I have avoided writing about football so far (apart from a post about match day in 1953). Today’s photograph is more about the phenomenon of the travelling supporter. During the 1970s, an increasing number of young men/boys took to following their teams around the country. Some were hell bent on trouble, fighting and shoplifting, but to many it was the excitement of being independent, seeing Britain with a group of mates.
The photograph was taken by Jim Carter, well-known in railway circles as the ‘Footplate Photographer’. He took a camera wherever he went, although this photograph is not one of his usual subjects. Tantalisingly, he has not dated the photograph but the platform is the London-bound/arrival at Lime Street, so the supporters could be returning from a London match (although it looks too light a day for that) or arriving from London for a match at either Goodison or Anfield. It is interesting to note that team colours were out of favour at that time, so identification is almost impossible. Note also, the policeman peering out from a carriage (with the door open).
There is a vast number of photographs out there which reflect society and its preoccupations. Sport, particularly football, is a dominant one in Liverpool and it is interesting to see the activities of the supporters rather that the action on the field documented in this way.
The death of Ginger McCain caught my attention last week. He was, along with Red Rum of course, widely regarded as the main reason we still have the Grand National today. It is inconceivable to think that the race almost disappeared in the late 1960s. Under the ownership of Miriam Topham, the future of the racecourse had been constantly in doubt. The stand and course needed urgent funding in the days when there was no television money and commercial sponsorship on the table. The Tophams had owned the lease since 1848 but their stewardship was clearly coming to an end, although Grand Prix motor racing had been fairly successfully introduced during the 1950s.
1965 was a low point. Miriam Topham had had a major row with the BBC over live coverage and only backed down at the last moment. The race itself was won by Jay Trump (the first to be American owned, trained and ridden) but, judging by the photograph by Pat Weekes, there was a pretty thin attendance.
Thanks to Red Rum and Ginger McCain, the race recaptured its popularity and, with sponsorship and television money flooding in, it is now an international event watched throughout the world. Shame about the motor racing – what a boon that would have been to the local economy and profile if Formula One was staged here.
I am often asked if I have photographs of the Stadium in Bixteth Street. I have only a small number, including this one taken in September 1950, when Tom Bailey and Jim McCann topped the boxing bill. The venue was opened by the Earl of Lonsdale in 1932 and became the main venue for boxing and wrestling in the city.
For many, its particular attraction was the regular rock concerts held there, particularly in the 1970s. In earlier days, Louis Armstrong had played there in 1956 and The Beatles appeared well down a Gene Vincent concert bill in 1960. The 1970s concerts had an astonishing array of talent, which to my eternal shame I missed out on completely. In 1971, Led Zeppelin appeared, followed by David Bowie, Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa in 1972. In 1973, it was the turn of Queen, followed by Steely Dan, Captain Beefheart, Bad Company and Judas Priest in 1974. The final concert was held in December 1976 with Ultravox and Eddie and the Hot Rods. Of course, I have omitted dozens of other artists but the shortlist will give a good flavour of the calibre of artists, with tickets rarely more than £1.50.
By the time the final acts played their last chords, the Stadium was badly run down. The management had been badly shaken by the horrendous gang-rape of a young girl during a concert there which reflected on the decrepit state of the venue. However, for the greatest part of its 40 plus years, it made a glorious contribution to the sporting and music history of Liverpool.
The scene is little changed today – although the boat house has been replaced by an impressive modern cafe´.
I need a clothing expert to date these three photographs. My suspicion is that they are late 1890s/early 1900s but they could be earlier. The December of 1890 was the coldest on record until this month, so possibly the photographer was recording that severe winter. The lake is well and truly frozen over – with no Health and Safety worries for the dozens of skaters taking advantage. (I particularly like the photograph of the young girls letting their hair down).
Clearly, from the warm outfits, this was mainly a middle-class day out. It is shocking to think that there were thousands of children walking around with bare feet only a few miles away but Liverpool really was a tale of two cities.
Palace Ice Rink 1946
Silver Blades Ice Rink 1976
The Palace Ice Rink opened in 1931 in a site on Prescot Road, in Kensington, next door to the Casino cinema (shown in the photograph below). The building had originally opened as a roller skating rink but had reopened as an ice rink some three years later – changing its name to Silver Blades in the 1960s.
