The “Father” of Liverpool F.C.

Saturday, April 25 – 1925
Victor Hall Pays Tribute to Alderman John Houlding

There are still many men living who will cherish, while memory endures the name of John Houlding, one-time Lord Mayor of Liverpool, and the creator of the Liverpool Football Club. Indeed, the Everton club, with all its proud record, owes more than allegiance to the grand old man who so truly reflected the aims and aspirations of Everton people.

It is a long cry back now to the days when the Everton club, playing in Priory-road, invoked the powerful aid of John Houlding, the shrewd, far-seeing business man, who living himself in Anfield-road, had watched the progress the new game of “football” was making among the young men of his own neighbourhood, and which even the Sunday school “scholars” were forming themselves into “clubs” to play on weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

On fine Saturdays, after lunch, when the cares of his growing brewery trade were over for the week; he would often stroll across to watch the growing enthusiasm of both players and spectators, and no doubt be mentally visional the growing expanse of Everton outwards towards the green meadows of Anfield and Walton tiles where Skriving’s nursing was then situate.

With all his wise insight and sagacious outlook through, it is hardly likely that he saw, within the lifetime of his son, that the miniature sport he then leisurely enjoyed would reach its present day dimensions, when 50,000 people betake themselves with pleasurable interest to watch the game he was even then helping to foster and build.

Some development must, however, have been well within his purview, for his early began to plan how he could best help those young players when they came to him for the ever-ready subscription, and invited him to become their president.

From his first association with the game John Houlding had great pride in his “young men,” as he called them, both players and committee. Committeemen in those days, were mostly players, and when they grew up too much to play longer, they remained committeemen of “members” and paid their “subs.”

There were at first no “gates” of course, so the subscriptions and donations helped out by an occasional concert or smoker, were the sole source of income. Mr. Houlding had one remarkable gift that is denied to many public men, but which he held in generous measure, and that was the grit of attracting to himself the personal affection of his younger followers.

It may have been a form of personal magnetism, or a psychological grit that some men hold by unknown charm, but the remarkable fact is that it did exist, and that in a very remarkable manner in the genial personally of old “King John.”

Although himself a strong party politician Tory or the Toriest and with an utter detestation of everything savouring of Liberalism or Radicalism, he, strangely enough had among his warmest football supporters keen young Liberals and sturdy teetotal Nonconformists, who held equally as strong as he did political and social views entirely opposed to Mr. Houlding’s political views and trading interests.

Yet both he and they held and kept their views in sturdy independence of each other, and on the common ground of football and the Everton Football Club, the great Tory dictator of Everton and the young Liberal, Tory, and Radical clubmen met together weekly in warm and earnest mutual endeavour. How splendid!

But, alas! That state of things did not continue to the end or we should not today have both Everton and Liverpool club, and as Kipling rather wittily put it –“ That is another story.” But those were great days in the growing enthusiasm of the new game, local residents were drawn into the enthusiasm of the players every Sunday school had its own football club, and every district rivaled each other with a fine spirit of emulation. Everton fought Bootle with all the keenness of an international battle, and rivalries sprang up, as one club tried to coax away the better players from their neighbours.

“Rounders” that had for so many years been the great game in the parks, began to suffer an eclipse from the new interest, and indeed, cricket itself began to lose it hold on all except the keenest, by reason of the longer season and encroaching influence of the winter game.

All these tendencies were carefully noted by the football committee, and it was felt that once a private ground, could be secured, where an entrance fee of even 1d or 2d could be collected, there was “no limit” to what could be done.

But again the wise counsel of the club president was sought, and he was with the new idea heart and soul. He, too, felt that there was a future for the game, and offered the use of the land he had already purchased in Anfield Road at a very modest, indeed nominal rental. That is the ground on which today the Liverpool Football Club play. And so is history made.

How wisely Alderman Houlding was judge of character may be realized when one reflects on the names of some of those young men with whom he linked his football faith. One easily recalls a few of the personalities of those days who afterwards became famous in other walks of life.

R.H. Webster, late Registrar of Kirkdale, B.E. Bailey the well-known poor-law official; W.E. Barclay, first hon. secretary of the Liverpool Club; the late Jim Ramsay and Alex Nisbett; Mr. Tom Howarth (the famous “York City,” and formerly “premier” of the Liverpool Parliamentary Debuting Society), and finally Mr. McKenna, the most popular president the Football league has ever had. What a sterling judge of character and efficiency even these few names indicate in the choice of his “lieutenants” by that grand old man of Everton!

When John Houlding died he left behind him a memory that will endure while ever the name of Everton exists, and in the hearts of the faithful friends he left an emptiness that will never be replaced. With him died the last of the feudal knights of Democracy who held the hearts of their faithfully adherent in easy thralldom.

They ruled wisely, and posterity will yield them ample tribute after the pretty jibes and jars of political warfare are forgotten. On the death of Alderman Houlding, he was succeeded in the presidency of the Liverpool club by his brilliant son, Dr. William Houlding, B.Sc., who followed his father in the esteem of all who knew him, and who in himself and by his own gifted personality alone would have naturally succeeded to the leadership thus left vacant.

Dr. Houlding, however, was of a studious and retiring disposition and educated in Edinburgh and abroad, had little liking for public or political prominence and in recent years his responsible position as chairman of Moss Empires Ltd, had meant frequent attendances at their London offices, between where and his home in France his days are no happily spent.
(Liverpool Echo, 25-04-1925)

A big thank you to Billy Smith, the Everton Correnspondent for finding this article.

John Houlding poem

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