Winter Walzters - New Brighton Tower FC
You know how it is; you’ve finally broken the back of all the singing chimneysweep adverts for tool hire companies or advice on checking your bollocks, and some former Spurs passenger, whose face you think you can place as the bellend who colonised your Merlin Premier League 94 swaps pile, is goading you to pick up the phone.
He’s shouting through your radio about silly money, the death of the working man’s game, and youth players in Bentleys. Your Man City’s, your Chelsea’s, and your PSGs are ruining the Beautiful Game, and if it’s shouted loud enough, you might even start to believe him. No one seems to remember Blackburn buying the title in 1995, or Real Betis blowing everything they had on a shiny new Denilson in 1998, evidently based solely on a few kick-ups he once delivered in an airport. Throwing money around in an attempt to get an inorganic edge on your rivals is nothing new. In fact, it’s a tactic older than 4-4-2, and often just as predictable.
New Brighton Tower FC were founded in the seaside Wirral town in 1896.
Thought to be the world’s first football team born as a commercial enterprise, it was hoped they’d be the great money spinner they’d been searching for while the waltzers were packed up for winter. A group of local businessmen chipped in to make a team they hoped to bankroll to the very top of English football, receiving huge dividends in the process.
New Brighton was smelted in a similar furnace; in 1830 a rich Liverpool merchant named James Atherton bought up most of the area with a plan of turning it into a desirable residential area and holiday resort for Liverpool’s gentry. Brighton was the most elegant seaside town of the period, and Atherton had obviously spent his imaginative resources early-doors.
By the end of the 19th century the town had become Merseyside’s pleasure capital, rivalled only in the north by Blackpool (the Shelbyville to New Brighton’s Springfield), and like all good flashy enterprises, it needed a phallic showpiece. Again proving that money doesn’t necessarily bring originality; a tower, just-like-Blackpool’s-only-bigger, was conceived. It was the tallest building in Britain when it was built in 1899, but would be gone less than twenty years later after falling into disrepair during WWI. Obviously it had an 80,000 capacity athletics stadium at its base.
It was here at the Tower Athletics Ground that the consortium expected to draw in thousands of tourists and locals alike, all spending money to see some of the top international players of the day. A purpose built stadium for a purpose built team, but it didn’t really work out like that.
The Towerites had to play their maiden season in the Lancashire League in 1897/98 with England internationals John Goodall and John (Jack) Robinson recruited from Derby. Goodall won 14 caps overall, scoring 12 goals and had spent the previous 11 years with the more prestigious Rams. Prior to that he was an integral part of a Preston team that won the inaugural Football League championship and FA Cup without losing a game in 1889. He was the league’s leading goalscorer that season with 21 goals, and would go on to become Watford’s first manager in 1903. Robinson was a top goalkeeper, thought to be the one who perfected the goalkeeper’s dive, and his move to New Brighton irked Derby. They also signed two times FA Cup winner and Scottish international Geordie Dewar from Blackburn, and England international Alf Milward from Everton.
The ‘Team of Internationals’ coasted their way to the title and applied to join the Football League for the next season, then consisting of just a first and second division, but were rejected due to opposition from teams like Derby, and for pretty much all the same reasons you hate Man City.
In the kind of U-turn that wouldn’t look out of place in the current FIFA administration. However, the Football League decided to expand the second division by four teams, so along with Barnsley, Burslem Port Vale, and Glossop North End, New Brighton kicked off the 1898/99 season as a brand-new league side.
Some of the players jumped ship, including Dewar to Southern League champions Southampton, so new players had to be recruited. Southampton were trying to do a similar thing as New Brighton, but wouldn’t join the Football League until 1920, although they reached the FA Cup final in 1900 and 1902. One of the new players at the Tower Athletics Ground was former Scottish champion Charlie McEleny, who holds the proud footnote of being the first Irishman to play for Celtic.
The consortium demanded instant results, and the team only lost once, to Newton Heath, in the first half of their first season in Division Two. Attendances were poor however, and after mixed form in the New Year which saw them lose four of the final six games, Tower finished 5th, three points off promotion.
The owners didn’t bankroll the club as fiercely the following season, and it showed in the inconsistent results. More players left, including Milward to Southampton (just in time to make another FA Cup Final appearance to go with his two at Everton), and players in the twilight of their careers were favoured as replacements. In spite of winning six of their last eight games, it was only good enough for a 10th place finish.
They decided to have one last roll of the dice, and amidst persistent rumours they were going to go out of business, they made one final push for the first division. After a recruitment spree which included highly sought-after Leicester Fosse forward Bert Dainty, dubbed signing of the season by the press, New Brighton Tower went the whole season unbeaten at home. They finished above both Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal but it wasn’t enough, they still came up short, six points adrift of second place Small Heath (now Birmingham City).
On 2nd September 1901, with the final match noted as a 1-0 victory over Arsenal on April 27th, the decision was made to dissolve the club. Even though their final season yielded their highest ever league finish (4th in Division 2), average attendances of around 1000 left the owners unable to make ends meet. Fundamentally it was their lack of understanding of what motivates a football fan, and it was unrealistic to assume just because it was there people would choose New Brighton Tower over more established clubs, albeit at the dawn of their existence, such as Liverpool and Everton. Who knows though, if they could have stuck it out longer than a meagre four seasons, promotion could have came, and with it a new and exciting Merseyside Derbies. Your New Brighton Towers just didn’t have a clue.