Tony McNamara was one of a generation of home-grown players charged with the task of restoring Everton from their historic early-1950s lowpoint. His Goodison career, encompassing seven years, witnessed Everton’s disastrous 1951/52 campaign, when they sixteenth in Division Two, promotion back to the top flight two years later, and the club’s re-establishment as a top flight force in the middle of the decade.
Signed as an amateur in the late-1940s, the onset of McNamara’s top-class career was delayed by a period of national service with the RAF. He made his debut against Leeds United in September 1951 and in doing so fulfilled a boyhood dream. ‘I was always Everton proud and thrilled to watch players like Jimmy McIntosh, Tommy Lawton and T. G. Jones in their wartime team,’ he later told Charlie Buchan’s Football Monthly.
McNamara was a winger of style and verve and, when given a run in the team, an important contributor of goals. His tally of ten in the 1956/57 campaign made him Everton’s top scorer that season. But he was also unlucky with injuries. He had cartilages removed from both legs and made just four appearances in the 1953/54 season when Everton secured promotion back to the to flight.
He returned to play his part in Everton’s re-establishment in the top flight and said at the time that the main difference was the scale of the stadia. ‘After sampling both divisions now I feel that the First Division is much the better,’ he said in 1957. ‘There is a lot more positional play, of course, and the players generally think quicker and keep the ball on the move more. But the biggest difference of all is the grounds. Perhaps we are spoilt in having such a wonderful arena at Goodison. But having played there before lofty stands and huge crowds it can be disconcerting to turn out on a small cramped pitch with the spectators virtually able to shake hands with you.’
Little could McNamara have known when he said those words that he was heading back to such insalubrious arenas. After losing his place to Jimmy Harris during the 1957/58 season, Everton entertained offers for the forward. Sheffield United showed an interest, but it was Liverpool, then languishing in the Second Division, that McNamara went to for a fee of £3,500 after Everton had failed in a part-exchange bid for Johnny Morrissey. His time at Anfield was brief, as was a switch to fourth division Crewe Alexandra. He eventually settled at third division Bury later in 1958, meaning he had played in all four divisions within a year – becoming the first player ever to do so.
But it was Everton with whom his name was synonymous and even into his eighties he was a regular guest at Goodison. Interviewed by the Liverpool Echo in 2009 he singled out Everton’s famous 5-2 win over Manchester United’s Busby Babes at Old Trafford in October 1956 as his highlight.
‘I ran down the middle of the pitch, I only touched the ball once and the keeper started coming towards me and I thought 'that’s it', so I just chipped it over his head,’ he said. ‘That was the last goal, it was a great win.’