History of Liverpool F.C. (1892–1959)

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For an account of the club's history since 1959, see History of Liverpool F.C. (1959–1985).
A black and white photograph of a group of men. The men in the front are sitting down, while the row behind they are standing
Liverpool's team during its first season, 1892–93

The history of Liverpool Football Club from 1892 to 1959 covers the time from the club's foundation, through their first period of success, to the appointment of Bill Shankly as manager.

Liverpool Football Club was formed on 15 March 1892 following a disagreement between the board of Everton and club president John Houlding, who owned the club's ground, Anfield. The disagreement between the two parties over rent resulted in Everton moving to Goodison Park from Anfield, which left Houlding with an empty stadium. Thus, he founded Liverpool to play in the stadium. The first match was against Rotherham Town in the Lancashire League. They won the Lancashire League in their first season and were promoted to The Football League for the following season. Liverpool consolidated their position in the Football League over the following seasons and won their first League Championship in 1901.

A further League Championship was won in 1906 and the club reached their first FA Cup final in 1914, but lost to Burnley. More success followed in the 1920s; Liverpool won successive League Championships for the first time in 1922 and 1923. Despite this success the Inter-war years were unsuccessful for Liverpool, with the club often finishing mid-table. Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, Liverpool won the first League Championship after the war in 1947. A slow decline followed, which resulted in the club's relegation to the Second Division in 1954. By the time of Bill Shankly's appointment in 1959, Liverpool had been in the Second Division for five seasons.


A piece of paper with a red border and writing inside the border.
Certificate showing the club's change of name to Liverpool F.C.

Liverpool's origins lie with their neighbours Everton. Founded in 1878, Everton moved to Anfield in 1884 due to the patronage of John Houlding, a former Lord Mayor of Liverpool. Despite this Houlding had his critics, and a dispute between Everton and Houlding resulted in the formation of Liverpool. The dispute centred around Everton's home ground Anfield. Everton had entered into negotiations with John Orrell, the owner of the land at Anfield, to purchase it from him. This escalated into a dispute between Houlding and the Everton board over how the club was run and resulted in Everton moving to Goodison Park. Houlding was left with an empty ground and no team to play in it, so he decided to form a new club. He unsuccessfully tried to retain the Everton name, but was rebuked so he decided to call the team Liverpool.[1]

Houdling applied for membership of The Football League, however the League refused to admit the club and they were forced to join the Lancashire League. Liverpool played its first match on 1 September 1892 against Rotherham Town, a match they won 7–1. Incidentally, the team Liverpool fielded against Rotherham was composed entirely of Scottish players, thus they became known as the 'team of Macs'. They had arrived following manager John McKenna's trip to Scotland to recruit players for the club.[2] Liverpool's first match in the Lancashire League was against Higher Walton, which they won 8–0. Despite the scoreline, only 200 spectators attended the match, but as the season went on and as Liverpool continued to win their attendances increased. Approximately 2,000 people watched Liverpool defeat South Shore in their penultimate at Anfield.[3]

Liverpool's first season was a successful one as the club won the Lancashire League on goal average from Blackpool. They also won the Liverpool District Cup, defeating Everton. The trophies that Liverpool were awarded were stolen and the club had to pay £130 to replace them.[1] Following their success, Liverpool reapplied to be members of the Football League. The application was successful, mainly due to the resignation of Accrington Stanley and Bootle from the Second Division, which Liverpool were entered into. Following their formation Liverpool's strip had been blue and white checkered shirts, similar to their neighbours Everton. This changed in 1894 when they adopted the city's colour of red for their shirts.[4]

The club's first match in the Football League was against Middlesbrough Ironopolis, which they won 2–0, Malcolm McVean scored Liverpool's first goal in league football.[2] Their first season in the Football League was a success. Liverpool finished the season unbeaten in 28 matches, 22 of which they won. Their success meant they finished top of the Second Division, but as there was no automatic promotion to the First Division, they were entered into the 'Test Match system'. This was a knockout match between Liverpool and the bottom team in the First Division, they beat Newton Heath to move up to the First Division. Their stay in the division lasted a season as they finished bottom of the league, with seven wins from thirty matches. They faced Bury in the test match, which they lost 1–0, despite Bury playing most of the match with ten men after their goalkeeper was sent off. The defeat relegated Liverpool to the Second Division.[5]


