Monday, April 2, 2012

Club Spotlight : Everton Official History

  Liverpool in the 1870s was a city at the height of its industrial might. Sailing vessels from all around the world cruised past the Mersey Bar and sailed down the river and into the port. Queen Victoria, then approaching her sixties and in the fourth decade of her reign, ruled supreme over the nation and its expanding Empire. The docks were all named after the great figures of the age, Huskisson, Albert, Victoria, Canning, Stanley and Coburg. The days of the slave trade may have been long past, but the port prospered even more now as four-masted schooners, Baltimore clippers, Cape Homers and barks brought sweet-smelling timbers from India, grain and wool from Australia, cotton from the Americas and sugar from the Caribbean. And in exchange Liverpool exported industrial equipment and machinery to the flourishing Empire overseas. Just across the River Mersey, in Birkenhead, the Cammell Laird shipyard was constructing not only sailing ships but iron vessels to transport this wealth of goods around the world. Passengers flocked into the city bound for the ships and 315 guinea passage that would carry them to America, Australia or India, while the Cunard and White Star liners vied with each other in the race to capture the coveted Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. In the city there was work for thousands, with the population increasing each week to meet the demand for labourers. New homes were springing up to house the city's growing numbers, roads were built, glamorous shops were opened, while well laid out parks were cultivated. Victorian England was at its peak. Men and women worked long, arduous hours for only meagre rewards. But there was time for pleasure. Theatres and music halls were becoming the centres of mass entertainment. Any evening you could wander down Lime Street and see the likes of Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Sir Henry Irving or Grimaldi in any one of a dozen theatres. And on Sunday the churches would be bursting to the aisles as the hard-working nation gave thanks for its pitiful returns.

 For the first time in British history this new-found prosperity among the masses had made the nation leisure-conscious. Not all could afford the luxury of a one-penny seat at the Prince of Wales or the New Star Music Hall but had to take comfort in devising their own fun. And so it was that out of Victorian England sport sprang up as a popular pastime for the young and not so wealthy. Games, of course, were nothing new. Real tennis, bowls and boxing had been devised by the Elizabethans, but the Victorian era brought a flow of new sports into the public arena. Rugby, golf, cricket, hockey and association football suddenly emerged to satisfy a hungry nation. In Liverpool rugby was the most important and socially acceptable team game, with clubs such as Waterloo, Wavertree, Liverpool and New Brighton. Baseball, too, was popular, though in time it would be overtaken by cricket, while baseball was being taken up with unparalleled success across the Atlantic. At the centre of all these sporting activities you could usually find the church, organising and motivating the young. Clerics believed earnestly that clean, healthy bodies automatically led to clean, healthy minds, and so encouraged as many sporting activities as they could fit into the calendar. On Sunday afternoons groups of young people could be found in most of the city's new parks, playing baseball or cricket, or simply wobbling unsteadily on old iron-framed bicycles. 

 Some churches had organised football teams as early as the 18705, with St Peter's, St Benedict's and St John's of Bootle quick off the mark to field sides, but it was not until late in the decade that St Domingo's organised a team and took the first steps to creating what was to become Everton Football Club. It was Methodism, the booming religion of the time, that was at the centre of so much of this activity. With its less rigid, more relaxed approach, the Methodist church appealed to working people, encouraging them to enjoy themselves. Three Methodist churches had been built in Liverpool during the latter half of the eighteenth century, at Bevington Hill, Chatham Place and Hotham Street. But, with the growth of Methodism, it was decided in 1869 to close them all down and build a new and larger church on a chosen site in Breckfield Road North, Everton. That year, the foundation stone of St Domingo's (and of two of Europe's greatest soccer clubs) was laid, with the church formally consecrated in May the following year. Six years later the Reverend Chambers was installed as the new vicar, in a move that was to bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the church. Chambers was one of a new breed of clergymen - young, keen, outgoing and athletic. Not surprisingly, like other Methodist ministers, he wanted to introduce his parishioners to sport and within a year had set up a cricket club. But cricket was essentially a summer game, and when some of the younger members of his congregation asked in 1878 if they could organise a football club, Chambers readily agreed. And so St Domingo's Football Club kicked off in a small corner of nearby Stanley Park that winter, playing against a variety of local church teams. They carried their own goalposts to the ground, marked out their pitch and changed in nearby huts. It was typical Sunday League soccer.

