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.
Raisbeck moved from Scotland to Liverpool when the club was only six years old, in 1898. Only two years had passed since Liverpool won the League Championship in 1901 for the very first time, yet Raisbeck wanted to taste pastures new and ahead was a monumental struggle for the Reds.
"During all my years at Liverpool there was only once that I can remember I ever gave a thought to a possible change. That is, once in addition to the time I eventually I did leave and that was in season 1903-04, the season I am now to write about. For five years I never had the slightest inclination to make a change. Scotland was never in my mind at anyrate. Looking back now I don’t even remember a moment when I was displeased with my surroundings. I liked Liverpool, so did my wife and although the pathway had not always been strewn with roses yet my time had been pleasantly spent at Anfield. Yet, and I cannot recall how it transpired, I had a feeling that the sixth season would be my last with the Reds. I was fully prepared for a swop at the end of the season, but there was something [that] happened which caused me to “alter my mind”. And that ‘something’ was the fact that at the end of the season Liverpool found itself in the unfortunate position of being relegated to the Second Division of the League. I simply could not leave my club in its day of disaster.
We carried no “slackers” in our camp so if we didn’t win it was no fault of ours. And mind you, Tom Watson, whom we all honoured and revered, was very patient through it all. He used to come into the pavilion with that everlasting smile of his – although, mind you, there was determination behind that smile – and he would say “Now boys, I want you to win this match. For my sake do your best.” And every man Jack did his bit. Not, mind you, that they needed to be told to do their best but when it was put in Tom’s way, well, they couldn’t resist."
MEMORABLE INCIDENT ABOUT TOM WATSON
"There’s one incident I shall never forget in this memorable year and it concerns my late manager. We were at Molineux Grounds playing Wolverhampton Wanderers and we badly needed to win the match. In fact, had we won it, it would have gone far to help to keep us in the First Division. But we lost.
When we got to the station that evening we all got seated quickly, I can tell you. Jack Addenbrooke, the Wolves manager, came down to the train with Tom Watson and I recollect the conversation that passed between the two. The tears stood in Tom’s eyes as he shook hands with Mister Addenbrooke. “Goodbye,” he said. “I didn’t think you would have done what you did this afternoon. I thought you’d remember what I have did for you."
Of course, this was only sentiment and Jack simply murmured something about being sorry and all that sort of thing, well knowing that Tom referred to the help Liverpool had been in getting the Wolves into the First Division. We in the carriage had our hearts full enough, I can assure you and to see Tom taking it on like that made us feel very uncomfortable. To ease the tension one of the boys started to sing and we all joined in. I shall never forget the look on our manager’s face as he turned in the carriage. “How can you have the heart to sing tonight, lads?” But, to tell the truth, we were far from being in a singing mood and it was only to keep ourselves from crying that we indulged in a few bars. It was a remarkable thing that, despite the fact that we were sailing so near the wind that season our support never failed us."
EVERTON FAILS TO HELP LIVERPOOL SPARKING OUTRAGE
"The match which sealed our fate, however, was one in which we were not engaged. Stoke, who were running us neck-and-neck, as it were, for relegation had to play Everton at Goodison Park. It ought to have been a pinch for Everton as they were well up in the League and were very hard nuts to crack on their own ground. To the surprise of everybody, however, Stoke won the match and our fate was sealed. The result did not please everyone, as you will imagine, and I heard at the time that a great number of Everton’s ticket-holders tore their tickets up after the game and swore they would never go to Goodison again."
THE LOSS OF THREE FIRST-TEAM PLAYERS FOR BREAKING LEAGUE RULES
The loss of goalscorer Raybould was a disaster
What happened during the 1903/04 season astounded the club’s fans. Liverpool completely collapsed in the League, losing their opening five games. The club suffered as Sam Raybould, John Glover and William Goldie were banned for seven months after accepting ‘financial inducements’ to move to Southern League Portsmouth. They were not allowed to play football until after 31 December 1903 and could never join Portsmouth. The Football League had since its inception in 1888 been based predominantly in the North and Midlands. The Southern League was the dominant competition in Southern and Central England. Portsmouth tried to use lack of regulations governing transfers between the leagues to their advantage, but their approach was deemed as illegal.
"One thing contributed to Liverpool’s relegation more than another. That was the loss of Goldie, Glover and Raybould. All three were very clever players and were at their best at the time I speak of. At the beginning of the season we were relegated the three players had a difference of opinion with the officials. They had been offered terms but would not accept them. At the time there was no agreement in place between the English Football League and the Southern League, which exists today. The Southern League was therefore the refuge of the aggrieved player.
