John McKenna (3 January 1855 - 22 March 1936), was an Irish businessman, rugby player and the first manager of Liverpool Football Club. McKenna was born in the parish of Donagh, County Monaghan to Patrick McKenna and Jane McCrudden and moved to Liverpool in the 1870s in search of work.
McKenna found employment first as a grocer's boy before taking the role as a vaccinations officer for the West Derby Union, the union was responsible for the upkeep of the Liverpool workhouses at the time. McKenna also had a keen interest in sport, in particular rugby and shooting. McKenna was the leading figure in the formation of a regimental rugby club and also became involved with the West Lancashire Rugby Union but it was through his religious beliefs and politics that he would meet John Houlding, and McKenna's love of Association football would surface when Houlding invited him to Anfield to watch his Everton team in action.
He remained with Houlding after Everton left Anfield for Goodison Park. 'Honest' John was one of the greatest driving forces for Liverpool throughout the early years. McKenna used his connections to fish for players in Glasgow, including Duncan McLean, James McBride, Malcolm McVean, Hugh McQueen, Matt McQueen, John McCartney, Bill McOwen and Joe McQue, this team was known as the "Team of Macs" due to the number of players with "Mc" in their surname.
It was McKenna, acting as the club's secretary, who telegraphed the Football League asking for Liverpool to be admitted to it. The club was denied entry into the Football League by the F.A. This forced McKenna to guide Liverpool through the ranks of the Lancashire League instead. Liverpool played their first game in the Lancashire League with an 8-0 win at Anfield against Higher Walton. John Smith scored the first competitive goal. After ending their first competitive season as champions, Liverpool were elected into the Football League. They played their first Football League match away to Middlesbrough Ironopolis on 2 September 1893, and won 2-0. After an hour's play, it was Malcolm McVean who broke the deadlock.
McKenna then served as Liverpool chairman from 1906 and 1915, and then was elected president of the Football League in 1917, a position which he held until his death.
In August 2011 in the idyllic village of Glaslough in County Monaghan, Ireland, a commemorative plaque in honour of Liverpool FC's first manager John McKenna was unveiled. A crowd of over 200 Liverpool fans and interested observers attended an informative talk on McKenna by Keith Falkiner, author of the book Emerald Anfield, in the local community hall before the plaque was unveiled by the brainchild of the event, Kopite and LFC Donegal secretary David Moen.
At the conclusion of his talk, Falkiner summed up the achievements of McKenna perfectly when he said; "The course of history has proven John McKenna to be one of the most powerful and successful men at Liverpool Football Club - the third most important figure, in my opinion, after only Bill Shankly and the clubs founder John Houlding. The people of Monaghan should be proud of this history and proud of honest John McKenna - who is arguably the greatest Irishman who has ever been involved with the game of association football in Britain."
When unveiling the plaque Moen said: "It's a great honour for me personally to unveil this magnificent plaque."I have a lot of people to thank. The local community, the County Council, my family, friends and most of all, 'Honest' John McKenna. It gives me great pleasure to unveil this plaque in honour of Liverpool legend and Monaghan native "Honest" John McKenna."
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