In Jack Sharp and Harry Makepeace Everton possess two unique figures in the history of British sport. Just ten other men have represented England at both cricket and football, many, such as C. B. Fry, relying on social connections to be able to represent their country. But Sharp and Makepeace were bona fide sportsmen, professionals who helped shape the face of sport in the first part of the twentieth century. Both made outstanding contributions to Everton at football and Lancashire and cricket, and Sharp was one of the most well-known sporting figures of the era, his face appearing on 14 different cigarette cards.
Sharp was born in Hereford in 1878, the year of Everton’s foundation. He started out as an amateur with Hereford Thistle, briefly filling his days working as a clerk but abhorred office life and quit after three weeks. ‘I preferred to breathe rather than be asphyxiated, even if I was going to make nothing of games,’ he would say.
Instead, he came to Merseyside aged 17, but not as a footballer, instead taking up a position as apprentice groundsman at Liverpool Cricket Club, in Aigburth. He held a similar position at Leyland CC, combining the summer sport with football. In 1897 he joined Aston Villa and in 1899 joined Everton, the year he lifted the First Division title with Villa.
Joining him on Merseyside was his elder brother Bert, whose football and cricketing career ran parallel to his brother’s but would always be overshadowed by it. Bert represented Herefordshire at cricket and also played at Aston Villa. He had two spells at Everton wrapped around a spell at Southampton but without ever making a first team shirt his own. In total he made just a total of 10 appearances, but eventually settled on Merseyside.
Despite his illustrious reputation, Jack Sharp’s Everton career got off to a slow start. The Everton historian Thomas Keates was not wholly convinced by the new arrivals. ‘The ability of … [Sharp and Walter Abbott] was not perceptible to the Executive in the first season,’ he noted. He had good reason to be sceptical – Everton finished the 1899/1900 season eleventh, their worst ever league showing. Nevertheless, the two men began to impress in their second season at Goodison and the directors ‘eyes were opened… and kept open for many years by the sheer and fascinating merits of both.’
Indeed Everton were an improving team, and such outstanding young players as Sharp, Abbott, Jimmy Settle and Sandy Young were still honing their craft in the first years on the twentieth century. Everton finished the 1900/01 season seventh, but a year later narrowly missed out on the First Division title, finishing runners up to Sunderland. It set an unfortunate pattern, for Sharp would be a perennial nearly man in his time at Goodison – three times finishing a league runner up, twice in third place, but never a league champion.
He was, nevertheless, developing a reputation as one of the most thrilling wingers of his day. Although short and rather stocky he was described as a ‘pocket Hercules’ and possessed all the attributes found in many a great wide man: pace and acceleration, supreme accuracy on his crosses, as well as the ability to cut inside his defender and let loose with a rocket shot. J.T. Howcroft, who spent 30 years refereeing, described him as the best outside right he’d ever seen, better even than Billy Meredith or Stanley Matthews.
Such views were widely shared by football’s opinion makers throughout the Edwardian era. According to Alfred Pickford and William Gibson, authors of the 1906 book, Association Football and the Men Who Made It, Sharp possessed, ‘beautiful control of the ball, and a wonderful eye for a vulnerable part of the defence. Cool resourceful, determined, he makes the most of smallest openings, and if opportunities do not present themselves he has a wonderful faculty for creating them.’
Indeed the authors seemed thoroughly enamoured with the Everton winger. ‘He is an artist because he does all his work with the ease and certitude of a man who can touch the whole gamut of a forward’s possibilities. He knows the game through and through. He is not, however, one of those artistic beings who require some one to fetch and carry for them, who only exert themselves when there are possibilities of individual glory ahead. Sharp does not play for Sharp; he plays for Everton.’
Yet Sharp was more than just a cog in the Everton machine. He was the supreme showman they wrote – ‘Dodging, dribbling, feinting, passing, shooting, he is surely ne of the neatest-footed men playing the game.’
Perhaps surprisingly he earned just two England caps, the first against Northern Ireland in 1903, the other against Scotland two years later.
The crowning moment of his Goodison career came in 1906 when he lifted the FA Cup – his only major trophy with Everton, despite several brushes with success. In an insipid final against Newcastle it was his moment of inspiration, when he cut past the Newcastle full back, McWilliam and put in a fine cross, that led to Sandy Young’s winning goal fifteen minutes from the end. ‘Needless to say, the pent-up feelings of the Everton multitude broke forth in such a volume of sound that it was a wonder the threatening rain clouds overhead did not discharge their deluge,’ recorded one excitable journalist.
Twelve months later Everton returned to Crystal Palace, strongly fancied to retain the FA Cup when they faced Sheffield Wednesday in the final. Everton threatened on the break – Young shot over the bar, Hardman missed an open goal – but it was Wednesday who took the lead on twenty minutes. Everton rallied, and two minutes before half time, Sharp equalised. Yet his goal never served as a rallying point for his team mates, and Everton never seriously looked like getting the breakthrough. Six minutes from full time Wednesday scored the winner and Sharp, once again, was a runner up. It had been a bad game for Everton and a poor advertisement for football. ‘I doubt,’ the Football League’s founding father, William McGregor, commented, ‘If we have ever had a final in which there has been more loose play… [It was] one of the poorest finals.’
Although Everton went close to winning the First Division title in 1908/09, they were a team in transition and Sharp was now the wrong side of thirty. In 1909/10 Everton finished tenth – a calamitous position for a team that prided itself on its ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’ motto. With Jack Taylor forced into retirement after a freak accident, Sharp also decided it was time to call an end to his lengthy football career to concentrate on his business and cricketing interests.
Sharp had started out for Lancashire as a 21 year-old, in 1899. In a 26-year career he played 518 matches, scoring 22015 runs. He was, wrote the Lancashire historian, John Kay, ‘reliable and self-effacing – a cricketer of such all round prowess and always doing something useful.’
In 1909 he was selected to represent England at cricket for the first of three tests, and many felt that he would have played more cricket internationals were it not for his footballing commitments, which prevented him from partaking in winter tours in remote outposts. Australia, in these days before air travel, was still a six-week boat ride away.
In 1923, aged 45, Sharp took over the captaincy of Lancashire. ‘For years this dapper Merseysider had done sound all round work with bat and ball,’ wrote Kay. ‘Like Makepeace, he was an all round sportsman. Each gained international honours at soccer and cricket and it is Lancashire’s proud boast that few if any other county had ever fielded two ‘double’ internationals in the same side.’
In 1924 he became the first test selector who had previously been a professional player. A year later, when most men are nursing beer bellies and grey hair, his fitness as a top class sportsman finally left him. ‘Unfortunately Sharp contributed little,’ wrote Kay. ‘Far from fit, he tended to bulkiness and was suspect in the field. His crowning error was to drop a simple catch off Parkin at the start of the temperamental bowler’s benefit match… Sharp’s blunder not only precipitated a big opening partnership but roused the big crowd to sarcastic comment and unmerciful barracking. Sharp was upset and at the end of the season he resigned the captaincy and retired from a game he had served nobly and well.’
Sharp turned to the eponymous sports shop he ran in Whitechapel. The shop would bear his name until the 1980s. He also continued his association at Everton, serving as a director, a position that his son – Jack junior – would also assume. He died in 1938, aged just 60, his name burnt into Lancastrian and Goodison lore. More than sixty years after his death he was unanimously named an Everton Millennium Giant – a fitting tribute to one of the club’s most illustrious names.