Much loved by generations of children and adults alike, it finally closed in 1986, when it became financially unviable (because of the cost of upgrading facilities). How ironic that when £10 billion can be spent in London on a four week Olympic jamboree – the sporting facilities that are needed across the country by all generations to keep fit and tackle obesity are being savagely cut by virtually every local authority. Silver Blades is one early example of this short-changing of our children. When the company went cap in hand to Liverpool Council for financial help, it was turned down. Now the nearest ice rink is Deeside – completely out of range for most local people.
I only went once to Silver Blades in a well-meaning but disastrous gesture to a form of pupils I was teaching for a term at Archbishop Whiteside School on Silvester Street, off Scotland Road. (I use the term form of pupils advisedly – I am not sure what kind of form they took but it wasn’t quite what I was used to). They pupils were all part of the great ROSLA experiment (raising of the school leaving age) which had pushed up the leaving age from 15 to 16 the term before I started.
Feeling sorry for their predicament – they were bored and rebellious – I decided, against the advice of every permanent teacher, to take them on an outing to the ice rink. The place was tranquil as we entered – with a group of girls from a private school skating gracefully round the rink. Within minutes – mayhem! Like a scene from the Bash Street Kids, my bunch of micreants managed to start the ice polishing machine – which was picking up speed as it pursued the terrified girls. I am sure we weren’t the only school to be thrown out of the rink – but 15 minutes must have been some kind of record. Fortunately for generations of school children to come, I decided that teaching was not for me and I left a few weeks later to pursue a more suitable career.
Sadly, the ice rink and cinema have now both been demolished (in 2001).
One event that anyone interested in football always remembers is their first football match. I was a late-starter, being 13 before I went along to watch the famous Spurs double team of 1961 play Sheffield United.
The match passed by in a blur but my abiding memory was being jostled in a huge crowd – mainly flat-capped men all smoking their Woodbines or Park Drives. There were the old wooden rattles and the odd handbell – all creating an atmosphere that got me hooked for life. Once I arrived in Liverpool, I did the unforgiveable and switched allegiance (not a bad thing since the last major honour won by a Sheffield club was back in 1935 I believe).
What I like about the photograph is that it captures the spirit of a typical Saturday afternoon match day. I can never understand why so few photographers film that aspect of the sport rather than what is happening on the pitch. Football is such an important part of our culture and needs a better photographic record. I have started taking match day scenes (in the expectation of a last season at Anfield – so a few more seasons to go) and have noticed one or two others are thinking along the same lines.
With the start of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver this weekend, it is worth remembering Liverpool’s pivotal role in the Olympic movement. The two main protagonists were Charles Melly (an ancestor of George Melly), a wealthy philanthropist, and John Hulley. Charles Melly attended Rugby school at the same time as Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Like Hughes, Hulley was a firm believer in sporting competition and in the idea of Muscular Christianity. John Hulley was born in Liverpool in 1832, attending Liverpool Collegiate and later training under Louis Huguenin, a famous French gymnast living in Liverpool.
Melly and Hulley joined forces to form Liverpool Athletic Club in 1861 and, in 1862, held the first Grand Olympic Festival on the Parade Ground at Mount Vernon. Over 10000 turned up to watch a programme including running, walking, high jump, boxing, wrestling, fencing and gymnastics – a list of events that were very similar to those at the first Modern Olympics held in Athens in 1896.
Further Olympic Festivals were held, with increasing popularity and Melly and Hulley raised the funds to open Liverpool Gymnasium on Myrtle Street (photographed above c.1870). Following its opening on November 6th 1865, the first meeting of the National Olympics Association was held there, with Hulley on the committee. The NOA defined Olympism long before the foundation of the International Olympic Committee – and its ideas were to have a profound influence on a young Pierre de Coubertin.
Hulley was buried at Smithdown Road cemetery. As a result of the work of a group of enthusiasts (including Ray Physick – author of Played in Liverpool), Hulley’s damaged gravestone bearing the motto mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) was repaired and rededicated in June 2009. Thanks to their efforts, the huge, global impact of both Hulley and Melly can be more fully recognised.
For a more detailed account of both Melly and Hully, there are a number of helpful sites including:
www.johnhulley-olympics.co.uk or www.johnhulleymemorialfund.co.uk