Tom Watson's demise shocks Raisbeck - Chapter VI

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 second decade 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.
In 1906 Liverpool had just won their second League title and were rewarded with an exotic trip to the French capital. Raisbeck, who had moved from Scotland to Liverpool when the club was only six years old, was reaching the second half of his Liverpool career and many years of football were starting to take their toll. When Raisbeck was writing his articles for the Weekly News in 1915 his former mentor, Tom Watson, died at only 56 years of age. He is still Liverpool's longest-serving manager, reigning for 19 years right until his death. So the majority of this article is dedicated to "old Tom" who Alick says was a father figure for him at Liverpool.


"During the close season of 1906-07 we spent a very happy time in Paris. We were taken to Paris by the officials in honour of our winning the League Championship. What took my fancy more than anything else while in “Gay Paree” were their Sunday capers. I had heard so much about it, but I had not any idea a Sunday on the Continent was what it was boosted to be.

I shall never forget my experiences in Paris, especially the Sunday I spent. It was so much the reverse from what I was accustomed to. We got up at 7 a.m. and went to see the championship of the Seine swim. All nations were represented and it was indeed pleasing to us that on this occasion it was won by a Britisher

We had a rare view of the race, which was over a distance of seven miles. Some of our officials were well known to the French Press and an invitation to make use of the boat, which was specially chartered for their use, was readily accepted.

Britisher’s popular victory

J.A. Jarvis of Leicester, who was the winner, came in for a rare reception from the Parisians and I am certain he must have been not a little embarrassed. One could hear nothing but “Bravo, Jarvis”. His victory was most popular. He certainly won easy enough for he was out of the water, dressed and speaking with a few of the Liverpool players before the second reached dry land.

In the afternoon we went to the race meeting. Just fancy, a visit to the racecourse on a Sunday. Ye Gods! But when in Rome you must do as the Romans do. French people think nothing about it and for the time being we thought as little. It was certainly the busiest Sunday I have spent and I suppose I shall never put in another such strenuous day unless I again find my way to the continent."


"During my early days I was pretty lucky in steering clear of accidents, but when I did know what it was like to be on the injured list I had my own share and someone else’s.

From 1906 until I left Liverpool I cannot truthfully say that I was ever thoroughly sound. No sooner did I rid myself of one illness or injury than another struck me low. I would perhaps play two or three Saturdays in succession, but this was followed by a spell of inactivity. This was not pleasing for me, for I did not relish being in the trainer’s hands. My last three seasons at Liverpool were uneventful ones. We were always about the middle of the table. During season 1908-9 I developed a bad knee, which helped to keep me out of the side for a lengthy period. This was not to my liking, especially seeing that I had played so regularly during my early days. I did not feel in the best of spirits at my enforced absence and was a bit home sick, to tell the truth. Towards the end of the season the desire to seek fresh quarters haunted me all the more. I then made up my mind to return to Scotland, and notified the officials to that effect. They were surprised to hear of my intention, and at first were not willing to let me go, but when they learned that it was for health reasons only they did not stand in my way. I had no club in view, and had not the slightest idea where I would like to land.

A match that will live long in my memory is the last I played for Liverpool. A great many people accuse us sometimes of disloyalty – I mean in the club sense. In certain cases that may be true. You may meet the player who “doesn’t try a leg” as the saying goes. To put it another way, he may decide to play for his papers. Yes, there is one match I took part in, which, now that I look back upon it, I think of with pleasure. The opposition was Newcastle. We, at least, seven of the players associated with Liverpool were not signed and yet their efforts were such that we kept our place in the First League. I never played in a match, full-back by the way- which gave me greater satisfaction. There was a whistle sounded which was music in my ears."

When Raisbeck was writing his articles for the Weekly News his former mentor, Tom Watson, died at only 56 years of age. He is still Liverpool's longest-serving manager, reigning for 19 years right until his death.

"I have lost one of the greatest and best friends I have met during my connection with football. And I will say this much … I shall have to look a long time and cover a lot of ground before I met another Tom Watson.

The late Liverpool manager was more than a friend to me. From the day I became one of his players he took a particular interest in me; he fathered me, to tell the truth. The news of Tom’s death came as a great shock to me. I had not even heard that he was ill, and you can easily understand my feelings when the sad news came to hand that pleurisy and pneumonia had cut his life short.

It is difficult for me to realise that I shall never look upon his ruddy countenance again or hear that cheery voice, a voice which was known throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles. The Liverpool Secretary had friends everywhere. People could not help liking Tom Watson, for he had a way with him of making good and lasting friends. He magnetised by his charming personality, and his unexpected death at the age of 55 will come as a great blow to a great circle of friends associated with football. And none more so than myself.

