George Kay was 44 years old when he left Southampton for Liverpool in May, 1936. He was born in Manchester and played for local club Eccles before joining Bolton Wanderers in 1911, with whom he had a very brief spell before moving across the Irish Sea to play in Belfast. When competitive soccer resumed after the First World War, George joined West Ham United and was their skipper in the first F.A. cup final to be staged at Wembley in 1923. The Hammers lost that day (to George’s former club Bolton) but had the ample consolation of a place in the top league as runners-up to Second Division champions Notts. County.
Towards the end of the 1920’s Kay moved to Stockport County as a player and then on to Luton Town, initially as their player-coach in 1928 before taking on the role of manager a year later at the age of 38. He held that post until the end of the 1930-31 season before being attracted by the opportunity of managing a club in a higher division, Southampton. The Saints had been promoted as Division Three (South) champions in 1922 and were anxious to taste life at the very top. But during the 5 full seasons that George was in charge at The Dell, the club never made the top half of the table, having finishes of 14th, 12th, 14th, 19th & 17th. All the same, Kay was respected within the game and was clearly knowledgeable and not afraid to try out new ideas. He was also experienced and probably a combination of all those qualities brought him to Liverpool’s attention when it was clear that George Patterson would be unable to continue the managerial side of his role.
Kay had only been at Anfield a couple of years when another World War broke out, a conflict that would interrupt and in some cases end the careers of many a fine footballer. With the war over, the club took the unusual step of deciding to tour North America and Canada. It is quite likely that George Kay was the instigator of this trip; certainly he was fully in favour of it because he felt that the climate and diet in a part of the world that hadn’t been affected by food rationing the way European countries had would be extremely beneficial. The schedule was punishing ‘¦ 10 matches at various venues between the 12th of May and the 11th of June ‘¦ but there seems little doubt that the squad started the first post-war season in far better physical shape than many of their competitors. Liverpool went on to win the championship in 1947 but it was a mighty close thing. A hard winter meant that a season which had begun at the end of August didn’t finish until the start of June. Liverpool, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers & Stoke City were all in with a chance of taking the title as the season reached its climax. Liverpool’s final fixture was against Wolves at Molineux. The hosts had 56 points, the visitors 55. Liverpool had to win ‘¦ and then wait and hope. They did their part of the job by winning 2-1, other results went their way and the Reds were champions of the Football League for a 5th time. It was George Kay’s finest moment as a football manager.
Jack Balmer & Albert Stubbins were prolific scorers in Kay’s post-war spell as Liverpool manager but the club didn’t come close to another championship. The nearest they came to additional success was in 1950 when the reached the F.A. cup final for only the 2nd time and the 1st for 36 years. Sadly, the big day out at Wembley ended in disappointment with defeat to Arsenal, a club that would inflict more misery on Liverpool in years to come when trophies were at stake. George travelled to London and led the team out but he was far from being a well man. It was clear that he could not continue for much longer as manager of the club. He retired in February, 1951 a few months short of his 60th birthday, fought his continuing illness with strength and courage but died in Liverpool three years later in April, 1954.
Profile by Chris Wood, January 2005