LFC Managers - The early years through to the 1950's

LFC Managers - The early years through to the 1950's

W. E. Barclay

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : March 1892
Date Left : July 1896
Games Played : 101
Games Won : 58
Trophies Won : 3

The honour of being the first manager of Liverpool Football Club belongs to W. E. Barclay.  After the Everton members voted to abandon Anfield, William Barclay and John Houlding (the owner of Anfield) set about creating a new team - Liverpool Football Club.

Barclay was actually the 'Secretary-Manager' of the club during its initial formation and was involved at Anfield before John McKenna (who was the joint manager with Barclay during the clubs early years).  Barclay's contribution to the club should not be overlooked, as it was his organisational skills that created the great 'Team of the Macs' and laid the foundations for the early successes of the club.

A well respected and well liked man throughout the city, Barclay would later go on to a career in teaching.

John McKenna

Nationality : Irish
Date Appointed : August 1895
Date Left : July 1896
Games Played : 101
Games Won : 58
Trophies Won : 3

John McKenna, although never actually holding the official title of manager, took over the running of the club from John Houlding (who was the owner of Anfield), and carried out many of the duties and tasks that we now associate with the manager.  Over time, McKenna was to become one of the driving forces behind the early formation and development of Liverpool Football Club.

A well respected local businessman, McKenna had fallen in love with football whilst watching Everton play at the newly build Anfield stadium.  When Everton left Anfield, McKenna was keen to help out his friend John Houlding, and relished the opportunity to be a part of Houlding's new club.

When Liverpool Association, as the club was called at the time, was denied entry into the Football League in 1892, McKenna saw it as his personal goal to prove the FA wrong, and set about creating a team capable of winning promotion through the local Lancashire Leagues.

In order to field a team, McKenna used his contacts to recruit players from the Irish community in Glasgow.  The team, known as the "team of the Macs", because eight of the players had the prefix 'Mc' in their name duly won their opening match 7-1 against Rotherham Town.  It was the perfect start for McKenna.

Liverpool finished their first season as Lancashire Champions, prompting McKenna to once again appeal to the FA to allow Liverpool entry into the Football League.  This time the club was accepted and Liverpool began their second season in the Second Division.

After a successful first season in the Football League Second Division, Liverpool found themselves playing a test match against Newton Heath (soon to become Manchester United), to see which team gained promotion to the First Division.  Liverpool duly won the game 2-0, confirming the clubs promotion to the First Division.  For McKenna, it was the first step in turning Liverpool into the countries top football team.

By the time Liverpool were relegated back to the Second Division in 1895 McKenna was working alongside W E Barclay, although Barclay seems to have been acting as Club Secretary, rather than day to day manager.  At the time Barclay famously remarked that Liverpool would soon bounce back from relegation, and would only be relegated for one year.  This display of fighting spirit and resolve would become synonymous with Liverpool Football Club for years to come.

As McKenna flourished, so did the club.  Attendances increased, resulting in McKenna building a new stand for the supporters.  However, in 1913 the Arsenal Chairman accused McKenna of match fixing.  Shocked and appalled McKenna immediately called for an investigation, during which he was completely exonerated.  The Arsenal Chairman later apologised.

Unfortunately for McKenna 4 of his players were later charged with match fixing, and all received life time bans, although 3 had their bans lifted after serving in WWI.

By 1915 McKenna was ready to step down from the day to day running of the club and handed the Chairmanship over to W R Williams, although he remained an integral part of the clubs administrative staff.

John McKenna died in March 1936, having devoted over 40 years of his life to the club.  It is difficult to assess where Liverpool Football Club would be now had McKenna not played his part, but it is almost certain that it would not have enjoyed the early successes, or taken such great strides so early after its formation without John McKenna driving it forward.

Tom Watson

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : August 1896
Date Left : May 1915
Games Played : 740
Games Won : 327
Trophies Won : 3

Tom Watson was responsible for guiding Liverpool too two League titles and the clubs first FA Cup Final appearance in a managerial career that spanned 19 years and 740 games.  To this day Bill Shankly, with 753, is the only manager to have been in charge of Liverpool for more games that Tom Watson.

