Centre half Tom Booth was an Everton stalwart through the first years of the twentieth-century, an unfailingly reliable defender who was desperately unlucky not to get his hands on silverware during his time at the club. Twice he was part of teams that finished runners-up; and twice Everton made the final of the FA Cup, although on each occasion he was absent from the starting XI.
Booth was captain of Blackburn Rovers in the last years of the 19th century and impressed while on a visit to Goodison in April 1900. Blackburn’s defenders, reported the Liverpool Mercury of the goalless draw, ‘were more persistent than the home backs, Booth rendering splendid service by his untiring and zealous efforts’. The Everton board immediately sought his signature, a £325 fee enough to bring him to Merseyside.
Installed in the Everton back line for the start of the 1900/01 season, the Mancunian immediately impressed. ‘At half back most interest was centred in Booth, and it may at once be stated that he proved himself as resourceful as ever,’ reported the Mercury. ‘When danger threatened he anticipated its quarter… and avoiding aimless kicking always placed the ball to the best advantage. The value of his work cannot be overestimated, and his inclusion will undoubtedly tend to cement the attractive style of play between forwards and halves that football spectators of to-day delight in.’
Everton finished his debut season seventh, but the following year they registered a huge improvement. With Booth both captain and ever-present, the club finished runners-up – narrowly missing out on the title to Sunderland. Booth retained his captaincy through 1902/03 and 1903/04, seasons in which he remained virtually ever-present. He was always more than just a rugged centre half though, and the Everton defence in this period was always the first line of their attack. ‘The Everton speedy outside men were almost continually on the move, for Booth and his halves fed them as if they had been starved for six months,’ said one contemporaneous account.
Playing against Preston North End in September 1904 disaster struck the defender. ‘Booth was so badly kicked above the ankle shortly after the interval that he had to retire permanently,’ recorded the Mercury’s correspondent. Booth struggled thereafter to get his place back from Harry Makepeace, who stepped into the breach left by his colleague.
From thereon the Mancunian was a peripheral player at Goodison; an adept reserve, but never able to force his way back into the first team as a regular. He travelled with the team to the FA Cup Finals of 1906 and 1907, but was overlooked both times. After making just eight appearances through the 1907/08 season he was released by the club. James Baxter led a boardroom effort to re-sign him later in 1908, but his motion was defeated.
Booth was capped twice by England, in 1898 against Wales while still at Blackburn, and five years later against Scotland.