My dearest football friend, John McKenna, has played out time and retired to his rest. Honest John McKenna. The name will never be lost to memory, because this president of the Football League had done so much for everybody in connection with the game. He was not an office-seeker, but in football, bowls and Masonic craft he was an office bearer whose brusque outer self concealed a heart of gold. I was born under a lucky star which gave me as football god-father, first the founder of the Football League, Pa McGregor, following which came a journalistic and football spell with John J. Bentley, and finally the longest and best of all, the closest association with Honest John McKenna. He was a pillar of the football game, and his consideration for the lowly player or club was more intense than his concern for those, as he would say, “better able to look after themselves.” Often enough players came to me with a grievance, I packed them off nine times in ten to 6 Castlewood-road, Anfield. Always the player expressed fear in approaching President McKenna but everyone in due course returned to me to say that he had received the kindliest treatment from Mr. McKenna. They were seemingly surprised by the warmth of their reception and the care taken over their cases, but that was typical of Mr. McKenna all though his life.
Mellowed To sympathy.
He had a military bearing to benefitted a man who had won many prizes for rifle shooting at Alcar, and the way he made opening a speech as an argument always mellowed as the conversation proceeded, till in the end his voice rang out with a sympathetic tone. He laughed heartily, he worked with the same intensive strain, he was a man’s man and the Football League has lost its greatest member. I hasten to tell some of the best football incidents we have exchanged. Joe Donnachie, the former Everton winger, went to a minor club, served a benefit period, and at the match was boomed by the club. “Come and support Joe” the player became very perturbed that he could get no money from his own benefit. He reported the matter to Honest John, who took the view that this was a species of fraud, and the player received his benefit money within a week. No more than two months ago he was busying himself upon the question of the pools-war and was approached by Mr. Watson Hartley, who pictured the prospects of the Football league receiving £50,000 for the copyright to which Mr. McKenna coyly replied –May we have a little on account sir.”
No Respecter Of Persons
Mr.McKenna was no respector of persons and when a director entered the Liverpool boardroom on one occasion vehemently declaring that Manchester City had been robbed of the game, Mr.McKenna at once called for quiet, using his well-known phrase “A moment, please, a moment.” He than proceeded to ask the director if he knew what the word robbed meant; did he believe the referee was a thief? And promptly proceeded to insist on the director making an apology in the presence of all present! On the other hand, inner councils with John McKenna revealed him at his greatest. I have spent many afternoons at his house chatting on football matters. He with his gout-foot telling upon a “humpty,” the telephone at his side, a cigar-box handy, a golden-holder, which he prized more than any other present, and “Ma” bringing in tea for two. Wilson, the former Manchester United player, has something by which he will remember Mr. McKenna . A commission sat up Wilson’s ordering off case, and the players having offended more than once, received a severe sentence. The work of the inquiry had ended when Mr. McKenna said; “Well, that is all for today, gentleman, except that I want Mr. Wilson to stay behind for a moment.” When the room was empty Wilson received a kind and encouraging act from the League President, who had suspended him for two months a few minutes previously, and the advice Mr. McKenna offered to “Mr. Wilson” was never lost on a player.
The “Case” Collapsed.
The veteran leader used to tell, with great gusto, how he tried to trap his barber, who had been using the shortlist football coupon. Mr. McKenna said, “I got my evidence nicely completed, and during the share I jumped and said, “What are you doing with those football coupons.” The barber replied, “That’s all right, guv’nor. I buy up all the old unused coupons and use them for shaving paper!” it was typical of the man that when he left the West Derby Union, and the staff desired to give him, a complimentary dinner, he insisted on giving the dinner to the friends he was leaving. He came to Liverpool from Ireland, began as a grocer’s boy, joined the West Derby union, linked up with Alderman, John Houlding, was one of the founders of Liverpool F.C, signed on the team of Mans that played at Anfield, signed Alec Raisebeck for Liverpool’s service became chairman of the club, raised £600 in five minutes at the Law Association Rooms when the Anfield club was in financial distress, and was so honest to-goodness that when a Liverpool F.C case came up for hearing, the Liverpool club felt Mr. McKenna was so keen to be fair to the other side that he was well-nigh unfair to his own side! Mr. Charles Clegg and Mr. McKenna sat in a case in which a Liverpool half-back was concerned, and the suspension was one month, instead of three months, this being due to Mr. McKenna declaring. “The player would not have been British if he had not taken action when he was called that foul name.” Mr. McKenna did a world of good by stealth. I know the cases, but they are not for publication. This genial Irishman, beneath the seemingly grumpy voice, was the most of kindness and football has lost what I have lost – a great friend. He was a widower, with no family, and his end is his final year was hastened by the enormous amount of work he put in for the game. It is but a few weeks ago he fell on the Manchester platform through hurrying for a train. Whatever his physical disability his brain was active and sure to the end. He never forgot a date or a game. He had no fumbling for facts. From his chin to the top of his head he was as alive as any youth.
Copyright - Liverpool Echo - Transcribed by Kjell Hanssen