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The adventures of Liverpool's first superstar - Chapter III

Just once in a while you come across something so important that relates to the history of Liverpool Football Club that it makes your heart race. You can't expect every Red to be as thrilled so all you can do is emphasize its importance. A first-hand account of Liverpool FC's daily life in the club's first two decades virtually did not exist and neither a direct quote from the club's first superstar; "the silent man of football"- one Alexander Galloway Raisbeck. 

When searching through the British Newspaper archive in January 2013 I discovered a small announcement in the Dundee Courier on 19 March 1915 of a series of articles by "Alick Raisbeck" that were to be published in the Weekly News. This amounted to gold dust in my estimation and certainly to other Reds who are interested in the formative years of our club and the life of this man, whom I rate so highly that I believe he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Elisha Scott, Billy Liddell, Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard as the outstanding figure at the club in his era.

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Raisbeck moved from Scotland to Liverpool when the club was only six years old, in 1898. In the last article Liverpool had just won their first League championship. On their return to Liverpool after winning the title the squad was welcomed by a huge crowd who demanded a speech from skipper Raisbeck, but he was too shy to address the Liverpudlians. Was this the start of an era of success, not at all!

THE MAXIMUM WAGE AND THE LOSS OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP

On 1 April 1901 the Football League ruled that players’ salaries should be capped at £4 a week and signing-on fees limited to £10. League Champions Liverpool had offered better wages than most rivals, the average wage of their players at £7 per week, and suffered because of this ruling. They failed to attract top signings but still managed to keep all of their key players. The club tried to get around the new ruling by giving the players other jobs at the club which they got extra money for. Alex Raisbeck worked as a bill-inspector for the club, supposedly responsible for checking if public notice boards advertising the club’s matches were in place.

"Just here let me mention that there was a big Scottish flavour about the team that won the League. The backs were Scottish, two of the half-backs and two of the forwards. Of course there has always been a big per centage of Scotsmen at Anfield. We were a very happy family then. Next season there was a fly in the ointment. The wage maximum was introduced and it didn’t half make us squirm, I can tell you. I know it meant a big loss to me and I felt very strongly on the matter. But I had to submit. My opinion of the wage limit rule is that it is a bad one. Pay a man what he is worth, is my motto. And what good has it done? What purpose did it serve? It was supposed to put all clubs on an equality – the small clubs in line with the big clubs. No club was to have an advantage over the other because it could command more money, seeing that the players’ wages were to be all on a level. But what happened? Transfer fees went up with a bang. Good gracious! Fifteen years ago £300 or £400 was looked upon as an extraordinary transfer for a player. And look at them now. It is a very insignificant transaction that does not come within double that amount. And so it is the wealthy clubs that get the talent yet and the limit wage has not advanced the rate of equality."

The maximum wage was raised to £9 per week in 1920, but incredibly the salary cap stayed in place until January 1961! The chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, Jimmy Hill, finally succeeded in having the then £20 per week cap lifted. Sam Hardy, Liverpool's keeper and England international, argued the players' case in an article in the Dundee Courier in 1909: "To footballers the question of the hour is the prospective abolition of the wage limit and where we shall find ourselves once that barrier is lifted. In my view it is absurd to imagine that we players lack the virtue of commonsense or that we are incapable of discriminating between what is good for the game and good for ourselves. It is club managers and officials that are going about placing a greater commercial value upon us day by day, and their very own actions are making us think seriously not so much about our usefulness as men but as to our commercial value to that section of the community we entertain.

What would not Tottenham Hotspur give for good players to-day now that they can see the jaws of the Second Division open to take them in? In such a crisis the player is of enormous worth, but when an agitation is going on we are worth but £4 per week. Now, I would throw out a suggestion which, while it may appear as amusing to some, still carries truth. I would propose that the FA should spend more time with the Directors of clubs, and educate them in the economical virtues of the football world, and learn them that whatever value has been placed upon players has been of their own doing."

ARRIVAL OF A FUTURE HALL-OF-FAMER

A future Liverpool legend was bought on 24 February 1902 from Glossop. Arthur Goddard was a regular on the wing for nearly a decade-and-a-half at Liverpool, thoroughly deserving his place in the club's official Hall of Fame. Raisbeck was a big admirer of his.

"There were many rumours going the round that all was not well in the Anfield camp, but I can, as I did at the time, give these rumours a flat denial. We were a very happy crowd; one of the best. I am sure a player would have had a long way to go to find a club which treated its players better and with so much respect as did Liverpool. The officials of the club treated the players as gentlemen and the players in turn showed their appreciation by being thorough good sports and always out to give their best in the interests of the club.

One of the new players secured was Arthur Goddard, from Stockport County. From the first day I clapped eyes on Goddard I made him out to be a great lad, although he was but a slip of a lad the day he left his home in Stockport. Liverpool got a rare bargain in Goddard. The transfer-fee, if my memory serves me right, wasn’t a stiff one, although at the time transfer-fees were not what they are today.I have played on almost every ground of importance in England and Scotland, and against all sorts and sizes of players, but I have yet to see a more graceful player on the ball than Arthur Goddard. It was a treat to see him cover the ground with such a free and easy movement. He wasn’t an artist like Bobby Walker, of course; but there was a “something” in Goddard’s play which appealed to everyone who watched him on the ball."

