Melwood. Just the word provokes timeless images of eager supporters finding evermore inventive ways to watch the greats who roamed the enclosed pitches.
However, without two priests who taught at St Francis Xavier’s College in the city, Melwood might never have been.
The names of the clergymen were Father Melling and Father Woodlock; they used the school playing fields to help children play football and later the grounds were named after them.
Some of those children will have gone on to play for the school’s parish football club, Old Xaverians FC.
This year The Xavs celebrate their 130th anniversary. As do Liverpool FC, who bought the fields in 1950 and would go on to dominate European football from the base in West Derby.
One of the legends that passed through the Melwood gates was Sammy Lee. He now serves as life president of the Old Xaverians.
In 1892, John Houlding raised the rent of his Anfield land, forcing Everton FC to move across Stanley Park.
The Orangeman was left without a team, so formed Liverpool. It was an unusual beginning to life for one of the world’s largest football clubs.
At the same time, Old Xaverians were also being founded in interesting circumstances, by becoming the first Catholic team in Liverpool.
St Francis Xavier’s College, better known now as SFX, was attached to the church in Everton with the same name and had already set up a cricket club, in Newsham Park, for its alumni and students before making the addition of a football team for Catholics of any college or institute to be a part of.
This was a time when the Irish population, and therefore the Irish Catholic proletariat, was still growing in Liverpool after the potato famine.
The Reverend Father Parry said in an 1899 edition of the SFX college journal that “there was a necessity for Catholic associations in a large town like Liverpool, as otherwise, our Catholic young men would join non-Catholic associations.”
Xavs on the move
Despite The Xavs’ established name, for long parts of their history the club’s teams have had to move around the city to find suitable pitches.
At different points over the last 130 years, they have had home games in Tuebrook, Fairfield, Aigburth, Woolton, West Derby, Huyton, Broadgreen, Maghull and the Dingle.
The latest location added to that list was Mossley Hill, where the team have moved to play at the Heron Eccles football hub.
The first XI were forced to leave the SFX school fields after nearly 40 years of playing on the site, which also holds their social club, due to tree roots damaging the pitch.
2/….the tree-lined side and some sinkholes developing. With the kind agreement of SFX College, the pitch will not be used at all for the next year, and we have engaged a contractor to improve the surface, and will be dealing with the roots and sinkholes ourselves (see photo)… pic.twitter.com/YbkuJfq6Sy
— Old Xavs FC (@oldxavs2ndXI) July 21, 2022
Despite moving away from their home, committee member Aaron Barton says that player-manager Calum Woods has managed to instil a good atmosphere around the team.
He said: “Since the start of last season, the results have been steadily getting better and better. You can feel not just the results on the pitch, but the atmosphere off the pitch.
“Calum, to his credit, and all the coaching staff have brought back this environment of ‘come back up to the club after’.
“Even this season with moving away, obviously not playing at The Xavs this season due to the pitch, they’re still getting people to come back [to the social club] and have a drink – win, lose or draw.”
What is clear from the way the committee members speak is how proud they are of the identity fixed to the club.
Chairman Eric Tocher said: “We are quite famous actually. I was in New York once, 25 years ago, and I went to Central Park with my wife.
“We went into one of these horse carriages and the guy said ‘where are you from?’.
“I said ‘Liverpool’. ‘Where about?’. ‘Woolton’. ‘Are The Xavs still going?’.”
Laughing, Tocher said: “He used to play for The Xavs.”
Secretary Mike White added: “We used to go to school with him!”
The younger generation is proud of the club as well. Woods, player-manager of the first XI, said: “The Xavs is probably one of the best amateur clubs in the city.
“I can’t really think of anyone that’s been going longer in the city in terms of an amateur club.
“The Xavs have already cemented their position as a really respected and known name, at least on the amateur scene in Liverpool…
“We’ve got some members who will tell you stories about when they played for The Xavs 40 years ago, and they’re all still drinking up here today.”
The present and future
Currently, the first team are enjoying a successful start to the season, with 25 points from 11 games to sit second in the Liverpool County Premier League, in the 11th tier of English football.
Promotion to the North West Counties League is application-based from the feeder league and depends on factors including the ground and finances.
Speaking about future progression, Woods said: “There’s the hope maybe to take it to the next level.
“We’d need more because we’d need youth teams; we’d need more people who wanted to coach, more people who wanted to play, more people who wanted to be on the committee and stuff like that.
“But I think we’ve got enough in terms of the reputation we’ve got and the amount of people who care about the club, because we’ve got a lot of members who pay to drink here and come down and watch us.”
— Grassroots Goals Liverpool ?? (@MOTJGOALS) September 3, 2022
The club currently has four teams. However, it has had more in the past and plans to expand again.
Woods continued: “The target should be youth teams; a constant influx of players coming in…
“Something I’ve always wished is I think it would be quite cool to have a girls team or a Xavs women’s team.”
This gets a nod of approval around the table.
From their beginnings as wealthy Catholics-only to setting their eyes on maximising inclusivity, The Old Xaverians have come a long way in 130 years.