clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Blue Period

New, comments
blue period

**With Everton coming up on the weekend, this week's "You can't make a blog post that long!" blog post moves away from tactics to focus on history. The history of Liverpool, the history of Everton, and a time when Liverpool wore not their iconic red but instead the blue of their rivals. It's also less than half the length of last week's monster post and full of awesome. So that's good, too.**


yeats
Ron Yeats when he was only 6 feet tall

"Jesus Christ, son, you're a colossus."

Words said by Shankly to Ron Yeats after the legendary manager asked his player to wear all red shorts instead of the more usual white Liverpool played in at the time. Ian St. John suggested adding red socks to the mix to complete the effect, and Shankly jumped on the idea, saying it seemed to make Yeats look eight feet tall: an imposing figure to strike fear into opponents. Or at least that's how the story goes, the dressing room anecdote behind Liverpool's switch to their now iconic all red kits, first seen in a match against Anderlecht in December of 1964. When the new year rolled around they would go on to win the club's first FA cup in that all red strip, and with that the outfit everybody sees as synonymous with Liverpool Football Club was truly born.

Until that point much of Liverpool's history had involved white pants, often with a red stripe, while the socks had changed colour frequently: white, red, black; sometimes plain and other times hooped with one colour or another. Throughout it all, though, were the red shirts with their golden Liverbirds. However, for a short time after the club's formation they not only didn't wear red shorts and socks: they didn't even wear red shirts.

Instead, in the years immediately following their creation, the Liverpool Football Club ran out in a home strip of blue and white that had been Everton's in the years leading up to 1892. The closest modern kit would be Blackburn's quartered blue and white strip, and this appropriation of their colours would for a short time force Everton to wear varying shades of red for their home kit--including at times a salmon pink offering that their current, hideously garish "historical" alternates are meant to honour. Why they would choose to honour a shirt they were forced to wear by Liverpool's use of their colours is another question entirely, but in any case that's where this season's undercooked fish tops come from.

More than providing Liverpool's first kit, though, Everton helped bring Liverpool Football Club into the world, and so in the end they are owed some measure of thanks for helping to create the club that would one day put them in the shade.

It was in 1884 that John Houlding, founder and chairman of Everton Football Club in addition to being a brewer, councilman, and generally noteworthy local figure, approached John Orrel, who owned a plot of land just off Anfield Road. Two years previously Everton had been forced to look for a permanent enclosed ground as the growing sport began its slow march towards a codification of rules and bylaws. At odds with local residents over rowdy crowds and excessive noise on match-days, they were forced to search for a new home just two short years later, and after purchasing the land from Orrel chairman Houlding would initially make it available to the club he had founded for free, an act of patronage meant to allow the club to grow to the point where it would be on solid financial ground. His plan worked and the club grew quickly, but in the end many of his fellow members would turn their backs on him.

anfield 1903
Anfield circa 1903: the stands now covered, but not much larger than it was in 1892.

***

In the year of our Lord eighteen ninety and two,
John Houlding evicted the blues,
From their Anfield abode on the Walton Breck Road,
He was tired of seeing them lose.
Years behind in rent all their money was spent,
A bank that held nothing but zeros,
But Houlding instead built a team dressed in red,
Liverpool his Anfield heroes.

On top of lending the club money at preferential rates to allow its founding and then providing the capital from which to build its foundation, Houlding had bought the land on which Everton would play at a time when the club would not have been able to afford to purchase it for itself and his fellow members had been unwilling to pool their money equally to invest in it. He had gone on to rent it out for far less than it was worth, first allowing the club to use the grounds for no fee and slowly raising their rent to £100 and then £250 a year as attendance figures grew steadily and the club reached the point where it could regularly expect 8,000 rowdy spectators to cheer them on. Though the rent rates at this point were not especially bothersome to the other founding members, cracks begin to appear between many of them and Houlding over two particular clauses he added to their rental agreement. First, before and after every match the players were required to use his nearby Sandon pub to change, thereby bringing it more attention in the eyes of match goers and ensuring its place as a local institution. And second, that the only alcohol that could be served at matches would be his own sparkling ales.

houlding
"King" John Houlding of Everton

Given that he did own the land--having only bought it to provide the club with a home--and had rented it to the club on the cheap over the years, it hardly seemed an onerous and unfair pair of clauses to add to the mix. Still, others who had invested far less in the club's creation and growth saw it as him making money off the club while they weren't, and with that the bitter cracks began to form. And with each passing year, as the stands swelled and the club began to make a name for itself, the cracks grew.

It all came to a head in 1891. Houlding felt that Everton was by now fully established and in a financially self-sufficient position from which they could continue to grow. The club had helped to found the Football League in 1888, the stands at Anfield had seen expansion, and they had quickly become a local institution. Meanwhile, John Orrel still owned the land around the grounds, and he was beginning to look at developing it. If he did this, Houlding thought, it would prevent any future expansion of the Anfield grounds, limiting the growth of a club for which he saw nothing but bright futures. It only made sense, he reasoned, for Everton to secure the adjacent lands now, while they were still easily available, and he felt that at the same time they were in a strong enough position to buy out his share of the lands at the same time. It would make the grounds, finally, the club's own, while providing room to grow and paying him back for years of patronage that had seen the club brought to its current level of success.

mahon
"Blue Moses" George Mahon

However, after years of grumbling over ales and the Sandon, many of Everton's members saw this not as repayment for what Houlding had poured into the club but as a kind of extortion. They had had a largely free ride at Anfield on top of a number of loans with almost no interest from Houlding, and for many on the board--and "Blue Moses" George Mahon in particular--asking that they now pay something like the going rate to insure a home for the future came as an unplesant shock. The other board members returned with a counter offer: Houlding would buy Orrel's remaining land and rent the entire package to them at the same £250 a year they had previously been paying. For this they might even continue to accept the exclusive selling of his libations at matches on the land he owned. Unsurprsingly, Houlding turned them down, and with that the bulk of Everton's members packed up and headed to Goodison in March of 1892.

