Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Merseyside was ‘a very black and dirty place in the 1920s’ yet despite ‘poverty, Liverpool was a lively, vibrant, industrial city’ and ‘this recovery was helped by great football players of the time’. For many people there ‘is only one real religion in Liverpool – football – with places of worship at Goodison Park and Anfield to witness the claim’. Fans of Everton used football as a form of entertainment and escapism to distract themselves from the harsh realities of the interwar period. Not only did football provide ninety minutes of distraction but it was cheap, so people did not have to sacrifice much to be able to support their team every week.
Thousands of fans turned up home and away for Everton every week. Perhaps unsurprisingly the highest average attendance for the toffees was during league winning seasons. Everton had 37,461 in their title winning season of 1927/28. This does suggest that success bread more fans in the period. The all standing stadiums at the time meant that there was no real maximum capacity so when local fans, who could not always make the game, saw that their teams were successful they decided to go to the match. 870,000-people lived in Liverpool in the 1930’s is a statistic that can be used in conjunction with the average football attendances. If Liverpool had an average of 31,026 and Everton had 33,233 in the 1930’s that would roughly equate to around 64,259 people a week watching both teams which is about 7.5% of the population. Of course, this is a very crude estimation which presumes no fans would watch both Liverpool and Everton. Nevertheless, this provides some insight into how many people watched football in Merseyside every week, during this period. If considered that each person who went the match had a family who contributed to finances or just knew about football games, then the amount of people engaged with football increases vastly. When compared with contemporary figures, these attendances remain impressive. In the 2014/15 Season Everton had 38,343 and Liverpool had an average attendance of 43,313 for each home game. Both grounds have increased in capacity, but stadiums are all seated now therefore they have maximum capacities, unlike in the interwar period where many more fans could attend. It appears that attendances remained high during the interwar period and fans were not affected by war and depression when it came to supporting their local teams. These large attendances show the vast social elements of football and the amount of people that were involved with the game.
‘In 1938 87.2 per cent of Britons earned less than £250, with 33 per cent earning less than £125’. However, ‘In Liverpool only 1 per cent of the families which contained more than one breadwinner was living in poverty, but 16.6 per cent of these families were overcrowded. On the other hand, over half the families in which there was no earner were living in poverty, and only one in twenty were overcrowded’. Liverpool, being a port city, was hit worse than many others yet fans continued to attend. Despite economic troubles ‘Admission charges were raised to a shilling after the First World War, but local derby games rarely drew less than fifty thousand and both clubs played before an average gate of 35,000 for league matches’ again illustrating the social importance of football. One could assume that raising the prices would force many fans to miss games but the popularity for football was so high that attendances remained high throughout the period. Indeed, bigger matches would draw bigger crowds and for fans on Merseyside it did not come much bigger than when both teams faced each other. Prices did not remain that low as the clubs realised the financial potential of increasing prices. Yet even with these increased prices, in today’s money no ticket would be more than £10 which illustrates just how affordable football was in the interwar period. Fans would be paying around £3 (in today’s money) a week to watch their team, even in frugal times this was a luxury many fans could afford. This is a major reason why football was so appealing to fans, not just to support their team but as an affordable social event.
It has previously been discussed that football had major political connotations; well its influence was also religious. Schools were placed with the ‘problem when supporters would not allow their sons to play for the school soccer team if it meant wearing the colours of the rival club’. Indeed, ‘For many supporters the football club was a second religion that dominated their lives, ... success of their club more than compensated for low standards of living and unemployment’. ‘They revelled in the atmosphere of a cup tie or a local derby ... where fifty thousand fans shared the tight arena’ whether in ‘the close double-decker stands of Goodison Park’ or ‘the great mass of surging humanity on the Kop at Anfield’. Football was a way of life to many and was as important as religion. Liverpool has always been a city intertwined with football and it is a huge part of Scouse culture, fans loved football as much as they needed it to survive during the interwar period.
