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The Liverpool Senior Cup

posted 24 Apr 2019, 03:22 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 24 Apr 2019, 03:23 ]

This piece was written for the final of the Liverpool Senior Cup, on April 2nd 2019, which saw Cables into their fourth consecutive final, having won it in the previous two years. The full story of the Liverpool Senior Cup is little documented and the fact that this game would be the 125th staging of the final tie, was too good an opportunity to miss to try to tell some of the background. Most of it was discovered from delving into back copies of local newspapers through the excellent British Newspaper Archive.

The Liverpool Senior Cup is the premier knockout tournament staged by the Liverpool County Football Association.

The competition is one of the oldest County Cup tournaments in the country, having first been staged in season 1882/83, with the competition being held in most seasons since then. The Cup was suspended during the First World War, but was played throughout the Second World War. During the 1960’s there were several seasons where the competition was left unfinished, due to fixture congestion, ground unavailability etc. Consequently, this evening’s match marks a milestone as the 125th Final tie of the competition during it’s 136 year history.

The first winners of the Competition, in 1883, were the original Bootle side. Bootle would win the trophy on two more occasions in the 1880’s before going on to play one season as a football league club in 1892 and folding soon after.

The format of the tournament has changed on several occasions.

In the early days the tournament was an open, knock-out competition, contested by the leading teams across the region, including sides from as far afield as Southport, Skelmersdale, St Helens and Chester.

In season 1892/93 the first change was made when the competition was limited to eight invited sides, being Aigburth Vale, Aintree Church, Bootle, Chester, Earlestown, Everton, Liverpool and Southport Central. The final of the revamped competition was the occasion of the first ever competitive meeting of Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs, played at Bootle’s Hawthorne Road ground. As the Liverpool Mercury noted, “It is the very irony of fate that these two clubs should be thus thrown together after having designedly kept apart hitherto for well understood reasons. They are the divided representation of the old Everton Club, and having taken rival sides on a matter of policy, are in strong competition for local prestige, almost to estrangement. However, they meet at last, and the issue of their first contest will be watched with great interest”. Everton showed their disdain for the final tie, by arranging first team friendly against the Glasgow side, Renton, for the same day. In the event, Liverpool won this first “derby” game, 1–0.

Everton dominated the tournament up to the turn of the Century, with only the short-lived Rock Ferry club breaking the Blues grip of the trophy. This led to a serious falling off of interest taken by spectators in the Senior Cup. As a result, in 1901 the Liverpool County FA revamped the competition, again, and ten of the strongest teams in the district were entered to compete for the handsome cup and medals offered. They were Everton, Liverpool, Southport Central, Wrexham, Tranmere Rovers, Birkenhead, Melrose, White Star Wanderers, Hudson's, and Warrington. Everton and Liverpool were exempted from the first two rounds of the tournament, giving them free passage into the semi-finals. Looking back, it does seem remarkable that Wrexham – even as leaders of the Football Combination – were invited to participate!

By 1903, the LCFA decided to dispense with the qualifying rounds for the Senior Cup and leave the final to be fought out between Everton and Liverpool, with the proceeds of the gate to be divided, equally, between the Association and the two clubs.

This arrangement persisted for the next ten years, until the competition was expanded to four clubs for the 1913/14 season, with Merseyside’s other two league sides, Tranmere Rovers, and New Brighton making up the numbers alongside Everton and Liverpool, who now fielded their reserve elevens.

The four team arrangement continued after the war. However, despite the Blues and the Reds continuing to dominate the competition, the LCFA eliminated the reserve team requirement in 1925, allowing teams to place their strongest sides on the field, should they think fit to do so.

For the 1927/28 season, Merseyside’s fifth league club, Southport, affiliated with the Liverpool County Football Association and applied for entry into the Liverpool Senior Cup. As this now became a five team tournament, it necessitated the introduction of a preliminary round tie, before the semi-finals.

In 1929, Liverpool set the record score for the Senior Cup Final, when they thrashed Tranmere Rovers by nine goals to nil, at Anfield.

