Football club who have never played a league match in 131 years produce book for members
They are ‘probably’ the oldest existing amateur football club who still refuse to play league football.
They boast a European Cup winner, an England international, several war heroes and the man who infamously fled the Titanic amongst their ranks of former players.
And they were the first football team in the world to play a match with goal nets.
Welcome to Liverpool Ramblers, the 131-year-old football institution who still play weekly matches – always competitive, but strictly friendlies – on two well groomed pitches off Moor Lane in Crosby.
The Ramblers story has been put together in book form for the first time in a lovingly crafted, beautifully designed and exhaustively researched labour of love by former player Jonathan Russell.
But you won’t find ‘Liverpool Ramblers The Complete History’ in any book shops.
Like the football team whose fortunes Jonathan’s impressive volume chronicles, the book will belong to a very exclusive club.
“Only 500 copies have been printed,” explained the author. “The book was funded by members, for members, with a view to breaking even.
“But I have loved writing it. It took two-and-a-half years to produce and was like piecing together a very large jigsaw. I received a lot of support from Tony Onslow, who has already written books about Bootle FC and Everton; I spent a lot of time in the British Library and I spoke to many, many members.”
Nowadays, any enthusiastic footballer willing to follow the club principles of fair play, respect and friendship can represent the Ramblers – but original criteria were more stringent.
A wealthy Liverpool cotton broker named Percy Bateson called a meeting in February 1882 for all “public school players living in the Liverpool area to start a first class Association Football club in Liverpool.”
A framed copy of his letter, dated February 1 1882, hangs in the present clubhouse – and the key paragraph details the desire to form a club with the “intention of keeping it as select as possible.”
Bateson had played football for Bootle, alongside players from disparate social and economic backgrounds, but as a former public schoolboy he craved regular football with a club made up solely of team-mates from similar social and economic backgrounds.
His letter was circulated around relatives and members of the city’s Athenaeum Club and Liverpool Cricket Club – and he received replies from 50 former Etonians and Harrovians.
The Ramblers clearly was a well-heeled club from the start.
Jonathan calculates that six of the founding members had wills whose combined worth was more than £100million in today’s money, amongst them William Pilkington, the son of the glassworks founder, James Moss who owned the Moss Shipping Line and Henry Hornby, the renowned cotton broker.
Jonathan muses exactly what The Ramblers status in modern football might have been had the founder members decided to eschew their strictly amateur status and plough money into the club – like some kind of Victorian Roman Abramovich.
Such an approach, of course, would have come into direct contradiction with the Ramblers’ cherished amateur approach – a club for gentlemen, with gentlemanly values.
Not that every Rambler has always portrayed such virtues.
Early players included Bruce Ismay, the White Star Line chairman who infamously fled the Titanic disaster.
While his chivalry and his gallantry were questioned in the wake of the tragedy, his footballing skills were not.
Described as: “an excellent full-back standing six feet four inches tall” he appeared for Ramblers in the Liverpool Cup Final against Bootle in 1883.
That was an era when the Ramblers were undeniably football pioneers.
Their place in a significant slice of football history is colourfully and comprehensively detailed.
Liverpool city council engineer John Brodie famously invented goal nets in 1890 – and the Ramblers were the club chosen to trial them for the first time. An initial experiment saw the ball rebound into play from a sub-frame, which was then replaced by a stanchion.
And in a very early forerunner of goalline technology, a bell hanging from the net failed to ring when the ball entered the net, so was removed.
A final design was used in a Ramblers match against a team made up of Old Etonians and Harrovians – the trial was a success, and the rest is football history.
The rest of Ramblers history is contained in Jonathan’s wonderful work – as much a social and economic history of Liverpool as it is an account of an amateur football club, together with more than 750 stunning photographs, images and etchings.
But what of those Ramblers mentioned in the first few paragraphs?
The European Cup winner was Trevor Birch, who sat on the bench for Liverpool in Rome in 1977 and later became a chief executive of Chelsea and Everton.
The England international was Gerard Dewhurst, capped by England in 1895 – his club dutifully recorded in The Times as Liverpool Ramblers.
Bruce Ismay was the man who chaired the White Star Line – and ignored the women and children first principle on board the Titanic.
While war heroes included 13 men who gave their lives in the Second World War – including half of the team which played the final matches of the 1938/39 campaign against Litherland, Orrell and Lussac – and 15 who died for King and Country in the Great War.
Perhaps the postscript, however, should lie with past President JJ Thwaites, who declared: “Liverpool Ramblers is not a football club; it is a club that plays football.”
Now that club has been committed to paper for posterity.
“Well Played,” Jonathan Russell and Liverpool Ramblers!