Rugby Links at Goodison

In previous articles published on this website, I focused on the other sporting side of Everton’s history regarding sports, such as baseball and basketball. There have also been healthy links between Everton FC and cricket and the Olympics. Even American Football was reported to have been played at Goodison, highlighted in an article (1) by Pete Jones.   My article below focuses on both Rugby codes played at Goodison Park. 

[1. Jones, Pete, ‘Gridiron at Goodison’, Everton FC Matchday Programme, Everton v Atalanta (Europa League, 23 November 2017) ].

1908 – Kangaroos Rugby League Tourists Squad

The Everton FC Board Minutes Book (1892-1898) shows that Runcorn were permitted to use Goodison Park for Rugby;

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Picture-3-5-March-1894-Everton-Collection-Minutes.png
Everton FC Board Minute Book 23 January 1893, (The Everton Collection)
Rugby Match: Resolved we grant the Runcorn Club the use match of our Ground for Rugby match in March. They to make good any damage done. Sec. to arrange date.
Runcorn Examiner, 18 March 1893

Following the permission granted by the Everton Board, the very first reported Rugby Football match to be played at Goodison Park was between Runcorn RLFC and Swinton RFCL.

The game was reported in the Runcorn Examiner, 18 March 1893, where it was claimed that the game was ‘a unique event in the “football world.” ‘

Runcorn Guardian, 14 February 1894

In February 1894, it was the turn of the other rugby code, that of union, to supply the two teams; New Brighton R.F.U. and Runcorn R.F.U., who played a charity game at Goodison Park in aid of the Stanley Cricket Club. The game was unique, as sixteen Wells patent gaslights were used to illuminate the game for the 5,000 spectators. Runcorn led at half-time by two tries to nil, scoring two goals after the break, without any reply from New Brighton.

In the Everton F.C. Board Meeting of Monday 5 March 1894, the board agreed to a request from Liverpool Rugby Club to allow the use of Goodison Park for their match against Bradford on 14 March, while the minutes also reveal that it was also permitted to play a charity match the following month on 11 April 1894.

Everton FC Board Minute Book, 5 March 1894 (The Everton Collection)
Use of Ground: Resolved we allow Liverpool Rugby Club use of our Ground
on March 14th for their match v Bradford.

Not all applications were successful, however. In the Board minutes of 10 April 1906, it was written that an application from Liverpool Rugby Club to use Goodison Park for a match was declined.

Clarence Herbert Berry

During this period, Everton even had the fortune to have a player in Clarence Herbert Berry, who as well as keeping goal, had played for Warrington R.F.L.C. at the senior level. After a trial period at Everton, he made his debut on 25 February 1908, keeping goal at Goodison Park in a Lancashire Combination game against St Helens Town, which Everton won five goals to one. When the club executive met on 18 March 1908, it was resolved to offer him a contract, and Berry stayed on Everton’s books until he was transferred to St Helens in 1912.

For the full story of Clarence Berry see Tony Onslow’s account on this website;

Onslow, Tony, Clarence Berry, Everton’s Rugby Playing Goalkeeper, Everton F.C. Heritage Society

Between 1907 and 1908, Everton and the Northern Rugby Union had several meetings to discuss the hosting of matches at Goodison Park. Permission was granted, with the Board laying down the stipulation that for any game organised, that Everton would be receive minimum of 10% of the gate fees with any damages paid for by the Union.

Everton FC Board Minute Book, 11 June 1908 (The Everton Collection)
‘An enquiry from the Northern Rugby F. U. as to our terms for the use of our ground some Wednesday about the end of November or beginning of December was made by Mr J. Platt Hon. Sec. & it was resolved to grant the same on the basis of 10% of the gross gate with a minimum of £25.’

The following month the Everton Board agreed that the first of these fixtures would take place later that year on 18 November 1908;

Everton FC Board Minute Book, 17 July 1908 (The Everton Collection)
‘The granting of the use of Goodison Park for a rugby match on 18 November 1908 was confirmed’

In fact, this match was part of the first ever tour by the newly-formed Australia national rugby league team (or ‘The Kangaroos’) and became known as The 1908–09 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain. Rugby League was not even a year old in Australia, and the tour wasn’t helped by the fact the national Rugby Union Wallabies side was touring at the same time. On the night of their game at Goodison, the Wallabies were drawing a greater national interest in their match at Oxford University.

The visiting Australian squad with their Kangaroo mascot, before they left on their UK Tour
Northern League v Australia (Rugby League)
Liverpool Echo, 18 November 1908

In their game at Goodison on on Wednesday, 18 November 1908 against the Northern League, the Kangaroos wore sky blue and maroon jumpers, representing the New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons, where the bulk of the squad had played back in their home league.

