AS A YOUNG BOY in the 1950s, a keen Evertonian named David France began assembling a collection of programmes at his Widnes home. Always infatuated with the Blues, his boyhood hobby later became an adult obsession as he put together a vast collection of artefacts, letters and other ephemera. A successful businessman, he moved to the United States, always with one eye on Everton, still accumulating, still collecting. By the turn of the century, France’s collection had become, according to the auction house Christies, ‘the finest and most comprehensive collection of its type relating to a single football club’. Together it was valued in the millions.
Yet France’s collection was more than just a mountain of ephemera. It represented a timeline of Everton history stemming from the very roots of the club’s existence to the present day. It included some of football’s rarest artefacts and comprised 10,000 collated items, many of which pre-dated the formative years of the Football League. The collection included:
- An anthology of programmes dating back to 1886, containing 6065 programmes covering the club’s participation in league, cup competitions, friendly games and reserve team fixtures between 1886 and 2001.
- Everton ledgers: Considered by France to be the ‘DNA of Everton Football Club’, the official club ledgers consist of a complete run of 29 volumes chronicling all of the scheduled weekly meetings and emergency meetings of the early management committee and later board of directors from 1886 to 1964.
- Everton medals: 40 medals covering all of the major competitions won by Everton between 1890 and 1985.
- Everton tickets, including of a run of 11 season tickets/ members cards from1881–92, featuring seasons at Stanley Park, Priory Road and Anfield.
- Victorian-era photographs including the first known Everton team group from 1881 and the only known photograph of the first championship- winning side of 1891.
- Miscellaneous ephemera, including official hand-written tenders for the construction of Anfield, examples of players’ contracts from 1890 –1940, a complete set of Everton cigarette cards from 1897– 1939, 20 Victorian-era post-cards featuring early team groups, several album pages of pre-war autographs and various examples of turn-of-the-century club correspondence. Other items include over 100 Everton books (every known volume), foreign tour itineraries, club function menus as well as club and international shirts and England caps.
France’s dream was always for the collection to eventually rest in the hands of Everton. To this end negotiations opened with the club in 2003 for the purchase of the collection. Although valued at between £1.2million and £2million, loathe to see his work divided among private collectors, France offered the entire body of material to Everton for £800,000, only to be told the club could not afford or justify the outlay. Instead it helped launch a charitable trust to raise the necessary funds.
EVERTON’S DECISION was criticised by some fans, although it pledged £250,000 towards the total needed and promised to donate its own holdings of memorabilia to complement France’s incredible collection. There followed a lengthy and exhausting fundraising campaign, with the charitable trust also lobbying for lottery funding.
In November 2007 it was revealed that a £1million bid for lottery funding had been successful. Hailing this announcement, Lord Grantchester said:
This means that the history of Everton Football Club and indeed the history of football on Merseyside has been safeguarded for future generations.
David Stoker, manager of the Liverpool Record Office where the collection was to be housed, added: ‘We are very proud and extremely excited to be providing a home for this remarkable football archive, which has important information on Liverpool FC as well as Everton FC.'
Over the following two years, fans were treated to 'tasters' of the Everton Collection, before it was finally made available to the public - via the Liverpool Public Records Office and an extensive website - in September 2009.