‘George could bend it way before Beckham’

George Farmer (1862-1905) – Everton Pioneer

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Grave and Headstone Rededication Project

Liverpool Echo Article by Ken Rogers

In the days running up to the rededication event, our chairman Ken Rogers – former Sports Editor of the Liverpool Echo – composed a fitting article for the newspaper he knows so well;

In an age when commerciality pervades every aspect of top-flight football, it is encouraging to reflect on a remarkable initiative that continues to focus on those oft-forgotten heroes who helped transform Merseyside into the soccer hotbed it is today.

Everton Football Club’s official Heritage Society (EFCHS) is driving a project which instinctively reminds us of an age when maximum wage restraints were so severe that many players – history-makers in their own right – were buried in unmarked graves bearing no reference to their footballing fame. Since its inception in 2008, EFCHS has been arranging grave restorations of Everton icons locally and across the UK.

In 1878 the Reverend Ben Swift Chambers inadvertently played a pivotal role in the foundation of two of the world’s greatest football clubs. His fledgling church team St Domingo’s team became Everton FC in 1879, and, when Everton left Anfield in 1892, Liverpool FC was formed. In 2008, the Reverend Chambers’ grave was discovered in poor repair at Shepley Methodist Church in Yorkshire by Society member Peter Lupson. He led a campaign to have the grave restored and a rededication ceremony was attended that summer by representatives from both the Everton and Liverpool clubs.

With Everton soon to depart Goodison Park after 143 years, the project is currently concentrating on initiatives closer to home. Since 2019, EFCHS member Jamie Yates has collated details of over 50 former Blues’ players and visionaries buried at Anfield Cemetery, using existing records and his own research. 

At noon this Saturday (23 March 2024), the grave of George Farmer (1862-1905) will be the latest to be rededicated. Farmer, a left-sided forward from Oswestry FC, was Everton’s first professional player, signed alongside George Dobson of Bolton Wanderers, at the dawn of professionalism in Association Football. He starred for the club during its Anfield days and was Everton’s first international, having earned two Wales caps just prior to his Everton debut in April 1885.

Farmer was idolised by early Evertonians, a superstar before the term existed. In October 1887 he became the first professional player to score in a Football Association fixture for the Blues, an FA Cup tie versus Bolton. Making over 130 appearances in the pre-Football League era, he scored over 80 goals and created countless others with his accurate crossing and set-piece delivery. His contribution was crucial in raising the playing standards and public profile of Everton FC, leading to the club becoming a founding member of the Football League.

Inevitably, it was Farmer who created both goals for teammate George Fleming, who also lies at rest at Anfield Cemetery, on Everton’s victorious Football League debut. The game was against Accrington on 8 September 1888.

Jamie Yates believes the part Farmer played in the Everton story should not be underestimated, explaining: “Without George Farmer capturing the imagination of thousands of fans, the club might never have made it into the Football League. He was the archetype for every great Everton hero who followed.”

 Yates also discovered an intriguing tribute to Farmer in a 1925 Liverpool Echo letters page entry, written by St. Domingo’s Church old boy Jack Wildman, who said: “If there is to be a monument or tablet fixed on Everton’s ground, George Farmer’s name should be in the centre. Farmer was the man that made the people come and take notice. We never looked back after he came.”

Farmer died suddenly from acute heart disease aged 42, in May 1905, leaving a pregnant wife and seven children facing abject poverty. A committee of ex-teammates was formed to raise public subscriptions to help Farmer’s widow, Louisa, make ends meet and Everton’s directors donated proceeds from a reserve fixture. Over £6,000 in today’s money was raised. Louisa opened a shop on Oakfield Road in Anfield and the Farmer family thrives around the world today.

Family members will be joining EFCHS at Anfield Cemetery on Saturday to ensure that the man who could ‘bend it WAY BEFORE Beckham’ gets one final royal blue salute as a new headstone is blessed by Everton FC chaplain, the Reverend Henry Corbett.

Supporters are invited to attend.

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By Ken Rogers

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