The Shieldrake, Catalona, Mongolian, Labrador, Caloric and the Bonnie Princess. They all sat sail from the docks of Liverpool on Thursday, September 1, 1892. The Bonnie Princess was just crossing the Mersey while the Catalonia was off to Boston at four in the afternoon.
On-board the Mongolian was the third and last emigration party of boys for the season, consisting of 30 trained lads from Dr. Barnardo’s homes, leaving for conveyance to Canada from the Prince’s Landing-stage. Amongst the party were a number of Liverpool lads who were rescued from the streets and common lodging-houses and who have since proved themselves worthy of emigration.
It had been raining for a couple of days and it was a strong wind from south west that brought overcast weather by noon, but in the afternoon and evening it started raining again. The talk of the town was the threat of cholera, but no new cases had been reported over the last few days.
This was just another day for most Liverpudlians, but for those with a passion for association football this was a special day. 1st of September meant the start of a new football season. The 1892-3 season was here, and the local teams were all in action.
In “Liverpool Mercury” you could read small notes welcoming people to the new Everton ground at Goodison Park for their friendly encounter with Bolton Wanderers. It was the opening match at Goodison and big a big crowd was expected with loads of important guests in stands.
The second best team in the city – Bootle – were off to Burnley, leaving the Exchange Station at 2.45 and being accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress of Bootle. A couple of days earlier a team meeting at the Town Hall in Bootle had pepped the players for a good season.
In Green-lane the guardians of West Derby met for their monthly meeting. One person was missing though – John Houlding. On this day his daily duties were set aside for his big pastime-love of football.
Up at the football ground at Anfield he had put together a whole new team during the summer months, and on this day the new team were to play their first ever match. One would expect a big crowd and busy streets around the football ground. Indeed it was a gathering but 9 out of 10 walked past the ground; and continued towards the new ground over at Everton.
Down at Sandon Hotel, most likely in a room with a view up stairs, some important men looked out the window. They saw the clouds in the horizon, the rain on the windows and shook their head of the sight of the football fans walking straight past the entrances to Anfield. With unease and anxiety, but also with some sense of pride, they found their coats and their hats and headed for the ground.
At number 27, Kemlyn-road, it was also busy. This private house, most likely, at the corner of Walton Breck-road was the changing rooms for the new team. Did the home players change upstairs or in in the big reception room? The opponents’, Rotherham Town, was in one of the rooms – the newly formed Liverpool F.C. in another room. A living room in a private house, turned into a changing room for footballers…
Imagine being in that house 30 minutes before kick-off. The smell of balm and oil being put on legs and shoulders. The sound of studs on the floor planks. Alec Dick, the trainer for Liverpool handing out the shirts, light blue and white shirts, dark blue shorts and socks. The newly elected team captain, Andy Hannah, talking sense. Maybe telling them that they are about to write history?
Imagine being a fly on the wall. Andy Hannah probably occupying the best spot in the room. A big strong, experienced Scottish player. He had been in the mud before. He knew what was expected of a football team. He was well-known around the country. He could with ease have played in the top League of English football, but John Houlding brought him to Liverpool to lead his men, in battles on the third tier of English football.
To his left, in the room, I suspect you would find Duncan McLean. He was another tall full back from across the border. He was taller than Hannah (5’10 vs. 5’7) and much larger (14st vs. 12st) But Duncan knew the town and the people having played in the defence of Everton a few years prior – together with Hannah.
On the other side of Hannah I would think you would find John Miller and Jock Smith next to each other. Again two top class players, forwards and with experience. These guys looked tough, they had muscles and they were probably were loud when they spoke. They had both big ego’s and were on top wage. These four, Hannah, McLean, Smith and Miller, were the veterans in the team. They were all in their late 20s.
Next to McLean again I can picture the left half James McBride. He had played with Everton before but like so many others in the room he hailed from the Renton area, just outside Glasgow. McBride only 18 years old and barely 5’4 tall knew he would have to find a good working relationship with McLean at left back and the left wingers in attack.
Next to McBride I think we would find Tommy Wyllie and Andy Kelvin. Again two Scots, Wyllie knew Anfield from his Everton days while Kelvin had come down from Kilmarnock one month earlier. Wyllie on the right wing and Kelvin on the left. We don’t know how tall they were but a good guess would be around 5’6.
Who would dare to sit next to Smith and Miller? The tough guys. I suspect Malky McVean. It was mentioned later that he was known in the changing rooms for his extreme dry humour. He would have kept a well-balanced changing room in order when a bad joke and a smile was needed. Then you would have James Kelso, the brother of Everton’s full back – Bob, and the goalkeeper Sidney H. Smith. Opposite H. Smith I guess the latest recruit would sit quiet in the corner. That being Joe McQue who only arrived in town a few days earlier.
Can you picture the scene. Eleven Scottish players making history?
One thing that has escaped history is that in the opposing team was a black player, their goalkeeper Arthur Wharton. He is considered to be the first black player to play professional football in the world.
Inside the stadium it is quiet. The ground that can hold 10,000 spectators has only a few hundred present and most of these are patrons and friends of the directors of the club. One can wonder what went through the minds of the club’s treasurer Richard H. Webster. They had a team that cost £50 a week in wages and with a gate receipt of a few pounds he certainly must have felt the dark clouds on the horizon.
What about the others at the VIP stand? The secretary William Barclay who had brought these players down from Scotland. The other directors Evans, Everitt, Nesbit, Lindsay, Howarth, Gunning and John McKenna – what went through their minds when they looked at the empty stadium that they were supposed to fill up? What went through John Houlding’s mind minutes before he took the kick off on the behalf of the Rotherham team?
The groundsman, Mr. J.M. Elliott, looked nervously on as Houlding stood in mud to his ankles at the kick-off. He had been a groundsman since 1885 and had stayed behind when Everton moved out. Would the players be happy with the playing condition? Would the ground settle in 48 hours before the next match?
The captain Andy Hannah won the toss of the coin and selected to play down-hill in the first half. That meant attacking the Anfield-road end. A good tradition created by the toss of a coin indeed. John Houlding could barely have found his seat in the stand next to Benjamin Bailey, Ephraim Walker, and Dr. Edis, the vice presidents of the club, when Miller scored the first ever goal for Liverpool F.C. After a good combination play between Wyllie, Smith and Miller the last named sent the leather behind the Rotherham custodian.
How good was this Liverpool team? No-one knew at the time. Expectations were high. The opponents Rotherham Town had won the Midland League the season before. They would give an indication of the level expected on this level of English football. By half time Liverpool were five up, and the final score was 7-1. Miller scored also the first goal towards the famous Oakfield goal (today’s Spion Kop), and Leatherbarrow for the guests were the first opponent to score against Liverpool.
We can try to imagine the scene after the final whistle. Again the streets being crowded from people coming home from the Everton match. They had beaten Bolton Wanderers 4-2 in their grand opening of their new stadium. They must have smiled when they were told that hardly anyone watched their new arch-rivals, but the smiles must have quickly disappeared when they were told the final score.
Then home for a warm cup of tea.
Darkness outside, quiet streets, though still the sound of rain pouring down. But Thursday has come to a close.
After a night of dreaming, a new day arising, a new chapter to be written. And before the sun breaks, if the weather has turned for the better, the Reginald leaves Clarence Dock for Waterford.