Nowhere in the last years of the 19th century was a more fertile poaching ground for Everton than the royal Scottish burgh of Dumbarton. In the first days of the Football League no fewer than four of the town’s players made the journey south to Liverpool. For more than twenty years these men – Alex Latta, John Bell, Abe Hartley and Richard Boyle – were to dominate the ranks of Everton Football Club and play telling parts in Goodison Park’s early glories.
Few were more distinguished than Boyle, who, with his waxed moustache and raffish good looks, was the archetype of the Victorian sporting hero. The half back joined Everton in August 1892 as the club lay on the cusp of an exciting new era at their new stadium, Goodison Park. He made an immediate impact for Everton and was renowned for his dashes up the field and fearsome long-range shots, which were – for all their frequency – not often matched with goals. Rarely did a defender pick up plaudits like Boyle. ‘Boyle’s brilliancy was indeed a treat, and was lavishly noticed throughout the game,’ recorded one admirer after a friendly against Gorton Villa in 1893.
With Bob Kelso and Johnny Holt he formed a solid back line, whose footballing ethos – always to play the ball rather than hoof aimlessly – made them the first line of the Everton attack. ‘The halfback passing game has another great advantage as it draws away the first line of defence in the opposing halfbacks and thus leaves the forwards free when they do get the ball,’ wrote the Liverpool Mercury of the ploy in 1895. It was, the same paper recorded on another occasion, through the defenders’ ‘untiring cleverness’ that Everton were able to assume such a ‘tremendous lead’.
Well liked and respected, Boyle was made Everton captain for the 1895/96 season, a position he gave up to Billy Stewart for a year, before taking it up again for the 1897/98 campaign. Few had any doubts about his suitability for the role. Boyle, recorded an 1896 tribute, ‘has not only proved worthy of support by his skill on the field, where his individual excellence has commanded admiration from supporters and opponents alike, but his gentlemanly and courteous demeanour has combined to make him a universal favourite.’
Boyle’s 243 Everton games would never yield him the medals his service surely deserved. But there were brushes with glory. In 1894/95 he finished a league runner-up and two years later he reached the FA Cup Final, where Everton met Aston Villa. His first-half free kick would give Everton a 2-1 lead, but within 15 minutes of scoring Villa had not only equalised but taken a 3-2 lead, which they would not relinquish.
Not until the 1901/02 season, when they finished runners-up again, would Everton come so close to winning a trophy again. Boyle by then had slipped from first-team view and at the end of the season was released by the club.