Jack Sharp (left) and his shop at Whitechapel, Liverpool (courtesy: Toffee Web)
Jack Sharp (left) and his shop at Whitechapel, Liverpool (courtesy: Toffee Web)

In the year 1885, a local football club was founded without much fanfare, based at Hereford, the cathedral city of Herefordshire, bordering on Wales. It was named the Hereford Thistle Football Club. The further progress of the club, as noted by the Football Club History Database, was as follows:

1894-95: Joined Bristol & District League and became the Bristol & District League champions

1895-96: Joined Birmingham & District League

1896-97: Became the Birmingham & District League champions

1899: Left Birmingham & District League.

In a pamphlet depicting the player line-up diagram for the match between the Wolverhampton Wanderers and Hereford Thistle teams played on February 27, 1897, issued by Charles Sharp, Proprietor of the Grapes Hotel, Hereford, the headquarters of the Thistle team, the Thistle centre-forward is identified as one J Sharp.

There was joy in the parish of All Saints, Hereford, on February 15, 1878, when the household of Dorking-born Charles Sharp and his wife Annie (née Saws), from county Meath, Ireland, were blessed with their fourth son.The child was subsequently christened John Samuel, but was popularly known as Jack. The 1881 census report shows the family of Charles Sharp, a butcher, living at 8 Elgin Street, Hereford, the household comprising the six members of the Sharp family and the mother of Annie, who acted as an assistant to Charles in the butcher shop. It is, of course, common knowledge that the butcher’s shop was not the only means of livelihood for the Sharps. The Grapes Hotel in the city was also a very profitable concern.

Along with his brother Bertram, Jack Sharp began his football career with Hereford Thistle FC. Jack’s First-Class football career got underway when he joined Aston Villa, the reigning FA Cup and Football League champions, in 1897.Initially playing at centre-forward, he soon found his niche as the outside-right for his team, rapidly developing into one of the top four outside-rights in the country, and scoring fifteen goals in 23 league appearances for Aston Villa.Compact at 5’7”and11 stone, 7 pounds, strong, brave, fast, direct and possessing a strong shot (later earning the nickname “Pocket Hercules”), Jack was a genuine asset to the team during his tenure with them.

He moved to Everton, along with his brother Bertram in 1899 for a fee of £450.Writing in the Lancashire Evening Post, a correspondent going by the name of ‘Perseus’ had this to say about Jack Sharp, the footballer, in 1899: “He takes the eye as he steps on the sward, looking sprightly, fit and eager for exertion. On the small side, he is a thickset muscular player, able to take the rough with the smooth, and his play is as attractive as his appearance is neat and firm.”

Being also a keen cricketer, the teenaged Sharp was initially engaged by Liverpool Cricket Club at Aigburth for 1895 as an apprentice groundsman. In 1897 he was recruited by Leyland, the Lancastrian club being one of the country’s top outfits at that time. At the senior level Sharp became eligible for Lancashire on a birth qualification, and the 21-year old made his First-Class debut against Surrey at Old Trafford from June 8, 1899 as a right-hand batsman and left-arm fast-medium bowler. Although Surrey won by an innings and 9 runs, Sharp had scores of 57 and 16. It was to be the beginning of a 26-year career in cricket.

Between 1899 and 1925, Jack Sharp played 534 First-Class matches, scoring 22,715 runs with a highest of 211 and an average of 31.11. He had 38 centuries and 117 fifties, and held 237 catches. He also captured 441 wickets at 27.41 with best figures of 9 for 77. He had 18 five-wicket hauls and 3 match hauls of 10 wickets. These include 3 Tests for England in 1909, during which he scored 188 runs with a score of 105 and an average of 47, and captured 3 wickets at 37. His sole century and all his 3 wickets were to come in his last Test, but more of that later.

The 24-year old Sharp married Mary Annette Scott on April 21, 1902 at St Bride’s Church, Manchester, and subsequently raised a family of two sons and a daughter. His friendly and easy-going manner and respectful demeanour towards one and all won him many friends in the sports and business worlds.

