The once flourishing holiday resort of New Brighton with its excellent beaches, now a housing dormitory for Liverpool, was a town day trippers would flock to just before the turn of the twentieth century. The Tower dominated the skyline, a structure that rivalled the Eiffel version in Paris and its attractiveness was added to with the provision of fairgrounds and amusement parks. Summer events were staged at the Tower Athletic Ground in the shadow of the impressive structure.In order to provide a winter attraction to New Brighton local businessmen clubbed together to launch their own football team early 1897 by the name of New Brighton Tower FC. Not formed for a change by a bunch of cricketers, rugby players or schoolboys, but by a business organisation with little more than pure commercial intents.
There was a certain degree of resentment towards New Brighton Tower, a club apparently intending to buy their way to the top. Therefore the team were accepted into the Cheshire League only, at the time considerably lower-rated than the neighbouring Lancashire League. Despite this setback, New Brighton Tower managed to attract first-class players to assemble a suitable team that soon became known as the ‘Team of Internationals’ in newspaper reports.
New Brighton Tower played their first Football League game in Division Two in 1898. The ‘Towerites’ as they were officially nicknamed, took on Gainsborough Trinity clad in white shirts with blue trimmings and blue shorts. Their League days were to be short-lived. The ‘Towerites’ were on the brink of promotion in 1899 but that was not good enough for our business friends who had demanded First Division football from the beginning. The 1899/1900 season petered away into indifference in front of meagre attendances. New Brighton Tower’s directors vowed to make one last determined effort for promotion in the next campaign.
The ‘Towerites’ kicked off their ‘do or die’ season in wonderful salmon pink shirts with black trimmings and white shorts. Rarely attracting more than 3,000 crowds to the Tower Ground the team again missed out on promotion. Alas, as a result English top-flight football has never seen salmon pink shirts. The business venture that was called New Brighton Tower finally folded in August 1901.
Senior football came back to the tip of the peninsula by the turn of the 1920’s. Just over on the other side of the Mersey, South Liverpool were struggling, who found themselves with no ground after having left the Dingle Park Ground and a full set of Lancashire Combination fixtures to fulfil. The club transferred across the Mersey to a willing set of football enthusiasts rather than commercial sharks. It was suggested that the club should be called Wallasey Town FC but in fact were renamed New Brighton. They inherited the first colours of their predecessor and played in white shirts with blue trimmings and blue shorts with a shielded ‘NBAFC’ monogram when they were elected to the Football League in 1923 along with Durham City to fill two vacancies in Division Three North. Heavy rain showed that the Wirral support was fickle with only 3,000 turning up for the first game at Sandheys Park. The location of this enclosure near Rake Lane inspired the nickname ‘The Rakers’.
Worthy of note was an FA Cup clash at this ground in 1927 against the illustrious Corinthians who sported gold, white and purple striped shirts due to a colour clash with ‘The Rakers’. When New Brighton reached a low ebb in 1936 they changed to red and white striped shirts with blue shorts in an attempt to change fortunes.
New Brighton’s future looked bleak after the hostilities of World War II ended. The club’s ground was taken over by the council to build houses to replace those lost in the war. They were also without any playing gear or any equipment and all the club had left was its precious Football League membership and a willing band of volunteers who managed to secure their predecessors’ Tower Ground and the purchase of maroon shirts with white shorts. Meanwhile they retained their nickname despite their geographical move. In 1947 they made the history books when a player shortage saw 52-year-old manager Neil McBain turn out in goal to become the oldest player ever to appear in a Football League match.
Yet another change of colour in 1950, this time to red shirts with white sleeves and white shorts, couldn’t prevent New Brighton from losing its League status one year later to Workington. Despite more financial problems and regular ground moves, the club survived through to the 1980s but shut down in 1983 when they were playing on unenclosed grounds in the Wirral League.
New Brighton FC have now started up again and play their games at Harrison Park, New Brighton.
They have won and been runners up many local cup competitions, and received an award for best programme in the regional football league. The club is making every possible step to find their own ground, and to be recognised as ‘The Rakers’ once were. With their history, however, it is perhaps surprising that they aren’t called “The Chameleons”.