directors of those days, who held a foremost place in the English coal mining industry, that his frequent visits to Scotland were caused – in the interest of his business, of course – to inspect and purchase real wagons for his colliery!
One of the first salutes he would receive would be an intimation – with a twinkling eye – that there were some good coal wagons for sale “down Cambuslang way.” This would no doubt have reference to some player of the Cambuslang village club, who was thought to be contemplating an English “offer.”
More than once the English visitors would spend a whole evening with their Scottish hosts, at either theatre or hotel, to throw the off the scent, and then, at eleven or twelve at night, often seeing them depart for home from hotel, would then charter a four-wheeler or “handsome” – there were no taxis in those days – and drive ten or fifteen miles into the country to knock up some player of a mining village team, and discus terms, and perhaps attach his signature to the necessary professional form. Football directorship was then, as now, an arduous and exciting task master.
Once an Everton director, who, with the club secretary, had ventured in the midnight hours into a little village by the Clyde for such purpose was unlucky enough to be “spotted” by a prowling constable, who, knowing the player’s house, “had his suspicions” as to the object of the midnight visitors. He straightaway hied himself to the house of the club trainer, close to, and knocking him up imparted his suspicions.
They in turn, knocked up a few valiant “supporters,” and all returned to the “close” wherein the Everton officials had just complete their deal and signed their man. Angry words ensued, for the player concerned was a lad of promise, who eventually became an international, and the two Everton men had to run for it, to where they had left the cab on the outskirts of the village.
They were only just in time to climb in, while the frightened “jarvey,” whipping up his horse, set off at speed for Glasgow and safety. Some of the fleetest of the pursuers were only dissuaded from climbing in through the cab window by the happy thought of the Everton director presenting his empty pipe case – revolver style – at the intruder’s head, and threatened to blow his brains’ out.
Another of those poaching experiences records how an Everton official was spoofed in “signing on” a one legged player as a goalkeeper – not seeing the wooden leg until the signed player rose from the table after “signing” and receiving the bounty money! But that is a story that has been told often enough, and has only the qualification – and it happens to be true.
Divers and McMahon of the Celtic club, of whom we have spoken, were rare humourists in themselves an excellent entertainers. “The Duke” excelled as a singer and storyteller, while Divers was a step-dancer of outstanding ability. The Bee Hotel in Liverpool was in those days a favourite headquarter of the Scottish clubs touring Lancashire, as was the Old Boar’s Head in Manchester, and the annual visits of those favourite clubs and players was an occasion eagerly looked forward to, and enjoyed alike by both players and officials.
Good humour and good fellowship abounded in the pleasant hours and meals that usually followed the catches until the hour came for the midnight journey back “north,” and the final “Auld Long Syne.”
(Liverpool Football Echo: October 25, 1924)
** Note, the Football Echo is wrong about Barney Battles and Goodison Park.