Full match report – Liverpool Echo, 18 November 1908 (apologies for the poor print quality which is beyond our control)

Unfortunately, the tour was a financial failure due to the poor weather and economic climate of the U.K. at the time.

James Giltinan

Founder of the New South Wales Rugby League and tour promoter James Giltinan became bankrupt. Giltinan went on to become a Hall of Fame member in Australia. The untimely visit of the Wallabies, also contributed to the smaller gate receipts.

‘The Truth’ newspaper reported that the English Northern Union funded the tickets and subsidised the Kangaroos’ return home, as they did not make the expected minimum fee of £200 each.

The Northern Union was also reported to have given each player £1 as a thank you gift.

Dally Messenger
Photo: State Library of Queensland)

Dally Messenger was the clear star of Australia’s tour of Britain
Dally was the star player of the Australians’ tour side who helped attract a healthy gate at Goodison of around 6,000. The Australian side consisted of Jim Devereux, Arthur Holloway, Mick Bolewski, Sid Deane, Albert Rosenfeld, Arthur Butler, Larry O’Malley, Jim Abercrombie, Sandy Pearce, Captain Alex Burdon, Tom McCabe, and Pat Walsh.

The close game saw the visitors edging out the local Northern League XIII, (founders of the League code) a side said to have been the strongest selection of the British players at the time. However, the Kangaroos won by ten points to nine.

Between 1909 and 1921, Goodison Park hosted three more Rugby League Kangaroo Tour matches involving the Australian and Australasian teams.

The application for the second game to be played at Goodison (which was still part of the same 1908–09 Kangaroo Tour of Great Britain) was considered by the Everton Board on 30 December 1908 and approved;

Everton FC Board Minute Book, December 30th 1908 (The Everton Collection)
An application for the use of our ground for the Rugby match England v Australia
was granted on similar terms as before for February 24th 1909

However, it seems the schedule was rearranged, as an amended request was approved on on 17 February 1909;

Everton FC Board Minute Book, 17 February 1909 (The Everton Collection)
The use of the ground on March 3rd 1909 was granted on similar terms

The rearranged fixture was set for 3 March 1909, when the Australians returned to Goodison to play a second game against the Northern League XIII/England side, who beat the visitors fourteen points to seven in front of a smaller crowd of 4,500. England led ten to two at half-time. Jolley and Mann scored the points, Lomas for England, and Ed Courtney and Morton replied for Australia. Edward Smirk was the referee.

Northern League XIII: Harry Gifford, George Tyson, Jim Lomas, Ernest Ward, Billy Batten, Jack Lally, Jim Jolley, Arthur Smith, Frank Boylen, Bill Jukes, Arthur Mann, Bill Longworth, and Asa Robinson.

Australia XIII: Charlie Hedley, Mick Bolewski, Andy Morton, Jim Devereux, Des Frawley, Arthur Butler, Arthur Halloway, Larry O’Malley, Jim Abercrombie, Sandy Pearce, Alex Burdon (capt), Ed Courtney and Bill Noble.

Prior to the third game, at the Everton Board meeting of 21 March 1911, the Secretary read a letter from Northern Rugby Union inviting offers for the use of our ground for a rugby match on a Saturday or Wednesday between September & January on terms of 10% of gross gate & profits of programmes. The Secretary was instructed to accept such invitation;

Everton FC Board Minute Book, 21 March 1911 (The Everton Collection)
The Secretary read letter from Northern Rugby Union inviting offers for the
use of our ground for a Rugby match on a Saturday or Wednesday between
September & January on terms of 10% of gross gate & profits of programmes.
The Secretary was instructed to accept such invitation.
signed, William Whitford

By 30 June 1911, the Board confirmed that the game would be played on 25 October 1911;

Everton FC Board Minute Book, 30 June 1911 (The Everton Collection)
Rugby Match: The Secretary’s action in offering Oct 25 for the
Rugby International at Goodison Park was confirmed.

When the Kangaroos returned to the British Isles during the 1911/12 season, they were under the banner of Australasia, and included a number of New Zealanders in the squad. The Northern League XIII representative side lost sixteen points to three on 25 October 1911.

It would be ten years before the Kangaroos returned, when in November 1921, the Australians met a Lancashire XIII at Goodison, the home side being well beaten by twenty-nine points to six before a record crowd of 17,000.

For the next decade, the Everton Board turned down several requests to use Goodison for rugby, such as the amateur sides Y.M.C.A and the Red Triangle lads in 1929. The Board seemingly felt this would not present a crowd-pulling game due to their amateur status.

