Fred Geary started a tradition that has become synonymous with Everton’s history: the illustrious centre forward. A staggering scoring record in his six seasons at Anfield and Goodison put him almost on a par with Dixie Dean on a goals-per-game ratio. And yet diminutive, slight and fleet-footed as Geary was, he could not have been further from the Everton centre forward archetype.
Born in Nottingham, Geary made his name in local football with Bothwell Rangers, Basford Rovers and latterly Notts Rangers, who competed in the Midland League. ‘Inducements of a pleasant kind’, according to one local newspaper, saw him join Everton in the summer of 1889 and he was an immediate hit at Anfield, scoring a brace on his debut. ‘Geary was the hero of the match, his sprinting capabilities were a revelation to all, and the way he ran round his opponents visibly astonished them,’ recorded the Liverpool Mercury.
SPEED WAS Geary’s great asset and opposing defences found him impossible to deal with. Crucially, he could run with the ball faster than many players could without, in so doing wreaking terror among his opponents. Describing one incident (that didn’t yield a goal) in his debut season, the Mercury reported: ‘Geary, when not far from his own goal, became possessed of the sphere and rushed away at a slashing rate, passing all in front of him, and finishing by kicking into the home custodian’s hands.’
He ended his debut season with 25 goals from 20 games as Everton finished runners-up to Preston North End by just two points. His goals had undoubtedly made a huge and crucial difference compared to Everton’s fitful debut season of league football. ‘Geary’s great speed, his lightness of foot, and his agility are eminently useful qualities, and it is a sight to [see] him scouring down the field with the ball at his toe, [followed] by hopeful but leaden- footed opponents,’ wrote the Liverpool Echo in an early profile.
The estimation in which the speedy forward is held may be gauged to some extent by the result of a competition recently organised by an athletic paper, Geary being voted the best forward in England. Although that is a matter for discussion, there can be no doubt he is one of the best centre forwards in the country.
GEARY’S SUCCESS in an Everton shirt saw him elevated to the England team in March 1890, against Ireland. Geary scored a hat-trick in a 9-1 win but only appeared once more for England. For Everton his scoring dropped to below a goal a game in 1890/91, but only just, 20 goals in 22 appearances helping propel the club to their first league title.
Geary unquestionably seized many of the plaudits in Everton’s first great team, but his contribution was played down by his captain, Andrew Hannah. ‘Geary is apt to be too fast sometimes,’ he said in an interview with the Liverpool Echo. ‘If he gets clean right past the backs he can beat them, but it does not always come off; and the centre forward should feed his wing. Geary goes in sometimes for single-handed play, and it looks brilliant. It might come off twice in half-a-dozen times, but it can’t always come off. This is a little defect that can always be remedied.’
Injury limited him to just 11 league and FA Cup appearances in the 1891/92 season, but Geary made a triumphant return the following year, scoring 23 in 27 matches during Goodison’s debut season. Injuries curtailed his last two seasons at the club and he and his wife suffered tragedy when their only child passed away. Jack Southworth then Abraham Hartley took up residence in the centre forward’s berth and when Everton finished runners-up in 1894/95 Geary played just eight times.
AT THE END of that campaign he returned to Anfield, where Liverpool had set up home. He scored 11 times as the club won the Second Division Championship in his debut season, but he was a bit-part player on their return to the top flight. Age and injuries had increasingly robbed him of his greatest asset: his pace.