Tom was an especial favourite in Glasgow, where he was well-known. Often have I heard him say that he had more friends in Glasgow than anywhere else, excepting Liverpool, of course.

What Tom Watson Did For Sunderland

Words fail me to express my admiration for his qualities. They were all good ones. He was a true sportsman, and his name will not be readily forgotten. As a secretary he has been at the top of the tree for longer than most men occupying a similar position. He was connected with Sunderland for a matter of ten seasons and what a rare run of success the Roker club enjoyed while Tom Watson held the reins. Who can think of the famous “Team of all the Talents” without giving some of the credit for their doings to Tom? Even before he was connected to Sunderland – when he was head of the affairs of the Newcastle West End club – he could be depended upon to secure a player for his club where others have failed. This was because the players could not refuse him. His geniality seemed to appeal to them and he had no difficulty whatever in urging a player to sign for the club he represented."

Sunderland - "The Team of all talents" - CLICK TO ENLARGE

"The triumph of Sunderland was the triumph of Tom Watson, and his judgement and knowledge of a player. Many a time, when I was playing at Sunderland for Liverpool, have I heard Wearside folk express their regret that Tom Watson was allowed to leave Wearside for Merseyside. Sunderland have not done that badly since Tom left to look after affairs of Liverpool, but I often wonder to myself what would have happened had he remained with Sunderland and enjoyed the same success that he did during his early days. It may have been that I would have been writing of my doings on Wearside for all I know.

Why Liverpool Was The Most Attractive Side

During Tom Watson’s association with Liverpool they have experienced many vicissitudes. Though the Anfield club passed through troubled waters he never stopped trying and along with his directors worked hard to enable the club to secure its present magnificent stadium and prior to the war Liverpool were never in a sounder financial position. This was largely due to the fine work of Tom, who gave Liverpool the very best of his long experience in football. During the course of his career with the Anfielders Tom saw the club champions of the First League on two occasions. They created a record by finishing at the top of the Second Division one year and at the top of the First Division the following season. Liverpool experienced many ups and downs during his time and Tom has often been heard to remark that Liverpool was the most attractive club in the League, simply because you never knew what they were going to do next.

And Tom was right because for during my stay at Anfield we lost matches which we ought not to have been lost and won where we were not supposed to have the ghost of a chance of winning. That was the way of Liverpool and they have retained that liking for freak results ever since.

Liverpool post-Raisbeck ca. 1912-14.

Tom Watson secured many wonderful players. To mention but a few – Teddy Doig, the prince of goalkeepers; Donald Gow, former captain of Glasgow Rangers, in my opinion the finest and fairest back ever seen in their ranks; Hughie Wilson; John Auld; John Campbell, whom Tom thought a more effective centre-forward than John Goodall. They were the cream of the talent which Tom Watson induced to throw in their lot with Sunderland and who had not a little to do with the ultimate success of the side.

A Great Influence Over Players

Tom was as successful in bringing good players to Liverpool. It was Tom who came and saw me play when I was on loan from Hibs to Stoke. Jimmy Ross, Geordie Allan, Sam Raybould, the two Robertsons, “Sailor” Hunter, Arthur Goddard and a host of others were discoveries of Tom Watson. He had a great influence over all players and it will be a difficult matter to find an adequate successor."

Tom rested in an unmarked grave for several decades before that was finally rectified in 2015

"The high esteem in which Tom was held, not only in Liverpool but in other football centres in the country, was strikingly evidenced by the very large attendance at his funeral at Anfield Cemetery, lying between the Everton and Liverpool grounds. Various branches of sport were represented, but particularly football, with which he was directly associated. All the leading clubs were represented, even officials from Scottish clubs came to Liverpool to see the last of the remains of Tom Watson.

What a rare tribute people from everywhere paid to him as a token of the high respect in which he was held. They respected him as the most popular man in English football.

It was appropriate that old Liverpool and Sunderland players of the time of the time of Tom Watson were pallbearers. Maurice Parry, looking well in the King’s uniform, was there; as also were Charlie Wilson, G. Fleming, Arthur Goddard, A. Robertson, Trainer Connell, J. Hewitt and your humble.

I shall never forget Tom Watson. How could I? Football will be all the poorer without a man of the stamp of Tom Watson."

Gerald Jensen, Tom's great-grandchild behind the new headstone

Next week: Raisbeck returns home to Partick Thistle and has his eyes on management

Written by Arnie ([email protected]) - Copyright - Thanks to Kjell Hanssen for image of the unmarked grave


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