Merseyside’s Old Firm? The Sectarian Roots of Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs – by Dr David Kennedy

Merseyside’s Old Firm? The Sectarian Roots of Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs. By Dr David Kennedy; 2017; ISBN-10 197344819X; Independently published by the author; paperback, 113 pages, still available from or for around £5.00.

Just as in Glasgow, and to a lesser extent in Edinburgh and Dundee, there remains an enduring fascination with Merseyside football’s relationship with religion and politics. An immense amount of anecdotal evidence exists claiming Everton FC to be the team traditionally supported by the city’s Catholic population and Liverpool FC predominantly supported by Protestants, a proposition summarily dismissed by most liberal-left commentators as more urban myth than reality.

This controversial subject (on Merseyside anyway) has never been investigated to any great depth and so deserves closer scrutiny than the cursory attention it has hitherto been afforded. What has been absent from the debate is a dispassionate quest for knowledge about the claimed associations of the two clubs backed up by authentic and detailed research. David Kennedy authored this short book to provide documentary evidence that there really was a Merseyside Old Firm, which lasted from the end of the nineteenth century, right up to the early 1990s when the Premier League was born.

After this year’s FA Cup final at Wembley, Liverpool FC’s German manager Jürgen Klopp – who is almost as Woke as England manager Gareth Southgate – defended the Liverpool fans’ right to boo the British national anthem, which is traditionally sung before the game kicks off. Prince William, the Queen’s eldest grandson – then third in line to the throne [and now heir to the throne as Prince of Wales following the Queen’s death] – was also booed as he presented the Liverpool players with the trophy after they had beaten Chelsea FC (on penalties) to win the FA Cup for the eighth time.

“In this situation, it’s best to ask the question, why does it happen?” Klopp said after the game. “I know our people so well that they would not do it if there is not a reason for it. I have not been here long enough for sure to understand the reason. That’s for sure something historical and that’s probably a question you can answer much better than I can. – I know some from other clubs see it slightly different, but the majority of our fans are wonderful people, really smart. They understand, they go through lows and highs, suffer together. They would not do it if there was not a reason, that’s what I know.”

Liverpool FC during their first season in 1892-93

Klopp is not the only one at the present Liverpool FC set-up not to understand the booing, and in all honestly, he probably does not want to understand the current fan culture at Anfield, and he is even less likely to care about the club’s historical and political past – off the pitch anyway.

The modern Liverpool FC fan base is largely made up of liberal-lefties – many who live nowhere near Merseyside, let alone the city of Liverpool! They now come from London and the South-East of England, from the Irish Republic (and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland) and from all over Scandinavia! The price of the average seat at Anfield has priced out most of the locals.

The club’s pre-Premier League White working class fan base that was mainly from Merseyside and the city of Liverpool is now almost absent from the stands at Anfield – replaced by wealthy outsiders who have jumped on the success bandwagon. Of course, Liverpool FC still have plenty of fans in and around Liverpool, but these are mainly TV fans, only watching the games via Sky and BT Sports.

The mainstream media claim that the Liverpool fans’ objection to the national anthem is not purely about the Queen and/or the monarchy, though some parts of the city of Liverpool have a history of (Irish or even Scouse rather than English) republicanism. They claim the booing does, however, represent an opposition to the Royal family as the embodiment of a class system which has contributed to poverty, unemployment and hardship in the city dating back to the 1970s.

Of course, the same could be said of dozens of English cities in the north of England. So why just Liverpool? After the Toxteth race riots of 1981, Conservative Chancellor Geoffrey Howe told Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to abandon the city to a “managed decline”. Maybe a tad extreme, but the Tories knew that Liverpool, which once was proud to be Conservative and Unionist city, was lost to them, at least for a generation or two, but maybe forever.

The Everton team in 1891

Liverpool was of course a vastly different city politically in 1892, when Everton FC split into two warring factions, with the mainly Conservative / Unionist / Protestant faction leaving the mother club to form a new football club called Liverpool FC. Those remaining at Everton FC were mainly from the Liberal / Republican / Catholic faction.

