John McKenna / WE Barclay
Birthdate: 3 January 1855
Birthplace: Drumcaw, County Monaghan, Ireland
Other clubs as manager:
Signed for LFC: 15 March 1892
First game in charge: 03.09.1892
Contract Expiry: July 1896
LFC league games as manager: 88
Total LFC games as manager: 127
Honours: Second Division champions 1894, 1896
Ulsterman McKenna was very much the senior partner of this duo, even though his official title at the club was secretary not manager. Both he and Barclay no doubt carried out duties that would be classed as managerial today but Barclay was initially opposed to Liverpool joining the Football League. He apparently knew nothing of the club’s successful application until he received a telegram instructing him to travel to London to help arrange the fixtures for Liverpool’s inaugural season as a member of the League. That single incident indicates how much more involved McKenna was with policy and decisions. Barclay had worked with Liverpool’s founder John Houlding before the acrimonious split that saw Everton move across Stanley Park to Goodison in 1892. Houlding and Barclay remained at Anfield to help form the new club with local businessman McKenna being appointed to the club’s first committee.
Barclay was so described at the time: "A great enthusiast in football management. Is a most successful organiser, a fine judge of the great game, and knows everybody in the football world. Few men have travelled so much to football matches as he. One of Mr. John Houlding's staunchest supporters. He is the successful Head Master of the Industrial Schools, Everton Crescent, and is, further, widely known and everywhere esteemed. An able man all-round."
Following their inauguration, Liverpool made an immediate application to join the Football League but this was rejected and they had to take a place in the Lancashire League instead. They won that championship in a tight contest with Blackpool and when the Second Division of the Football League was extended at the end of the 1892/93 season the club was elected in favour of their then more well-known neighbours Bootle. It seems that Mr. Barclay travelled extensively on the look out for new players, fulfilling the role of a more modern chief scout. Numerous players were recruited from Scotland in the early years, so many in fact that Liverpool were nicknamed “the team of Macs” for a while.
McKenna always seemed to be looking ahead and one of his wisest moves was to recruit Tom Watson from Sunderland to replace Barclay as “secretary-manager”. This was no reflection on Barclay’s ability in any of the roles he was asked to carry out. But Watson was an experienced team manager who had already taken Sunderland to the Football League championship on three occasions in the 1890’s and would repeat this achievement twice with Liverpool in the first decade of the 20th century. The McKenna/Barclay partnership had been successful in its own right though with the Second Division championship being won at the first time of asking. Although an immediate relegation followed at the end of the 1894/95 season, another Division Two title was secured a year later in what proved to be McKenna and Barclay’s last season together at the club. McKenna had two spells as Liverpool chairman; 1909-1914 and 1917-1919. He stayed on as director until July 1921 when he resigned from the directorship as a protest against the shareholders’ meeting refusing to re-elect two directors, Matt McQueen and John Keating. So it was an unhappy end for McKenna at the club that he had been involved with for nearly 30 years.
McKenna was without doubt one of the great early administrators of the English game, a man who was widely admired, respected and occasionally feared. He was elected to the Football League’s management committee in 1902, became vice-president in 1908 and then president two years later, a position he was to hold for over two decades until his death. In addition to that he had been vice-president of the Football Association since 1928. McKenna passed away on 22 March 1936 at Walton hospital in Liverpool at 82 years of age. He left behind an estate valued at £11,182 and stated in his will that The West Lancashire Alpass Benevolent Institution were paid £1,000 to be used to fund the "John McKenna Annuity".
Everton's Chairman, William Charles Cuff, paid him the following compliment: “I feel I have lost a lifelong friend. We travelled together on football business many times, and I am not looking forward to taking those journeys alone. Mr. McKenna was a staunch friend, who beneath his brusque exterior, had a heart of gold. From the Football League and Football Association point of view I think the greatest man in football has gone. He will live long in the memory of all who had anything to do with the governing of football. Fearless, outspoken, and absolutely honest, he was well named ‘Honest John.’ The football world in general is under a very deep sorrow.”