The host of FA dignitaries who had been present at the opening of Goodison Park had now left Liverpool and the Everton committee assembled to start the new Football League season in earnest. (Goodison had been officially opened on 24 August 1892 by Lord Kinnaird and Frederick Wall of the Football Association. No football was played; instead the 12,000 crowd watched a short athletics event followed by music and a fireworks display).
Their first opponents would be Nottingham Forest. The much published decision to move from Anfield was complete and the new club, now a limited liability company, would be run by a board of directors. They were like-minded group of hard working individuals, from various religious backgrounds, whose politics were Liberal. The old Everton club had developed close links with the brewing trade and several of the previous membership had been unhappy with this arrangement. Nevertheless, when the new Everton team began their Football League campaign, they were captained by a man who held the licence of a public house in Preston. He was also destined to captain them in their first FA Cup final.
Robert Henry Howarth was born on 25 June 1865, the second son of an iron moulder who lived on Holstein Street in Preston. The 1881 census reveals the family had moved to Schleswig Street, and Robert listed his occupation as that of a general clerk. He began playing football in the local public park, where, after being spotted by a club representative, he signed for Preston North End. The year was 1883 and the North End manager, Major Sudall, was in the process of strengthening his side with players he had imported from Scotland. One of them was Nick Ross and he and Bob Howarth would form a partnership that would lead to them become the best pair of full-backs in England.
In 1883 Bob Howarth married Elizabeth Poole at Minster of St Johns in Preston. She was the sister of his team mate Robert Poole, and they went to live with Elizabeth’s mother, Mary Poole, who was the licensee of the Cross Keys Hotel on Market Street. The hostelry was popular with the local followers of the association game who now engaged in a fierce rivalry with their counterparts in Blackburn. It was their East Lancashire neighbours who first came to prominence as they captured the FA Cup four years in succession, while Preston North End was twice disqualified from the competition, having been found guilty of “professionalism”. Bob Howarth escaped any censure because he was fully employed as a clerk.
Preston North End, when the rules were finally relaxed, reached the 1888 FA Cup but were beaten, by West Bromwich Albion, at the Oval Cricket Ground in London. Nick Ross then departed for Everton, who along with Preston North End became founder members of the Football League. Bob Howarth then found a new full-back partner in Bob Holmes as North End won the League and FA Cup double at their first attempt. He also, during the course of the season, won two international caps when he was selected to play for England against Wales and Scotland. Nick Ross, having spent one season with Everton, returned to partner Howarth as Preston North End won the league championship for the second year running. Bob Howarth went on to win another two England caps and take part in 47 Football League matches during his time with Preston.
By 1891 he was he licensee of the Cross Keys, living there with wife Elizabeth and their two children, while also working as a solicitors clerk. By the end of the years he had moved to Everton. Andy Hannah and Danny Doyle who had helped Everton to win the league championship the eprevious season, had returned to Scotland. An injury had put a premature end to the football career of “Wattie” Campbell, and Howarth had been signed to replace him. He first played for his new club in a mid-week fixture against Southport Central and then made his Football League debut the following Saturday.
Howarth played for the first XI on 5 December1891 in a 2-2 draw against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. He then shared the full-back duties with Duncan McLean and Bob Kelso, as Everton tried desperately to close the gap on the runaway league leaders, Sunderland. Their plight was not helped by the internal dispute that was now going on between the club president and other leading members of the management committee. Bob Howarth, when the season ended, decided to join the breakaway group, who now moved the club away from Anfield and over to Goodison Park.
Jonny Holt had been the Everton captain during their last season at Anfield, but this honour was now handed to Bob Howarth. His team of players made a hesitant start to the season, drawing their inaugural match at Goodison Park before losing away to Aston Villa. The first victory, at their new home, was achieved at the expense of Newton Heath who they beat by six goals to nil. Nevertheless, two weeks later, Everton lost for the first time on their new ground when they were beaten 4-0 by the reigning league champions, Sunderland. They were still in contention with them when the sides met again on Wearside at the start of the New Year, but Everton went down by four goals to three. Sunderland was now proving to be the ‘team of all talents’ and they were beginning to put daylight between themselves and rest of leading pack in the race for the Football League championship. If Everton were going to pick up any silverware that season, then their best chance lay in the FA Cup.