Many readers will be surprised to learn that during the latter part of the nineteenth century Liverpool was a hot bed of sectarianism and even more religiously divided than Glasgow! The Protestant Orange Order had 30,000 members and over 200 lodges throughout the city, second only to Belfast. And Liverpool was the only city outside of Ireland to elect an Irish nationalist MP – Thomas Powers O’Connor who represented Liverpool Scotland constituency from 1889 to 1928. O’Connor who was born in Athlone, a town on the border of County Roscommon and County Westmeath which is now in the Irish Republic, had represented the Galway Constituency before moving to Liverpool. He was one of the few Irish nationalist MPs to take his seat at Westminster.

Protestants – even the extremely poor ones from working class areas – mainly voted for Conservative, Unionist or even Independent Orange candidates. And Catholics, almost to a man voted for the Liberal Party, or Irish nationalist candidates. The Labour Party, which now controls Liverpool at every level hardly got a look in until just before the Second World War (although the Communist Party was quite active in the 1920s and 1930s and elected a few councillors.)

T.P. O’Connor – Irish Nationalist MP for the Liverpool Scotland constituency, 1889-1928

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo newspaper in 2002, the famous singer Priscilla White – AKA Cilla Black – who was from an Irish-Catholic background – spoke about growing up in the poor Vauxhall area of Liverpool in the 1940s. “In Liverpool, even in the two-ups and two-downs, most Protestants were Conservative, and most Catholics were Labour, just as Everton was the Catholic team and Liverpool the Proddy-Dog one”.

David Kennedy has done some incredible research to back up his claim that Merseyside had its own Old Firm, which was in many ways was even more sectarian than the more well known “Old Firm” of Celtic and Rangers, in Glasgow. He goes into great detail naming all those from the Conservative / Unionist / Protestant side involved with the running of Liverpool FC from its formation, until WWII, including the local Freemasons, who at that time were very anti-Catholic/Irish.

These included – John Houlding, Liverpool FC’s first chairman, Conservative Alderman, Everton and Kirkdale ward, Liverpool Workingmen’s Conservative executive committee, Anfield (Freemasons) Lodge #2213; Benjamin E Bailey, Chairman of West Derby Conservative Association. Secretary of Liverpool workingmen’s conservative association and mayor of Bootle; Albert Edward Berry, Chairman of Liverpool Conservative Club and a solicitor for Liverpool Workingmen’s Conservative Association; Edwin Berry, Conservative councillor for Brickfield ward; William Houlding, Conservative councillor for Anfield ward; Simon Jude, Conservative Alderman for Netherfield ward; James McCracken, deputy grand master of Liverpool Loyal Orange Institution; John Mckenna, Liverpool Constitutional Association; Ephraim Walker, Conservative Alderman, St. Domingo ward; Richard H Webster, Liverpool Workingmen’s Conservative association; James A Willox, Conservative MP for Everton and president of the National Protestant Association.

After the split of 1892, Everton FC was slowly taken over by Liberal / Republican / Catholics, who David Kennedy also names in great detail to back up his argument. These included: William Robert Clayton, Chairman of Formby Liberal Association; Dr James Clement Baxter, surgeon and Liberal City Councillor for St. Anne’s Ward; Alfred Gates, Alderman, Sandhills ward, Leader of the Liberal Party on Liverpool city council; George Mahon, Everton’s first Chairman, a committee member of Walton Liberal Association; Arthur Riley Wade, member of Liverpool Exchange Liberal Association; and Dr William Whitford, Chairman of Everton and of Kirkdale Liberal Association.

John Houlding, Conservative Alderman on Liverpool City Council and first chairman of Liverpool FC is remembered by this bust at Anfield.

Those older readers who have an interest in football will remember Everton’s close links with (Glasgow) Celtic which lasted up until the 1980s (maybe longer). The fans of both clubs sang similar songs – including “And if you know the history”.

