There has long been some confusion concerning the outcome of the first competitive game played by Everton, that was won eventually by their opponents Great Lever. Early local historians state that Everton drew the tie 1-1 and then were decisively beaten in the replay by eight goals to one on Stanley Park. However, the record books of the Lancashire FA, held in Leyland, prove that Great Lever did indeed venture into next round of the competition, but the replay, which was rather acrimonious, took place in their home town of Bolton.
The parishioners of St Bartholomew’s church had formed a football club in 1877, before making their headquarters one year later, at a local tavern called the Old Robin Hood. Here they changed their name to Great Lever and set about constructing a simple enclosure that was adjacent to a notorious local landmark called Wellington Yard, which by its description appeared to be a tannery. The club officials then advertised their home matches in local newspapers to let people know that their home ground was on the corner of High Street and that the admission charges were 3d and 6d. It was at this location on 6 November 1880, that they welcomed an Everton side who were making their first appearance in the Lancashire FA knockout competition, which was being contested for the second time.
The game is a milestone in the history of the association game on Merseyside because it is the first one that required a local club to make a rail journey in order to contest it. The Everton party travelled on the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company system and departed from Liverpool Exchange Station. It was not stated who footed the bill or if John Houlding, the club president, was aboard the train. The journey, which took around forty-five minutes, brought the Merseysiders to Trinity Street Station in Bolton. Here, as was the custom, they would have been greeted by the officials of the Great Lever club and escorted by a horse-drawn vehicle to their headquarters that was about one mile away.
The visiting party changed into their kit, before making the short walk to the enclosure where the local newspaper, the Bolton Chronicle, had their reporter well placed to cast an eye over this team of newcomers. He commented on their appearance and how they fared during the course of the game.
The Everton players are all powerfully built men but they could not resist the constant attacks on their fortress and their backs were fully employed in kicking from the goal line. Shot after shot was made by the home forwards and they were only prevented from scoring by the fine play of the visiting goalkeeper.
Our friendly scribe went on to say that Everton held out until the second half, when the home side took a deserved lead with a goal from their Lancashire County player, John Higham. The same player then claimed a second goal but referee, Jack Yeats, was not in a good position and could not decide as to whether the ball had crossed the goal line. There were no further incidents to report and when the tie reached its conclusion, the home fans happily streamed out of the enclosure to await the draw for round two.
When they returned home, Everton Football Club decided to lodge a complaint with the Lancashire FA concerning the outcome of the game at Great Lever. They claimed that all the key decisions made by Mr Yeats had gone against them. The Lancashire FA, having debated the issue, found in favour of Everton and ordered the game to be replayed at the High Street enclosure in Bolton. The Great Lever fans, as expected, were far from happy with their decision.
The Everton party, on their return visit, were accompanied by a journalist from the Liverpool Courier who immediately sensed the hostility of the local football followers towards the men from Merseyside. However, the Lancashire FA Committee again appointed Mr Yeats to take charge in the middle as the game commenced. The visitors, who could not field their strongest side, were outplayed from start to finish by a side who produced a stern performance. The official result, according to the Lancashire FA records, was Great Lever 7 Everton 1.
After the final whistle, the Everton players had to thread their way through the crowd of home supporters who surrounded them on their way back to the Old Robin Hood. Our friend from the Liverpool Courier, blended in with crowd, observed their actions, and then penned the following article…
The Evertonians are likely to retain the reverse of pleasurable recollections following their second visit to Great Lever, which was for the purpose of playing off the disputed cup tie. To say it was brogue is putting a mild construction upon the outlandish behaviour of the Great Lever fans. Their team won the match, but even this did not placate the crowd, which thronged the ground, whose demeanour was so threatening that the visitors, and even the referee, felt its chilling presence. When the Liverpool team retired from the field, they were assailed with taunts and abusive epithets. ”Tha’ll get no Cheese and Bacon to-neat” sneered one of the irreconcilables to the Evertonians- that being the hospitality when in a generous mood. Nor did the Evertonians get the proverbial Cheese and Bacon.
(Liverpool Courier, 4 December 1880)
It would appear, judging by this report, that the Great Lever committee did not honour the rules of hospitality normally granted to a visiting team and the Everton party spent no time longer than was necessary before beginning their homeward journey. They never returned to the location again. The Great Lever team were later to make two visits to Merseyside, once to Anfield, where they beat Everton 1-0, and then to the Hawthorne Road home of the Bootle club whom they beat in an FA Cup tie by four goals to two. They were by then, however, beginning to experience financial difficulties.
The Great Lever club had by now moved from their High Street ground, which was unpopular with visiting teams, to a new home at Woodside on Manchester Road, where they began to import players from Scotland. First to arrive was Andrew Gibson and John Goodall from Kilmarnock, who in turn were followed by David Waugh from the Northern club in Glasgow. The new location however, was proving unpopular with the local football followers who began to desert the Great Lever club in favour of local rivals, Bolton Wanderers. John Goodall, after one season, left Woodside and became a successful player with both Preston North End and England. Andrew Gibson found his way over to Merseyside where he first played for Bootle, before transferring his services to Everton. David Waugh also left Great Lever and after a spell with Burnley, also joined Everton and represented them in their first season in the Football League.
In December 1886, following an FA Cup defeat against the Irish club Cliftonville, the Bolton based club ran out of funding and the players went on strike. Great Lever Football Club then folded and faded in the pages of history.