On 21 September 1949, a Peter Farrell lob made safe a famous Goodison Park victory.
However the goal which secured the 2-0 win wasn’t scored in the royal blue of Everton, and although playing on his home turf Farrell was actually turning out for the away side. In fact he was playing in the green of Ireland, who, thanks to their strong Everton contingent, had recorded a rare victory over a seemingly indestructible England team. Indeed it was the first time football’s founding nation had ever been defeated by a ‘foreign’ nation. That famous encounter was just one appearance in a 28-cap Ireland career enjoyed by Farrell, who also played seven times for Northern Ireland because of a ruling which meant they could use players from the Republic for the Home International Championship.
FARRELL first came to Goodison in 1946 from Shamrock Rovers along with Tommy Eglington in a £10,000 double deal. Between them they made over 850 appearances, representing some of the shrewdest business the Blues have ever completed. Farrell quickly established himself as a sturdy wing half whose steely tackling served as an inspiration to his team-mates. It was in light of this that manager Cliff Britton appointed him captain at the end of the ill-fated 1950/51 season when Everton were relegated.
Farrell was one of the few Everton players to emerge with credit from this calamitous season. Writing after the 2-1 home defeat to Aston Villa that virtually sealed Everton’s fate, ‘Ranger’ wrote in the Liverpool Echo of Everton’s lack of ‘tenacity or courage to send the spectators away with even the slight consolation that the Blues had gone down fighting’. The Irishman, he added, was one of only two players to emerge with credit. ‘Farrell set a great example and Potts ran himself almost to a standstill,’ he wrote. ‘But the rest seemed as infirm of purpose and lacking in determination as though it made no difference whether they won or lost.’
A hero both on and off the field, Farrell socialised freely with the supporters in his typically down-to-earth manner. After Everton had lost to Bolton in the 1953 FA Cup semi-final, man of the people Farrell took the defeat worse than many of his team-mates. ‘I didn’t look at anyone,’ he later revealed. ‘I got onto the bus and sat down. I heard a banging on the window and when I looked up I saw the coach was surrounded by our supporters. There must have been six thousand of them. Those nearest gave the thumbs up sign and shouted, “Don’t worry, Peter, we’ll do it next time!”’
The disappointments of 1953 were forgotten the following year when he captained Everton to promotion back to Division One, after a 4-0 win against Oldham on the last day of the season guaranteed a runners-up spot. ‘We have no star man. Our success has been due to all-round work as a team and with such a great bunch of colleagues, my job as captain has been made easy,’ proclaimed the Everton captain at the time. Years later he was more emotional still. ‘I was in tears in the dressing room,’ he remembered. ‘I knew how much promotion meant to the people.’
Sixty years later Dave Hickson claimed that the shock of relegation in 1951 and Farrell’s love for the club saw him assume personal responsibility for getting Everton back to the top flight. ‘I was in the army when Everton were relegated and joined them as a Division Two team,’ Hickson told the Liverpool Echo in 2011. ‘Peter Farrell was the captain and there was never a bigger Evertonian than him. I think he felt partly responsible for the relegation and he was so happy when we were promoted again.’
Farrell remained at Goodison for a further three years, helping a shaky Everton team consolidate their top-flight status, before, at the age 33, he took up the chance to manage Tranmere Rovers. He was as popular in Birkenhead as he had been on the other side of the Mersey and average attendances rose to a record high. He stayed at Prenton Park until December 1960 before taking over as boss of Welsh League club Holyhead Town, but later returned to Ireland to continue in management with St Patrick’s Athletic. On leaving football altogether, Farrell – the friend of the fans–took up a job with a Dublin insurance firm.