Houlding had now seen nine years of investment in Everton Football Club go down the drain. He had founded the club, contributed more than any of the other founding members, and done what he could to grow them to the point they could be self-sustaining and his money wouldn't be required to keep them afloat any more. And when that day arrived and he was no longer needed the rest of Everton Football Club packed up and left.

***

Not every member of Everton turned their back on him, though, and amongst those who stayed behind was William E. Barclay. With Houlding since the beginning, he had been Everton's secretary-manager since day one and had even coached the club's first twenty-two matches until a more suitable man could be found for the job and he could return to his work behind the scenes. Now, with the Blues' bitter Moses leading the rest of Everton away, Houlding, Barclay, and the handful of others who stayed behind were left with a ground but no club, and so they did the only thing they could do: start over again.

As things had begun to fall apart in the winter of '91, Houlding had attempted an end-run around the rest of the Everton board by seeking to register an "Everton Football Club and Athletic Grounds Company." His application had been turned down, though, and his actions likely helped contribute to what seemed in retrospect an increasingly inevitable split between the man who had done most of the heavy lifting birthing the club and those who had mostly been along for the ride. With the name Everton off the table and his former club departed, Barclay suggested that Liverpool would be a name to serve their new club better than Everton ever could ever have been. They would be a club to draw in the entire city, not only one section of it. It would again be Barclay who would later suggest a move to red tops--the colour of the city--though for the time being they would use the kits they had on hand: Everton's.

Playing at the same ground, with the same kits, kits that they would change into in the Sandon pub just as Everton had, Houlding hoped he could give his new club a leg up. With a plan in place, then, Houlding sent Barclay off with £500 to scout and secure a team, and Barclay headed north to Scotland to find his squad, the "Team of the Macs" who would all, bar the goalkeeper, hail from north of the border. From its first days, then, Liverpool was a club that looked abroad for success, even if at times those unaware of its origins would at first question the influence of Scots, Irish, and Welsh, and later of those from nations further afield.

mckenna
"Honest" John McKenna

And despite being a largely forgotten player in the history of Liverpool--and Everton as well--much of what the club is today is owed to William E. Barclay. The money man, Houlding, gets much of the credit, as does the first coach-manager John McKenna who led Liverpool's team of Scots to a 7-1 thumping of Rotherham in their first friendly, while George Mahon fills a larger than life roll for Everton. Yet it was Barclay who was the brains behind the scenes for both Everton and later Liverpool; it was Barclay who recruited Liverpool's first side; and it was Barclay who lobbied for the club to be Liverpool and to then play in red. It is perhaps fitting at a club which values those behind the scenes doing their jobs effectively and without unduly drawing attention that Barclay should be a largely unknown figure in spite of his importance, though it nonetheless seems a shame that a man who played such an important roll is largely a footnote in the club's history.

With Houlding providing the grounds and funding, then, while Barclay worked as secretary-manager, McKenna filled the roll of manager-coach, and former Scottish rugby player Malcolm McVean was player-manager and the club's first captain--as well as the man who scored its first goal--Liverpool would go on to easily win the local Lancashire League in their first season and take the step up into the national pyramid, all while wearing the blue and white of Everton. It would take time to work their way to the top of English football, though not long to change from blue to red: soon after that first promotion, Barclay's idea won out again and the club switched to red tops as their home colour. Before that day could come, though, in that very first match against Rotherham captain McVean would chose to kick towards the Anfield Road end in the first half, a tradition that pre-dates even the famous red shirts of Liverpool. Seventy-odd years later they would finally get around to wearing an all red strip at home.

liverpool 1892
Liverpool's first side, circa 1892. Taken in front of the Sandon pub.

***

With the latest match against Everton coming up, it's interesting to look back to a time--even a short one--when Liverpool wore blue, because that blue of Everton played an enormous role in the formation of the club. It might even be fair to say Liverpool owes its existence to Everton, and to George Mahon's bitterness over exclusive ales and Houlding's attempt to see a financially secure club he had lifted up pay him back for years of patronage. Even if in reality Everton didn't leave broke and constantly losing as the chant would suggest, their decision to do so was the catalyst for creating Liverpool, one that would now make Anfield their home instead of Everton's and--after a time--red their colour. Everton provided the opportunity for that Team of Macs and an influence that carried on proudly to at least some degree right on through Dalglish, and with it helped to birth a legacy that would eventually surpass Everton's wildest dreams.

John Houlding helped to make Everton what it was, and then the actions of the rest of Everton's members made it certain he would help to make Liverpool what it was, and what it could become. Without them, there would have been no Liverpool Football Club. At least not on its current scale and not at its home on Anfield Road. Without them, there never would have been another local side destined to one day grow beyond them, and beyond what they could ever aspire to be as a small minded club that didn't think, back in 1892, that it would ever need more room than it had at an Anfield with the capacity for 8,000 supporters.

For leaving Houlding and Barclay and McKenna and all the others who stayed behind to create an outword-looking club that aspired to become the biggest in the world, we owe Everton our thanks for removing those lacking in similar ambitions from the fold, even if they meant nothing but ill by their short-sighted actions. With the match coming up, it's also important to remember why having a different ground than their blue rivals is an important part of the very bedrock of Liverpool as a football club. And it's an important reminder of where Liverpool's aspirations should lie, because it is those aspirations that have been there since its very first days that help set the club apart not just from Everton but from so many other English sides as well.

Happy Everton week, everybody.

torresblue
But for a few bitter blues who lacked ambition...