“He’s English on the outside, but, pure Irish on the inside.” The elderly woman in the ‘Western’ pub in Liverpool was referring to her grandson, Wayne Rooney. Most are Toffees in this part of Merseyside and Aiden McGeady’s arrival at Goodison Park to bolster the green contingent is a reminder that traditionally Everton were the Irish club in the city. The common football phrase “Taxi for” even owes its origins to a former Irish manager.
Patricia Fitzsimons sat at a small table in the Western Approaches pub near Scotty Road in Liverpool with economist David McWilliams. She took him through a journey of the Irish names in the area, names that were reflected in the footballing giants in the city, like Murphy, Carragher and McManamen. Wayne Rooney’s family boasts Irish connections on both sides stretching back four generations.
The area around Scotland Road close to the city’s docks, as McWilliams writes in his book The Pope’s Children, became a home for the Liverpool Irish. In the late 19th Century, they consistently voted an Irish Home Rule MP into the House of Commons.
The influx of emigrants following the Famine means Liverpool boasts the oldest Irish community in Britain. Despite the popularity in more modern times of their red rivals on this side of the Irish Sea, the Everton area in particular became a district populated by these migrants, the majority of whom were Roman Catholic.
The two football teams in the city were never really divided along religious lines. The original Everton, from whom Liverpool FC sprouted, were formed as St Domingo’s from the Methodist Church, but the blue side of the city became noted for attracting Irish support.
“During the 1950s and 60s the Toffees gained a reputation as the ‘Catholic club’ as a result of popular Irish players such as Tommy Eglington, Peter Farrell and Jimmy O’Neill as well as manager Johnny Carey”
It was Ronnie Whelan’s arrival at Anfield, along with other Irish internationals like Steve Heighway and Mark Lawrenson, that coincided with a phenomenally successful period for Everton’s rivals from across Stanley Park. Liverpool became the dominant force in English football and a heavyweight in Europe. More Irish flocked to the club as the sons of those emigrants like Ray Houghton and John Aldridge became stars in an all-conquering Reds team, and subsequently in the history-making Republic side that made its bow on the world stage.
Jack Charlton became synonymous with exploiting the ‘granny rule’ by significantly tapping into that resource of the Irish diaspora in Britain.
Another key-member of Big Jack’s pioneering Boys in Green was the son of a Clare man, Kevin Sheedy. He’s considered by many as the best left-footer in Everton’s history, playing 223 games and scoring 62 goals for the club from 1982-1988. In fact Sheedy initially signed for Liverpool from Hereford United and made 5 appearances for the Anfield club, scoring twice.
Sheedy was then at the centre of a transfer tribunal in August 1982 that valued the player at £100,000 and he was sold to Everton. The midfielder appeared 46 times for Ireland forever etching his name in the history books for his equalising strike against England on June 12, 1990 in Cagliari, the Republic’s first ever goal at a World Cup finals. Sheedy was also on the scoresheet in the famous penalty-shoot-out victory over Romania, bravely stepping up to fire Ireland’s first spot-kick emphatically to the net.
Sheedy was a two-time league winner with Everton, also winning the European Cup Winners Cup, scoring in the final, and the FA Cup.
The now 54-year-old recently won his battle with bowel cancer, and is a coach at the Everton academy. In February 2013 he was inducted into the Republic of Ireland Hall of Fame.
Goodison Park has been home to many Irish players through the years. Billy Lacey played for both Liverpool and Everton. Martin O’Neill’s goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh, and Ireland’s first international manager Mick Meegan also lined out, while in more recent times players such as Terry Phelan, Lee Carsley, Kevin Kilbane, and Richard Dunne have appeared for the Toffees.
The legendary Jackie Carey was a former player who managed the club from 1958-61. Despite leading them to fifth place in the league, their highest post-war position, rumours on Merseyside suggested that the recently-resigned Sheffield Wednesday manager Harry Catterick was being lined up as Carey’s replacement.
“During a London taxi drive with director John Moores, Carey requested clarification on his future and Moores infamously told the former Irish captain he was being replaced. The phrase ‘Taxi for (insert name),” now part of football parlance, is believed to have derived from this episode”
In September 1949 Goodison Park was the setting for one of Ireland’s most famous victories. A 2-0 win marked a first ever defeat for England on home-soil by a foreign side. A Con Martin penalty and a second half goal from Peter Farrell, scoring on his club home ground, sealed the triumph.
As a side-note, Dixie Dean, the most prolific goalscorer in English football history, reversed the trend of players crossing the Irish sea, with a famous cameo in Sligo, still talked about to this day. Dean played 11 times for Rovers in 1939. His presence inspired the Bit O’Red to their first FAI Cup final, and his ten goals fired them to runners-up spot in the league.
Aiden McGeady’s move to Goodison Park means he joins a growing Irish contingent that includes Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Darron Gibson, and Shane Duffy, (now on loan at Yeovil).
With Roberto Martinez’s side in real contention for a Champions League spot, Everton are becoming a focus for Irish fans, and no doubt the management.
The feel-good factor around the Irish national team following Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s appointments has been maintained by the form of Coleman and McCarthy. There is real hope that Ireland can claim a spot at Euro 2016 despite not even knowing the qualifying opponents yet.
It was a goal at a major tournament from a former Anfield star that stuck in the mind of an aspiring young Evertonian with Irish roots.The Celtic-supporting Wayne Rooney, whose son Kai owns an Irish replica kit, recalls watching Ray Houghton’s winner against Italy with his family.
“I have always remembered that goal. It was my first World Cup moment. Never forget it.”
Now a new band of Irish Evertonians are aiming to inspire the next generation by creating new memories, both at Goodison Park and potentially in France at the European Championship in two years time.