While pursuing his dual cricket and football careers, Sharp, possessed of keen business sense, had taken the opportunity to open an eponymous emporium that dealt with sports equipment and outfitting at 36-38 Whitechapel, Liverpool in 1903 that rapidly became very popular. In his article on Sharp and speaking of the sporting-goods shop, Rob Sawyer writes: “It featured, as its logo, a sportsman clad half-and-half in cricket whites and Everton colours. The motto to accompany it was Jack O’ Both Sides — a nod to his parallel top-class sporting careers. As well as negotiating deals to supply the Merseyside football clubs (and many others) with kit and equipment, Jack’s business was given unique rights to sell Everton match day tickets in the city centre — in the 1940s and 1950s huge queues would snake along the Whitechapel pavement in advance of the biggest matches.”

Interestingly, Sharp, having begun his cricket career with Lancashire as a professional cricketer, played as such till 1918, when he retired officially as a professional player. However, he remained in the Lancashire ranks as an amateur, and captained the county in 85 matches between 1920 and 1925. In all, he played 518 matches for Lancashire, scoring 22,015 runs at 31.18 and taking 434 wickets at 27.23. Lancashire won the Championship in 1904, without losing any game throughout the season, and Sharp played in all the 27 matches that season.

The arrival of an Australian cricket team in England has always been a big event in the English county circuit, and prospective players exert themselves to produce their best in the preliminary games of the season, both against the visitors and against opposing counties in a bid to prove their worth. It was no different in 1909.

England won the opening Test at Edgbaston by 10 wickets. It was a low-scoring match with a highest total of 151 in the Australian second innings. In a bowlers’ Test, George Hirst (4 for 28 and 5 for 58) and Colin Blythe (6 for 44 and 5 for 58) were brilliant for England. Australia restored parity in the series with a 9-wicket win at Lord’s, Vernon Ransford scoring the first individual century of the series (143*) and of his career. Warwick Armstrong took 6 for 35 to terminate the England second innings at 121.

It dawned chilly and cloudy at Leeds on the morning of the third Test and the wicket appeared to be soft. England delayed naming their playing XI for the third Test until the last moment, capping Sharp in place of Tom Hayward, and bringing in Syd Barnes in place of Alfred Relf.

Monty Noble won the toss and batted first. The score proceeded to 48 for 1 when a misfortune befell England. While fielding a ball, Gilbert Jessop ‘wrenched’ a back muscle and had to retire, Relf taking his place in the field. A subsequent assessment revealed a degree of seriousness not hitherto noticed and Jessop was ruled out from any further action in the Test. Although Australia went in to lunch at 89 for 2, the ninth wicket fell at 171, Wilfred Rhodes having figures of 4 for 7 at this stage. The innings ended at 188 in just under four hours, with Trumper unbeaten on 27.

For England, CB Fry (1) and Jack Hobbs (12) were both back in the pavilion with the total at 31. Sharp came in to join Johnny Tyldesley at the crease. The pair saw the day out, England going in at 88 for 2, with Tyldesley on 38 and Sharp on 30.The third wicket realised 106 runs before Tyldesley (55) was out. Sharp then top-scored in the innings with 61 in a total of 182. Charlie Macartney ran through the innings with 7 for 58.

Barnes (6 for 63) was the chief wrecker of the Australian second innings of 207, Armstrong top-scoring with 45. That left England a winning target of 214 on the last day. The Wisden Collector’s Guide, in their comments on the unfolding action of the third day of the Test, observes: “There seemed every promise of a fine finish on Saturday, but England’s batting failed lamentably in the last innings … The task of getting 214 was not thought likely to be beyond England’s powers, but the early play was far from encouraging.”

England went in to lunch at 26 for 2 with Hobbs and Sharp at the crease. Wonderful bowling by Tibby Cotter (5 for 38) and Macartney (4 for 27) caused the last 7 England wickets to go down in less than an hour for 27 from the time Hobbs was the third man dismissed at, 60. Australia won the Test by 126 runs, extending the series lead to 2-1.