They began the campaign with a home game against the current holders of the trophy, West Bromwich Albion, who they beat by four goals to one. The Goodison Road side of the enclosure had yet to be developed so the capacity crowd that watched the game was somewhere around 25,000. Nottingham Forest then became the first team to make a second visit to Goodison Park when Everton drew them in the next round, and another capacity crowd saw them beaten by four goals to two. Everton, now through to the last eight, received a home draw with Sheffield Wednesday. The M S & L railway company laid on a special excursion train to bring the fans from Yorkshire and they were accompanied by a local journalist who described the new Everton ground to his readers,
It would be hard to find a ground with better accommodation than Goodison Park, and it’s no exaggeration to say that 15,000 people could be placed under cover and see the game. The citizens of Sheffield were early on the scene and formed no small part of the huge company assembled, the colours of the Wednesday being conspicuous in all parts of the ground. As time drew near for the commencement of hostilities the utmost excitement prevailed, but the crowd was well behaved and inclined to be humorous. Much amusement was caused by the frantic efforts two of three spectators to get on the top row of the already heavily packed stand at the Liverpool end of the ground and their unsuccessful efforts were greeted with roars of laughter. The sweet music of the fog horn, the tinkling of bells, and the irritating sound of rattles could be heard all over the ground.
The Yorkshire club had already played their league fixture at Goodison Park where they had beaten Everton 5-1. This time however, they were beaten by thee goals to nil. Indeed, the third goal registered, scored by Bob Kelso, was the first ever goal to be scored by Everton from the penalty spot.
It was now the turn of Everton to travel over to Sheffield, where they met Preston North End in the semi-final at the neutral venue of Bramall Lane. The game ended in a 2-2 draw so the two sides met again on thursday 16 March at the same venue. The game ended in goalless draw. Wolverhampton Wanderers, meanwhile, had already reached the FA Cup Final when Everton arrived to meet them in the scheduled Football League fixture the following Saturday at Molineux Grounds. Bob Howarth, along with several other first team players, was rested and Alex Latta took over the captaincy. The home club put out their strongest side but Everton beat them by four goals to two. Two days later on the monday, they faced Preston North End for a third time.
The match took place at the new home of Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, and thousands of people descended up on the ground. The location quickly filled to capacity and, as the gates were locked, hundreds of people were unable to gain admission. Everton, who were back at full strength, took a first half lead, but their opponents equalised after seventy minutes. North End then applied pressure but could find no way past Richard Williams, the Everton goalkeeper, who thwarted their every attempt to score. Everton then won a corner. The kick, taken by Edgar Chadwick, went straight to Paddy Gordon who headed them to victory. The delirious Everton following then made their way back to Liverpool.
A large crowd had gathered on the platform, when the train carrying Bob Howarth and his men, arrived back at Exchange Station, from where Richard Williams was carried, shoulder high, to the conveyance that awaited them. This then took them over to Central Station, where they caught a train to the Spa town of Buxton. The Everton players now had five days to prepare for their first ever FA Cup Final.
The FA had decided that year to move the final tie away from London and stage it on the home of Manchester Athletic Club at Fallowfield. They did, however, underestimate the popularity of the game in North West England and the occasion was ruined by the fact that too many people were allowed admission to the enclosure. The three main railway stations in Liverpool were besieged and every train which set off in the direction of Manchester was full to capacity. News reports recorded the number as being as high as 30,000. Special trains also came from all parts of Lancashire and the Midlands with forty special trains alone being reported to have arrived at Manchester Victoria Station. Their passengers then all converged on the Fallowfield,
The scene at Fallowfield on Saturday beggars description. The ground, it was theoretically estimated, was capable of holding 60,000 but as a matter of fact the exact number present was 68, 211 – far too large crowd to comfortable accommodated. The fact is there were thousands who could not get a sight of game and naturally pushed to the front. Up to half past two the barriers held firm but they were not constructed to stand prolonged pressure and a quarter of an hour later there was an ominous crash and hundreds rushed through the opening and immediately filled the space between the reporters and the touchline. Some of the pencillers stuck gamely to their task as long as possible, but when the crowd behind began to fling sods, drainpipes and stones, they fled to the pavilion and their places were taken by a howling mob smashed the desks by using them to stand on.
Northern Daily Telegraph, 27 March 1893
The forty or so police officers who were on duty, did their best to keep the spectators back from touchline but, as the players took to their positions, they pressed close to the field of play. Bob Howarth registered an official protest, which was noted by the referee, before the play got underway. Everton began the game well but failed to take advantage of the scoring opportunities they created. The Wanderers half back line then began to dominate the play and it was from here that the winning goal was scored. Harry Allen sent a long clearance down field in the direction of the Everton goal. Richard Williams appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball and it sailed over his outstretched arms and under crossbar. Everton, in an attempt to save the game, rallied in the later stages but to no avail and, when the final whistle was heard, Wolves had won the game 1-0.
Both sides later assembled in the pavilion, where the trophy was held in care of the FA committee. Bob Howarth, in sporting gesture, stated that “he wished to withdraw the Everton protest because he had made it under the impression that the Wanderers had acted similarly”. The trophy was then handed over to Wolves skipper Harry Allan, who thanked him for his gesture. The Everton party then returned to Liverpool and, after completing their Football League fixtures, finished in third place behind champions Sunderland.