Football in Prescot 4: Whiston FC

This article is another in the occasional series looking at some of the other football teams in and around Prescot. It was featured in two programmes in January and February 2019.

In April 1884, the Flintshire Observer reported that, “On Good Friday, the Rovers will play two matches on their own ground. In the morning with a team from Prescot, which will be represented by some old Holywell players, under the captaincy of Mr George Evans (Bagillt).”

Dee Rovers were one of several teams formed in the north Wales town of Holywell during the 1870’s and early 1880’s. There was a strong Welsh community living in the Whiston and Prescot area, who had relocated in search of work at the local coal mines. It is likely that many of these Welshmen will have worked together and played together. It is not unreasonable to suppose, then, that they would have formed football teams amongst themselves – especially if a number of them had previously played for clubs in North Wales prior to moving to Lancashire.

As we know, Prescot F.C. was founded in November of 1884, and a little over two months after Prescot’s first match, another club was begun locally. Whiston Football Club made their debut on February 1st 1885, with a home game against Sankey Sugar Works, at the newly opened ground opposite the Green Dragon pub, on Warrington Road.

The Whiston team for the occasion was,

Whiston: W. Mawdsley, R. Hughes, G. Marsden, T. Yates, J. Allman, G. Evans, J. Jones, J. Yates, J. Caffrey, S. Jones, G. Jones,

They forced a creditable draw, one goal each. The following week, Whiston registered their first victory when they travelled to Stockton Heath and overcame the homesters by four goals to nil.

In all, Whiston played eight games in their first season, winning four and losing two, scoring 16 goals against 8 conceded. As well as playing at the Green Dragon ground, Whiston also had use of a field at Whiston Cross belonging to Mr J Leatherbarrow, of Roper’s Farm and a member of the Prescot Board of Guardians, who was also the club’s President.

The early Whiston teams included a number of Welshmen, reflecting the local community. Indeed, in 1885 an interesting game was staged on the Prescot ground between the “Welsh and English” of Whiston and Prescot. This international clash drew a good crowd and resulted in a hard fought 1-1 draw. The teams were;

Welsh: Marsden, R. Hughes, G. Evans, T. Jones, Jno. Jones, J. Thomas, J.E. Hughes, Jno. Hughes, E. Twiss, Jos. Jones, E. Jones.

English: J. Scott, S. Lyon, J. Case, Hobbins, Knox, Briscoe, Welsby, Leadbeater, J.T. Scott, F. Allen, W. Mawdsley.

Whiston possessed some extrovert players who were firm favourites with their supporters. Amongst these were, W.E. Davies affectionately known to one and all as “Red-un”, J. Hughes, who was known, for some reason, as “Cookshop” and T. Chorley – “Chicken” to the fans.

The Whiston goalkeeper at this time was one, Rowland Pennington. “Row” joined Blackburn Rovers in 1890. However, he made only a handful of appearances over two seasons in East Lancashire. Nevertheless, he was custodian of the goalkeeper’s jersey when Blackburn defeated Notts County, 3-1 in the 1891 F.A. Cup Final at the Kennington Oval.

During the 1886/87 season, Whiston battled through to the semi-final of the County Medal competition, where they were drawn against Aigburth Vale. The tie was to be played on a neutral venue, and the Liverpool and District Football Association surprisingly chose Prescot to stage the match. In a well contested game before about 600 spectators, W. Mawdsley scored a second half hat-trick for Whiston to set up a final with Bootle Wanderers.

The final was played at Anfield on Saturday April 23rd, 1887.Unfortunately for the 2,000 spectators the game was spoiled by a strong wind. The Wanderers raced into a 4 goal lead by half time. In the second half, the Collier lads battled hard and scored two goals, but had left themselves too much to do and eventually lost by 4 goals to 2. Nevertheless, the cup run had been encouraging for the team, just two years after their formation.

By season 1887/88, the Whiston side, known as the “Diamonds” was becoming well known and well respected throughout the district, and even began a third eleven with some success. Arguments had been raging amongst the supporters of the Whiston and Prescot clubs as to which was the top local side, and the first meetings of the two sides were arranged for Christmas and New Year, 1887/88. Both games were eagerly awaited by the followers of the two clubs. For the first of these, it was estimated that 2,000 people packed the Green Dragon ground on Boxing Day 1887. But a lack lustre display from the Prescotians, which disappointed both the crowd and club officials, saw Whiston run out easy winners by seven goals to one.