As more and more people began to watch Liverpool, a new stand was built at Anfield to accommodate them, which became known as the Main Stand. The club's stay in the Second Division was brief. Tom Watson was appointed as manager in 1896 and led Liverpool to the top of the table. They beat Small Heath and West Bromwich Albion in the test match system to earn promotion back to the First Division. The club reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time in the 1896–97 season. They were drawn against Aston Villa and with Everton in the other semi-final, there was the prospect of a first all Merseyside cup final. While Everton won their tie, Liverpool were defeated 3–0 by Villa.[6]

A black and white photograph of a man in a buttoned top
Alex Raisbeck, who captained Liverpool to their first League championship.

During the next two seasons they consolidated their place in the Division with fifth and ninth place finishes. Liverpool's performance improved in the 1898–99 season, when the club went into the final game of the season with a realistic chance of winning their first League championship. They were level on points with Aston Villa, who they coincidentally faced at the end of the season to determine the League champions. Liverpool's wait for a league championship would continue as Villa won 5–0 to condemn them to the runners-up spot.[7] The club also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup during the season, where they faced Sheffield United. The tie resulted in four matches being played before either side won. The first match ended 2–2, the replay in Bolton finished 4–4, while the third match at Fallowfield Stadium was abandoned as the venue was too small and overcrowding resulted in fans spilling onto the pitch. The tie was finally decided in the fourth match at the Baseball Ground, which United won 1–0.[8]

The next season was a disappointment with the club finishing tenth. Liverpool's wait for their first championship ended in 1901 when they won the First Dvision title. Integral to their success was captain Alex Raisbeck. The centre-half had been signed from Hibernian in 1898. He became club captain a year later and was often the focal point of the team, as he was an important defensive player and the instigator of many of Liverpool's attacks.[9] Liverpool's triumph did not look likely in February, as they had lost eight games and conceded 31 goals. However, in their next twelve matches, they won nine and drew three, while only conceding four goals to secure their first League title.[10] More success did not follow as Liverpool were unable to repeat the feat; they finished 11th and 5th in the two subsequent seasons. The 1903–04 season saw the club relegated to the Second Division; like the previous relegation it was only for one season as they won the Division the following season. Liverpool's return to the First Division was successful as they became the first team to win the Second and First Division in successive seasons. They also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they faced Everton, but they lost 2–0 to the eventual winners.[11]

Following the club's success in the league, the Liverpool directors erected a new stand along the Walton Breck Road.[12] The stand became known as the Spion Kop. It was given this name by local journalist Ernest Edwards, who was the sports editor of newspapers the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. The Spion Kop was named after a famous hill in South Africa where a local regiment had suffered heavy losses during the Boer War in 1900. More than 300 men had died, many of them from Liverpool, as the British army attempted to capture the strategic hilltop.[13] Liverpool endured limited success after their league victory, often finishing mid-table. They finished runners-up to Aston Villa in the 1909–10 season, which was the last for captain Raisbeck who returned to his native Scotland to play for Partick Thistle. The club reached their first FA Cup final in 1914, a match they lost 1–0 to Burnley. Four Liverpool players were implicated in the 1915 British football betting scandal. They were found guilty of conspiring with Manchester United players to fix a United win in a league match between the teams and were banned for life. Following the end of the war, the Football Association (FA) lifted the player's bans.[14]

Inter-war years[edit]

A black and white photograph of a man holding a ball
Elisha Scott, Liverpool's goalkeeper from 1912 to 1934.