Twenty wickets fell on the first day of the fourth Test, at Old Trafford, both teams completing their respective first-innings for low totals, as Tyldesley and Hirst played their last Tests. Batting first, Australia were toppled for 147, Barnes (5 for 56) and Blythe (5 for 63) taking all the wickets. The Englishmen were rolled over for 119. Frank Laver, player-manager of the team, recorded the best analysis by any visiting bowler in a Test in England till that time (8 for 31). Muttiah Muralitharan (9 for 65) was to later go past Laver at The Oval in 1998. The 19,000 spectators on the first day had seen 266 runs scored for the fall of 20 wickets in 107 overs.

Only 27 overs were possible on the second day of the Test, Old Trafford living up to the well-deserved reputation of rain during a Test. In the end, the Test was drawn after Australia closed at 279 for 9, with Rhodes taking 5 for 83, and England scoring 108 for 3 in the time remaining. In his second Test match, Sharp had scores of 3 and 8* and bowled an over for 3. Australia, thus, retained The Ashes.

England went to The Oval for the fifth Test, hoping to square the rubber. They brought in two newcomers to Test cricket for the match, Frank Woolley and Douglas Carr. Noble won the toss for the fifth time in the series, the first Australian skipper to do so. The feat of winning all 5 tosses in a Test series had, of course, been performed by Stanley Jackson for England in the home series against Australia in 1905.

The Test began in fine hot weather, and Australia lost 4 wickets in a short while before Trumper (73) added 118 with Bardsley (136). Bardsley and Macartney (60) then added 83 in 63 minutes. The Australian innings finished at 325 in about 10 minutes short of 5 hours. Carr, in what was to be his only Test match, captured 5 for 146, becoming the 14th English bowler to capture 5 wickets on Test debut. Sharp had 3 for 67 in the innings.

Fry (62) and Rhodes (66) added 104 for the third wicket. The seventh wicket realised 142, and Sharp scored the only century by an England batsman in the entire series, his 105 runs coming off 173 balls, and embellished with 11 fours. The innings folded up for 352. Cotter captured 6 for 95. The second day turned out to be the most productive by way of runs (388) and overs bowled (113) as Australia went in at 76 for no loss, with Gregory on 35 and Bardsley on 33.

Australia declared at 339 for 5 in 100 overs. Bardsley became the first batsman in history to score a century in each innings of a Test when he scored 130. Carr added 2 wickets to his match tally. In the time remaining in the Test, England scored 104 for 3. Australia won the rubber 2-1 with 2 draws.

But that is not the whole story of the flurry of centuries in the final Test. Bardsley’s first-innings century was the 99th in all Test cricket. To Jack Sharp, in his short career of only 3 Tests, went the honour of scoring the 100th century in the history of Test cricket. Bardsley rounded off the Test with the 101st. His next century would be in his very next Test, against South Africa at Sydney, in 1910-11.

There was a slightly different denouement to Australia winning the 1909 Ashes. At the end of the series, Noble was presented with an Ashes urn, reportedly by Lady Darnley (widow of Ivo Bligh), but not the one traditionally associated with the great cricket rivalry. This one was made of solid silver with a Chester hallmark and was about 10 cm in height and had Noble’s initials (MAN) engraved on it. After the passing away of the great Australian captain in 1940, the urn, a family heirloom, passed into the possession of his granddaughter Elizabeth through her father, and later, her brother. Elizabeth, a registered nurse and midwife, had kept it in her Melbourne living-room for a long time. In the end, an emotional Elizabeth had given it up for auction.

Writing in The Australian, Simon McLoughlin quotes Max Williamson, head of sporting memorabilia for auction house Leonard Joel: “We were honoured to be entrusted with such an important piece of cricketing history by the Noble family.” The urn fetched AUD 80,600 at an auction in 2017. There have been several urns created to symbolise the Ashes over the years. The Monty Noble urn, however, is one of only three known Ashes urns in private hands, two of which are on loan to the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum.

