EVERTON might think they've got things tough at the moment.

But languishing near the foot of the Premier League table is nothing compared to their first-ever competitive game.

It happened in Bolton – not against Wanderers but the Burnden Park club's local rivals Great Lever.

Yes, Great Lever had a top side. They played in the FA Cup and in regular competitive games against all the other leading sides.

But it was that game against Everton which has earned them their only tiny but notable place in history.

Monday of this week marked the 137th anniversary of the game and I am indebted to Tony Onslow of the Everton Heritage Society for contacting me with the details of the remarkable story.

It may come as a surprise to some in these parts that there was more than just Wanderers from Bolton who played at the top level of English football.

Turton and Eagley were both big sides in the 1880s and Great Lever played FA Cup ties against Astley Bridge and Halliwell.

Great Lever were founded in 1877, the same year their local rivals, who started up three years earlier as Christ Church FC, changed their name to Bolton Wanderers.

Great Lever only lasted for nine years before they ran out of funding, the players went on strike and they folded.

Their fans switched to supporting Wanderers and their better players scattered to other professional clubs around the country.

They were formed by parishioners of St Bartholomew's Church and played on a ground on High Street in Great Lever, moving to a new ground on the Farnworth side of Manchester Road just before they folded.

Everton, of course, never looked back from their first-ever game in what now seems unbelievable surroundings.

But the team and locals of Great Lever ensured they had a baptism of fire in a Lancashire FA Knockout match on November 6, 1880.

Great Lever won 1-0 but Everton weren't happy with some of the referee's decisions and complained to the Lancashire FA who found in their favour and ordered it to be replayed.

Could you imagine that happening today?

The locals back in Great Lever weren't happy and the replay turned into an acrimonious affair which Everton found themselves very much on the receiving end.

The initial match was also a landmark in that it was the first time a club from Liverpool ever made a rail journey to a game.

Everton arrived at Trinity Street Station in Bolton where they were met by Great Lever officials and escorted by horse drawn vehicle to their headquarters, a local pub called the Old Robin Hood about a mile away.

They walked to the ground where a simple enclosure had been built housing fans adjacent to a notorious local landmark called Wellington Yard.

Great Lever dominated the game but Everton's goalkeeper and resilient defending restricted them to one second-half goal scored by their Lancashire County player John Higham.

When the game was replayed at High Street Everton were unable to field their strongest side and were hammered 7-1, much to the satisfaction of the Great Lever supporters who were furious at Everton for complaining about the first game.

At the final whistle the Everton players had to walk the gauntlet of angry home supporters who surrounded them on their way back to the Old Robin Hood.

A journalist from the Liverpool Courier blended in with crowd and described the behaviour of the Great Lever supporters as "outlandish".

He wrote in his paper: "The Evertonians are likely to retain the reverse of pleasurable recollections following their second visit to Great Lever.

"Their team won the match, but even this did not consolidate the blatant crowd, which thronged the ground, whose demeanour was so threatening that the visitor, and even the referee, felt its chilling presence.

"When the Liverpool team retired from the field, they were assailed with taunts and abusive epithets.

"'Tha,ll get no cheese and bacon to neat' sneered one of the irreconcilables to the Evertonians – that being the hospitality when in a generous.

"Nor did the Evertonians get the proverbial cheese and bacon."

Everton never went back to Great Lever again, but Great Lever visited Merseyside in a later game which saw them beat Everton 1-0 at Anfield.

Great Lever moved from High Street, which was unpopular with visiting teams, to a new ground on Manchester Road and they began to import players from Scotland.

The ground was unpopular with their followers, though, who began to desert them in favour of local rivals Wanderers.

Following an FA Cup defeat to Irish club Cliftonville, Great Lever ran out of funding and the players went on strike and in December, 1886 they folded and faded into history.

So Everton fans would do well to remember as they moan about their current predicament, at least you don't have to go to Great Lever.