THE 1902 IBROX DISASTER

Raisbeck was witness to one of the greatest sporting disasters in Britain when a huge hole opened up in the wooden western terracing of Ibrox, 70ft long by 10ft wide, so hundreds of people fell fifty feet to the ground below, resulting in the deaths of 25 people and leaving over 500 injured. The new Ibrox had been opened three years previously, designed by Archibald Leitch, whose vision benefited Anfield in 1906 as well Goodison Park, Highbury, Villa Park, Old Trafford and number of other stadia. Ibrox had applied to be the venue for the biggest sporting event in the calendar: Scotland - England. The western terracing was estimated to hold 36,000 people, but Leitch had expressed concerns ahead of such a big event. He wrote, "It is quite probable that a crowd of about 60,000 people may attend. Personally I have no doubt that everything is in order, still it might be better that both of us should go on he structure in order to have all possible precautions made for the safety of spectators." A surveyor by the name of Fredrick Holmes passed the ground fit and it was agreed by one vote that the game should take place at Ibrox rather than Celtic Park. Around 68,000 people were present at Ibrox with a capacity of 80,000, but it had never been but half-full until this game. After the incident a criminal investigation was launched where the prosecution argued that, in order to save expenses, the timberwork contractor Alexander McDougall had used an inferior type of wood called yellow pine (also known as ‘bastard pine’) rather than red pine that Leitch and Rangers had requested. McDougall was acquitted and Leitch worked with Rangers on Ibrox in later years.



A huge hole opened up in the terracing: 70ft long by 10ft wide

"I don’t think I shall ever forget season 1901-02. Apart from the fact that Liverpool had shown such a poor return, this was the season of the ever-memorable international game at Ibrox when part of the terracing gave way. Some twenty people were killed while hundreds were injured. I was one of the Scottish team and the pathetic scenes I witnessed that April afternoon will never go out of my memory. Prior to the match I remember remarking to Teddy Doig how beautiful Ibrox looked. I had never seen the Copland Road ground look better. What a change came over it, however, and also the faces of the spectators surrounding the playing area. I shall never forget the sight after the terracing gave way. I must admit that I never actually saw the smash take place. It so happened that the play was very keen, many exciting incidents cropped up in the first minutes of the game. This put the huge crowd in good spirits.

Afterwards it was all explained to me. Bobby Templeton was on the ball and previous to this had given the spectators the impression that they were to see Bobby at his best. You know what that means. In his best form there are few better artistes than Templeton. Bobby was off on one of his bewildering runs. The crowd at the far end of Ibrox enclosure were on tiptoe to see what would come out of his run. Then came the smash. Few of the players knew what had really happened. In fact, someone actually suggested to me that the crowd had broken in as they were scaling the railings at the far end as fast as they could."



The Scotland team lines up for this fateful match in 1902.
Doig is fourth from left and Raisbeck third from right in the top row.

"When we saw the ambulance men at work we knew that something serious had happened. We were told to retire to the dressing-rooms. I shall never forget the scenes inside. Dead bodies and groaning men were lying on the seats where only a short time ago the Scottish players had stripped. Even some of the players’ clothing was requisitioned for bandages. Play was resumed after the wounded had been cared for, but you can easily understand how the players felt after witnessing such pathetic scenes. They could not be expected to play their best. Many thought that play should not have been resumed but I think the S.F.A. officials did the right thing, as they feared there might have been a panic if the game was not resumed. The game went its full distance but none of the players were sorry when the final whistle went as they were all heartily sick and none more so than Alick Raisbeck."



25 people died in the 1902 Ibrox disaster

"Season 1902-03 season was a so-so one for Liverpool. We finished fifth, although at one time it looked as if we were to carry the championship. Our liking for funny results was our undoing and we lost our grip of the flag by reason of one or two silly slips."

A NIGHTMARE THAT CAME TRUE

"I had at the time a fine chum in Charlie Wilson who was to occupy my position at centre half. We had need to travel to Middlesbrough on League business, and, as was our invariable custom, we left on the Friday night. I cannot remember now what went wrong with our rear division, but at anyrate, I was given to understand that “your humble” would have to occupy the right back position. We slept in the same room at night, and we didn’t sleep very well. As a matter of fact when we rose in the morning the question which each of us addressed to the other was how we had passed the night. “A terrible dream I had,” said Wilson. “I dreamt that my leg was broken.” 

I think I see the two of us smiling yet at the mere suggestion of such a calamity, but the game had not been half a minute in progress when he went in to meet Jones who had visions doubtless, and certainly seemed to have every prospect of scoring, when there was a clash. You actually heard the snap of the broken limb, and next minute we saw our friend Charlie being conveyed to the pavilion, the while urgent requests were being made for medical attention. As I have said, I don’t believe much in dreams and all that sort of thing, but the morning story of my club-mate and the resulting accident has made me think more than once."

After his leg break on 28 February 1903 Wilson returned eight months later, but only played 9 games after this terrible incident. The club programme from 15 December 1906 reflected on what could have been: "Before he broke his leg Wilson was a sound centre half, who studied the game, and played it accordingly. Indeed, there are many who think that he would have disputed pre-eminence with the great Raisbeck himself but for the unfortunate accident which practically stopped his First League career. He can score goals, and his offensive work was always splendid. Especially dangerous was he when corner kicks were taken. The juniors can learn much from Wilson if they will. He is bulky now, and must be one of the weightiest men playing in Combination football." Wilson made his final appearance for Liverpool's first team in 1905, but he stayed on at the club as a scout and trainer for a further 34 years!

Next week: Liverpool's fortunes take a sharp turn downward and Raisbeck contemplates leaving the Reds!

Written by Arnie ([email protected]) - Copyright LFChistory.net - Transcription of Raisbeck by Chris Wood and Hardy by Kjell Hanssen
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