The return match the following Monday, was again witnessed by a large, vociferous crowd and the Prescot Reporter correspondent was moved to complain of the “unsavoury language” used.  Alas, the language was the least of Prescot’s worries as Whiston again triumphed in a one-sided match, to secure the local bragging rights.

“How the mighty have fallen! Licked on their own ground by nine goals to two.”

The second teams also played each other over the holiday, with Prescot meeting with rather more success, winning 5 – 1 at home, and 12 -1 away.

lt was around this time that considerable ill-feeling was expressed between the two clubs, not helped by the damage suffered to Whiston’s ground in a vandal attack, in which both goal posts were pulled up and smashed, nor by the cutting of the rope surrounding the pitch in the “derby”  match at Prescot.  Mr Henry Beaumont, licensee of the Derby Arms, in Eccleston Street, eventually succeeded in smoothing over the rift by inviting members of both clubs to a joint supper gathering at his hostelry, which was much enjoyed by all present.

On Boxing Day 1888, Whiston demolished the touring Belfast Athletic side 12 – 0 in a friendly at the Green Dragon ground, and in the spring of 1889 they reached the semi-final of the Liverpool and District Medal Competition where they met Kirkdale, regarded by many as the top side in the area at the time. In a stirring match Whiston eventually succumbed by 2 – 1, to the Liverpool side.

It is interesting to compare the full records of the Prescot and Whiston clubs over the season, not least to marvel at the goalscoring!

Season 1888/89                Pld           W            L            D               F           A      

Prescot                               46           29           10           7             200        76

Whiston                              55           38           11           6             251        100

The two “senior” clubs had by now become an important part of the area’s social scene. Prescot’s membership had risen to 120 after being only 50 strong on formation, whilst Whiston’s was a very healthy 170.

Towards the end of January 1889, a benefit game was arranged to raise funds to support Sam Price, the popular player and secretary of Whiston Football Club, who had suffered a long-term injury in a match the previous year. In the game, played at Whiston, a combined Prescot and Whiston XI defeated Blackburn Park Road, 6-3.

The Prescot Reporter’s correspondent Crossbar prosaically noted that, “the flag fluttered from the summit of the local pub and beer and stout gurgled down the local beer receptacles in Niagarean streams”, before “a capital exhibition of the rude (?), savage (??), shoulder-dislocating (???) and spine-cracking (????) pastime.”

The team for this game was John Hobbins (Prescot), Gat Lyon (Prescot), Tom Jones (Whiston), Alf Lyon (Whiston), George Evans (Whiston), Sam Lyon (Whiston), W.E. Walker (Prescot), Nat Hughes (Prescot), Joe Stott (Prescot), W.E. Davies (“Red-Un”) (Whiston) and W. Mawdsley (Whiston). The referee was the Prescot club’s Mr Pearson Twist.  Goalkeeper, turned Centre Forward, Joe Stott scored a hat-trick for the combined team, with other goals from Hughes (2) and Mawdsley.

In the Summer of 1889, the Whiston club decided to organise a Grand Sports Day at their Warrington Road enclosure, which went on to become an annual, and successful, event at the club. The Prescot Reporter noted that entries had been received, “from nearly all parts of the kingdom for the open races, and applications from local men were legion, which harbingers well for the plucky Whiston club, who have entered on a new era in regard to sports in this district. As an instance of the interest taken in these forthcoming sports, the entries being par excellence, it may be mentioned that some of the most talented and noted runners of the day have promised to come forward and give this game little rising club their assistance.”

The track around the pitch had been specially rolled with a heavy roller borrowed from Prescot Council to enable bicycle racing to take place. In addition, many other events such as sprinting, mile races, Lancashire wrestling and football kicking competitions were held. Music was provided by the Whiston Brass Band, refreshments by Mr Mynett of the Green Dragon Hotel and prizes totalling £20 were awarded to the winners of the events.

The club also opened a “non-political, non-sectarian” social club for the benefit of the township (and also to the benefit of club funds).

Whiston entered a team into the West Lancashire Football League, for the 1889/90 season, where they played alongside many of their old adversaries such as Aintree Church, Liverpool Police Athletic, Aigburth Vale, Liverpool Stanley and Bootle.  Of course, it also meant that “derby” games with Prescot were now regular dates on the calendar.

The arguments were great as to which of the sides was the superior, and there is no doubt that these “derby” games created intense partisanship amongst local supporters and tremendous interest in the two townships. In these early clashes, Whiston usually came out on top, causing their supporters to claim the Colliers to be the area’s top team.

