Neville Walker’s account of Prescot FC’s early years includes some bizarre matches – like the occasion in 1889-90 when all the balls burst and the game had to be abandoned; and a home match the following season when visitors Earlestown were trailing 2-0 at half-time, ‘went into a collective sulk and refused to continue’. In one match at Bootle at this time the home club’s tactics were spearheaded by ‘an array of female beauty’ – lovely young Bootle ‘cheerleaders’ aimed at turning the heads of the Prescot players while their team made advances of a different kind on the Prescot goal!
It was an era when football was still in its infancy and anything could happen. This ran the full gamut from players entertaining the crowd with a little half-time dancing, the light fantastic tripped by Jack Barlow and Joe Foster, versus Horwich, 1894-95, to the full-scale riot that broke out during a match at Whiston a year earlier. On this occasion Prescot’s Jack Woodward put the ball in the Whiston net. Unfortunately, the Whiston goalkeeper was still holding it at the time. (Shades of Prescot’s Billy Mercer playing for Huddersfield in the 1928 FA Cup Final and Manchester United’s Harry Gregg in 1958.) The goal was disallowed but pretty soon all twenty-two players were embroiled in a punch-up. Then the 2,000 crowd joined in. Officials and police were unable to quell the riot and the match was abandoned. At a home match on Boxing Day 1892 the referee was attacked following an 11-2 defeat against Liverpool Reserves and the Warrington Road ground closed by the Liverpool FA for a short period in early 1893. (I’m beginning to understand Prescot Cricket Club’s reservations about developing that sloping pitch next to Slacky Brow!) But the most bizarre match during this early period occurred in 1893-94 in the form of a friendly match between Prescot FC and the ‘Prescot Darkies’, a local minstrel troupe. Minstrel shows, in which white men coloured their faces with black boot polish and sang songs from the American Deep South, are unthinkable these days, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries they were extremely popular – among white audiences, at least. BBC TV’s Black and White Minstrel Show ran from 1958 to 1978, by the way. Writing decades before the era of political correctness, the Prescot Reporter announced that ‘the niggers’ won 11-5. In the evening they put on a show at the Assembly Rooms (close to the old Royal Hotel).
Despite the valiant efforts of Neville Walker, we still know very little about Prescot’s earliest players compared with the Roscoes, Whalleys, Jellys, Rainfords, Grisedales and Watkinsons of the 1930-60 period. All we know for sure about Gatley H. (‘Gat’) Lyon is that he was an accomplished right-back who captained Prescot FC in the late 1880s and early 1890s and at some point in his career enjoyed a short spell with Liverpool Caledonians at their ground in Wavertree. He may have been part of the Caledonians team that won the Liverpool Senior Shield and played in the Lancashire League 1892-93. An unusual name like ‘Gatley’ is a God-send for genealogists. According to public records Gatley Henry Lyon was born sometime between April and June 1867 and according to the 1871 Census was the eldest child of William and Catherine Lyon of Irwell Lane, Runcorn, Cheshire. By the time of the 1891 Census Gat was a lodger living in St Helens Road, Eccleston and working as a Watch Barrel Maker. Three years later, in the summer of 1894, he married the twenty-year-old Emily Lyon with whom he fathered sons Cecil Henry (born 1897) and William Herbert (1898). Sadly, it’s likely that Emily died giving birth to her second child. By the time of the 1901 Census Gat, the two boys and his sister Wilhelmina Margaretta (listed as ‘Housekeeper Not Domestic’) were living at 13 Lancaster Terrace (off Scotchbarn Lane), Prescot. Gat’s profession is now described as ‘Watchmaker Enamel Dial Maker’. The last available Census, published in 1911, reveals that Gat was working as an Electrical Fittings Inspector and living with his family a few doors along at 17 Lancaster Terrace. He died between April and June 1914 aged about 46. Wilhelmina Margaretta outlived her brother by 22 years, dying in Prescot aged 69 in 1936. The fate of Gat’s two sons is unknown.
