In the last years of the nineteenth century Everton were posed with a telling on the field problem. A team that included such talented players as Jack Taylor, John Bell, Johnny Holt and Edgar Chadwick were let down by a succession of erratic goalkeepers. ‘In the season 1896/97 the club had got together an array of talented players for every position except in goal, and the weak link in the chain cost the side dearly,’ wrote the Everton director and historian Thomas Keates. He added that Everton had lost the FA Cup final to Aston Villa ‘through feeble goalkeeping. The League position, too, was also weakened.’ Bob Menham, Everton’s hapless cup final custodian, was sold to Wigan that summer.
In his place Everton brought in two replacements: Third Lanark’s Rab McFarlane and Kilmarnock’s Willie Muir. ‘Macfarlane a Scottish international player [he had one cap] will be entrusted with the position of custodian, and Muir, who also comes with a capital credentials, will doubtless have an opportunity of displaying his ability between the upright,’ reported the Liverpool Mercury. McFarlane lasted nine games but was dropped after a 1-4 home defeat to Sheffield United. Muir, a £45 buy, was a more suitable choice for Keates, who described him as ‘not a showy, but a most effective custodian.’
Despite conceding twice on his debut, away at West Bromwich Albion, Muir impressed the watching Mercury reporter, who wrote: ‘Muir made a very successful debut in league football, and is certainly worthy of further trials.’ With the new custodian the club’s erratic early season form stabilized and they finished the 1897/98 season fourth, also reaching the FA Cup semi final.
Muir was a tall, slender goalkeeper, described as ‘steady, cool, and fast.’ The addition of the highly rated George Kitchen from Stockport County a year after his Goodison arrival did little to allay his progress in a fine Everton team. The Blues finished the 1898/99 season fourth, with Muir missing just a solitary game, and may have lifted the League Championship had it not been for a disastrous run in that witnessed just one win in their final eight games.
But inconsistency was never far away. Everton finished the 1899/1900 season eleventh and the next campaign seventh; Muir missed just two games during these disappointing seasons. A new look Everton started the 1901/02 season in excellent form and topped the table for the early part of the campaign. But a crushing 4-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest saw Muir made the fall guy. Kitchen took his place the next week and the local press recorded ‘no custodian could have given a better display than the man who usually guards the reserve citadel.’ Muir never turned out for Everton’s first team again, and returned to Scotland the following summer where he found success once more with one of Dundee’s greatest teams.