A year later, as 1879 wound to its wintry conclusion, the club - flushed with their early success and keen to recruit the many non-churchgoers who wanted to play for them - took a step into the wider world by discarding their old title and adopting the name of the district where their church was situated, Everton. And so just a few days before Christmas, on 23 December 1879, Everton Football Club played its first match against St Peter's. Auspiciously, Everton won by six goals to nil and so began a sequence of events that was to lead to glory and fame which would spread well beyond the confines of Stanley Park and Liverpool. There were no reports of that game in the local press. Instead, the papers concentrated on a dangerous mutiny that was sweeping across India, and just a few days after that first match the Tay Bridge tragically collapsed, killing 75 people.
The names of the players in Everton's first-ever team will probably always remain unknown, but those who took part in the second match, another victory over St Peter's four weeks later, were W. Jones, T. Evans, J. Douglas, C. Hiles, S. Chalk (captain), R. W. Morris, A. White, F. Brettle, A. Wade, Smith and W. Williams. Fifty years on, Arthur Wade still had a link with the club as a director, while Will Cuff, another youngster playing in some of those early games, later served the club as secretary, director and chairman. During 1880 Everton joined the thriving Lancashire Association and began playing against much tougher competition, with matches as far away as Bolton and Birkenhead. Drawn against Great Lever in the Association's cup, they returned home with a creditable i-i draw, only to be thrashed 8—i in the replay at Stanley Park. But there were victories, principally around Liverpool, where they were fast becoming the most feared side in the city. Only 'Brutal Bootle' (so nicknamed because of their style of play) could offer Everton any serious challenge, and the clashes between the two could guarantee as many as 2,000 turning up in Stanley Park on a Saturday afternoon. It was the problem of such large crowds and the need for an enclosed ground which finally forced Everton to abandon Stanley Park and look for more suitable accommodation for their matches. A meeting was held in March 1882, in the Sandon Hotel, owned by John Houlding, to discuss the matter, where it was decided to rent a field owned by a Mr Cruitt off Priory Road for the following season.

John Houlding had started taking an interest in Everton when they began to use his public house for changing before their matches in Stanley Park and it had quickly become the club's unofficial headquarters. Houlding was a wealthy brewer and a self-made man who had started life working in a brewery before venturing out on his own by purchasing a small public house. Out of the success of that business he financed the purchase of a small brewery and profited comfortably for the remainder of his life. He was also a prominent member of the Working Men's Conservative Association and an Orangeman, and even represented the Everton ward as a Conservative Councillor for many years, finally becoming Lord Mayor of the city in 1897. But, although Houlding was to play a minor role in the early years of Everton Football Club, it was as chairman of Liverpool Football Club years later that he was to achieve greater notoriety. Life at Priory Road began in earnest. A dressing-room and small stand were constructed and the first match, in which a Liverpool representative team drew with Walsall, brought gate receipts amounting to the grand sum of 14 shillings. The club continued to play matches against local teams like the Liverpool Ramblers and Haydock, as well as those from further afield, such as Hartford St John's from Cheshire and Burslem from the Potteries. And in that season, 1883/84, Everton won their first trophy. They had been playing in the Liverpool Cup for a number of seasons without much success. In the previous year Bootle had beaten them in the semifinal, but this time Everton took their revenge with a 5-2 win and went on to defeat Earlestown i-o in the final. It was to be the first of many trophies. Success or no success, by the end of the season Mr Cruitt had grown weary of the noise and crowds that were flocking to Priory Road and Everton were told in no uncertain terms that they had to find another ground for their matches. Their next move would help create one of the greatest football teams of all time and one of the most famous grounds, but it would not be Everton's...


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