Who was the first Liverpool manager?

Well, do you know? All sources claim that our first manager post was a joint affair between William Barclay and John McKenna. I believe that is wrong. They both held the title “secretary,” but not together!

The meaning of a “football manager” has changed through time. The way Brendan Rodgers works today can be traced back to Bill Shankly’s arrival at Anfield. But before Shankly there were different rules and roles connected with the manager-position at Anfield.

The first “manager” we had was Tom Watson. But Watson started out as a “secretary” in 1896. Based on reports from old “annual meetings” I believe the post changed around 1908. Up until then the term “secretary” was used for what we today consider to be a “manager”.

I have always been uncertain about John McKenna’s position in the club during the 1890s. from the turn of the century to his death in 1936 his position was very clear. Now I feel I have found enough evidence to claim that William Barclay and John McKenna were not joint “secretaries”!

The first object is a copy of the Board of Directors from the summer of 1892. It clearly states that William Barclay was “honourable secretary” and that “John McKenna” was on the committee of directors.

Liverpool 1893 oard

The second object is a copy of the “Football League Rule Handbook of 1893/94” giving a list of all the secretaries of all the League clubs. Again William Barclay is the representative secretary under Liverpool F.C.

Football League Rule 1893

The third object is a note in the sports paper “Cricket and Football Field” for August 10 – 1895 stating: – “It is said in Liverpool circles that Mr Barclay, of secretarial fame, has resigned. Mr B was always a smart and useful man, but never a proud one.”

There seems to have been some internal problems during the end of the 1894/95 season. What these problem were I do not know, but they are highlighted in the match programme for April 2 – 1927 under the title “The History of Liverpool Football Club”, where it says: –
During the latter portion of the season, the Directors were faced with many difficulties, for not only had they lost the services of the Hon. Secretary, Mr. W.E. Barclay, but those of three other members of the Committee, viz., Messrs. H. Cooper, S. Cooper and J. Gunning. These resignations considerably handicapped the Directors but there was still a fighting spirit left. Mr. J. McKenna, B.E. Bailey and Matt McQueen were given a free hand in the direction of strengthening the team to meet Bury in the Test Match.”

The fourth object is a copy of the “Athletic News Football Annual 1895/96” giving a list of all the secretaries of all the League clubs. For Liverpool John McKenna is now pinned down as secretary, with his home address as the club-address.

Football League Rule 1895

This also further backed up by the Football League Rule Handbook for the 1895/96 season.
FLR 1895

Another object that backs my statement is from the book “Centenary History of Liverpool FC” by Simon Inglis. Where he writes: –
Liverpool make application to the Second Division of the League”, signed by William Barclay, left Liverpool for London Wednesday morning.”
and: –
“Liverpool elected. Come to London meeting at 3 o`clock tomorrow to arrange fixtures.” McKenna had no authority to do this action, he signed the telegram in the name of Liverpool FC`s secretary William Barclay. Presented with this fait accompli the other directors had no choice. McKenna persuaded them to allow him to go to London the following day.

So this is how I see the manager list for Liverpool F.C.
1892/93, William Barclay;
1893/94, William Barclay;
1894/95, William Barclay;
1895/96, John McKenna;
1896/97, Tom Watson.

What did John McKenna do before 1895?
He was actually voted in as the club’s first Vice Chairman in 1892, and he had his daily functions at the committee of the football club. His work seemed to be more towards the governing bodies of football than to the club’s players. I still believe he was responsible for bringing many of the early Scottish footballers down to Anfield.

Why is it so hard to get real facts from the early days of Liverpool F.C.? I think the answer is down to jubilee celebrations, or the lack of such. But blame history. For, when LFC turned 25 years World War 1 was ongoing. When the club turned 50 years World War 2 was ongoing. I think a lot of valuable information got lost because of that.

Feel free to comment below.

A big thank you to Tony Brown and Gil Upton for the copy of the Football League Rule Handbook, 1895/96.

I have come across another piece of evidence for my opinion above. It is in an article dating back to June 20, 1910 when Mr. John McKenna was elected the new President of the Football League. The Athletic News wrote about McKenna’s career and I quote from the article:

“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.”


  1. I agree with you, Kjell. Barclay was secretary 1892-95, John McKenna 1895/96. No doubt!!
    Jonny Stokkeland
    LFC Official Archives

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