As seen by the cover image of this article, football was a completely different game during the interwar period. There were certainly less advertisements on the pitch and on the kits which illustrates the lack of money in the game. The kit itself looks almost formal with the long shorts of the players, with Elisha Scott (pictured on the right) leading the Liverpool team out whilst wearing knee pads to play in goal. It is also interesting to note the lack of police or people of authority. This was the era before football violence really became a major issue in English football and it appears the fans are almost unsupervised. Players and fans are within touching distance and there seems to be little stopping any of the fans from reaching out to their heroes, yet they are respecting the players and fellow fans. The lack of police presence shows how different football was during the period as football was seen predominately as a form of entertainment. The major difference though is the fans. Firstly, the crowd is all male, there does not appear to be one woman in the image. They would have been normal working men of Liverpool, and perhaps further afield, and it is striking to note the dress code. You do not see many fans in modern day football wearing suits or their best clothes to a football game, yet here all the men pictured are very well dressed. They have clearly made a big effort to go to the game all wearing fine suits, jackets and hats. One fan has even taken off his hat to greet the players entering the pitch which further illustrates the respectful nature of fans in that era. All the fans are transfixed on the players and do not appear to be in conversation with one another which illustrates how important football was and is in the city. Not only are they staring intently at the players walking out, which is expected as they have just appeared out of the tunnel, but the joy on their faces shows how excited they are to witness both teams on Merseyside face one another on the pitch. To look at the hundreds of fans pictured with beaming smiles on their faces it is easy to forget the plight that they were living in. The period provided huge unemployment and economic issues, yet the fans are there for football. That day their issues were not important, they had ninety minutes to escape the harsh realities if interwar Liverpool and enjoy a theatrical spectacle. They may not all leave the ground happy with the result, but they certainly arrive jovial and are happy to leave the harsh realities of Liverpool in the interwar period, at home.
However, to juxtaposition this image of fans being well dressed and behaved is during the game where Dixie Dean broke the all-time goal scoring record for Everton. On the 5th of May 1928 there was a reported ‘crowd figure of 60,000 for this match but the official figure ... was just over 48,000’ and knowing the magnitude of the day Everton were copying ‘Wembley’s lead, amplifiers had been spread around Goodison’ to ensure everyone ‘keep off the pitch at all times. All they had to do was cheer Everton and Dean’. Nevertheless when Dean scored his goal ‘Two spectators broke through the police barrier’ and one ‘managed to reach his hero and give him a kiss!’.  George Green a Liverpool Echo cartoonist would illustrate the game and he was keen to mention the fans as he noted ‘And three cheers for the gallant spectators that told Everton how to do it’.
This further exemplifies the immense passion for football, people may have arrived in suits and hats but emotion and love for the game would soon replace their formal attire. This exemplifies how deep-rooted football is in Merseyside culture as the passion of the fans has always been displayed, especially at big matches.
Fans were not restricted to Liverpool and would often follow their teams around the country and support them. The biggest away game for either set of fans though was the derby match were Liverpool and Everton would meet and attendances would often comfortably surpass 50,000. One such example is when ‘Liverpool ‘confound the prophets’ by beating ‘unbeatable’ Everton by 2 goals to 1 in great local Cup-Tie ‘Derby’’ in 1932. The crowd was near 57,000 and they were filling every space as videos from the day display. The crowd was so impressive that the Evening Express reported: ‘From an early hour thousand flocked to Goodison park ... Never before has such a hustle been seen in the vicinity of the famous Goodison ground’. They even spoke to a Liverpool supporter who ‘arrived at Goodison Park at 7am’ he went on to say: “I have not missed a Liverpool match for years, and I was determined to see the match today”. This shows that fans were following their team around the country to see football, these travels would not have been too common and for many the only away game they could really travel to was the derby. Nevertheless, football was a literal escape for some fans that could travel away from the city to watch football and enjoy a day out around the country. The commitment of many fans was so immense that they would rarely miss a game.
It is no secret that at one-point Everton were the only team on Merseyside and spent ‘eight years at Anfield’ including when ‘they were crowned champions of England for the first time in 1891’. Everton was owned by John Houlding who also owned Anfield, yet he was met with troubles in the board room. When ‘Houlding increased the annual rent on Anfield’, tied with religious board members disliking Houlding’s ‘vigorous promotion of alcohol’, distaste that players got ‘changed in one of his pubs’ and insisting that ‘only his beers would be available for sale at Anfield’ a decision was made for Everton to leave Anfield in favour of ‘Mere Green field, which would later become Goodison Park’. Houlding was keen to fill Anfield and create a team ‘to rival Everton FC’ and so created ‘‘Liverpool Football Club and Athletic Grounds Company, Limited,’ which was officially registered on 3 June 1892’. After the ‘acrimonious split’ relationships were strained for many years. The turning point was the death of John Houlding as it was only after his death that his key roles for both clubs were acknowledged. In 1904 both chairmen of the Merseyside clubs (Cuff of Everton and McKenna of Liverpool) came together to launch ‘an official joint 16-page programme’ which over the next 30 years, more than 1,100 issues were produced’. This started a new era of friendship for both clubs and the fans.
