The followers of the game of Rugby League on Merseyside may remember the name of "Liverpool City" in the fifties but its first incarnation was way back in the season of 1906-7. The origin of the team was well documented in a book by my former West Derby School classmate Mike Brocken entitled Liverpool City RLFC: Rugby League in a Football City. Ten years on from its publication a huge amount of newspapers have been digitised by the British Newspaper Archive and the search engines are ever more powerful now. A chance sighting of a small paragraph in the Edinburgh Evening News dated 2nd Feb 1906 rang a few bells for me.
(Edinburgh Evening News 2nd Feb 1906)
It read "Liverpool City are to be known as the English "All Blacks." It has been decided that the new Rugby club's team shall wear black jersey with white collar, and on the left breast white shield with liver (Liverpool's Coat of Arms)."
I have a feeling the "All Black" tag was inspired by the New Zealand Tour of late 1905 and early 1906, their rugby team playing fixtures under Union rules against the home nations and County sides. Though not touring officially as the "All Blacks" several journalists had used the terminology, I suppose it could be argued Liverpool City were the first team to be formally known as the All Blacks.
Everything possible in Northern Union circles was being done to make the new organisation in Liverpool a success, and by way of encouragement Col. Hall Walker accepted the position of President of the Club. William Hall Walker, was M.P for Widnes, a well known racehorse owner and Honorary Colonel of the 55th (West Lancs) Division of the Royal Engineers. He was the third son of Sir Andrew Barclay Walker (as in Walkers Brewery) and a very gracious man when awarding the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Kingsman E.W.Pinnington in 1916. When handing over a gold hunter watch on behalf of the Widnes Division he noticed it did not have a chain, so promptly unclipped his own gold chain and handed it to him. During the Great War Col. Hall Walker donated his stud of racehorses and mares to the nation for the purpose of starting a national stud . He was awarded a peerage in 1919 and became Lord Wavertree, a title that disappeared on his death in 1933 as he had no heirs.
To popularise Northern Union in Liverpool a showcase game was organised for the 17th Feb 1906 between Swinton and Salford at the ground of Liverpool Leek. The Welshmen, in the Lancashire Amateur League, played on a ground reportedly adjacent to Edge Hill Station. The game went ahead with Swinton winning 8-6 in front of several thousand spectators.
A meeting of the NU committee in Manchester on 3rd April 1906 elected Liverpool City to the league. A big effort was then started to build a capable team for the following season and they signed R.Jones, the Cheshire County forward, and Joe Taylor, the three-quarter, late of Swinton and Oldham. Fixtures were pencilled in, including two games against Wigan on the 3rd Sept(H) and 2nd Jan(A). By August, 36 fixtures had been arranged, 30 players had signed on, including Kiwi W.E.Bowers and the Swinton three-quarter J.H.Cooper. More importantly a venue had been secured, a 7 year lease on Stanley Athletic Grounds in Fairfield.
[National Library of Scotland O.S Maps]
With the Wigan game looming on the following Monday night, a trial match between the Possibles and the Probables took place on the 1st Sept., it was strangely disrupted by intense heat. The first game was a disappointing 8-41 loss, as was the 3-23 Salford result but W.Fearnley from Cardiff was a great success. "Poor gates" were reported in the program for the home game against Barrow, the full team selected: T.Kennedy; R.Dunbobin, W.H.Jones, Dai Martin, and F.Bentley; Joe Taylor and W.Fearnley; H.Woodhead, S.Hopkins, R.Jones, T.Cook, J.Booth, and H.Grubb. K.O. 3.30pm.
In October, six new players had been drafted in with the kind help of Wigan, Oldham and Warrington, but to no avail, the thumpings continued. One such fixture was away at Huddersfield were the home side is known amusingly as "The Fartowners", I think Ronnie Barker would have been proud of scripting that one.
The newspapers became ultra critical of Liverpool City with one reporter asking for the team sheet against Dewsbury and receiving a letter from secretary Mr Albert Abel thus:- "Dear Sir, I cannot give you our team on Saturday next. All I can tell you is that we will play a team of amateurs, as we can not do any worse than we have already." The record stood at Played 17 Lost 16 Drawn 1, points difference 611.
To boost crowds, sports on City's ground on Christmas Day suggested some of the Springboks would compete, the names of the South African visitors were used without permission. By February 1907, to cut losses, it was decided to play all games away from home. A few more tall scores and "Matches" of a one-sided character ensued with Rochdale Hornets ringing up City's 1000 points against tally, only 65 for. To add insult to their predicament the only league point in the bag for a home draw against Bramley was scratched when there was a mix up with the re-arrangement of the away fixture.
On April 4th the newspaper reports "The much boomed Liverpool City Northern Union team, after competing in the League with farcical results, failed to show up at Dewsbury on Tuesday night." By the end of this sorry season and sitting firmly at the bottom the the league, the table read:- Position 26 Played 30 Lost 30 For 76 Ag 1398. Shortly afterwards they announced they would play the next season, but in the lower West Lancashire League.
Predictably things went awry very early on in the following 1907-8 season in the Combination, a broken engagement was reported to the Committee by Salford. A meeting was held on the 19th Nov. 1907 at the Grosvenor Hotel in Manchester where the chair Mr R.Walmsley concluded " it was absolutely impossible for Liverpool City to carry out their engagements in a satisfactory manner and the club will be struck off and all their points for and against deleted." Salford's claim for £1 2s 6d was allowed.
|In conclusion, an unhappy venture for the Liverpool outfit into the thirteen man code, the name laying dormant then until 1951 when "Rugby League in a Football City" was put to the test again.|