Tom Watson left as manager in 1915, and was replaced by David Ashworth when football resumed after the war for the 1919–20 season, a season in which Liverpool finished in fourth place. Incidentally, during the season George V became the first reigning monarch to watch a League match when he saw Liverpool play Manchester City.[15] Liverpool again finished in fourth place the following season, before the club regained the League Championship in the 1921–22 season. Liverpool were favourites to win the league towards the end of the season, but lost three of their last four games to put their chances in doubt. However, a 4–1 victory over West Bromwich Albion was enough to secure Liverpool's third League Championship. Ashworth left Liverpool midway through the following season to manage Oldham Athletic; he was replaced by former Liverpool player Matt McQueen. McQueen was initially successful, as Liverpool retained the championship, this owed much to the form of their goalkeeper Elisha Scott, who only conceded 31 goals during the season, a league record at the time.[16] Their total of 60 points equalled the record set by West Bromwich Albion three seasons earlier.[17]

Following their successive league victories, Liverpool's fortunes declined. This had much to with the age of their side. Some of the players had been playing before the war started and goalkeeper Scott had been at the club since 1912.[18] They entered the 1923–24 season aiming to win a hat-trick of league titles. Yet they could only finish a disappointing 12th. They reached fourth place the following season, but this was to be their best finish until after the Second World War, as the club's form declined.[17] Changes to the offside rule in the 1925–26 season resulted in an increase in the number of goals scored during matches.[19] Liverpool contributed to this with big victories over the likes of Manchester United and Newcastle United, who they beat 6–3. However, despite the increase in goals they could only manage a seventh place finish.[20]

A significant development occurred at Anfield in 1920, as the Kop was redesigned and extended to hold 30,000 spectators, all standing.[21] At the time the Kop at Anfield was the biggest in the country, and was able to hold more spectators than some football grounds.[22] Despite the increase in spectators, Liverpool could not repeat their earlier success. The club scored 90 goals during the 1928–29 season, striker Gordon Hodgson scored thirty of them, yet they only finished in fifth place. McQueen was unable to replicate his early success at the club and he retired in 1928 after his leg was amputated following a road accident, after he had been on a scouting assignment.[23]

McQueen was replaced as manager by George Patterson. The club's fortunes did not improve under Patterson's leadership. Liverpool often finished mid-table and were inconsistent. In September 1930, they lost 7–0 at West Ham, yet nine days later they beat Bolton Wanderers 7–2 at Anfield.[24] Liverpool's form continued to deteriorate and they avoided relegation in the 1933–34 season by four points. As they became a club more accustomed to finishing around the bottom of the table they were unable to hold onto their best players. Hodgson was sold to Aston Villa in 1936, and the club struggled to replace the man who scored 233 goals in 358 league games, finishing 19th in the season following his departure. Patterson resigned as manager in 1936 citing ill health. His replacement George Kaye did not fare much better initially. Liverpool narrowly avoided relegation in the 1936–37 season, and the club finished in 11th place the following two seasons. By the outbreak of the Second World War, Liverpool had become a team accustomed to finishing mid-table.[25]


The Second World War brought about the loss of seven seasons to competitive league football in England. The first game played at Anfield after the war was against Middlesbrough, which Liverpool lost 1–0 in front of a crowd of 34,140.[26] Despite their poor performances before the start of the war, the 1946–47 season was a successful one for Liverpool as they won the League Championship. Vital to the club's success were their attacking players. After a 5–0 defeat to Manchester United, the club bought Albert Stubbins from Newcastle United to augment the attack alongside Jack Balmer and Billy Liddell. Balmer epitomised the threat the players possessed by scoring a hat-trick in three successive matches.[27]

Black and white photograph of a man with his mouth open
Billy Liddell who spent his entire career at Liverpool from 1938 to 1961.

