Just before Christmas Norwegian based Liverpool FC historian, Jonny Stokkeland and local man George Rowlands unveiled a headstone in memory of the man who suggested the name Liverpool FC to John Houlding. That man was W.E. Barclay. Barclay also had the unique distinction of managing both Everton and Liverpool. It was the end of a long journey for Stookeland and Rowlands to finally see the Dublin born Barclay’s name finally displayed in Anfield Cemetery, fittingly in the shadow of both the Anfield Road and Goodison Park stadiums. We at RAOTL wanted to get to know a bit more about Jonny and he kindly answered our questions below.
The Scandinavian support for Liverpool FC is legendary, who were your heroes in red growing up?
Kevin Keegan. No doubt about that!! And I was so lucky to meet him in Academy in Kirkby, about 5 years ago. A meeting I will never forget!
Your first trip to Liverpool and memories?
August 1992. It was a dream come true to see Anfield – And it was in time to stand on The Kop as well. I was in Istanbul in 2005 and have visited Liverpool 41 times now. I try to visit Liverpool 3-4 times a year. I end up staying for up to two weeks as I continue my research. I will be back in April and May.
Your heavily involved with gathering information of past players/managers – what got you involved in this type of research and how much time do you spend researching?
I was born in 1968 and have been a LFC supporter as long as I can remember. I started collecting information about Liverpool FC and all ex-players in 1980 when the Norwegian Supporters Club was founded. It was not easy to find much information then. All I had was Brian Peads book the first Complete record book which came out in 1986 and then Doug Lammings Who`s Who in 1989. That was a revelation. Then I met Eric Doig, the grandson of the great Liverpool goalkeeper Ned Doig in early 90s and we have been friends since then. He took me to the central library in Liverpool. Nowadays I use most of my time in other libraries in England. Crosby, Birkenhead, Bolton, Stoke, Rochdale, Heywood, Bury, Nelson, Accrington, Burnley, Blackpool, Blackburn, Darwen, Preston, Huddersfield, Sheffield and Birmingham have all been visited. We have also used several weeks in The Football League Museum in Preston + visit Lancashire FA, Lancashire Record Office and Liverpool County FA.2 years ago I went to London and used 1 week in the Collindale Library for my research.
A headstone for W.E. Barclay in Anfield Cemetery has now come to pass; can you tell us the process you had to go through to bring this project to it’s conclusion?
After a lot of talk, me and George Rowlands got It put up when I last visit Liverpool in December. At last Liverpools first secretary (manager) got what he deserved. Very little had been written about him in history books. George found his birth details in Ireland and his sad demise in Liverpool. He was the forgotten man in clubs history.
Have you any more LFC projects lined up in the future?
Well, Sveinung Egeland put together a fantastic PC programme some years ago. We have more than 4800 names and more than 12 000 matches in our archives. We try to find all match facts for all matches played by first team, reserves and junior teams – And we try to follow all players from birth to death, all their clubs and other work. We buy birth and death certificates to get everything as correct as possible.
I met George Rowlands five years ago, and he is an expert on ancestry. He has been of great help. So has Kjell Hanssen with his excellent newspaper archives. And we also have contacts in South Africa, USA, Norway and England.
We signed a long term contract with Liverpool FC a few years ago in which our collection is part of the LFC Official Archives. We get questions from ex-players, families of ex-players and supporters all the time. So I am always a busy man! I can be contacted at email@example.com if somebody needs any information or maybe can help us.
As a kid I remember coming across a piece in a magazine called Ireland’s Own about a man called John McKenna who was involved in the formation of Liverpool FC. Imagine my delight when I discovered that he was also born in my home county of Monaghan, and not only that, we shared the same birthday as well, the 3rd of January bit anyhow. To a ten year old this was major news. Like thousands of youngsters in Ireland I was drawn to the red half of Merseyside. My first game, a European Cup tie in Dundalk is still etched in my memory.
Fast forward about 30 years or so and I have moved to the North West of the country, Donegal to be exact, a county with a rich football heritage. My love for the reds never waned in the interim and whenever I could I’d remind people that I came from the same county as one John McKenna. But what I realised is that not many reds knew anything about the man at all. Were they aware of his involvement with one of the world’s greatest football clubs? I didn’t know much myself, the liverpoolfc.tv website has a useful profile of the man but I wanted to know a bit more.
Last August I noticed that the town of Enniscorthy in County Wexford unveiled a plaque in honour of Billy Lacey. Billy was the first player from the Republic of Ireland to wear the famous red shirt. He also wore the blue of Everton, but we’ll let him away with that mishap. What got my attention was that it was a redman from the area, Alan Breen, who alerted the local media of the connection. This got me thinking, if Alan can do it so can I. It’s up to the fans to make it happen.