Sharp announced retirement from football after 342 appearances for Everton FC, in which he scored 80 goals. He had been in the FA cup winners team of 1906, and had made 2 England appearances in his football career, against Ireland in 1903 and against Scotland in 1905. He served as the Director of Everton FC in 1923. In the words of football correspondent JT Howcroft, “Jack Sharp is the best outside right I have ever seen, better even than Billy Meredith or Stanley Matthews” — very high praise indeed.

In the very last First-Class match of 1910, after his retirement from football, playing for The Rest under the captaincy of Jessop against Kent at The Oval, Sharp scored 50 and 103*. Evening Express had this to say about Sharp’s performance: “One is delighted to see Jack Sharp still making runs. At the Oval yesterday the ex-Everton captain was seen at his best when he complied a fine 103 not out for the Rest of England versus champion county, Kent. He knocked up 50 in the first innings, so that he has wound up the season in brilliant style. He played splendid cricket throughout his innings. Sharp appears to have a great liking for the Oval…”

Although he had captained Lancashire on and off in some matches from 1920, having turned amateur after 1918, it was in 1923 that Jack Sharp, at the age of 45, was officially appointed captain of the county, the oldest incumbent to the position in the history of the club. Age and avoirdupois were, however, gradually catching up with him, and he was no longer the swift gazelle in the field as he was in his youth.

In 1924, Sharp was appointed an England cricket selector with the South Africans touring England for a 5-Test series. He continued to play active cricket for Lancashire, but an incident during a match against Middlesex at Old Trafford in 1825 struck a sour note with him. He had the misfortune of dropping a relatively simple catch off the first ball of the game. Some of the rowdier elements in the Old Trafford crowd thought it fit to lampoon him very vociferously and repeatedly. Normally a man of equable temperament, Sharp, his reflexes slowed down by his advancing age, was stung to the quick by this unexpected barracking from his home crowd. The devastated Sharp was so emotionally upset over the incident that he had determined to end his cricket career forthwith, and had to be dissuaded from doing so by his fellow players.

His association with Everton was strengthened when he was appointed to the Board in 1922, bringing him together once again with his long-time friend and fellow double England international Harry Makepeace, who was, by now, on the coaching staff of the club. Only 12 Englishmen who have represented the country both at soccer and at cricket; the Lancastrian couple of Sharp and Makepeace constitute two out of the dozen. By now Sharp was living at Queen’s Rive, a short distance away from Makepeace. His native intelligence and experience stood him and Everton in very good stead as his scouting expeditions allowed the club to recruit several new players who would carry the flag with great distinction for Everton in later years.

In the meantime, his sport outfitting business continued to flourish, and several of his products began to be used in the county circuit. One of the balls manufactured by Jack Sharp Ltd. of Whitechapel can be seen preserved in the Museum of Liverpool, while some of his bats became quite popular among county cricketers. One son, Jack Jr, followed him into football and cricket, while his other son, Geoffrey, played cricket in the Liverpool Premier League.

While on a holiday at Harrogate towards the end of 1937, the 59-year old Sharp had come down with fever and bronchitis. Despite treatment, the problem gradually escalated, and he succumbed to congestive cardiac failure at his Wavertree residence on January 28, 1938, about three weeks short of his 60th birthday. His funeral took place three days later at All Saints Church in Childwall, with many football clubs sending wreaths in their club colours. He left behind his widow, his three children, and his retail business. Upon his death, his family members became the Directors of his business, which continued to flourish until it was taken over by JJB in 1988.

In his summation on the life and times of Jack Samuel Sharp, Sawyer has this to say: “Jack Sharp is a strong contender for the title of Everton’s finest outside-right. An inaugural inductee into Gwladys Street’s Hall of Fame, his contribution to his beloved club was also recognised in January 2000 when he was selected by a panel as the Everton Giant of the first decade of the 20th Century — his grandsons accepted the award on the Goodison pitch. Jack is not forgotten in Hereford either; in 2013, a plaque was erected at Eign Gate in honour of one of the town’s greatest sporting sons.”