Famous old-timers: William McOwen (Liverpool)

January 17, 1925
Of the original playing members of Liverpool F.C. not the least illustrious was William McOwen, who distinguished himself under the bar in many a keen encounter. Billy was a football prodigy.

Billy McOwen.

As a schoolboy of 15 he kept goal for Blackburn Rovers, whom he joined in 1886, and with whom he remained four years. Before then he was associated with Blackburn Olympic. McOwen had the honour of being the youngest goalkeeper in the English League, started in 1888. For 14 years he was in the first flight. During that period he saw service with a various of clubs.

In his early days custodians were afforded no protection. It was customary during attacks, especially when corners were taken for opponents to floor the keeper if he was not quick enough to avoid their rushes. Many a time McOwen found himself on the ground, with three or four opponents on top of him. Hard knocks were given and accepted as a matter of course.

To show the stuff of which he was made it is only necessary to mention that for several weeks he played with a broken finger rather than give up his place in the Darwen side, then in the First Division. The injury to the little finger of his left hand was sustained when he was making a clearance in a match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. On another occasion he had his nose fractured through coming into contact with Jamieson, of Bootle, in an exciting contest at Barley Bank.

While with the Rovers McOwen deputised for Herbie Arthur in a remarkable game at Blackburn against West Bromwich Albion. At the time (October, 1887) he was a mere schoolboy. That memorable afternoon no fewer than 13 goals were scored – seven by Blackburn and six by their opponents. It was a ding-dong struggle right up to the last second, but the Birmingham eleven just managed to emerge victorious. Both sets of forwards were in such sparkling mood that neither custodian would readily forget his experience, because, though often beaten, they saved far more shots than those that passed them.

From Blackburn McOwen went to Darwen, and then joined the team of “All Macs,” on the formation of the Liverpool club, in 1892, the Mersey side including nine “Macs,” all Scots except Billy, who is a native of Blackburn. The new organisation soon made their presence felt in sporting circles. They began by carrying off the Liverpool Cup and heading the Lancashire League in their first season. They they were promoted to the Second Division of the Football League, and to the astonishment of their contemporaries walked off with the championship, earning 50 points out of a possible 56. As Birmingham were second with 42 points, and Notts County third with 39, the superiority of the “All Macs” was unquestioned. What made the performance stand out in bold relief was that it was accomplished without Liverpool sustaining a single defeat. It was a wonderful achievement, largely due to a brilliant rearguard, consisting of McOwen, Andrew Hannah (a Scots international) and Duncan McLean. These men had a perfect understanding, and their stirring exploits have not yet been forgotten.

Billy missed but three matches that season, and he only had thirteen goals scored against him. On the conclusion of the campaign Liverpool were anxious that he should devote the whole of his time to football, instead of following his profession as a dentist. As he could not see his way to thus jeopardise his future prospects, he retired from the side, though the club were very desirous that he should accompany them into the First Division. Subsequently Mr. McOwen was reinstated as an amateur, after which he assisted Blackpool.

While wearing the West Lancashire club’s colours he distinguished himself in a Lancashire Cup-tie against Everton at Goodison Park. Everton fielded their full League side. Blackpool were not in the same class as their First Division opponents, who incessantly bombarded the visitors’ goal. But McOwen and his backs put up a grand fight, and when the backs were almost worn out by their exertions Billy still kept his charge intact.

The crowd heartily cheered the plucky, defenders, who repulsed all onslaughts until the last two minutes, when, in a desperate finish, Everton scored twice. One of the goals was due to a miskick by a back, and the losers claimed that the other one ought to have been disallowed for offside.

During his career Billy had to face thirteen penalty kicks, and he saved twelve of them. A truly remarkable record. Curiously enough, the sole one that beat him was taken by Jimmy Forrest in a Lancashire Cup-tie between Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool.

Mr. McOwen, who now resides in Blackburn, considers that Jack Southworth (Blackburn Rovers and Everton) had not an equal as a centre-forward, either as a shot, in providing opportunities for his colleagues, or in opening out play. Gilbert Oswald Smith (Old Carthusians), Johnny Goodall (Preston North End and Derby County), and Jack Devey (Aston Villa) he ranks as magnificent attackers, but in his opinion they were inferior to Southworth. During the time he was with Darwen he had leisure to study John Ralph Leach, the right back, who was such a skilful player that Mr. McOwen is convinced that if Leach had been with the Rovers he would have been another Bob Crompton. Joe Marsden, who afterwards migrated to Everton, was another outstanding member of the Darwen rear division when Billy was associated with the club.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: January 17, 1925)

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