One such example was at the funeral of John McKenna on the 26th of March 1936 where ‘Enormous crowds gathered at St Margaret’s and there was such a heavy volume of traffic that extra police had to be drafted in’ and his coffin was followed by ‘three Everton and three Liverpool players. It was an expression to show the clubs’ mutual regard for McKenna’. The clubs ran joint programmes ‘until the 1935/6 season’ yet this cease of publication did not ‘in any way suggest a rift had developed’ and instead it was replaced by ‘the annual football services known as ‘Football Sundays’ ... held at St. Domingo Chapel during the 1930s and both clubs joined together in worship’. Liverpool and Everton’s rivalry has often ‘been dubbed “the friendly derby”’ which illustrates the bond between the two clubs especially during this period. An illustration of this bond is during ‘the late 1920s, at the start of a Derby Game between Everton and Liverpool, both teams came out on to the pitch together, for the start of the game, for the first time in the history of football’. This idea was ‘suggested by the late “Bee” Edwards, Sports Editor of the Liverpool Echo, who thought that the practice would encourage a more sporting atmosphere’. This helps to explain the togetherness that came with the ‘powerful wartime motifs of ‘all in it together’’ and to be able to bring together two former rivals in this tough period shows the strong mind set of people at that time. Football could almost be described as the social glue that held the city together during this period.
Football brought together the city of Liverpool during an immensely tough time. Fans associated with players who were part of their community. They could afford to see their team play on Merseyside and some lucky fans could travel around the country. The affection for the game was so intense that to some it was pseudo-religious, and they worked all week and thrived to watch a game of football. Perhaps even more appealing was that Liverpool and Everton were so close not only geographically but emotionally too. The interwar period hit few cities worse than Liverpool, yet many fans had experienced war and knew that they had strength in numbers and solidarity would see them through this period. Little did they knew that the end of this era was to lead to yet more bloodshed, but they were happy to use football to galvanise and cement a relationship between the blue and red sides of the city. Football is just a game to many people but not to football fans, not to football fans in Merseyside and certainly not during the interwar period.
ARTICLE BY PETER JONES
 Baldursson A & Magnusson G, Liverpool: The Complete Record (London, 2011), p.113.
 Cooper J.G, Liverpool Firsts: Great Merseyside Geniuses (Wilmslow, 1997), p.144.
 Kitchen M, Europe Between the Wars (London, 2006), p.87.
 Eichengreen B & Hatton T.J., Interwar Unemployment in International Perspective (Dordrecht, 1988), p.157.
 Aughton P, Liverpool: A People’s History (Lancaster, 2012), p.258.
 Aughton P, Liverpool: A People’s History (Lancaster, 2012), p.258.
 Liverpool Echo, Everton skipper Dixie Dean and Liverpool skipper Elisha Scott lead out the teams in a 1920s Merseyside derby, at http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/merseyside-derby-legends-everton-v-6318921
 Rogers K, Goodison Glory: The Official History (Derby, 1998) pp.63-65.
 ‘Hail, The Champions!’, Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, 6.May.1928).
 British Pathé, The Match Of The Round 1932 at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-match-of-the-round/query/liverpool+everton accessed02 Jan. 18.
 ‘Liverpool Cup-Tie Scenes’, Evening Express (Liverpool, Jan.10.1932).
 Liverpool FC, The Official LFC Family Tree (Liverpool, 2011), p.34.
 Hooton P, When Football was Football: Liverpool: A Nostalgic Look at a Century of the Club (Yeovil, 2010), pp.8-9.
 Baldursson A & Magnusson G, Liverpool: The Complete Record (London, 2011), pp.10-11.
 Lupson P, Everton FC & Liverpool FC, Across the Park, Common Ground (Liverpool, 2008), p.49.
 Ibid, pp.52-53.
 Ibid, p.55.
 Lupson P, Everton FC & Liverpool FC, Across the Park, Common Ground (Liverpool, 2008), pp. 65-66.
 Smith O, The Return of King Kenny – Liverpool FC’s 2010-2011 Season From a Fan’s Perspective (London, 2011), p.94.
 Cooper J.G, Liverpool Firsts: Great Merseyside Geniuses (Wilmslow, 1997), p.145.
 Peniston-Bird C.M., ‘‘All in it together’ and ‘Backs to the Wall’: Relating Patriotism and the People’s War in the 21st Century’, Oral History, 40 (2012), p.69.