Birthdate: 9 April 1859
Birthplace: Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Other clubs as manager: Newcastle West End, Newcastle East End, Sunderland
Arrived from: Sunderland
Signed for LFC: 27 July 1896
First game in charge: 01.09.1896
Contract Expiry: Until death 06.05.1915
LFC league games as manager: 678
Total LFC games as manager: 742
Honours: League Championship 1900/01, 1905/06; Second Division 1904/05
Newcastle-born Tom Watson started his managerial career as Secretary at Newcastle's East End and West End clubs. The Newcastle Journal said "he headed a deputation which resulted in the Newcastle Freemen and the Newcastle Corporation granting permission for football to be played on the site now known as St. James’s Park, in the occupation of the Newcastle United Football Club." As later with Sunderland and Liverpool Watson went north of the border to find quality amateur players when a "£5 note and the offer of a good job in a Tyneside factory" sufficed to attract them south. When Watson was appointed as Secretary of Sunderland in 1889 he made an immediate impact. Not elected to the Football League until the year after he arrived, Sunderland won the First Division championship three times in four seasons under Watson’s guidance in 1892, 1893 and 1895 as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-final three times. More trophies would probably have followed but in the summer of 1896 Liverpool made the most successful manager in the country an offer he couldn’t refuse. His annual salary was £300, doubling what he
had earned at Sunderland. John McKenna retired to the boardroom and Watson moved across the country from Wearside to Merseyside.
Only 37-years-old at the time of this move, Watson was still a relatively young man, certainly for a football manager. This was a radical change to Liverpool's set up as the Cricket and Football Field reported. "The team have never had a “boss” off the field, and there have been too many on, so that a central figure, and one that commands respect, should work wonders in this direction." Watson implemented a strict diet and new coaching regime at Anfield that had served him so well at Sunderland. The players' day started with half an hour stroll at 7.30am, breakfast at 8.30am ideally consisted of weak tea, chops, eggs, dry toast or stale bread. Butter, sugar, potatoes and milk were not held in high regard. Training was at 9.45am and again at 3.30pm. A glass of beer or claret was recommended at dinner and tobacco was to be “sparingly used". The day finished with a one hour stroll at 7.30pm.
Liverpool’s game against The Wednesday on 1 September 1896 was not only the first the team played under new management but also, as the Cricket and Football Field noted, the premiere of the club's new colours: "Liverpool’s new dress of red shirts and white knickers is striking, and a contrast to Everton’s blue shirts and white knickers." Following the 2-1 win, Liverpool failed to score in two matches in a row and a Liverpool director was strongly of the opinion that "the close passing game is almost played out, as it is so much overdone, and more goals will accrue, he thinks, if the swinging moves from wing to wing were indulged in." Whether Liverpool did overpass the ball or not the goals soon arrived and Watson delivered fifth place that was a big improvement on the previous top-flight campaign that ended in relegation. Watson was not only an accomplished manager but he liked a song as well as his players discovered on a day-out at Roscommon Music Hall in November 1896. "Tom Watson is a man of many parts, but his presence on the stage as a singer was never expected by those that know him.," the press noted.
Watson went to Scotland to look for young talent as he had done many times before with great success. Progress was almost as quick as it had been at his previous club. Two FA Cup semi-finals were reached before the turn of the century but not many supporters realise that 90 years before the crucial final League match with Arsenal in 1989 Liverpool were also involved in a “winner takes all” end to the season. Liverpool travelled to Birmingham to face Aston Villa on the last day of the season. A marginally superior goal-difference meant that a draw against their Midland rivals would be enough to secure the club’s first major title. But by the interval the Reds that had conceded only 28 goals in their previous 33 League matches that season had inexplicably let in another five and the match was over as a contest, as was Liverpool’s title dream.
Liverpool slipped to tenth the following season but recovered to mount a serious challenge for the championship in the first full season of the new century. Watson had already proved at Sunderland that he had a good eye for talented players and he continued to prove that for Liverpool. Numerous players that had a huge influence on the club’s early years … and in particular their double-title success in the first decade of the Twentieth century … were signed during Watson’s reign. Amongst them and in no particular order were Scotsman Alex Raisbeck, legendary goalkeepers Sam Hardy and Elisha Scott and prolific scorers Jack Parkinson and Sam Raybould. The 1901 championship was won by two points from, ironically enough, Watson’s former employees Sunderland and seemed to herald a new and exciting era. But rather surprisingly results took a turn for the worse and the club was relegated only three years after winning the League Championship, only to bounce back at the first time of asking and follow that with their second League title just 12 months later, the first club to achieve the ‘double’ feat of winning the Second and First Division championships in successive seasons.
In 1906 Watson suffered the disappointment for the sixth time of being the manager of a losing FA Cup semi-finalist, this time to Everton who went on to lift the trophy by beating Newcastle. League results for the next few years were rather erratic and only in 1910 when finishing runners-up to Aston Villa did Liverpool become seriously close to taking another championship. In 1914 Watson at last managed to overcome his semi-final jinx as Liverpool progressed to the cup final at Aston Villa’s expense but the big day at London’s Crystal Palace ground was to end in disappointment with a single-goal defeat to Burnley.
As World War I broke out, Tom Watson was preparing for his nineteenth season in charge at Anfield. It was to be his last. He had visited his native Newcastle for his fifty-sixth birthday on 9 April. Three weeks later he was back at work when he was seized with a severe chill. A few days later it had developed into a fatal attack of pneumonia. Tom Watson died on 6 May 1915. Watson had been a popular and successful manager and that was reflected in the turn-out for his funeral, where many of the players he signed acted as pall-bearers on his final journey. Alex Raisbeck, Ned Doig, Arthur Goddard, Charlie Wilson, Maurice Parry, George Fleming and Robbie Robinson as well as the club trainer William Connell carried his coffin. Watson is buried at Anfield Cemetery.
Few men take two different clubs to the biggest domestic prize, even in the sport’s early days. Even fewer win that championship as many as five times during their managerial lives. Tom Watson did and he was also the man responsible for Liverpool making the big breakthrough by taking them to their first two League titles in 1901 and 1906.