Sarsfield Memorials have recently been honoured to undertake the memorial renovation of John, McKenna, the founding fathers of Liverpool Football Club.
The world famous club was formed in 1892 by John Houlding, when he was left with a football ground but no team to play there. The previous tenants, Everton FC had left for Goodison Park after a dispute over rent levels and Ulsterman John McKenna was one of the board members who remained loyal to Houlding.
McKenna became the new club’s first secretary-manager, sharing duties with William Barclay, a former Everton manager. He used his Scottish connections to bring in a number of players from north of the border. Known as the ‘Team of Macs’, Liverpool won the Lancashire League in their first season.
In the summer of 1893 McKenna made the brave decision to apply for Football League membership and the club were elected to the Second Division. In their first season Liverpool won promotion after a play off victory over Newton Heath, later to become their fierce rivals Manchester United.
Liverpool’s first top flight season ended in relegation, but they bounced back at the first attempt. Determined not to go down again, McKenna and Barclay (the headmaster of an industrial school) stepped aside and the club appointed Tom Watson, who had won the League Championship with Sunderland. The appointment was vindicated with Liverpool winning the title in 1901 and 1906.
McKenna remained at the club in an operational capacity, becoming chairman in 1906. In 1917 he was elected as president of the Football League, a position he held until he died aged 81 in 1936. Although physically ailing by then, his brain remained razor sharp and he never forgot a name and had an amazing memory for facts. Known as ‘Honest John’ he was a very humble man and always looking to help out those in the game who had fallen on hard times.
By the time McKenna died he was a widower and he was buried with his wife Charlotte at Toxteth Park Cemetery. Over the last few decades his grave, situated in a prominent spot next to a path near the chapel, has fallen into disrepair. However, at the request of Liverpool FC, it has now been restored by Sarsfield Memorials.
The decorative urn on top of the grave had either fallen off or been vandalised and on consulting with family members it was decided not to put this back. It has instead been kept by his great grandson for safekeeping. The rest of the memorial has been restored by giving it a through clean and re-gilding the lettering. The ground around it has been levelled and re-turfed.
The restoration of the memorial has been made possible in part thanks to the work of Kieran Smith from the Liverpool FC Graves Society. He has been drawing the club’s attention to the condition of some of their former players memorials and through their museum curator Stephen Done, has been able to secure funding for the project. Photographs of the restored memorial has been widely shared on social media and been well received by Reds fans around the world.