Saturday, January 15, 2011

On this weekend of derbies

First, a confession: Liverpool Football Club serve a special purpose in my life because they give me something to hate. A pantomime villain to boo and hiss, if you will. A Professor Fate to laugh at as they stumble from catastrophe to catastrophe. Let's be straight - that is the way of things these days in the city of my birth. The days of the "friendly derby" are no more, for reasons which are far too complicated to go into with this post.

That said, I found it impossible to resist the charms of Peter Lupson's Across the Park (sutitled Everton FC and Liverpool FC - Common Ground) because the reasons for the "friendly derby" are contained within its pages. The simple truth is that both clubs are linked historically in a way that perhaps no other clubs are, springing as they did from the same Methodist church side. Little did the Reverend Ben Chambers know, when in 1878 he formed a football team to keep the St Domingo church cricket team fit in the winters, that he was starting something which would bring twenty seven league titles to the city, shared between two illustrious clubs.

St Domingo soon changed their name to Everton FC and became founder members of the Football League in 1888, playing their home games at Anfield and winning the title at their third attempt. Soon, though, a dispute between the ambitious (and tory, not to mention Orangeman) John Houlding and the rest of the club led by (the liberal) George McMahon over rent - Houlding was renting the ground and subletting it the Everton - led to the Toffeemen upping sticks across the park to build a brand new stadium and leaving Houlding with a ground but no team. His solution was to draft in a scratch team of Scottish pros and, having been told by the Football League that he could not use the name Everton, Liverpool FC were formed in 1892.

Clearly, neither side was going to get over this bitter schism overnight but, in time, the ties between the clubs began to grow ever stronger, not least because of the great friendship between Everton chairman Will Cuff (who, as a lad, had watched St Domingo play their first games in Stanley Park) and his counterpart at Anfield, John McKenna.

Such was the healing of the rift that in 1902, when John Houlding died, Everton sent their own representatives to his funeral and flew their flags at half-mast at Goodison.

All of this, plus the many other connections between the clubs down the years through John Moores (who, Blue though he was, owned shares in both clubs) and his family, as well as the great communal grief and inter-club co-operation over the Hillsborough disaster and the Rhys Jones murder, is described in compelling detail by Lupson and even if it does have a bit of a "hey, can't we all just get on?" tone to it it is a thoroughly enjoyable and quite convincing read which would, I'm sure, be enjoyable for any fan of the English game to read. Even Villa fans.

I still want us to batter the red bastards tomorrow, of course.


Martin said...

The sooner football clubs are returned to their rightful owners, the Church, the better.

John said...

I agree with Mart. And let's not forget that Rangers and Celtic also sprang from the same church. ;-)