Liverpool FC fans, including those in Ulster, were much closer to (Glasgow) Rangers. And there are still Liverpool FC bars scattered around Northern Ireland. This reviewer has been in one such bar on Westbourne Avenue in East Belfast a couple of times and also to the one (still run by the local UVF unit) on Disraeli Street, just off the Shankill Road, in West Belfast. Up until the link-up between Chelsea and Rangers (and later Linfield FC, to become “the Blues Brothers”) in the late 1980s the majority of Ulster Protestants had Liverpool as their favorite English club. Although to be honest the majority of Ulster Catholics had Manchester United (which is thought of by some in Manchester as having strong Irish-Catholic links)– and not Everton – as their favorite English club.

In his book – I did it the Hard Way, which he co-wrote with Dave Stuckly – former Liverpool FC player and captain Tommy Smith (who like Cilla Black grew up in 1940s working class area of Liverpool), wrote. “Being a Roman Catholic School, religion played a large part in our school life. Pop Moran (a Sports teacher) tried to turn me off football at Anfield – Catholics were traditionally Everton supporters and players; Liverpool were the Protestant team. Pop honestly thought that being a Catholic, I wouldn’t be happy at Anfield.”

David Kennedy’s conclusion that there was substance to the assertion that religious differences have played a significant part in the histories of the two main Merseyside clubs seems to be right. Although there is no compelling argument to make the case that football in Liverpool exactly followed the paths taken in Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh or even Dundee, there was in some very interesting and important respects a distinct identity cleavage between Everton FC and Liverpool FC that mirrors football’s development in those cities and most definitely warrants a closer look, which of course won’t please their modern day Woke supporters.

In the pages of Merseyside’s Old Firm, David Kennedy shows that the patterns of control at each club in the late Victorian and Edwardian period were startling in their difference. In particular, the social and political contrast between the men populating the boardrooms at each club would not look out of place when comparing the hierarchy of Glasgow’s Celtic and Rangers. This identity cleavage could have been of enormous importance for the development of football clubs associated with religious sectarianism in Scotland and Northern Ireland, for example. Kennedy is firm in his opinion that the identities of these clubs are less a result of their being initially founded as sporting outgrowths of a particular church or chapel denomination than they were the product of long-established boardroom hierarchies who stamp them in their own image.

Scottish clubs like (Glasgow) Celtic, (Edinburgh) Hibernian and Dundee Hibernian (who later changed their name to Dundee United) were founded initially to provide charity to the (mainly Irish) Catholic poor and as an outreach to young Catholic men, but soon found their direction dictated by a local business elite, many of whom were also involved in Irish Republican politics. Similarly, the identity of (Glasgow) Rangers, (Edinburgh) Heart of Midlothian (commonly known as just Hearts) and Dundee FC clubs, which if not being founded by Presbyterian chapels, had their roots within that Protestant tradition but were moulded most tellingly of all by the Conservative / Unionist politics of men who dominated their boardrooms.

BNP activists at a demonstration in London included a delegation of Everton fans who brought their banner (above). Although one of those pictured (Tim Vaux) is a Charlton Athletic fan!

Liverpool is a city that devours all aspects of their football clubs’ past exploits and chronicles their heroes lives with meticulous attention to detail. However, there has been an incredible void regarding the impact John Houlding had on football’s foundation in Liverpool and on Liverpool FCs early history in particular. Such was the controversially exclusive nature of his reign that the present day leadership of Liverpool FC of Jürgen Klopp (manager), Tom Werner (Chairman) and John Henry (the owner who runs Fenway Sports Group Holdings, LLC- FSG) barely acknowledge Houlding’s crucial role in the history of their club, much less celebrate it, in case it upsets their modern day liberal-left-Woke fan base.

Up until very recently there were no statues, paintings or dedicated books (although a small bust of Houlding was placed outside Anfield to mark the clubs 125th anniversary in 2017) for a man who bestrode the professional game in Liverpool in its earliest decades, such is the toxicity for modern football clubs who thrive only as a result of their inclusivity and their ability to appeal across all social, racial and religious groups. Any mention of his name, or that of his fellow group of Conservative, Unionist and in some cases Orange directors and club officers and their role in the club’s foundation, are very brief and shorn of any context. There appears to be a willful ignorance of the milieu that John Houlding and his club allies operated in and the impact that would likely have had on Liverpool FC’s early identity.

