Everton FC Heritage Society members were saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. John Rowlands at his home in Formby on 19 November at the age of eighty-three.
John hailed from the north east of England, supporting Middlesbrough FC since 1946. He arrived on Merseyside, via a spell in London, in the 1970s, and worked in general practice in Maghull until retirement in 2002. He first saw Everton play at Goodison Park in 1971 and developed a great fondness of the club. A sports and local history enthusiast, he penned a number of books, including a biography of his good friend, the former Toffees winger Albert Geldard (he curated Albert’s collection of memorabilia), and a pictorial history of Everton (1878-1946).
As a long-serving member of Everton FC Heritage Society, his areas of interest and expertise included war casualties and the 1933 FA Cup-winning Everton team. He also discovered the existence of Everton Auckland FC. More recently, he was involved in the project to put a plaque at Dixie Dean’s old school.
Tony Wainwright, a Heritage Society colleague, has described him as a giant of the organisation, while Paul Kelly fondly recalled John’s wise counsel when he succeeded him in overseeing the annual Armistice Day commemoration staged at Goodison Park.
David Prentice, former Liverpool Echo Head of Sport, a founder member of EFCHS, and now Senior Communications Manager at Everton Football Club said, ‘John was a regular caller to our house in recent years – usually with boxes of treasures for me to study! He was also heavily involved in investigating the links between dementia and heading a football. A fine man – but also a lovely gent. He will be dearly missed.’
A keen follower of many sports, John served as team doctor for England test matches when staged at Old Trafford and, on occasion, Headingley. Following a conversation with Norah Mercer, widow of Joe, in 1990, John became a pioneer in championing research into the connection between heading footballs and damage to the brain. Sadly, at the time, there was little appetite at the FA to act on his promptings – this was highlighted in the Daily Mail, in 2020.
Peter Lupson, Vice-Chairman of the Heritage Society, paid tribute to his friend and fellow member;
‘It was with great sadness that I learned of John Rowlands’ passing. John and I were members of the Heritage Society from the very early days and we worked together closely and understood each other well. He was a loyal member of the Society, not only regularly attending our meetings when he was well, but also giving his support and contributing to many of our public events.
The breadth and depth of John’s knowledge were breathtaking and he shared his knowledge and expertise willingly. He gave me invaluable help with a number of research topics I was pursuing over the years and never spared time or trouble sending me relevant documents and images assembled from his own meticulous and extensive research in those particular areas. Additionally, he often sent me information he came across about other subjects that he knew were of personal interest to me. Over and above all this I shall always be grateful to John for coming to the National Football Museum in Manchester to give me his support when my TV series and DVD were launched.
I greatly enjoyed John’s company and his seemingly inexhaustible fund of fascinating stories. He never ceased to amaze me each time he came up with an unforgettable account about an experience he had had or about his friendships with people of national renown. I greatly admired and respected John and extend my deepest sympathy to his wife Cathy and all the family in their great loss. He is our great loss too.’
The Society’s Chairman, Ken Rogers, also paid tribute:
‘I was sorry to hear the news that John Rowlands, one of our most senior and respected members, has sadly passed away. My relationship with John goes back decades. We first made contact when he was working on a project to discover the site of Everton’s first pitch in Stanley Park. He pinpointed that south west corner opposite the Arkles and close to John Houlding’s house. I remember a great piece at that time in the Football Echo. Like all of our members, I had total respect for John. The thoughts of all of our members are with his wife Cathy, and family, at this very sad time.’
You can read an item about Dr John Rowlands on our website.