As author, philanthropist, historian, collector and Evertonian, the contribution of David France (b.1948) to the dissemination of the club’s history and culture stands tall. His legacies include a library of fine Everton-related books, the Gwladys Street Hall of Fame, the Everton Former Players' Foundation and the Everton Collection.
Born in modest surroundings in Widnes, France was dismissed as a ‘slow learner’ as a schoolboy and was unable to read until the age of 14. He began working life as an apprentice gas-fitter, but later resumed his education with great success, gaining several university degrees, including a PhD in chemical engineering. He subsequently immigrated to the United States, where he worked in the oil industry and served as a consultant to NASA. In 1990, aged 42, he ended his working life to concentrate on what he termed ‘good deeds’.
An intensely driven man who has run 100 marathons over the years, his love of Everton Football Club manifested itself in many ways. Its first expression came in book form and over the years France would prove a prolific and outstanding author on his great passion. His debut came in 1997 with Toffeecards, an A5-size softback book offering an illustrated and concise pre-World War Two history of Everton through the medium of cigarette cards. He followed this up the same year with Toffeepages, which described the post-war years at Goodison Park through the medium of football programmes.
Other significant works included Gwladys Street’s Holy Trinity (2001; with Becky Tallentire) about the great Harvey-Kendall-Ball triumvirate; Virgin Blues (2002, with David Prentice), an outstanding account of Everton’s early years; Everton Treasures (2005; later republished as Dr France’s Magnificent Obsession) about the accumulation of his famous memorabilia collection; Alex Young: The Golden Vision (2008), a fabulous biography of the icon who is France’s hero; and most recently Everton Crazy (2016), the autobiography of David France.
In 1998 Dr France conceived the Gwladys Street Hall of Fame ‘as a tribute to the individuals who have aided the development of the first club of Merseyside’. He established a panel of Evertonians to elect Goodison greats into the inaugural Hall of Fame, and subsequent elections were held among the wider fan base. Players and officials were inducted at raucous dinners at Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel. Several illustrated books were produced by France to mark the Hall of Fame, with the proceeds donated to Alder Hey children’s hospital.
PARTLY AS A RESULT of his work in putting the Hall of Fame together, France then set about establishing the Everton Former Players Foundation to help old pros fallen on hard times. Any player to have made one or more first-team appearances for Everton was eligible for assistance, and the foundation has helped dozens of former players adjust to life after football. This was the first such benevolent fund of its kind in world football, and UEFA have adopted it as its model.
But his most amazing legacy is surely the most comprehensive single-club collection of historical footballing artefacts and memorabilia the world has ever seen. For decades he collected just about anything and everything of significance related to the club’s history. His archives, as recounted by his friend and frequent collaborator David Prentice, included ‘ledgers, cash-books, gate-books, handbooks, (a complete run of) programmes, season- tickets, photographs, postcards, cigarette-cards, bubble gum cards, postal covers, players’ contracts, financial accounts, articles of association, travel itineraries, celebration menus and other ephemera.’
France’s self-styled ‘magnificent obsession’ started as a boy, when a neighbour would give him his old Everton programmes, which he scrupulously filed away. He then spent years trawling antique markets and auction houses, and tracking down former players, adding to his remarkable collection.
AFTER SUFFERING ill health, at the start of the 21st century France sought to sell his great labour of love. But rather than separate the collection to maximise his own financial gain, he wished to keep it together to maintain its integrity and have it as a record for future generations of Evertonians. Despite initial disinterest, then obfuscation by Everton, a charitable trust was eventually set up to purchase the collection and, backed by heritage-lottery funds, the purchase was finally completed. The collection – with additional artefacts provided by Everton itself – finally went on public display at Liverpool’s Picton Library in 2009.
It represented the culmination of an outstanding contribution to Everton history and culture by a remarkable man. Applauded for his work, France always displays characteristic humility.
Don’t thank me,’ he once told a pair of admirers. ‘Being a blue is my reward.