By Jeff Goulding
For many of us, when we think of the history of Liverpool Football Club, our thoughts rarely stray beyond the arrival of Bill Shankly and the 1960s. This is entirely understandable. After all, Shankly transcends his role as manager, and his ethos and philosophy came to define the club for generations.
However, while it is true to say that the great Scot rebuilt a club languishing in the second tier of English football before setting it on a course to becoming, to use his own words, a ‘bastion of invincibility,’ focusing solely on on his achievements does a disservice to the many men who steered the club through its formative years, and who created foundations that have stood the test of time for over 127 years.
One of those men is George Patterson. Born in Liverpool, he served the Anfield club in various roles over many decades, before going on to live out his days in the shadow of Anfield, before passing away in May 1955, at the age of 68. George was living in number 21 Skerries Road at the time of his death – just two streets away from the football ground where he had plied his trade.
It was perhaps fitting, for a man who had given his whole career to the football club, that he would end his days within earshot of the mighty Spion Kop. If I close my eyes, I can imagine him making his way to the stadium on match days, walking among the supporters and sharing a few words with them. maybe he would have joined them for a tipple in the nearby pubs.
The role of manager has evolved considerably over the years. In the early days of the club, what we would call a manager was referred to as club secretary. And, the role did not involve picking the team. That job was the responsibility of the board.
Patterson joined the club as Assistant Secretary to the great Tom Watson, in 1908. Tom was a visionary who secured two first division titles and a second division championship. He won the clubs first top flight title in 1901. We’ll feature Tom on these pages soon.
Watson sadly passed away in 1915, and it would be Patterson who the club turned to, to fill his shoes. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I delayed his managerial career by three years, and he was officially unveiled at the cessation of hostilities in 1918. In the intervening years, he would guide the club through the various inter-war competitions.
Patterson would use this period to bring through many players, such as Harry Chambers, who would go on to serve Liverpool with distinction in the 1920s. Chambers became something of a goal machine, and a key figure in the famous ‘Untouchables’ side, who dominated English football between 1921-23.
Following his formal appointment in 1918, the news was met positively in the local media. A reporter, named Bee, writing in the Liverpool Echo, had this to say:
‘I (Bee) am glad that Mr. George Patterson has been appointed secretary of Liverpool F.C. He is a practical man, unobtrusive, and shows wisdom with pen and in football matters. He is following one of the best in the late Tom Watson, but has been well schooled, and will make good. In his football days he played a deal of football with Orrell and other clubs, but from an Army point of view his big frame is useless – he has an extraordinary number of wriggling bones that have been broken. Here’s to him!’Liverpool Echo. Quotation sourced at http://www.lfchistory.net
George would leave his role after just 18 games in charge, immediately returning to the boardroom. He was replaced by David Ashworth in December 1919. Patterson had won seven games and Liverpool were 18th in the first division.
Still, he must have been considered a valuable servant, as the club continued to use his administrative skills for years to come. They would also call upon him once more in 1928, after Matt McQueen moved on.
Sadly ill health meant that he would resign in 1936. By this point Liverpool had faded as a force and George would once again take up his role as club secretary, before finally retiring in 1938. The Sunderland Daily Echo carried a tribute to his career at Anfield on the 5th October 1938.
Thirty years an official of one football club! That is the proud record of Mr George Patterson, secretary of Liverpool F.C.
Mr Patterson has served the club in several positions, assistant secretary, then secretary-manager, but latterly, owing to the increasing duties and a rather severe illness he had to give up the managerial duties which were taken over by Mr George Kay, and confine himself to acting as secretary.
During Mr Patterson’s long stay at Anfield Liverpool have won practically every honour except that of cup winners.
Many players who by their performances on the football field have become famous owe their position to Mr Patterson, whose foresight and ability to see the potentialities of young players was responsible for their becoming footballers.Sunderland Daily Echo. Cited on http://www.playupliverpool.com
Following his death in 1955, Patterson was interned close to home, at the nearby Anfield cemetery. His funeral cortege left from 326 Anfield Road and would have weaved its way slowly past the stadium where he had worked tirelessly for three decades. Then, past the streets where he had spent most of his life to his final resting place.
There he remained, in an unmarked plot at Anfield cemetery until 2019, when a group of supporters from the Liverpool Historical Group, headed by Kieran Smith, collected the funds necessary to have his grave marked with a headstone. It now stands as a fitting tribute to a great servant of the club.
Kieran and the group began a ‘crowdfunder’ in April 2018, and after an article appeared in the Liverpool Echo in the following October, funds started rolling in. They reached their target in March 2019. Thanks to these dedicated supporters, the final resting place of one of the club’s most devoted servants has finally been appropriately marked. Smith said,
George is something of a misunderstood figure in the club’s history, yet he played a key role in its development all those years ago. He was also involved in player recruitment, helping to secure the signings of players such as Jack Balmer, Tom Bush, Berry Nieuwenhuys, Tom Cooper, Ernie Blenkinsop, Phil Taylor and Matt Busby. George served the club for over 30 years and deserves to be remembered.
Brian Spurgin, great nephew of Tom Bromilow, who captained Liverpool in the 1920s, believes George Patterson’s contribution should be celebrated today and recognised by modern supporters. He said,
I read the sad story regarding George Patterson on the Liverpool FC Historical Group Facebook Forum. The idea that a former Liverpool Manager is laid to rest in a grave with no headstone just a few hundred yards from the Club he had served with distinction for over 20 years saddened me. It affected me more so because of a family connection, George was at the Club at the same time as my Great Uncle (Tom Bromilow) George became our Manager in 1928 and one of the first things he did was to make Tom Club Captain. Maybe George wasn’t as successful as other Liverpool Managers but it is important that we pay our respects to a loyal Liverpool servant.
Kieran, Brian and the Liverpool Historical Group aren’t finished there though, and intend to ensure that another Reds great is similarly honoured. Bobby Robinson, a Liverpool player who was part of the 1905 title winning team, is also buried in an unmarked grave at Anfield cemetery, and there are plans to raise funds for another headstone.
Jurgen Klopp, speaking recently at a charity match arranged for Stephen Darby who has been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, remarked that it didn’t matter whether a player had played one game or 400 for Liverpool, they’re all part of the family. It’s great that in 2019, there are Reds supporters who are the living embodiment of that spirit.
George Patterson will always be part of the family. YNWA.