At the start of the 1891/92 season Whiston also entered a team which played several seasons in the newly formed Wigan & District Football League.

About this time, the Whiston player, Tommy Scanlan moved to Northwich Victoria, after a successful few seasons at Dragon Lane. Scanlan scored a penalty for Northwich at Grimsby, in September 1892, which has been incorrectly reported in some quarters, as the first ever penalty scored in the Football League.

Before the start of the 1895/96 season, the first divisions of the Liverpool and District League (as the West Lancashire League had become) and the Wirral District League were amalgamated to form the Liverpool and Wirral League. Whiston were one of the founding members of this new combined league, although they had a disappointing season, winning only 6 of their fixtures and finishing 9th of the 12 teams.

The following season (1896/97) the ambitious Whiston club joined the higher standard, Lancashire Alliance league, of which Prescot were already members. However, after three disappointing seasons they left in 1899 to rejoin the Liverpool & District Combination League, where they played for just one season before the club’s football section appears to have disbanded, although the athletics section continued.

After the First World War, a new Whiston side was launched, with a new name, as Whiston Parish Church, and new Red shirts – which earned them the nickname of The Robins. The club continued to use the Green Dragon ground, on Warrington Road. They entered the Liverpool County Combination, so local derbies and intense local rivalry with Prescot would once again, be part of the local football scene.

In their first season, the Robins finished in a respectable mid table 8th position, but the following season (1920/21) they became Champions, comfortably ahead of Prescot, inflicting 3-1 and 3-0 defeats upon their rivals in the process, to reclaim the accolade of top local side.

The Whiston Parish Church club had lofty ambitions and in 1920/21, they also fielded a team in the Lancashire Alliance League, as well as their Liverpool County Combination team. However, they had overstretched themselves and withdrew from the Lancashire Alliance after just one, disappointing season. For the 1921/22 season they entered the English F.A. Cup for the first time. It proved to be their most successful season in the famous cup competition.

In the Extra Preliminary Round they were drawn away to the new New Brighton club – which had evolved from the ashes of the South Liverpool. Indeed, the cup tie was the first home game for the new club at their Sandheys Park ground, on September 10th, 1921. As a Lancashire Combination club, the new seasiders were confident of making progress against their Liverpool County Combination opponents. Unfortunately, for them, and the majority of the 9,000 crowd, Whiston spoiled the party, running out comfortable 5-3 winners.

The Whiston team for the match was;

Whiston Parish Church:   Bickerstaffe, Owen, Fenny, H Lyon, Birks, J Leadbetter, Dagnall,

W Lyon, A Leadbetter, Roberts, Neve.

Centre forward, Alan Leadbetter scored two for Whiston on that historic day. Playing at wing half in the team that day was Alan’s brother, John Herbert “Jack” Leadbetter. The small, but tenacious Jack eventually moved from Whiston to New Brighton for their first season in the football league. Unfortunately, he made only a single appearance for the first team, before moving on to Connah’s Quay & Shotton, where he spent 4 seasons. He moved back, briefly, to Prescot Cables in 1929 before drifting into Junior football in Liverpool.

Also in the Whiston side was Walter Neve, who had also played after the war for Prescot. Walter was the younger brother of Ned who had played for the old Prescot club and had had a successful league career before the war.

In the next round of the F.A. Cup Whiston landed a home tie against Cheshire League team Sandbach Ramblers. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, before 3,000 spectators. The replay also ended in a draw, one apiece, as did a second replay at Crewe. After a fourth game was scheduled to be played at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park ground, Sandbach withdrew from the competition and Whiston finally progressed after the FA awarded them a walkover.

In the first Qualifying round, the Colliers travelled to Atherton and came home with an excellent 4- 2 victory over the Lancashire Combination side. Whiston bowed out of the competition in the second qualifying round, losing at home to Cheshire League side Runcorn.

During the cup tie saga with Sandbach, Whiston were also involved in another controversial cup tie – this time in the FA Amateur Cup.  After victory over Old Xaverians the FA ruled that the Robins should forfeit the match, as they had fielded a professional player, by the name of Banks, in the match. Whiston strongly denied this and proved to the FA that they had no player of that name on their books, nor had trialled any player of that name during the pre-season. The club stated that although they had “4 or 5 professionals”, none of them had played in the game. Although the club were exonerated by the FA, it proved too late for them to be reinstated into the Amateur Cup.