These players were the catalyst behind the club's fifth League Championship, but they and the club were unable to match the achievement in the two seasons that followed. The majority of the players had been at the club before the start of the war and were unable to match their previous exploits as they finished 11th and 12th respectively.[28] The 1949–50 season resulted in another disappointing league campaign. The season had started well as the club was unbeaten in their first nineteen matches and were top at the turn of the year. Their form declined towards the end of the season as they progressed further in the FA Cup, by the time they faced Everton in the semi-finals, they were out of contention and eventually finished 8th. They beat Everton to reach their second FA Cup final and first at Wembley against Arsenal. They were unable to win their first FA Cup; two goals from Arsenal striker Reg Lewis meant Liverpool lost the final 2–0.[29]

Following the FA Cup final Liverpool experienced a gradual decline. Their manager George Kaye resigned through ill health and was replaced by Don Welsh in 1951.[23] Welsh's first season did not go smoothly, as Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round by Norwich City who were in the Third Division.[30] The following year, 61,905 spectators watched Liverpool play Wolverhampton Wanderers in the fifth round of the FA Cup, the biggest attendance ever recorded at the ground.[31] Under Welsh's stewardship the club gradually fell down the table, before they were relegated to the Second Division in the 1953–54 season, after finishing in 22nd position. Their relegation came after fifty uninterrupted years in the top division of English football.[32]

Liverpool's first season in the Second Division during the 1954–55 season resulted in an 11th place finish. During this season the club suffered the biggest defeat in its history, when they lost 9–1 away to Birmingham City.[33] Although they improved to third place the following season, it was not enough for Welsh to keep his job and he was sacked at the end of the 1955–56 season. His replacement was Phil Taylor, who was a member of the Liverpool coaching staff.[34] He signed players such as Ronnie Moran, Alan A'Court and Jimmy Melia, who would become the fulcrum of the club for seasons to come, yet Taylor was unable to guide Liverpool back to the First Division. Despite losing to non-league side Worcester City in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1959, the Liverpool board decided to persist with him.[35] His tenure was to come to an end during the 1959–60 season. The club made a good start to the season, but their form began to tail off towards the middle of the season. After a defeat to Huddersfield Town, Taylor resigned. The man who replaced him was the manager of Huddersfield, Bill Shankly.[36]


  1. ^ a b Pead (1986). p. 9.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b Kelly (1988). p. 15.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "Liverpool 4–1 South Shore". LFC History. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  4. ^ "Liverpool Football Club is formed". Liverpool F.C. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  5. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 17.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Liversedge (1991). p. 10.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Liversedge (1991). p. 199.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "1896–1899: A new exciting era at Liverpool". LFC History. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  9. ^ "Alex Raisbeck". LFC History. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 19.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 21.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 22.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 117.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ Kelly (1988). pp. 28–29.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 30.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 33.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ a b Pead (1986). p. 14.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 34.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ Butler (1988). p. 76.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Pead (1986). p. 104.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ Liversedge (1991). p. 113.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Pearce, James (23 August 2006). "How Kop tuned in to glory days". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 8 December 2008. 
  23. ^ a b Liversedge (1991). p. 31.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Pead (1986). p. 15.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ Liversedge (1991). p. 17.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ "Liverpool 0–1 Middlesbrough". LFC History. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  27. ^ Pead (1986). p. 19.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 43.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  29. ^ Pead (1986). p. 21.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 50.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ "Attendances". Liverpool F.C. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  32. ^ Pead (1986). p. 23.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. ^ "Matches". Liverpool F.C. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  34. ^ Liversedge (1991). p. 33.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ Kelly (1988). p. 54.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  36. ^ Pead (1986). p. 24.  Missing or empty |title= (help)


  • Butler, Bryon (1988). The Official Illustrated History: The Football League The First 100 Years. London: Colour Library Books. ISBN 0-86283-583-6. 
  • Kelly, Stephen F. (1988). The Official Illustrated History of Liverpool FC: You'll Never Walk Alone. London: Queen Anne Press. ISBN 0-356-19594-5. 
  • Liversedge, Stan (1991). Liverpool:The Official Centenary History. Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 0-600-57308-7. 
  • Pead, Brian (1986). Liverpool A Complete Record. Derby: Breedon Books Sport. ISBN 0-907969-15-1.