Honest John McKenna – Liverpool FC’s first manager

Here’s the second in our series of stories of people who’ve shaped Liverpool’s history. If you have any comments, or want to suggest someone we should feature here, why not get in touch with us at Sarsfield Memorials Liverpool?

“Honest” John McKenna

Liverpool FC’s First Manager

John McKenna photo

John McKenna

Born in County Monaghan, Ireland in January 1855, John McKenna moved to Liverpool in search of work on the 1870s. A keen rugby player, John transferred his allegiance to Association football after being asked by his friend John Houlding to watch Everton in action at his Anfield stadium.

The birth of Liverpool FC

When Houlding – a shrewd businessman – raised the rent Everton paid to use the stadium in 1892, the team rebelled and left Anfield to build a ground of their very own on Goodison Road. Left with a stadium but no players, Houlding enlisted the services of his friend McKenna, who used his contacts to find thirteen men from Glasgow willing to form a new team. The Scots-born team was humorously known as ‘The Team of the Macs’ locally. And so Liverpool FC was born, with ‘Honest’ John as its first manager.

McKenna wrote to the Football League, asking for the new team to be admitted to its ranks, but they refused. That first year (1892/93), Liverpool played in the Lancashire League instead, emerging as victors by the end of the season. Promotion to the Football League Second Division followed and by 1901, Liverpool had become League Champions for the very first – but by no means the last – time. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Black granite headstone, John McKenna

Black granite headstone, John McKenna

As for ‘Honest’ John, from 1906 to 1915 he served as chairman of Liverpool, followed by his election to President of the Football League in 1917, a role he held until his death in March 1936. His coffin was carried through the streets of Liverpool by three Reds and three Everton players and the influential Irishman was buried in Smithdown Cemetery (also known as Toxteth Park Cemetery). There are also commemorative plaques recording his achievements on display at Anfield and in his home town of Glaslough, County Monaghan.



Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials Liverpool.