‘Hobbins’ is another unusual name welcomed by genealogists. One of Prescot’s early goalkeepers was called ‘J. Hobbins’. We don’t know precisely when or for how long he played, but he did distinguish himself by scoring the 20th out of 23 goals against Liverpool Wanderers – Prescot’s all-time highest score. I have traced what must have been this player’s family back to the 1841 Census, when the widowed Mary Hobbins and her two sons John and William (aged nine and six respectively) were living with Mary’s brother James Alcock in Houghton Street, Prescot. John was born c1833. If he was the ‘J. Hobbins’ who later played for Prescot he would have been in his early fifties when Prescot FC was formed. A more likely candidate might be found in three other members of the family. The first is James Hobbins, son of John’s brother William, born c1861. Next comes another John Hobbins, James’s brother and William’s second son, born c1863. To make matters even more complicated a further John Hobbins appeared on the scene in 1868 – the son of John Hobbins I and his wife Mary. William’s family remained in Prescot, living at different times at 4 Houghton Street (probably the house occupied by the Alcock family in 1841) and both 53 and 93 Kemble Street. Earlier in life they’d lived in Kemble Street when it was still called Hillock Street. Like Gat Lyon, the men in William’s family were mostly connected with Prescot’s watch-making industry: William and James as Watch Frame Makers and his brother John as ‘Fusee’ or ‘Fuzee’ (spindle) Makers. William’s brother John was also a ‘Fuzee’ Maker. At the time of the 1881 Census he and his family lived at 42 Houghton Street, just nineteen doors or so away from William’s brood, but spent most of their lives elsewhere. In earlier days they’d lived in Eccleston Street, Fall Lane (later Derby Street) and Plumb’s Yard, Whiston, but by 1891 John and his family had moved to Oldham and the Lancashire cotton and iron industries.
The most successful Prescot player from this period was probably Bill Robinson. I have made several references in the past to the photograph hanging in the Cables directors’ lounge of players and officials gathered outside the Hope and Anchor Hotel during the 1913-14 season. I have also pointed out that the tall man on the rear right of the picture, wearing a flat cap and standing with his back to the drainpipe, was Bill Robinson ‘Scout from Hull City’ (Walker). The Yorkshire club had been formed in June 1904 and in the ensuing years adopted the newly re-constituted Prescot Athletic as a sort of nursery club. As early as 1906 Prescot-born Walter Dagnall was playing for Hull City and in the two years prior to World War One Sam and Jack Lyon (no relation to Gat as far as I know), Jimmy Middlehurst, Tommy Burns and goalkeeper Bill Mercer had followed suit. It is now clear that the connection between the two clubs was forged by Bill Robinson, who made 119 appearances for Hull (Football League Division 2) and scored six goals between 1905 and 1908 (Michael Joyce, Football League Players’ Records 1888-1939). He also had spells at Manchester City (just one match, 1903), Bolton Wanderers (31 appearances, 1908-10) and Accrington Stanley (no details). It cannot have been pure coincidence that Hull City and the Prescot club were both nicknamed ‘The Tigers’ and played in yellow-and-black stripes. Robinson is the tall man to the right of the image at the top of this page.
William Samuel (‘Bill’) Robinson was born in Prescot sometime between July and September 1880. He was the seventh child of William Samuel Senior (c1845-99) and Esther nee Green (c1845-1917). They had been married in Eccleston on 16 February 1867 and at the time of the 1881 Census were living at 36 Eccleston Street, Prescot. William Senior is listed as a Joiner. By 1891 the family had moved to 37 Kemble Street and accumulated three more children, the ten of them ranging from three to 24 years old. Bill’s father William died aged about 44 in 1899. In 1901 widower Esther Robinson and her family were living at 37 Kemble Street and Bill was listed as a Joiner’s Apprentice. He was also a half-back with Prescot FC by this stage. By 1911 he’d completed his apprenticeship, risen to ‘House Joiner Journeyman’ and was living with his wife Margaret and six-year-old daughter Edna May at 41 Kemble Street. He’d married Margaret towards the end of 1903. Who was she? None other than Margaret nee Dagnall, daughter of William and Mary Dagnall of 16 Duke Street and sister of Prescot players Bill, Joe and Arthur (‘Tat’) Dagnall. Bill Robinson died in Prescot in the early months of 1926 aged about 45.
After nearly four seasons in the cold, Prescot FC rose like a Phoenix from the ashes in time for the 1906-07 season. It also sported a new name (Prescot Athletic) and a brand new stadium at the bottom end of Hope Street that accommodated not only the footballers but those cyclists and athletes thwarted by the dispute with Prescot Cricket Club in 1902. Fittingly, the land had been acquired through the influence of the Hon. Arthur Stanley. The Cricket Club continued to play at the Warrington Road ground until it was acquired for building purposes by British Insulated Cables in 1938, after which it moved to its present ground on Burrows Lane. In doing so it had exchanged what was probably an unattractive urban location for a rural idyll. The football club, on the other hand, had secured a ground close to the hustle and bustle of a busy industrial town centre. I suspect both clubs are still happy with this arrangement.