During his 19 years Watson brought many fine players to the club, but his most influential signing was that of Alex Raisbeck, a fiery Scotsman widely regarded as one of the finest of his generation.

When war broke out in 1914 Watson worked hard to support the war effort, encouraging players to enlist, and convincing the playing staff to donate part of their pay.  Over £500 was raised.

Sadly Watson died in 1915.  When his funeral took place on the 11th May his coffin was carried by 8 of his players.

David Ashworth

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : December 1920
Date Left : February 1923
Games Played : 58
Games Won : 25
Trophies Won : 1

David Ashworth was something of an enigma, guiding Liverpool to the title in the 1921/22 season, before quitting the club the following season, despite the team sitting top of the table.

Ashworth was appointed in 1920, becoming Liverpool's first post WWI manager.  In his first season he led the team to two victories over rivals Everton, but despite making a good start to the season, Liverpool were unable to maintain their momentum and eventually finished 4th.

The 21/22 season was a different story.  Although the club lost its opening match 3-0 to Sunderland, the team then went on an unbeaten streak that lasted till mid March.  The clubs third League Title was wrapped up with a 4-1 victory over West Brom on the final day of the season.

The following season the club was once again in good form and well on its way to defending the League title, when in February 1923 Ashworth announced that he was leaving Liverpool to re-join his boyhood team, Oldham.  The decision seems strange as Oldham were bottom of the table at the time.  By the end of the season Oldham were relegated and Liverpool were champions again.

Ashworth only stayed at Oldham for one year, before moving onto Manchester City, but after they too were relegated he again left, this time moving to Walsall.

David Ashworth died in 1947, aged 79.

Matt McQueen

Nationality : Scottish
Date Appointed : February 1923
Date Left : February 1928
Games Played : 229
Games Won : 94
Trophies Won : 1

After his retirement from the Liverpool Playing Squad Matt McQueen became a referee, before being appointed a Liverpool FC Director in 1918.  When the then manager David Ashworth resigned during the middle of the 1922-23 season McQueen quickly stepped into the Managers position, helping to secure the League Title by six points.

Several years later whilst on a scouting mission to Sheffield McQueen was involved in a road accident which resulted in him losing a leg.  Although he continued to manage the club for a period after the accident his health remained in a poor condition, ultimately leading to his retirement in February 1928.

McQueen kept strong ties with the club after his retirement and his house now forms part of site of the Centenary Stand car park.

Aside from his League title during the 22-23 season, McQueen was also responsible for signing the legendary Gordon Hodgson, who was to become one of the greatest inter-wars players at the club.

George Patterson

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : February 1928
Date Left : May 1936
Games Played : 370
Games Won : 139
Trophies Won : 0

George Patterson had an undistinguished playing career at Marine FC, where he gained his footballing experience.  During the 1907-08 season he netted 7 goals in the Zingari League, scoring against the likes of Brombrough Pool and Halebank Athletic.

Patterson joined Liverpool in 1908, where he worked first as an assistant to Tom Watson.  On Watson's death he became Club Secretary and eventually in 1928 he became manager.  His eight years in charge failed to yield a title, despite having some good players and an attractive squad.   Fifth position in 1929 was the best the club could manage under Patterson's guidance.

As the pressure for success grew Patterson's health began to fail, eventually leading him to resign in 1936.  Despite him failing to deliver success on the pitch, Patterson was very shrewd in the transfer market, bringing in players such as Phil Taylor and Matt Busby.

George Patterson continued in his role as Club Secretary after his resignation as manager and regularly attended matches up until his death in 1955.

George Kay

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : May 1936
Date Left : February 1951
Games Played : 359
Games Won : 143
Trophies Won : 1

George Kay joined Liverpool in 1936 after five years in charge of Southampton.  The club he joined was in desperate need of change, having suffered years of under-achievement under previous manager George Patterson.