Houlding was known during his adult life by the soubriquet “King John” (much as former Liverpool FC player and manager Kenny Dalglish, is still known today as “King Kenny”). He is, though, unlike “King Kenny” who still reigns, the largely forgotten monarch of Anfield – and perhaps for Klopp, Werner and Henry, a best forgotten one!

Everton FC were not founded as a Catholic club but grew into it. They were in fact founded as St. Domingo’s FC in 1878 so that members of the congregation of St Domingo Methodist New Connexion Chapel in Breckfield Road North, Everton could play sport all year round. Cricket was played in summer by St. Domingo’s, but the local lads wanted something else to play for the rest of the season, and it was football that was taking off around that time.

St. Domingo’s, who changed their name to Everton FC in 1879 originally played on an open pitch in the south-east corner of the newly laid out Stanley Park (on a site where Liverpool FC considered building a new stadium over a century later!). In 1882, a man named John Cruit donated land at Priory Road with the necessary facilities required for professional clubs but asked the club to leave his land after two years because the crowds became too large and noisy! Everton FC moved to nearby Anfield Road, a site where proper covered stands were built and played at there from 1884 until 1892. Anfield’s capacity grew to over 20,000, and the club even hosted an international match between England and Ireland.

Due to the rising rental costs at Anfield (which was now owned by John Houlding and Liverpool FC) Everton FC made the decision to move to Mere Green, which later became known as Goodison Park. At a Special General Meeting convened in the college on Shaw Street on 25 January 1892, Liberal party councillor and Everton FC director George Mahon talked about the need for a new ground. A heckler shouted, “Yer can’t find one!” and Mahon famously responded, “I’ve got one in my pocket.” Mahon became Everton’s Chairman in 1892 and was responsible for overseeing Everton’s move from Anfield to Goodison Park and the creation of Everton Football Club Company Ltd. He remained a board member after resigning from the post of Chairman in 1895 and returned as chairman before retiring from the position in May 1908.

George Mahon, former chairman of Everton, who was instrumental in the club’s move to what is now Goodison Park

In 1887 Mahon stood as a Liberal candidate in the St. Simon and St. Jude’s Ward and was elected to the Walton Local Board. He was later elected Chairman of the board. He was a longstanding member of Walton Liberal Association and supported the Liberal Party’s campaign to grant Home Rule for Ireland. He reorganised the district body after the defection of Liberal Unionists who were opposed to Gladstone’s proposed solution to the Irish Question.

Mahon, who was not Catholic himself, was born in Liverpool, in 1853. He was baptised at St. Anne Richmond Church of England Liverpool. His parents, Robert Mahon and Harriet Bates, were Irish immigrants who had come to Liverpool from Dublin. However, the local Liberal Party at that time in Liverpool was heavily dominated by Catholics (English and Irish).

Context is all important here. Against a backdrop of agitation for Irish Home Rule, the identity of the quite clearly Protestant/Unionist pioneering generation of men at Liverpool FC was based on an aggressive antagonism toward Irish self-determination and Roman Catholicism in particular. This hostile attitude was articulated by major figures in the Liverpool FC boardroom. By contrast, the avowedly pro-Home Rule sympathies of an influential core of Everton FC directors involved in Liberal politics (and men who moved in Irish republican circles within the city), placed them fundamentally at odds with their counterparts on the Liverpool FC board.

In terms of player recruitment in those early days after “the split”, there were interesting differences in targeting and of new players. Everton FC forged strong links with Ireland, which could be argued to be a follow up from its early boardroom profile. And any such “policy” might explain the sizable anecdotal evidence portraying Everton to be a team supported by Liverpool Catholics: the theory being that the large number of Irish players the club attracted to it, helped ignite a certain degree of “ethnic-pride” in Everton amongst the city’s Irish-born or those of Irish descent.

One such writer, with a knowledge of both the early Glasgow and Merseyside football scene believed this to have been the case. “Everton Football Club, like Celtic Football Club, owed its success to immigrant support, the Irish in Liverpool rallying wholeheartedly round it”. Wrote James Handley in his book The Celtic Story: A History of the Celtic Football Club – published in 1960.

