In 1878 a group of cricketing youngsters from St Domingos Church in Breckfield Road decided to start a football club. However it was over a year before they finally got round to taking on another team in a game, beating St Peters Church 6-0 in November 1879. By now they had changed the name to Everton and laid claim to an open pitch in Stanley Park, very near to the site of the proposed new stadium for LFC. This first ground was very primitive and players had to mark out the lines themselves as well as provide their own goal posts.
After half a season of playing local friendlies Everton decided to cast their net further and joined the Lancashire FA in time for 1880-1, which meant they could enter the Lancashire Cup. They suffered a humiliating exit in the first round, losing 8-1 at home to Bolton side Great Lever in a replay. Spirits were restored with victories against local opposition but 1881-2 started very badly with a crushing 13-2 defeat at Bolton Wanderers.
Once again they regained confidence by only playing games against local opposition, leading to one newspaper claiming that they were the premier club in south west Lancashire. But in 1882-3 this was proven to be over optimistic when Bootle became the first winners of the Liverpool Senior Cup, beating Everton 3-1 in the semi final.
Everton were so poor in these early years that there were hardly enough kit to go around and some new signings had no option but to turn out wearing the shirts of their former clubs. To get over this problem officials dyed all the shirts black, hence the club acquired the nickname of the ‘Black Watch’.
The game was strictly amateur then but Everton went a step further, demanding that players paid an annual subscription for the right to play for the club. In the summer of 1883 it was decided to leave Stanley Park and rent an enclosure in Priory Road, where they could charge admission fees.
This increased revenue initially paid dividends and Everton won the Liverpool Senior Cup in 1883-4, beating Earlestown 1-0 in the final. But there was a shock when their landlord, Mr Cruitt, booted them out of his field due to the unruly behaviour of supporters. President John Houlding then arranged to rent a field in Anfield Road from the Orrell brothers, who were local brewers. The ground that would eventually be made world famous by another club was a quagmire, with the Athletic News describing the pitch as a ‘worn parterre containing about three blades of grass’
In that first season at Anfield Everton reached the final of the Liverpool Senior Cup, but in a reverse of the previous season, they were beaten 1-0 by Earlestown. Everton failed to take the defeat graciously, claiming that the winning goal had gone the other side of the post.
In 1885-6 Everton followed other clubs into signing players on a professional basis. One of these, Alec Dick from Kilmarnock, was such a brutal player that he was suspended from the game for two months. Everton won the Liverpool Senior Cup for a second time that season, beating Bootle 2-1 in the final.
Buoyed by local successes, Everton decided to enter the FA Cup but their first two seasons in the competition only brought about embarrassment. In 1886-7 they were drawn against Rangers at home, but with professional players being ineligible for the competition and they decided to withdraw rather than face a heavy defeat. However they didn’t make this decision until the Scots had made the long trip south, meaning a friendly was hastily agreed to try and appease them. Despite fielding their professional players in this game, they still lost 1-0.
The following season Everton were beaten by Bolton but an appeal that they had fielded an ineligible player was upheld. Everton then won a replay 1-0 only to be kicked out of the competition for fielding 7 ineligible players themselves. The FA didn’t stop there, suspending Everton from playing any matches for a month.
To add to the humiliation the Liverpool FA stepped in too, confiscating the Liverpool Cup which had been on display in the Sandon. Despite their farcical behaviour Everton still managed to wangle an invitation when the Football League was formed in time for 1888-9. The idea for a league competition came from Aston Villa who were frustrated at the erratic nature of a fixture list based on friendlies. But of the twelve founder members, Everton were one of the last two (along with Derby) to be invited to join. They sneaked in due to the principled Nottingham Forest, who insisted on remaining amateur and the shithouses of Sheffield Wednesday who didn’t want to upset the FA.
The decision to invite Everton to join the league later than most other teams was vindicated as they finished 8th, winning just one away game all season. Only a victory in their final game ensured they avoided having to apply for re-election. The FA weren’t fooled by Everton’s league status either and they were refused a bye to later stages of the FA Cup. When they were told they’d have to compete in the qualifying rounds they withdrew in protest.
However in 1890-1 Everton won the league, despite losing 7 out of the 22 games, including both against runners up and reigning champions Preston. This success only brought about disputes amongst the club as John Houlding, who by now owned Anfield, tried to raise the rent to reflect the clubs increased success and gate receipts. Two factions emerged within the club and eventually the anti Houlding group won and in 1892 decamped half a mile to Mere Green, which was renamed Goodison Park.
In a clear demonstration of bitterness Everton spent £10,000 getting this ready for league football, even though Houlding had been willing to sell them Anfield, arguably the best ground in England, for £6,000.
Everton finished third in the league in 1892-3 and by now had also masterminded the rules of the FA Cup, reaching the final, which they lost 1-0 to Wolves. They also reached the final of the Liverpool Senior Cup where there was a chance to gain revenge on John Houlding, who had formed Liverpool FC. With Liverpool being two divisions below them in the Lancashire League, Everton decided to downgrade the final to a reserve fixture so defeat would not be so embarrassing. The reserve side did lose 1-0 and there was chaos at Bootle as their players surrounded the referee and the local officials decided not to present the trophy for fear of a riot. When the cup was presented in the summer it was mysteriously stolen from a jewellery shop where Liverpool had put it on display.
Despite the move to Goodison bringing about improved fortunes on the pitch, there was still plenty of scandal off it. The chairman and five directors resigned in 1895 due to disagreements over how to spend the clubs £6,000 profit and the police were called to investigate alleged corruption amongst turnstile operators.
The next ten years were not too eventful as Everton rarely threatened to win the league but were never in danger of relegation either. They achieved an unwanted record in 1904-5 when they were 5-0 up against Sheffield Wednesday, only to end up drawing 5-5. This is the only occasion in English league football when a team has avoided defeat after going 5 goals down.
They had some embarrassing FA Cup defeats in the early 20th century too, going out to Southern League Spurs, Millwall and Southampton, but in 1906 they won the trophy for the first time. They beat Newcastle 1-0 in the final after fortunately being drawn at home in every round along the way, but the success was tempered by the fact Liverpool won the league. It was the Reds second title in just fourteen years existence, four of which had been spent in the lower divisions. Everton, on the other hand had managed just one championship in 18 years of top flight football.
A year later Everton again reached the FA Cup final but lost 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday, their third defeat in four final appearances.
Everton finally won the title again in 1914-5, despite winning just 8 home games and gaining just 46 points. This is the equivalent of 65 today and is the lowest points total ever achieved by a championship winning side. Few people cared at all as World War 1 had broken out early in the season. Many thought it immoral that football should continue and a number of teams volunteered players to the armed forces, meaning that Everton were able to ‘win’ the league when nobody was looking.