Henry F Briggs, An Everton Goalkeeper

Signed as cover for the controversial ‘Happy Jack’ Hillman, Frank Briggs joined Everton from Darwen in January 1906, having first played football in the Nottinghamshire coalfield area. He had been born at dwelling number 84 on the Alfreton Turnpike at Eastwood in 1872 and was the third of child of John, a domestic servant, and his wife, Lucy.

Henry Briggs is missing from the 1891 census, but contemporary newspaper reports placed him keeping goal for a Midland League side who were the forerunners of Mansfield Town. His skills quickly caught the attention of struggling Football League Division One outfit Darwen, who gained his signature in February 1894. The cricket and football clubs ran side by side in the Peaceful Valley and the community offered Briggs, a cricketer of proven ability, terms that would also guarantee him a wage through the summer months. He immediately took his place under the crossbar, but could not prevent the Darreners from being relegated at the end of the season.

During the summer, he returned home to marry Rosina Ingers in her native Nottingham, before returning to continue playing cricket for Darwen. Briggs proved to an excellent signing as Darwen adjusted to life in lower tier, but the club was now in financial difficulties due to dwindling attendances. The executive rejected the initial bid of £40 made by Everton but, following an increase of £10, they reluctantly agreed to release him from his contract.

The new goalkeeper took his place in the Everton Second XI, and remained there until the final game of season when he made his first team debut in a 2-1 win against Stoke at the Victoria Ground. The following season, Briggs took over the goalkeeping duties following the departure of Hillman to Dundee. Everton began the new campaign brightly but the results started going against them. Briggs kept goal consistently until 12 November when he was injured in the home game with Bolton Wanderers and was replaced by new signing Bob Menham. Having made a total of eleven appearances between 1895 and 1897, he never played first team football for Everton again.

Nevertheless, he remained for one more season in the reserve pool and was then placed on the transfer list at a fee of £100. Both Blackburn Rovers and Woolwich Arsenal expressed an interest in signing Briggs, but thought the asking price was too high. Briggs appealed to FA council to have it reduced holding that Everton had acquired his services for half the amount they now wanted for his signature. The FA committee found in his favour and Briggs joined Lancashire League side Nelson for an undisclosed fee and spent several seasons there. He later suffered from the injury he had sustained while with Everton, as the following newspaper article confirms:

 A victim to the perils of football has today entered the Blackburn & East Lancashire infirmary in the person of Frank Briggs formerly goalkeeper with Darwen, and afterwards with Everton and finally Nelson and also wicketkeeper with East Lancashire Cricket Club. Briggs received a kick while playing for Everton on one occasion, and the result has since affected him in the area of the groin. The trouble has steadily got worse and since the day on which he made 61 runs for East Lancashire, against Lowerhouse, incapacitated from both work and play and it is to be feared that his case offers little hope. It is intended to do something for the relief of his family who are in distress, and the object should not suffer from the lack of interest. Briggs has won applause of thousands at: Darwen, Liverpool, Nelson and Blackburn (Northern Daily Telegraph, 31st of August, 1898.)

The amount of help Henry Briggs received following his release from hospital is not recorded, but he appeared on the 1901 census living at 44 Milk Square in Nottingham. He declared his employment as a hawker and, by this time, Rose had borne him two sons, Charles and Benjamin. The number of children had increased to six at the time of the 1911 census which recorded the family as still living in Nottingham, in Alvers Yard off Fishergate. The head of the household was working a bricklayer’s labourer.

The Briggs family later moved to 41 Snow Street, where Rose passed away six months after her son Benjamin had enlisted with the 1st Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. Sent to Flanders, he was killed in action on 10 October 1918 and was buried at Ramicourt Cemetery near the town of Aisne. His father, Henry F Briggs, lived until 1944 and died at Basford in Nottinghamshire.

By Tony Onslow

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