Fast forward forty-seven years to 2007 and David McWilliams, underscores the point made by Handley in his article – “HiBrits, Ireland’s Loss is England’s gain” – on the fate of what he terms “HiBrits” (the offspring of Irish emigrants to Britain: The Hibernian-Britons). On Merseyside football, and Wayne Rooney’s rise to prominence in particular, McWilliams writes that – “Father Inch (parish priest of the Blood of the Martyrs Catholic Church, Croxteth) is a Toffee true and true. Everton Football Club is the Irish team in Liverpool and it is no surprise therefore, that Rooney is a Blue”. I now understand why Rooney never sang the British national anthem “God Save the Queen” before England games, until he was team captain and told to sing it!

This mural in Ulster is an example of the longstanding connections between Ulster paramilitaries and the Liverpool area.

Now H&D has an above average number of subscribers in the Merseyside area, many of them Everton supporters, and I know for sure that a couple of them – one in particular, – are going to strongly disagree with my analysis of David Kennedy’s book. The said subscriber is a staunch British nationalist and Ulster Loyalist, as well as being an Everton fan! Most British nationalists from Merseyside are also Loyalists, with very few exceptions (including one from the Griffin modern anti-racist BNP, who made up a Liverpool BNP branch banner which included an Irish Tricolour flag, and the other a hard-core republican who was also a member of the now banned NS youth group National Action), so it only makes sense that a high percentage of them are going to be fans of Everton FC.

The most famous – or infamous – Liverpool British nationalist of recent times, who is also an Everton fan, was Joe Owens, whose book (Action: Race Wars to Door Wars) was reviewed in H&D #30. Owens mentions early on in his book about NF paper sales outside Everton’s Goodison Park stadium in the late 1970s. Whether there were similar NF paper-sales outside Liverpool’s Anfield stadium during the same period I just do not know. Owens started out in the NF in 1978 but then also joined the Liverpool branch of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a couple of years later. Even though the NF directorate had proscribed the UDA  a number of Liverpool NF members held joint membership – to Martin Webster’s horror!

Then there was Peter Tierney (aka Peter Quiggins) and his brother Andrew, whom Griffin appointed to run Liverpool BNP during the peak years – around 2009. They later fell out with Griffin and joined the NF, then fell out with them and formed their own short-lived Anti-Zionist League. Then disappeared from the Liverpool nationalist scene as quickly as they appeared. Both were Everton fans by the way!

Pre-Covid, when I used to attend the Loyalist parades in Southport (both Orange and Apprentice Boys) during June/July, those locals attending were pretty evenly split between being Everton FC and Liverpool FC fans. Maybe Liverpool FC just had the edge, but it was not overwhelming, So, in the modern-day Loyalist scene on Merseyside, just as with the modern British nationalist scene (or what’s left of it!), the sectarian differences between the two football clubs’ fan bases have all but gone.

From the mid-1980s after the infamous Heysel Stadium riot in Brussels, Belgium (in May 1985) – where thirty nine people mostly Italian Juventus fans were killed and 600 plus more were injured in a confrontation with drunken Liverpool FC fans before the start of the 1985 European Cup Final – British nationalists active on Merseyside were about as popular as a pork pie in a you know where.

Those readers with good memories will remember that the leadership of Liverpool FC with their sympathetic friends in the MSM first blamed the National Front for the riot! Of course, this was nonsense, and the NF were not involved in the riot at all. The then NF Chairman Martin Wingfield, to his credit, spearheaded the NF campaign to clear the party’s name in the media, and after a few weeks most of the newspapers who had attacked the NF retracted their stories and published apologies. However, as we all know, mud sticks, and the damage to the NF in general – and in Merseyside in particular  – was done.

Move forward another five years to 1989 and Liverpool FC fans were again in trouble, this time at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday FC, which became known as the “The Hillsborough disaster”, where 96 (later 97) Liverpool supporters died before the FA Cup Semi-final game v Nottingham Forest. This time – unlike with Heysel – the MSM turned against the Liverpool FC fans, blaming them for the stampede that crushed to death almost 100 of their own. The Sun newspaper even accused some of the Liverpool Scallys of going through the pockets of the dead and robbing them.

