No other player can claim a tighter bond with the early development of Everton Football Club than ‘good old’ Mike Higgins who can surely lay claim to the title of ‘Original True Blue’. From the start of club records, he can be found representing them when they first appeared on Stanley Park. Higgins was with the club during their one-year tenure at Priory Road and took part in the first game Everton played at Anfield.
He was the longest serving member of the playing staff, when they became founder members of the Football League in 1888.
His Irish born father, Michael, and his Carlisle born mother Eleanor, were living at Great Yarmouth when their first child Thomas was born in 1860. They then moved to the south end of Liverpool and were living on Essex Street when they took their second child to be baptised, on 20 September 1862, at the church of St John the Baptist. The names they chose were William Michael. The 1871 census found the Higgins family living at 34 Collin Street but by 1881 they had moved across Liverpool and were residing at 58 Berry Street in Bootle. Michael was working in the upholstery trade when he was first reported to be playing football for Everton.
He played in the second XI before gradually establishing himself in the first team. He was selected for the Liverpool & District XI, against their counterparts from Walsall, in a game that was designed to open the new enclosure at Priory Road. Higgins was part the Everton team that first lifted the Liverpool Cup in 1884, with a win over Earlestown, and was also in the side that won it again in 1886 by beating Bootle. He took part in the first game, against Earlestown, at Anfield and played on as its capacity gradually increased to around 20,000. He witnessed the influx of Scottish players into the area, but was still able to command his place in the first eleven.
Higgins had begun his Everton career playing amongst the forwards but had moved to half back when he took part in all of the four FA Cup games that were required to eliminate Bolton Wanderers from the contest. He resisted the temptation to play football during the resultant ban Everton incurred and helped to see them through the difficult months that followed. On 27 May 1888, Michael Higgins became the first Everton player to officially be granted a benefit match.
The opposition was provided by a team of players, selected by Major William Sudall of Preston North End, that consisted mainly of Burnley men who had been imported from Scotland. Mike Higgins was one of seven Everton players in a home side that included players from both Bootle and Stanley. Around 10,000 people saw them win the game 2-0. Later that evening a banquet was held at the Sandon Hotel and Mike Higgins was the Guest of Honour.
The amount of money taken at the gate was reported to be £90, and this clearly astounded the reporters from the national press who had attended the game. This was evident from the following article that appeared under the title of ‘Who would not be an Evertonian’?
Who would not indeed, after the magnificent recognition the service of Mike Higgins to the Everton club received at the Anfield enclosure on Saturday. Mr Higgins has been associated with the fortunes of the club through all its phases of title until it has risen to rank among the leading organisations of the country and is the last playing member of the old team. Gentlemanly, unassuming and esteemed by all. Of this, the 10,000 present bear irrefutable testimony, and it truly will be questioned whether any other football player has had such an overwhelming testimony of his service.
(Athletic News, 29 May 1888)
The club had his registration firmly in place when they began playing in the Football League but called upon his services only once, when on 22 September, he took part in the game against Aston Villa at Perry Barr. Everton lost 2-1. Higgins was then placed in the reserve pool of players and was not retained at the end of the season. His footballing days however, were not yet over.
Michael Higgins, along with several others former Everton players, formed themselves into a junior side that they called Everton Athletic. Their first fixture, against Lancashire Nomads, was played at Anfield before they managed to secure their own pitch at Strawberry Pleasure Gardens.
This enclosed location, at the bottom end of West Derby Road, contained a tavern, tea rooms which were also used for dancing and an area for outdoor recreation. The club acquired a list of fixtures that began with a visit from Blackburn & District. The new venture caught the eye of the editor of the ‘Football Field’ and the journalist whom he sent to Liverpool, presented him with this account of what he found.
The prospect of gazing at a football match in a deluge without shelter hardly, was anything but inviting. But I braved the elements and made a move in the direction of the so-called Strawberry Gardens. The entrance to the ‘Gardens’ is obtained from West Derby Road through a gut that cannot be termed a road or street. This admits you to a large expanse of wasteland which, with the rain, was in the most deplorable condition, small lakes of accumulated rain water lying in wait to entrap any incautious stranger whose thoughts should be to occupy his mind as to obscure the vision. “Abandon hope all you who enter here” would have not been an ill-fitting title on Saturday had it been placed at the entrance of the inhospitable region. However, I carefully piloted myself towards a door around which a small knot of sons of toil were gathered, seriously engaged discussing the merits and demerits of the Everton team and prognosticating another win for them over Notts County. Having planked down my humble 3 pennies and entered the enclosure, I was extremely surprised to find my self in a smart little ground looking spick and span with new palings, partitions and goal posts. In width it had an appearance of being short of the regulation distance. I may have been deceived, still it looked like it, but this was remarked upon by several of the spectators, whom by the way numbered around 500. A man was busily engaged sprinkling sawdust on the turf in places where it was most damp and they were more numerous than otherwise. May I add that the arena is not what may be called level as a bowling green, but apart from the deep hollow near the top goal, it was fairly level. To sum up, it is a very cosy enclosure, somewhat cramped, but well sheltered from the biting wind.
(Football Field 26 October 1889)
Everton Athletic got the new campaign off to a good start by beating their visitors 5-2. Fixtures with Leek and Rotherham then followed before an alarming article appeared in the Football Field.
Many of our readers will hear with regret that Mike Higgins (Good Old Mike) the old Evertonian, is lying seriously ill at his residence in Liverpool. All who know the veteran will wish him a speedy recovery. (11 November 1889)
This information was followed up by the Liverpool Echo who reported.
We hear that Mike Higgins died yesterday from internal inflammation.
These articles would have come as an almighty shock to the former Everton player because he was in good health and living at his home in Bootle. He played out the whole campaign with his new club who, the next season, were joined by another former Everton player, George Farmer. Nevertheless, it soon became clear that the Liverpool public were not prepared to pay money to watch the standard of football played by Everton Athletic and they disbanded without completing their list of fixtures.
The 1901 census found Mike Higgins, unmarried, and living with his mother at 44 Back Lane within the parish boundaries of St Mary the Virgin church at Great Crosby. On 15 March 1906, William Michael Higgins married London born Louisa Perry at the church of St Paul in Barrow-in-Furness. They both listed their address as being 60 Kendal Street. By the time of 1911 census, the couple were living at 15 Park Terrace, Bowness in Windermere where the head of the household continued to work as an upholsterer. Eleanor, then a widow aged 83, lived with them.
There alas, the trail went cold and, due to his fairly common name, it was difficult to ascertain what became of Mike Higgins thereafter.