In 1931, Southport won the trophy for the first time, defeating Tranmere Rovers in the final, and breaking a 34 year stranglehold on the cup by Everton and Liverpool. The Sandgrounders retained the cup the following season.

For season 1935/36, Merseyside’s three Lancashire Combination teams, South Liverpool, Marine and Prescot Cables, were invited to enter the Senior Cup, making it an 8 team knock-out tournament.

The Senior Cup competition continued during the Second World War and, once again, the tournament was restricted to just the five Merseyside clubs in the football league. 

However, the 1940/41 competition was unfinished and scrapped, due to fixture congestion at the end of the season. To avoid a repeat, it was agreed that the 1941/42 cup ties would be telescoped into the Football League games, and either Regional or League War Cup matches could also count also for the Liverpool Senior Cup.

With New Brighton dropping out in the 1942/43 season, the completion saw the introduction of two-legged semi-finals, which also doubled up as league games. Remarkably, it was undecided whether the final, between Liverpool and Everton, would be a one-off game, or two-legged – even after Liverpool won, at Anfield, by 4 goals to 1. Eventually, it was decided that a second leg would be played at Goodison Park, which was won by Everton, but Liverpool lifted the trophy, 6 – 4 on aggregate. During these wartime games, it was common practice for clubs to include some guest players, in the team. However, Southport took this to extremes in lifting the 1944 trophy, naming 10 guest players in their side for each of the two final games against Everton!

In season 1949/50, the Liverpool County F.A. introduced a new competition, known as the Liverpool Non-League Senior Cup, in order to provide a trophy for the area’s senior clubs outside the Football League. The final was a two-legged affair – the first contested by Bootle and South Liverpool. Prescot Cables reached the final of this competition five times in the first 12 years, defeating Skelmersdale United (twice) and Bootle, and losing to New Brighton and South Liverpool.

The two competitions ran side-by-side for nearly three decades, but by the mid-1960’s there were a number of seasons when the competition was not concluded, mainly because Liverpool and Everton could not fit in the extra games involved owing to a glut of priority fixtures in the League, F.A. and F.L. Cups and European matches. Interest in the Liverpool Senior Cup was waning. Similarly, for the non-league sides, the Senior Cup was becoming more of a hindrance and clubs were increasing indifferent to participation.

It was clear that change was needed, and for season 1977/78 the two Senior Cup competitions were merged into a new Liverpool Senior Cup, with the inclusion of the area’s top non-league sides, alongside the four Football League clubs (who were exempted to the quarter finals). The following year Southport failed to gain re-election to the Football League, but continued to compete in the Senior Cup as a Norther Premier League side.

Formby were the first winners of the restyled tournament, beating Tranmere Rovers 1 – 0 in the final, to lift the original, handsome trophy.  1969 saw the first all-amateur final when Marine defeated Guiness Exports. In 1979/80, Prescot Town reached the final but were narrowly beaten 1 – 0 by a strong Liverpool reserve side.

Liverpool and Everton have, both, won the trophy on several occasions since the merger of the tournaments. Although they have not taken part in recent seasons, Liverpool have won the trophy on the most occasions (8, plus one shared), closely followed by Marine (7) and Everton (6, plus one shared).

However, there is no doubt that the inclusion of the non-league sides revitalised the competition and has seen it develop into one of the top County Cup Competitions. Since 2000, teams from the EvoStik (Northern Premier) and Hallmark Security (North West Counties) Leagues, such as Burscough, Marine, Skelmersdale United, Bootle, AFC Liverpool, and Prescot Cables have all reached the final. In 2009, Waterloo Dock became the first side from the Liverpool County Premier League to reach the final.

Overall, Everton and Liverpool dominate the Liverpool Senior Cup winners table, but this may be considered a somewhat meaningless statistic, given that, for many years they were the only teams eligible to contest the final, or were the senior sides in the four match tournament.

Should Prescot Cables win the game tonight, it will be their third consecutive victory in the competition. If Southport triumph, it will be their 12th victory overall (including two shared), and their 5th in the “open” era.