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Football News: Former Liverpool Managers Part 1 - The Beginning

Former Liverpool Managers Part 1 - The Beginning
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Former Liverpool Managers - Part 1 The First Joint Managers

I have to apologise in advance if this article is not as requested. Unfortunately my to do list app crashed and no longer enables me to open the notes attached to each part of the list. So all I have left in there is the titles of articles, not the request itself, which I had copied and pasted in as an attached note.

What I have decided to do is a series of articles on the managers of the club since it was first set up, way back in 1892, starting with the first, joint, managers, William Edward Barclay and John McKenna. Suddenly the stupidity of bringing in Gerard Houllier to work alongside Roy Evans makes a little more, no wait, it still made no sense, but at least it had a precedent!

William Edward Barclay and John McKenna

They were officially joint managers from 15th February 1892 until 16 August 1896, Barclay as 'secretary-manager' and McKenna as 'coach-manager' according to the official Liverpool site's account of the time. In those days the board picked the team, which meant McKenna had more influence over team choices than Barclay, but I will start with Barclay as he is alphabetically first.


William Edward Barclay holds a unique distinction as he was not only the first manager of Liverpool, but also the first manager of Everton. Though he managed Everton for just 22 matches, it is a unique honour to manage both teams, let alone to be the first person to do so for both clubs. Barclay contributed more than that as, after he chose to stay with the landlord of Anfield, John Houlding, and become involved in setting up a new team to play at the stadium, it was his idea to call the newly formed team 'Liverpool'.

The start of his reign was inauspicious as Liverpool failed in their first attempt to be elected to the Football League after a failure to make themselves eligible for the 2nd Division in the case of failure to be elected to join the 1st Division. As club secretary that oversight can almost certainly be laid at his door, unfortunately. Despite being the club secretary, when John Houlding gave the board the princely sum of £500 to spend on players, Barclay went on a number of scouting trips to Scotland, almost suggesting his role was akin to that of a modern day chief scout.

'Honest' John McKenna, on the other hand, was more hands on and heavily involved with the playing staff. The Irishman was a successful local businessman, working himself up from nothing when he arrived in Liverpool, was also a professional rugby player.


Anfield landlord John Houlding invited him along to the stadium to watch Everton play and McKenna fell in love with the game of association football, becoming a regular in the stands to watch Everton play. When the Toffees left Anfield, following a rent dispute with Houlding, to set up shop in the new, purpose-built, Goodison Park stadium across Stanley Park, the newly formed Liverpool FC turned to McKenna to build them a team.

With just three players choosing to stay at Anfield, Andrew Hannah, Pat Gordon and Duncan McLean, McKenna's first task was to find some players to make up a team. Using his connections, Honest John went to Glasgow to pick up players from the amateur leagues in Scotland, who were keen to earn a living down south. Due to the number of players with Mc in their surname, there were eight of them in fact, Liverpool of the time was nicknamed the 'Team of Macs'. The team, which played in blue and white stripes, began their season with an Anfield friendly versus Rotherham, who were dispatched 7-1.

With election to the Football League unattainable, their first season was spent in the Lancashire League, which they won with ease, picking up 17 wins from 22 matches played. Despite this, and the regular large victories by five or more goals, the directors were uneasy with the style of play and his use of attacking fullbacks. To add to the Lancashire League title, LFC went on to beat a strong Everton side in the Liverpool Senior Cup, which helped their case when it came to trying their hand once more for election to the Football League.


It was McKenna who wrote the application, without informing anyone else at the club, citing the club's talented squad, financial security, excellent transport links and massive potential. Despite there being other, bigger at the time, clubs also applying, Liverpool were given a place in the 2nd Division of the Football League. There they continued their fine form of the previous season, opening with a 2-0 away win over Middlesbrough Ironopolis and going on to win 22 of 28 matches, scoring 77 goals and conceding just 18, to secure a play-off test match for the chance of promotion.

Newton Heath, later to become Manchester United, were the team they faced and victory saw LFC replace Heath in the 1st Division of the old Football League. The first division was a step too far and LFC struggled, suffering badly in the first-ever league Merseyside Derby, as Everton ran out easy winners in front of 44,000 spectators. McKenna was given a seat on the board and secured his replacement, English football's most successful coach, Tom Watson to replace him at the helm of team affairs.

Following his time as manager, McKenna was appointed to the FA council in 1905 and became chairman of LFC in 1906, a position he held until 1915. Obviously a highly thought of man, as he became president of the Football League in 1910, a position he held until 1935. After a second spell as chairman of LFC, he left Anfield for good in 1922. There is still a plaque in memory of him in the Anfield foyer which was presented to the club by the Football League.


Joint managers in theory and officially, but, in practice, it is clear that Barclay was more like a modern day director of football, while McKenna took charge of team training and set up the tactics they played by, like a modern head coach. English football has gone full circle, as that set up is returning as the way to operate a football club.

Written by Tris Burke October 04 2017 15:50:52