This week marks the 125th anniversary of a key meeting which led to Everton leaving Anfield Road and setting up a new home at Goodison Park. Here we look at the deep political, social and financial tensions that triggered the move and John Houlding's eventual removal from the role of Club president...
It is widely believed that the famous split at Everton Football Club was the result of one man - the Club’s president John Houlding.
Houlding (above), so the story goes, wanted to increase the rent on his land where Everton played to what was perceived to be an unreasonable level, forcing the Club to move.
However, it would appear the strains between Houlding and the committee members who eventually ousted him from his presidency in fact went far beyond just money and that Houlding’s subsequent portrayal as the pantomime villain is somewhat open to interpretation.
In 1884, when Everton had been expelled from their existing home for falling behind with rent payments, it was Houlding who had secured land on Anfield Road where the Club could continue to play.
A year later, in 1885, the owner of the ground at Anfield Road wanted to use the land for redevelopment and that would have meant Everton Football Club being left homeless and most likely going out of existence.
Concerned, two of the committee went to Houlding and asked if he would buy the land to secure the future of the Club. The cost was £6000, a phenomenal amount at the time, but Houlding was keen for the Club to succeed. He understood Everton could not offer any promises financially and were only in a position to pay a rent of £100 each year. Benevolently, he accepted the terms on the understanding that at such a time Everton could afford the going rate - £240 a year - the payments would increase.
That moment arrived in 1888 when Everton joined the Football League. With the gates at the time among the best in the country and revenue flooding in from this, Houlding began to receive his £240 per year.
This arrangement continued until three years later when Everton won the Football League title for the first time. Houlding saw that this was only the beginning and realised being champions was a golden opportunity to take the Club to the next level.
He proposed Everton should buy his land, plus a plot adjoining it and develop the facilities to cater for cycling and athletics and, therefore, secure year-round revenue. It was a visionary idea but it fell down because the committee felt the price Houlding was asking for his land was exorbitant at a time when land prices were generally falling.
The committee remained open to paying rent for both Houlding’s land and the adjoining plot but declined the option to buy. The adjoining land was owned by a man named John Orrell and he was asking £100 a year rent, while Houlding’s plot had gone up to £250 by this time, meaning an annual outlay of £350 for the increased site.
The Club felt this hike from what they had been paying was too much and asked Houlding to reduce the rent on his land to £180 to reduce the overall cost. Houlding would not budge, instead reminding the committee of the agreement they had made in 1885.
Negotiations continued for some four months but were fruitless. George Mahon (below), one of the members of the committee, realised that the issue was insurmountable and an alternative ground needed to be found for when talks inevitably broke down completely.
He discovered an area called Mere Green Field in Goodison Road, which he felt had potential, and his actions proved justified when, on 26 January 1892, following a fractious meeting of the committee the previous day, Houlding registered the Everton Football Club and Athletic Ground Company Ltd at Anfield in his own name - effectively telling the committee they were no longer in charge.
Mahon immediately appealed to the FA, stating his belief that Everton’s name was vested in the committee, not in Houlding. The FA upheld Mahon’s appeal, telling Houlding he could continue to run a football club at Anfield Road but he would have to do so under a different name. That name would become Liverpool Association Football Club.
On 15 March 1892, the inevitable happened and the breakdown between Houlding and the committee became a divorce. A Special General Meeting of the members of the Club was called and held at the Presbyterian School on Royal Street in Liverpool and Houlding was voted out of the presidency by a landslide 500 votes to 10.
As a result, the site in Anfield was lost to Everton and work began on the ground that Mahon had discovered a short distance away on Goodison Road.
This, however, is not the whole story.
The Everton committee comprised a number of people who were active in the Temperance Movement - a group who were against alcohol consumption on the grounds that much social misery at the time was caused by drink. As a result, the Temperance Movement actively fought against breweries and tried to get alcohol banned. Mahon was the organist of St Domingo Chapel and the chapel was renowned for its anti-drink stance, as were the minister, the Reverend Ben Chambers, and Will Cuff, the choir master who would later become Chairman of Everton. John Houlding, however, was a brewer.
In view of this clash of values, it had long been considered by these committee members that having The Sandon, one of Houlding’s pubs, as its headquarters was a further, unscrupulous, means for Houlding to line his pockets. In fact, it was the idea of one of the Everton players, Tom Evans, who had asked Houlding if they could move from their headquarters at The Queen’s Head in Everton village to The Sandon - both because it was seen as a more respectable pub and also because it was close to the ground and would save a lot of walking - meaning this part of the story is another that remains the subject of debate.
The clash of values went beyond alcohol and money, however, branching out into politics. The committee members who were in the Temperance Movement were also active in the Liberal Party, which was wholly supportive of the anti-drink ethos. Houlding, however, was a Conservative councillor and at elections found some of the people he was sitting around the table with at Club meetings were opposing him politically at the hustings. People who Houlding proposed for key roles in local politics were being opposed by those who were his fellow committee members at Everton.
It would appear then, that while the disagreement over money and rent was at the centre of the feud, there were much deeper, longer-lasting tensions at play, stemming from a clash of moral values.
Quite simply, Houlding and the committee were destined to be at odds. Had he been a teetotal butcher, baker or candlestick maker, it is entirely possible that the split would never have occurred and Everton may never have moved to Goodison Park.
With thanks to Peter Lupson, vice chairman of the EFC Heritage Society, who supplied valuable information. His book, Thank God For Football, and the DVD of the same title are available to buy online here.