Of course, as with Heysel the leadership of Liverpool FC tried to blame anybody apart from themselves for this tragedy. As it turns out they were proved (partially right) but it took almost thirty years of legal battles in the court to do this. And to this day, many football fans (outside of the Merseyside area), still believe it was the Liverpool fans’ fault that most of those 96/97 died on that fateful day in Sheffield.

Fast forward another twenty-three years to May 2022, and Liverpool fans are again in trouble at a European Cup final, this time at the Stade de France in Paris, where they were to play Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Those of you who have been to Paris will know that the stadium is on the outskirts of the city in a highly enriched area, which is mainly made up of North African and Arab Muslim immigrants.

Hours before the game was meant to start both Liverpool and Real Madrid fans on route to the stadium were attacked by what the media described as “local French youths”, who in the main just wanted to rob them, although a section of the Arab youth were out just for the violence. Crowd control descended into utter chaos at the entrances to the Stade de France two or three hours before the scheduled kick off time (8.45pm local time). Liverpool fans were kettled into small holding areas and then pepper-sprayed by the not very friendly French riot police CRS (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité).

Kick-off time was put back three times until the match eventually started almost an hour late at 9.38pm. However, a couple of thousand seats remained empty in the Liverpool end/side, because many of their modern liberal-left Woke fans just gave up and went back into central Paris to watch the game in the bars and restaurants there, or to the local hospitals to get their wounds treated!

Fighting, between the CRS and the “local French youths” continued outside the stadium for almost an hour after kick off, until the Police had driven most of them back into their ghettos. However, after the game, there were more reports of both Liverpool and Real Madrid fans being attacked and robbed on their journey back into central Paris.

After the game, questions were asked to both UEFA and the French Football Federation, as to the wisdom of picking the Stade de France in Paris to host such an important game, seeing the stadium was in such an enriched area! Although to be honest, in pre-Premier League days, when Liverpool FC toured Europe with firms such as the Annie Road End, which were mainly made up of White/Protestant working class Liverpudlians – real Scousers – not the liberal-left Woke from London, the South East, Scandinavia and the Irish Republic that travel with them now – they would have been more than a match for the “local French youths” and French riot Police who attacked them.

So, to conclude, in this reviewer’s opinion David Kennedy was right, there was a Merseyside Old Firm, which lasted in some form or another up until the late 1980s, maybe into the early 1990s even if the modern day Wokeish fans of both Everton FC and Liverpool FC want to deny it.

Even Liverpool FC’s most famous Protestant manager Bill Shankly got it wrong. Shankly, who by the way had no time for bigotry or prejudice, especially arising from differences of religion, compared the cities of Glasgow and Liverpool by saying that; “there is nothing like the Rangers v Celtic situation in Liverpool because the supporters of Liverpool and Everton are a mixed bunch whose religion is football.” Maybe he was told to say that, who knows, but he was wrong.

The religious division between the two Glasgow Old Firm clubs, which is getting less as each year passes (and each time that Rangers sign another Catholic or Muslim and/or non-White player) is still a very real factor that bears no comparison to that on Merseyside, past or present, where the two clubs grew from the same roots but then split off in different directions. However, this last factor is immortalized in the words of one Everton’s songs, proudly sung (even to this day) by the Gwladys Street End, at Goodison Park which had its origin in the 1960s, when the historic internecine rivalry between Shankly’s Liverpool and Catterick’s Everton reached new heights:            

Oh we hate Bill Shankly, and we hate St John    
But most of all, we hate Big Ron    
And we’ll hang the Kopites one by one    
On the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey            
So to hell with Liverpool and Rangers too    
We’ll drown them all in the Mersey    
And we’ll fight, fight, fight with all our might    
For the lads in the Royal Blue Jersey.   

Reviewed by Mark Cotterill, Preston, Lancashire

This review was first published in Issue 109 of Heritage and Destiny.

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