After several awful seasons when they bounced around the bottom end of the County Combination, Whiston’s fortunes changed dramatically and the side finished as runners-up to Burscough Rangers in the Liverpool County Combination in 1925/26 (albeit 10 points behind the champions), and finished as runners up again, behind Marine in 1927/28. This was to herald the most successful period in the club’s history.

In 1928/29, Whiston had a quite remarkable season, as they secured the Liverpool County Combination Championship – losing just one game, the George Mahon Cup and the Lord Wavertree Cup, thus creating their own piece of local footballing history. In the Liverpool Challenge Cup, Whiston reached the final where their opponents were none other than Prescot Cables.

A crowd of over 6,000 attended the Anfield Road final on the morning of Easter Monday 1929. It was generally thought that Cables (by now a Lancashire Combination team) would achieve victory over their County Combination rivals. After 5 minutes, a sweeping Prescot move saw Wright drive the ball into Whiston’s goal. Shortly after, Kay hit the Whiston crossbar and the crowd expected Prescot to assert themselves. But, despite having all the play, the Tigers could not increase their lead. Before half time, Gray handled the ball in his own area and Bretton converted the penalty for Whiston to level the scores. A one-all interval scoreline did not reflect the game at all and in the second period, Cables exercised their superiority with Rowe and Caulfield adding goals for a comfortable 3-1 win to retain the trophy for a second year.

Prescot Cables:      Scott, Tarrant, O’Brien, Gray, Holmes, Kane, Keenan, Roberts, Caulfield, Rowe, Kay.

Whiston Parish:     Naylor, Vickers, Fenney, Short, Bretton, Attwood, Hitchen, Bonney, Tole, N. Taylor, F. Taylor.

Amazingly, in 1930, the two rivals reached the final of the Liverpool Challenge Cup again. Unfortunately for the large crowd, the final was a poor affair, played on a very heavy Goodison Park. Jimmy Holmes scored the only goal to register Prescot’s third consecutive cup final victory.

In 1930, Whiston were invited to participate in the newly formed Lythgoe Memorial Cup, only to be defeated by Marine in the semi-final.

The club reached the final of this cup, in the following year, where they were beaten by old foes, Prescot Cables, on their own patch.

In the last game of the 1931-32 season, Whiston’s superior goal difference meant that they only needed one point to become County Combination champions, but a 1 – 0 defeat to Marine in the final game handed the title to Everton A. The Robins were also semi-finalists in the Liverpool Challenge Cup for the fourth year running, but lost 5 – 1 to Everton in a replay.

Whiston’s Centre Forward at the time was Boult, who attracted the interest of Everton. The Blues asked him to play a trial in the Central League Team, before offering him a contract to secure his services at 30/- per week. Another Whiston player catching the eye was Constantine, who was selected for the Liverpool County Combination representative side for a game against the West Lancashire League at Blundellsands.

In 1932/33, Whiston went one better than the previous season and were crowned champions of the Liverpool County Combination again, despite a 5-1 hammering by, eventual runners-up, Everton ‘A’ in mid-season.

In the summer of 1933, the club’s AGM decided to merge the Supporters Club with the football club to form Whiston Recreation Club, to cater for Cricket, Tennis and Football and indoor sports and pastimes. The football committee remained intact and continued to function, unchanged. The new Recreation club also continued to promote the hugely popular Sports Day on the football ground.

The well known amateur side, the Northern Nomads shared the Green Dragon ground during season 1933/34 for their first season in the Liverpool County Combination, before moving on, again, to a new ground at Aintree.

In 1934, Whiston came up against Prescot B.I. Social (who had beaten Prescot Cables Reserves in an earlier round) in the semi-final of the Liverpool Challenge Cup. Played at Cables’ Hope Street ground, Whiston were victorious, to set up a final tie with Everton ‘A’.  Unfortunately the Robin’s cup hoodoo continued and they came home from Anfield defeated yet again (3-2), having played for 70 minutes with ten men, after an injury to Bonney.

During the Spring and early Summer of 1934, rumours were spreading locally that, due to financial difficulties, and disputes with the Recreation Club, the club was about to dissolve its football section. Despite strenuous denials from the officers of the club, these rumours proved to be true and, sadly, on 25th June 1934, Whiston F.C. was officially disbanded. Some had even suggested a merger with Prescot Cables to create a “super club” for the district, although this came to nought.

After the most successful period in their history this was an unfortunate way for the proud Whiston club to end.

Roy McDonald