However, in 1931 Everton did accept the approach of local Rugby League side Widnes to play at Goodison, with a potential for a larger crowd, but so far there is a lack of evidence to confirm the game took place.

Its now over a century since the last rugby match was played at Goodison, although despite several requests being declined by the Board there were also times when the club were open to hosting prestige games.

In 1938 for example, the Rugby League committee discussed the possibility of playing an all-Lancashire final at Goodison Park instead of Manchester City’s Maine Road and in 1951 Everton granted permission to the Rugby League to arrange for the replay of the Challenge Cup Final at Goodison, but a replay was not required, so the game did not materialise. However, Liverpool City Rugby League Club tried to arrange a game on 17 October 1953, but their request was declined.

In 1954 the Rugby League sent an official to meet Everton officials to discuss the use of Goodison Park as a home for the Liverpool City R.F.L team. However, the league decided that Goodison was not suitable for staging a rugby league game at the time.

In 1988, the Liverpool Echo reported that Goodison Park was being considered as a venue for the Rugby League’s John Player Special Trophy final between Wigan and Widnes on 7 January 1989. The game was eventually played at Bolton Wanderers’ Burden Park ground in front of 20,709 fans. Nevertheless, the club secretary Jim Greenwood said he would welcome the chance to stage any future Rugby League games.

Liverpool Echo, 28 December 1988
Liverpool Echo, 25 February 1989

Again in 1989, the Liverpool Football Echo announced that Goodison Park was being considered a venue for the World Club Championship between the Australian Champions and the winners of the Stones Bitter Championship of England.

Liverpool Echo, 25 February 1989

In 1996, the two governing bodies of both the Rugby Union and Rugby League Codes announced that the two top teams of each code, Bath RUFC and Wigan RLFC, would meet in May 1996 over two legs based on Rugby Union rules for one leg and Rugby League rules for the other.

On the 27 January 1996, Liverpool Echo announced Goodison Park was nominated as a potential venue for the Rugby League Rules leg. Still, the game went elsewhere and was finally played at Maine Road on 8 May 1996 in front of 20,000, where Widnes hammered the union side 82-6. In the return leg, Bath hosted Wigan at Twickenham and beat the northerners by 44-19 on 25 May 1996 in front of 44,000.

Goodison Park still awaits the return of rugby, but time is fast running out, and it now seems highly unlikely that a game will be hosted before the move to the new stadium.

Other links between Everton and Rugby League
Robert Elstone worked at Everton for almost a decade

Former Everton F.C. C.E.O. Robert Elstone, was at Castleford before Everton and became the C.E.O. of the Super League once he left The Toffees.

Matty Smith at Wigan Warriors

Some academy players who did not have the good fortune to make it at Everton moved on to play Super League rugby. Matty Smith was one such player who went on to Wigan Warriors as a scrum-half, and played international rugby for England. Released by Everton at fifteen, Matty made his debut for St Helens in 2006 at eighteen; he also played for Widnes and The Crusaders on loan between times at Wigan and Salford.

Matty Smith: How Everton rejection led me to Challenge Cup final – BBC Sport

Danny Richardson at St Helen’s
Sam Moore

Another former Academy player was Danny Richardson, who was on Everton’s books between the age of seven and eleven. Whilst at Widnes Wolves junior football club, he had a successful trial. He continued at the Academy, playing alongside Ryan Ledson and Joe Williams.

Sam Moore was at the Academy for several years before opting to concentrate on Rugby Union. He started at Sale Sharks academy and went on to play for Cardiff before moving to the Ospreys, and although his father and uncle played for Wales, he chose to play for England at under-16, 17, 18, 19 and U20s.


Mike Royden, Final proofing, edit and layout

Brendan Connolly, proofing/edit


The Kangaroos Tour –

Jones, Pete, ‘Gridiron at Goodison’, Everton FC Matchday Programme, Everton v Atalanta (Europa League, 23 November 2017

The Everton Collection Minute Books, Liverpool Record Office

Kangaroos Tour 1908 Series –

Liverpool Examiner

‘Goodison Finale in World Sights’ – Liverpool Echo, 25 February 1989

‘John Player Trophy final replay at Goodison proposal’ – Liverpool Echo, 28 December 1988

‘Code war game at Goodison’ – Liverpool Echo, 27 January 1996

Onslow, Tony, Clarence Berry, Everton’s Rugby Playing Goalkeeper, Everton F.C. Heritage Society

Matty Smith: How Everton rejection led me to Challenge Cup final – BBC Sport

By Richie Gillham

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