Why the ‘Black Watch’?
The Everton team of 1881/82 came to be known as the ‘Black Watch’, a nicknamed widely believed to have been a reference to the famous army regiment of the same name.
A report in the Liverpool Courier of 1 October 1881 on the opening game of the season against Chester Rovers, played a week earlier on 24 September, read: "The new costume of the Evertonians consists of black jerseys and pants, and white hose, with a crimson sash or band slung crosswise from shoulder to hip, a make up which gives players a neat and business-like appearance."
By 5 November 1881, Everton had won each of their opening five fixtures and the Liverpool Courier of that date noted: "Mr. John Houlding, the president of the club, may well be proud of the invincible “Black Watch.” Few Association clubs have made so much progress in such a brief period as Everton."
Everton’s first defeat came in their 11th game of the season, a Lancashire Senior Cup match against Turton on 10 December, but references to the “Black Watch” and “Invincible Black Watch” continued in newspaper reports throughout the campaign.
The story of the season
In 1881/82 Everton only participated in friendly matches as there was no organised league or structure to the English game.
The ‘Black Watch’ team played the likes of Burscough, Northwich Victoria, Bootle and Oswestry, as well as lesser-known outfits such as St Benedict’s, Haydock and Over Wanderers.
At this time, the home fixtures were played at Stanley Park and could attract gates of up to 1,400 spectators.
The first match of the season, and thus the first one in the new black kit, was a 3-0 home victory against Chester Rovers, with Jack McGill scoring the first ‘Black Watch’ goal. The game, however, only lasted an hour because of heavy rain.
Everton won most of their matches during the season, although records of some fixtures are sadly missing. Still, the ‘Black Watch’ chalked up some very impressive victories, winning 8-0 against Burscough, 6-1 against Halliwell Jubilee, 5-0 against Haydock and Middleton and 7-4 against Bootle.
Everton didn’t compete in the FA Cup until 1887/88 so the only competitive matches in the ‘Black Watch’ season were in the Lancashire Senior Cup. Everton beat Middleton in the first round but then lost to Turton in round two. Turton, from the Blackburn area, were the leading Lancashire team at the time and reached the third round of the FA Cup that season.
The star man of the Everton team was McGill, who scored 25 goals in 20 games per existing records, his true tally therefore likely to have been even more impressive.
The players of the ‘Black Watch’
JACK McGILL (20 apps, 25 goals in 1881/82)
Jack McGill was the very first Scotsman to play for Everton and was the captain of the ‘Black Watch’ team. He joined the Club in 1880 after moving into the area. During his time at Everton, McGill played at each of the Club’s first three homes - Stanley Park, Priory Road and Anfield - but he retired before Everton joined the Football League. Records show he scored 86 goals in 98 games – but some results are sadly unobtainable so his true tally remains unknown.
ROBERT MORRIS (22 apps, 5 goals)
Robert Morris’ only competitive appearance for Everton came in the Club’s first ever Football League season at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground in December 1888. The match ended 0-0, and even though the referee blew the full-time whistle 15 minutes early due to bad light, the result stood!
MIKE HIGGINS (2 apps, 0 goals)
When the best players joined newly-named Everton from other local church teams in 1879, Higgins was among them, leaving United Church. He also only ever played one Football League game for Everton – the Club’s first ever away match at Aston Villa in September 1888. The hosts, who then played at Wellington Road, edged the contest 2-1. Higgins did, however, play four times for Everton in the FA Cup in the 1887/88 season… and all four were against Bolton Wanderers in the first round! Three ties were drawn and, although Everton won the fourth meeting, they were subsequently expelled from the competition for fielding an illegible player. But at least Higgins could say he played in Everton’s first-ever FA Cup match.
WILLIAM PARRY (21 apps, 0 goals)
Parry was a regular for Everton in the ‘Black Watch’ season and, two years later, he had the distinction of scoring the Club’s first ever Cup-winning goal. Everton reached the final of the 1884 Liverpool Senior Cup and Parry’s goal was enough to secure a 1-0 victory against Earlestown at Bootle FC’s Hawthorne Road ground. Earlestown were also the opponents when Parry captained Everton in their very first game at their new home of Anfield in September 1884.
GEORGE BARGERY (9 apps, 0 goals)
George Bargery kept six clean sheets in the nine games records show he played for Everton in the 1881/82 season. Earlier in his career, he was between the sticks when Everton played their first ever competitive game – a Lancashire Senior Cup tie against Great Lever in 1880. Everton lost 2-0 but later protested that the referee hadn’t been fair and the Lancashire FA ordered a replay, which Great Lever won 8-1.