Goldie, Glover and Raybould accepted the terms of a London club [incorrect as it was Portsmouth], but Liverpool discovered an irregularity and reported the matter to the F.A. who investigated the matter and refused to sanction the transference of the three players. They were all suspended. It was thought that, when their suspensions were up, that they would re-sign for Liverpool. The officials would have been only too willing to offer them similar terms to what they had previously offered, as the team was going none too well and the position they occupied was far from being an elevated one.
Goldie and Glover still refused to sign and were eventually transferred - Glover to Birmingham and Goldie to Fulham. Sam Raybould threw in his lot with the Reds at about midway through the season. Sam’s capabilities were well known and it was thought that his inclusion would take the club out of the hole it was in. But Sam’s enforced retirement had evidently done him no good for, try as he might, nothing would come off.
The result was that Liverpool went from bad to worse and by the end of April we had to give up our place in the First Division. Since I have retired from the game I am in a way pleased that Liverpool were relegated, as it afforded me a chance of experiencing Second Division football. It was also the means of my visiting fresh fields and as everybody will understand this is very interesting from the player’s point of view. Although we were relegated the majority of the players were retained."
FIRST AND SECOND DIVISION FOOTBALL COMPARED
The Liverpool team in the 1904-05 season
"Many people have the idea deeply rooted in their minds that there is as great a difference between First and Second Division football as there is between, say, seniors and juniors. They are wide of the mark and the sooner they dispel this notion the better. There is very little difference. The play in the First Division might be somewhat more scientific but for robustness the Second Division has easily the pull. Vigour and plenty of it is infused into the play in the Second Division. I can assure you that Liverpool had to go the whole hog in the majority of their matches to carry off the championship. On paper we certainly looked a snip in the majority of our matches but I assure you we had very few snips."
When only three rounds were left of the season Liverpool and Bolton were top with 52 points, with Manchester United only a point away, so promotion was far from guaranteed. Liverpool were due to play bottom club Doncaster Rovers, who had lost 25 out of 30 games.
"Doncaster were very near the foot while Liverpool were at the top. We won when we met the Yorkshire club on their own heath and were therefore confident of beating them at Anfield. While we were stripping one of our Directors came into the dressing-room. After inquiring if all the boys were fit, he remarked that we had a great chance to improve our goal average, meaning, of course, that Doncaster would not cause us much trouble.
“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” I said. “Better to make sure of two points.”
He pooh-poohed my reminder and added that Doncaster couldn’t win that day at Anfield under no conditions. This same Directors had a change of tune at the end of the ninety minutes’ play. We won, but by the only goal scored and not without a great struggle.
Doncaster did not play extra well but they had a goalkeeper who seemed to be supernatural. I have never seen better goalkeeping than I witnessed by the Doncaster ‘keeper. Although this lad did so well against us that day, I don’t think he turned out to be a great ‘keeper. The display he served up to the Anfield crowd was, I suppose, a flash in the pan but Oh, what a beautiful flash! He caught the ball cleanly, punched it magnificently; in fact, he did nothing but what was taking to the eye.
It was not his fault that we got a goal. Rather was it a “trick” I played on him. Close on time Liverpool were awarded a corner. Being desperate for a goal and with time wearing on I went into the goalmouth, thinking that my height might come in handy. The ball was beautifully placed. Sam Raybould was standing behind me. When the ball came across I had one eye on it and the other on the goalkeeper. I saw him get ready to spring and just as he was on the point of fisting the ball clear I went into him with the result that the ball beat him and the rest was easy for Sam Raybould. Sam was very clever with his head and seldom missed a chance with his cranium. His goal that day did us a good turn for it served to keep us at the head of the table."
HOW LIVERPOOL DISCOVERED SAM HARDY
"We eventually won the championship with a record number of points. During that season we only dropped ten points, which you will admit is something to be proud about.
Had it not been for the fact that Liverpool had to play in the Second Division in 1904-05 I question if Sam Hardy would ever have been an Anfield player. Sam was with Chesterfield at this time and while we were playing there Liverpool were attracted by his display.
The late Tom Watson was never slow to ask the players their opinion of a player. This was one of the secrets of his success as a manager. Our opinion of Hardy was good and Liverpool lost no time in fixing him up at the end of the season. That they did the right thing has been more than proved.
Sam had a little time to wait until he got a regular berth in the League team but when he did find a place he could not be shifted. He was but a lad when he came to Liverpool but he soon gained experience and was reckoned to be England’s best goalkeeper in his second season with the Reds. He has represented his country on numerous occasions and is still fit to guard the uprights in an international game.
His way going from Liverpool after a spell of seven seasons did not go down well with the Anfield supporters and the officials were not complimented for letting slip such a brilliant ‘keeper."
Next week: Liverpool become a limited company and regain the League championship
Written by Arnie ([email protected]
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