The History of the Spion Kop

We’re pleased to publish an article on the Kop, written by fellow Red, and Vancouver resident Mike Brown, who’s great-grandfather, Ernest Edwards, is the man who coined the name of the stand back in the day. Mike’s article was published in the Anfield Review in 1999/2000 in recognition of the Kop reaching 100 years old, and is reproduced here with Mike’s permission

A Battle

The Battle of Spioenkop

Spioenkop means ‘Spy Hill’ and was coined by the Dutch settlers for the commanding views it afforded. The following days witnessed a bloody battle between the British Empire and a ragged collection of Boer farmers, and the British Empire lost. The British soldiers were local boys from the Second Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, the Second Battalion of the Royal Lancaster Regiment and the First Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment.

Capturing Spioenkop meant that the British Army could relieve their countrymen besieged by the Boers in the Natal town of Ladysmith and be home by Christmas.

However, that reckoned without a series of blunders by the British High Command, led by Sir Redvers Bullers, and the terrifying fighting qualities of the Boers.

Reports at the end of the battle, which raged for two days stated 332 killed, 563 wounded and 163 prisoners taken, but these figures are still open to question with some claiming up to 340 killed and 1000 wounded. The Boers had beaten the mightiest army in the world and the reverberations were felt around the globe.

A Journalist

At the turn of the last century, Liverpool was a booming place. it was a mighty seaport that served as a link between Britain and its dominions. The Liverpool Echo was full of news about ships’ comings and goings, the price of cotton and the arrival of mail from the Empire. In the summer of 1903, the Echo interviewed an ambitious young journalist from Birmingham named Ernest Edwards to be a sports reporter.

Ernest recorded in his diary that the interview did not go well. He was therefore surprised to get a job offer, but was torn between accepting a promotion to the time’ and leaving his family and flancée, Emily, in the West Midlands.

Accept it he did and following a holiday in Morecambe, he moved Into digs in Walton. Emily did not join him, but they carried on an almost daily correspondence that he read on the tram ride into town. He despaired over their lovers’ tiffs and a smelly roommate.

Worried about the temptations that may befall him in the big city, Emily gave him an ultimatum that prompted their marriage and her moving to Liverpool.

By 1905, he was established as the Echo’s senior sports reporter and took the pen name of ‘Bee’. He became a father in 1905 with the birth of a son, Eric, who he records was ‘a big lad’. They were living at 140 Delamore Street, Walton. As Eric later remarked, he was born between the poorhouse and the prison.

Edwards was writing the sports column six days a week and it was the only one in the paper with a by-line. Bee’s newspaper career was taking off along with the fortunes of the city’s two football teams.

The 1905-06 football season was a great one. Liverpool won the league and Everton beat Newcastle United to win the FA Cup‘ Bee leads off his column of April 23, 1906 with:

‘We are THE people of the football world. The Liverpool Football Club had taken the first honour a week ago, it remained for Everton to complete the delightful double. They did as they were expected…’

Throughout his career, his readers always tried to detect whether he was a closet Liverpool or Everton fan. He never let on, but, celebrated both teams’ achievements equally (after all, to do otherwise would be bad for the Echo’s circulation).

Edwards used his column as a notice board for amateur football in the city and to respond to readers’ letters. To save space, only the answer was printed, but they make intriguing reading.

To one inquiry he responds: ‘kick taken once and the ball hit the crossbar and cannoned in’.

ln the days before TV and radio, the journalist became the football trivia expert. He also started a competition in which readers were invited to name their all-star teams, a sort of early Fantasy Football League. He was his readers’ eyes and ears at the matches so his reports were detailed. Players were handsomely praised when they played well and gently criticised when they did not.

What is interesting is that many of the leading teams in the 1905—06 season are still in the top flight today: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle United.

He was a great lover of the game. At the start of the 1906 season, he writes:

‘We shall be getting into the swing of football after tomorrow. Form will begin to bear inspection and the same cannot be said for the manifold excuses devised for early attendance of businessmen at games. The mortality rate among grand-mothers will be especially heavy now, and aunts of office boys will positively die in millions.’

A Football Stand

The modern-day Kop end
The modern-day Kop end

Attendance at games then was pretty much as it is today, but conditions were much more primitive (as life then was in general). Edwards was an early advocate of better conditions for the fans. in his column following Good Friday in 1906, he reports on the Liverpool vs. Everton derby game. The match ended in a draw and Bee writes;

‘There were 35,000 spectators present and many were the amusing spectacles as the crowd swayed to and fro . . . about 40 yards of hoarding gave way, but no one was hurt fortunately. The new ground cannot be commenced a moment too soon.’

The message obviously got through. On September 28th, 1906, the day before the first derby game of the season, which previously had been a dangerously crowded affair, he writes;

‘Thanks to the broad, forceful policy adopted by the go-ahead directors of Liverpool FC, the danger is past, visitors to Anfield, Whether on the giddy heights of the Spioenkop or the lowland terraces can be sure that they are safe.’

By the standards of the time, the huge mound of earth that was built at in the summer of 1906 must have been daunting. Only six years had passed since the Battle of Spioenkop and it must have been fresh in the memory of many in Liverpool, especially those who had lost fathers, sons and brothers in battle. In local legend Spioenkop was therefore associated with ‘big hill’ and it was fitting, and enduring, nickname for this new stand. By the way, tickets to the Kop cost between 7 and 15 pence!

Thus started a legend that is 100 years old this month. The Kop remembers the Liverpool men who lay, frightened, at the foot of an obscure hill in Africa all those years ago. The Kop has proved equally daunting to visiting teams and has witnessed many great victories for Liverpool FC. Hopefully, it will continue to do so for another 100 years.

Mike Brown is a graduate of Oxford University and the great-grandson of Ernest Edwards. He is also a life-long supporter of Liverpool FC.