After winning promotion back to the 1st Division at the first attempt, Liverpool’s players got ready for the new season by playing two ‘Blues versus Whites’ practice games at Anfield.
The first game took place on Thursday 20th August 1896 and attracted a crowd of 15,000, higher than all but one of the regular league fixtures in the 2nd Division the previous season. The ground was reported by the Liverpool Mercury to be in capital condition and players were said ‘to have showed evidence of careful training’, but the result was not recorded.
It was apparent looking at the line-ups though that each side was a mixture of 1st teamers and reserves, with the regular forwards playing together and trying to score against the first choice back line, with the reserve players doing the same. The reason that it was blues against whites was because at that time Liverpool still hadn’t adopted red shirts.
The next practice game was on Friday 28th August, by which time new secretary-manager Tom Watson, had officially taken up his role having travelled down to Liverpool from Sunderland the previous Sunday. This time, the forward lines were mixed up somewhat meaning that the ‘Blues’ were comfortably expected to win as their side contained more regular first team players. However there was an upset when the Whites won 3-0, the Mercury commenting that it was hoped the efforts of some players would be ‘more judiciously directed’ when the season proper began.
Liverpool Football Club’s annual picnic in 1895 saw them return to the same venue as they had gone to the year before as they sought an immediate return to the 1st Division.
The club’s inaugural top flight season had ended in relegation but the squad was strengthened in the summer with the signings of forwards George Allan from Leith Athletic and Fred Geary (below), who had been Everton’s leading scorer in their 1890-91 title winning season.
With the season due to start on 7th September, the picnic took place two weeks before on Saturday 24th August. Billed as the annual picnic of the ‘committee, players and friends of the Liverpool Football Club’, the party of fifty gathered at the Sandon for a 2pm departure aboard a fleet of wagonettes.
It was a glorious day and the journey to Ormskirk took about two hours, and on arrival committee members Mr Bailey and Mr Gibson began arranging the sports events. They consisted of a 120 yard sprint, half mile race, a dribbling contest as well as an event that saw who could kick a ball the furthest without bouncing.
Fred Geary showed his pace when he won the 120 yard sprint and he also finished second in the dribbling contest. The best kicker of the ball was left back Billy Dunlop, who managed to hit it sixty yards. John McCartney was the player with the most stamina, winning the half mile race.
After the events were completed, William Houlding distributed the prizes and told the players he hoped they could all pull together for he coming season. The players then ate what the Liverpool Mercury described as a ‘capital tea’ before boarding their wagonettes for the journey back to Anfield.
Liverpool’s players prepared for their first ever season in the top flight with an annual picnic and sports day taking place in Ormskirk a week before the start of the season.
On Thursday 21st August 1894 a party of forty players, led by John Houlding and John McKenna, headed to the newly developed Victoria Athletics Grounds in Ormskirk. The weather was wet but everybody resolved to have an enjoyable time, with races being run over 100, 120 and 440 yards as well as one mile. Unlike previous years, there were no field events.
The 120 yards was the most closely fought race, with Patrick Gordon (below) just edging out Hugh McQueen. John Whitehead proved to be the runner with the most stamina as he won the one mile race, the last of the day. Dinner was then served under the direction of local man James Eastham, who like John Houlding was a brewer. Houlding then gave a speech in which he said he hoped one day to see the ‘League Championship Cup’ at Anfield Road.
The party arrived back at Anfield at 10pm, but after two successive first place finishes Liverpool found the top flight tough going and finished bottom, their relegation then being confirmed after a test match defeat to Bury.
On 20th August 1892, two weeks before Liverpool Football Club’s first competitive game in the Lancashire League, a social outing of the newly assembled squad led helped them bond together prior to the forthcoming campaign.
Organised by Mr J.J. Ramsay and billed as the first annual picnic of members of the club, fifty players and officials took the ferry over to Woodside at 1.30pm. There they were met by wagonettes that took them on a pleasant hour long drive through Bidston, Moreton, Meols and Hoylake to West Kirby where they stopped at the Ring O’ Bells hotel.
The rest of the afternoon saw the players engage in a series of athletics contests on an adjoining field. Amongst the events were races over 100, 200 and 440 yards, a hop, skip and jump, dribbling contest and tug o’ war. No player won more than one event with Joe Pearson proving to be the fastest by winning the 100 yards while John Miller was the best dribbler.
After the events the party had what was described by the Liverpool Mercury as a ‘knife and fork tea’ before William Houlding, son of club founder John, handed out prizes to the earlier winners. He then made a speech welcoming the players who had come down from Scotland, and mocking those that had predicted that Houlding would only be able to form a parks or junior team. He made a statement of intent by saying that the new club ‘intended to make themselves felt in the football world,’ leading to a chorus of ‘hear, hear’ from those present.
The party then re-boarded their wagonettes for the journey back to Woodside and the ferry over to Liverpool, having bonded well in readiness for the season ahead.