From Liverpool To Manchester United: Football’s First Traitor

Ben Mountain

Carlos Tevez, Sol Campbell, Luis Figo; legends of the game, no doubt. But all three occupy a dark place in the annals of football. Each of these men were ‘traitors’ in one sense or the other and committed football’s cardinal sin. That sin, of course, being transferring to a rival club. Disgraceful behaviour.

But just how far back did this most heinous of crimes begin and who was the first real culprit? The answer lies in the name of Tom Chorlton. Everyone knows the most bitter rivalries in world football, but none perhaps attract more infamy than Liverpool and Manchester United’s.

Theirs is a rivalry like no other. And over time it has become a rivalry not just of two clubs, but of two cities; two icons both in the world of football and the historical tapestry of England.

Clearly, there really is no love lost between the two former behemoths.

The United hero and failed gaffer, Gary Neville, once famously said “I can’t stand Liverpool, I can’t stand the people, I can’t stand anything to do with them.”

Now whilst Neville was never a man to mince his words, he really didn’t hold back there. The clubs – and cities – are at absolute loggerheads and always have been.

So it takes a brave man to transcend the great divide.

Tom Chorlton was a traditional English gentleman and traditional English defender. Born in Stockport in 1880, his career was successful and largely squeezed in before the tragedy of the First World War could end it.

His first sniff at proper professional football came, as it did for most footballers of that era, following a few unremarkable spells before joining his hometown club; Stockport County. From here, the then 22-year-old moved north of Manchester to the original Accrington Stanley FC.

His imposing frame and old school defensive style earned Chorlton the merit of his peers and, later, his two beloved cities.

But success was still a transfer away. Then, with Chorlton displaying the family talent of football well as his brother, Charles, played for Bury, that transfer came.

At 24, he clearly felt up to the big time as the Englishman’s career began to approach its physical apex. Along came Liverpool.

The Merseyside giant’s gaffer, Tom Watson – sweeping mustache and top hat sort of chap – snapped Chorlton up in 1904 and managed to enjoy an impressive eight years of service from the defender.

However, Chorlton’s start was not an easy one. Playing a mere 35 games in four seasons – only 11 games a year, that is – he struggled to find permanence in his newly adopted northern city until the 1908/09 season when he played as many games in one season as he had done in four previously. That’s 35, for those of you about to read back.

Following that, the gent from Stockport became the only Liverpool player to complete a full season and not miss a single game. Sadly, things went downhill from here and following a shaky five losses from seven games in 1910, Chorlton lost his place for the Reds.

The next season then saw a move that would – we assume with modern day hyperbole – shake the nation to its core. Chorlton, the traditional English gent, did the unthinkable.

You guessed it, the fella switched to the ultimate arch enemy. When Manchester United and a chance to return to the area he grew up in came knocking, Chorlton was never going to refuse it.

Today, that would be footballing suicide; it’s simply unheard of. In fact, only nine players have ever bridged that divide directly – the last to make such a mistake being Phil Chisnall in 1964.

But this wasn’t quite the case for old Tom Chorlton. In reality, his transfer aroused little anger or disapproval and a four-game spell for the Red Devils hasn’t caused his place in the metaphoric Liverpool Hall of Fame to be desecrated just yet.

This is clear when the Liverpool Echo wrote the following:

“As a player and a man Liverpool likes Chorlton. There is no “side” about him.” Liverpool Echo

Later, following a broken leg for his army side, they found these kind words of support to offer:

“All Liverpool sports will be sorry to learn that Tommy Chorlton, ex-Liverpool-Manchester United-Accrington Stanley defender, has broken a leg while playing for his Army side. The last time I saw this happy fellow was at Hyde-road… Chorlton was a fair player in both senses of the term and a likeable fellow.” Liverpool Echo

Perhaps that can be taken as paying testimony to Chorlton’s character; a man who could commit a sin so vile that it hasn’t been repeated for 53 years, but is somehow still held in high regard by those he served, across the iconic cities.

Alternatively, it shows just how far the Liverpool-Manchester divide has intensified over recent years.

We’ll go for the former, however.

Tom Chorlton: a trendsetter for the foolish but brave, not a man to be copied. Let’s see if any of the lads playing this week will make such a divisive move.

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