Kay was regarded as a deep thinker, and set about rebuilding the Liverpool team with several key signing, including the legendary Billy Liddell, who would go on to be classed as the greatest ever Liverpool player.  Kay was also responsible for signing a young Bob Paisley and Bishop Auckland, who would both go on to have great careers at Liverpool.

Sadly for Kay and the club, his managerial reign was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and it was not until 1946 that he got to show his true talent.

During the 46-47 season Kay guided Liverpool to a unique quadruple, winning the League, Liverpool Senior Cup and two other local cups.  This unprecedented success was largely due to the way Kay prepared the team, by taking them on a tour of the USA.  During the tour the club played 10 games in a month, feasted on un-rationed food and built up a physical and mental strength that would see the team through to the end of the season.

Unfortunately, Kay's health would soon start to deteriorate, causing him to resign from his position in 1956.  He died a premature death in 1965.

Don Welsh

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : March 1951
Date Left : May 1956
Games Played : 234
Games Won : 82
Trophies Won : 0

Don Welsh was appointed Liverpool manager in March 1951 after ill health forced the previous manager, George Kay into early retirement.  Welsh had previously played for the club as a guest player during the 39/40 season.  Although this was only a brief spell, it was enough for Welsh to be accepted as a Liverpool player by the fans.

Unfortunately for Welsh the team he inherited had major problems.  Although the defence was solid, the attack was ageing and was unable to provide enough goals for the team to win many games.  Welsh attempted to fix this by spending 50,000 ponds on players like Bimpson and A'Court, but even this was not enough to rescue the situation.  Although the team narrowly avoided relegation in 1953, beating Chelsea in a scrappy final game to stay in Division One, the writing was on the wall the following season, and the team was duly relegated in 1954.  It was the first time the team had suffered relegation for over 50 years.

Welsh very nearly redeemed himself during the 55-56 season, narrowly missing out on promotion back to Division One.  Despite this, it was obvious that under Welsh the team was going nowhere, and in May 1956 Welsh accepted his part of the blame for the team’s relegation and was sacked.

Welsh has the dubious honour of being the only Liverpool manager ever to be sacked.  He died in 1990, aged 78.

Phil Taylor

Nationality : English
Date Appointed : May 1956
Date Left : November 1959
Games Played : 153
Games Won : 77
Trophies Won : 0

Phil Taylor occupies an unfortunate place in the Liverpool history books.  As well as being the only manager never to manage the club in the top division, he was also Bill Shankly's predecessor, and as such has faded very much into the background.

Taylor joined the club as a player in March 1936, and was later given the captaincy of the team under Don Welsh.  A cultured and intelligent player, as well as a well-liked and respected man, Taylor seemed the obvious choice to succeed Don Welsh after his dismissal.  His first action as manager was to enter the transfer market to strengthen the playing squad.  He made several key purchases, amongst them a young man called Ronnie Moran, who would go on to enjoy an incredible 50 years at the club in numerous capacities.

Despite all his signings however, Taylor's Liverpool never quite had the quality or consistency to win promotion back to the First Division.  After a poor start to the 1959-60 season Taylor resigned, admitting that the strain of gaining promotion for the club was too great.

After spending 23 years at the club as a player and manager, a tearful Taylor spoke to the Liverpool Daily Post about his decision, stating "No matter how great has been the disappointment of the Directors at our failure to win our way back to the first division, it has not been greater then mine. I made it my goal. I set my heart on it and strove for it with all the energy I could muster. Such striving has not been enough and now the time has come to hand over to someone else to see if they can do better."

A likeable, honest character, Taylor can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that his decision to step aside heralded the arrival of one of the greatest managers football has ever seen, and yes, Bill Shankly would do better!

If you enjoyed reading 'LFC Managers - The early years through to the 1950's' then please click on the links below to read the rest of our LFC Managers Guide :

LFC Managers - Shankly, Paisley and the glory years

LFC Managers - Premier League era

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