Isaac Roberts: The Short Life of an Everton Blue

Standing at the rear of the tall buildings that today run along the thoroughfare of Dale Street are the remains of the uniquely named Ryleys Gardens. However, this once squalid and narrow court was inhabited by many destitute immigrants who had arrived in Victorian Liverpool hoping for a new start in life. Ryleys Gardens was also the birthplace of a man who played one competitive game for Everton – Isaac Roberts .

The last remaining building in Ryleys Gardens contemporary with the court houses

Isaac Roberts was born August 1868, the fourth child of Isaac, a mariner, and his wife Leah. The couple had married at Holy Trinity church having moved to Liverpool from Mostyn in Flintshire where they both had been born. According to the 1881 census the family had relocated to Lavrock Bank in Dingle where the 13-year-old Isaac worked as a shop boy/messenger. He began playing football for Aigburth Vale on Fulwood Park before signing for Stanley around 1887, at their home at Walton Stiles.

Typical Victorian court in Liverpool

The new signing quickly found a regular place in the club half-back line and sometimes filled the position of goalkeeper. Roberts appeared in the inaugural FA Cup campaign – which the club entered as Liverpool Stanley – where his side suffered a 5-1 home defeat by the Bolton-based Halliwell. On 9 January 1888 he was part of the Stanley side who defeated Everton 3-0 at Walton Stiles and took part in the return game, played 29 May, when the sides drew 1-1 at Anfield.

The next season he again took part in the FA knockout which saw the Walton Stiles club eliminate both Workington and Astley Bridge. However, due to the cost involved, they declined the offer to play the next round against Belfast based Cliftonville and withdrew from the contest. Isaac Roberts continued to perform well and was eventually approached by Everton to play in a Football League match.

Walton Stiles (centre); Mere Green (the open space on the right, soon to become Goodison Park); Stanley Park (far right)

The game took place on 9 February 1889 at Anfield against Wolverhampton Wanderers. John Holt had been called away to play for the Lancashire FA against Staffordshire and Roberts took his place at centre-half. The home crowd, which numbered around 6,000, watched Edgar Chadwick give Everton the lead, but two late goals saw the visitors return home with both points.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Ike Roberts then returned to Stanley where he took part in the1889 Liverpool Cup Final. The match, against Bootle, took place on the Liverpool Athletic Club ground in Fairfield and his side were beaten by three goals to nil. He then slowly drifted away from the game for a “life on the ocean waves”.

The 1891 census found Isaac living with his widowed mother at 365 Beaufort Street in Dingle where he listed his occupation as a sailor. When she died, he took up lodging at 23 Frank Street. Isaac Roberts was living at this address when he passed away on 14 January 1896 aged only twenty-eight and was buried at Toxteth Park Cemetery.

By Tony Onslow

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