Ulsterman McKenna was very much the senior partner of this duo, even though his official title at the club was secretary not manager. Both men no doubt carried out duties that would be classed as managerial today but Barclay was initially opposed to Liverpool joining the Football League. He apparently knew nothing of the club’s successful application until he received a telegram instructing him to travel to London to help arrange the fixtures for Liverpool’s inaugural season as a member of the League. That single incident indicates how much more involved McKenna was with policy and decisions. Barclay had worked with Liverpool’s founder John Houlding before the acrimonious split that saw Everton move across Stanley Park to Goodison in 1892. Houlding and Barclay remained at Anfield to help form the new club with local businessman McKenna being appointed to the club’s first committee.
Following their inauguration, Liverpool made an immediate application to join the Football League but this was rejected and they had to take a place in the Lancashire League instead. They won that championship in a tight contest with Blackpool and when the Second Division of the Football League was extended at the end of the 1892-93 season the club was elected in favour of their then more well-known neighbours Bootle.
It seems that Mr. Barclay travelled extensively on the look out for new players, fulfilling the role of a more modern chief scout. Numerous players were recruited from Scotland in the early years, so many in fact that Liverpool were nicknamed ‘œthe team of Macs’ for a while.
McKenna always seemed to be looking ahead and one of his wisest moves was to recruit Tom Watson from Sunderland to replace Barclay as ‘œsecretary-manager’. This was no reflection on Barclay’s ability in any of the roles he was asked to carry out. But Watson was an experienced team manager who had already taken Sunderland to the Football League championship on three occasions in the 1890’s and would repeat this achievement twice with Liverpool in the first decade of the 20th century. The McKenna/Barclay partnership had been successful in its own right though with the Second Division championship being won at the first time of asking. Although an immediate relegation followed at the end of the 1894-95 season, another Division Two title was secured a year later in what proved to be McKenna & Barclay’s last season together at the club.
John McKenna continued to be heavily involved with football administration. He was elected to the Football League’s management committee in 1902, became a vice-president in 1908 and then president two years later, a position he was to hold for over two decades until his death in the 1930’s. In addition to that, he had two spells as Liverpool chairman and was also a vice-president of the Football Association. He was without doubt one of the great early administrators of the English game, a man who was widely admired, respected and occasionally feared and one who had a major influence on the early days of Liverpool Football Club.
Profile by Chris Wood, January 2005