An email was sent to the heritage section of Monaghan County Council informing them off the link between John McKenna and Liverpool FC. This was met with an enthusiastic response, things were moving or so I thought. They said they would get back to me; they never did. Anyway, I still had to find out more about the man. What else did he achieve? Is he buried in Liverpool? I was certain he had to be buried in Anfield Cemetery, it just seemed logical. Various Liverpool cemetery websites were trawled through but to no avail. Help was at hand however. A new book was released about Liverpool FC and its Irish connections; this was called Emerald Anfield and was written by Keith Falkener. I emailed Keith and he pointed me in the direction of Peter Lupsons book Across The Park, he said there was even a picture of John McKenna’s resting place in it. A quick online visit to Merseyshop later and the book was on its way.
What a great book Across The Park is, a must read for Reds and Blues alike. The picture was there alright, very clear, the gravestone was unusual AND it wasn’t located at Anfield at all. Smithdown Road Cemetery was the place to go to. I just had to find out where this Smithdown Road was located, after all I only knew one graveyard in Liverpool and that was Goodison. Just to confuse me further, Smithdown is also known as Toxteth Park Cemetery and although the excellent Toxteth Park Cemetery website had no results for my John McKenna search, I was confident I’d find the grave and cemetery location no problem. Now I had to get to a game where I could make time to begin my search.
It wasn’t hard to find where Smithdown Road was; much to my surprise it turns out I go past Smithdown Road cemetery every time I get the 86A into the city. So I was set, I had two hours to spare in Liverpool before the Stoke game on Feb 2nd. I’d have no problem finding it. It was a very distinctive headstone after all. How wrong I was. My first mistake was not taking the picture of the headstone with me. Disaster, there I was at 4’o clock on a cold February afternoon faced with 1’000’s of headstones that looked more or less the same. Almost all were of a similar height, and I thought this was going to be easy. Nothing for it only to start walking, I could visualise the picture in the book after all. Row upon row, lap after lap, I knew there was a hill behind the headstone, the thing is, there were hills everywhere. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail came into my head. In total I spent two hours walking around, at least it was a bit of exercise and I was now warm. Maybe there was a place for me on the Irish road walking team for London 2012 after all. Onwards to the game at least, and standing in 305 on the KOP was probably not what the doctor ordered but a 2-0 victory certainly was.
So back to the search and that eureka moment or maybe I was just naive, naive I think. From looking at the picture of the headstone, I shouldn’t have been searching for John McKenna’s name at all, his wife, Charlotte Maria, had died before him; she was the one to search for. A search for Charlotte Maria McKenna later, and there it was, not only that, but I also had a map of the graveyard and the exact location of the grave, how easy was this! At last, now to get back over to Liverpool and the perfect opportunity was just a few weeks away.
I had booked flights for the Man Ure game on March 6th last October, over at 10am Saturday and back at 8.30pm on Sunday would cover all options, even pesky SKY. Saturday afternoon would be dedicated to finding John McKenna’s grave, map in hand, myself and three other LFC Donegal committee members hopped on the 86A to Smithdown Cemetery. It took about 10 minutes to find my holy grail and of course I did recall walking very close to the spot only weeks earlier. My fellow travellers, Clare, Chris and Conor were probably as relieved as I was; they had to listen to me every weekend going on and on about John McKenna. One Dirk Kuyt hat-trick later and it was the perfect weekend.
I was aware that the 75th anniversary of his death was upon us, this was a good opportunity for me to publicise this man’s achievements in his homeland. The pictures would also help. I was missing one but. The plaque unveiled in McKenna’s honour at Anfield. I was travelling to the Braga home game so what was the harm in trying to see if I could get a picture. One call to customer services later and I was put in touch with Liverpool FC Curator Stephen Done and Steve Newton from the museum. Much to my delight there was no problem gaining access to Anfield. Friday morning it was, after we safely negotiated our way past Braga and the St Patricks Day festivities. Well, as you know, we were knocked out after failing to make the breakthrough at Anfield. It may well be the last European game for a year or so, still, I had the next morning to look forward too.
So early on Friday morning, my girlfriend Sarah, LFC Donegal member Richard, and yours truly made our way to the museum entrance. Here, we were met by Steve Brand who was to show us the way to the John McKenna plaque. Steve was great company and we even managed to get LFC legends Phil Neal and David Johnson to pose with us under the McKenna plaque. It was also great to meet Stephen Done and Steve Newton in person to thank them for their hospitality throughout the morning. We had a great time and I informed them that I planned to use the pictures for an article in the local Monaghan newspaper with a view to creating awareness of McKenna’s exploits in his native land.
So the wheels have been set in motion, I know there are plenty of like minded Reds in Monaghan and in my own branch in Donegal that are willing to make this happen. We owe John McKenna that much. It’s a case of watch this space for now. As for a fitting tribute, well what about a plaque in Glaslough village where his parents got married. The wheel will have turned full circle as the many McKenna’s round the village will be aware of their famous son. “Honest” John McKenna, Liverpool FC’s first manager. I think he’d approve.