Tag Archives: Tom Watson


On 6th May 1915 Tom Watson, Liverpool FC’s manager of 19 years who had guided the club to two league championships and an FA Cup final, died after a short illness.

Watson had already won three championships with Sunderland when he was appointed in 1896. He made some important changes to the way the club was run, including the introduction of red shirts to replace the blue and white quarters.  From his home in nearby St Domingo Vale, he oversaw a more than satisfactory first season, with the Reds finishing fifth in the table, having been promoted the season before.

Tom watson

After slipping back to ninth Watson made a bold transfer market move in 1898, paying Hibernian £350 for centre half Alex Raisbeck who had been on loan at Stoke. The centre half was a commanding figure on the field and almost helped the side to a first league title, only for the Reds to crash 5-0 on the last day of the season to Aston Villa, who became champions instead.

Two years later Liverpool did become champions for the first time, a John Walker goal confirming their supremity in the last game of the season away to West Bromwich Albion. On arrival back at Central Station a band welcomed them by playing The Conquering Hero but fans who turned out to greet the squad didn’t risk carrying Watson’s rotund figure on their shoulders in the same way they did with the players.

Just three years later the Reds were relegated but Watson took them straight back up to the top flight, then Liverpool became the first club to win the league immediately after promotion. Such a feat looked very unlikely in the autumn when they suffered five defeats in their first eight games. Watson though replaced veteran keeper Ned Doig with Sam Hardy, and his presence helped steady the defensive ship,  an eleven game unbeaten run taking them to the top of the table at Christmas.

The title was secured with a game to spare on Easter Monday. 1,000 fans travelled on a special train to Bolton knowing a win would be enough but although the Reds lost 3-2 they were given a helping hand by Watson’s old club Sunderland, who beat nearest challengers Preston 2-0. By now Watson was living even nearer to the ground in Anfield Road in a house that was demolished when the Kemlyn Road stand was extended in the early 1990s.

In 1910 Watson took Liverpool FC on their first tour outside the British Isles when they visited Denmark and Sweden. There were no journalists accompanying them and people at home had to rely on letters and telegraphs sent by Watson for news. In addition to describing the style and standard of play, he wrote how the players had gone on the ale with Manchester City’s touring squad and that he enjoyed seeing ladies at games wearing summer dresses.

In 1914, after guiding the Reds to their first FA Cup final where they lost 1-0 to Burnley, Watson took the players to Scandinavia again but this time he left it to midfielder Tom Fairfoul to write the letters home. These included tales of Watson getting pissed with them and singing, and the squad being met by a crowd of 5,000 wellwishers at Stockholm station.

War broke out a few days before the start of the next season and there was controversy about organised football competition continuing.  Watson was fierce about criticism though, emphasising that the players had army training, recruitment agents were at games and attendance was good for the morale of wounded soldiers. By the end of the season though it did look almost certain that there would be no resumption of the Football League until hostilities were over. He didn’t know it at the time, but Watson’s last act as Liverpool manager was to hand Everton the title, courtesy of the Reds beating second placed Oldham 2-0 at Boundary Park.

The Oldham game took place on 24th April but just a week later he was battling pleurisy and pneumonia at his home, which was now on Priory Road. There was a brief improvement but by 6th May things weren’t looking good. Bee’s update in the Liverpool Echo of that afternoon said that he had spent a bad night. Later editions of the paper then brought the terrible news that he had died and realistically there had never been any hope for him as his constitution was so weak.

Watson was just 56 years old, leaving a wife and two sons. His funeral at Anfield Cemetery took place the following Monday and was attended by representatives of a number of English and Scottish clubs. Today his grave there remains unmarked although funding seems to have been agreed between Watson’s descendants, Liverpool and Sunderland, so that issue should hopefully be resolved soon.


Sunday is the fourth time that Liverpool and Aston Villa have met in the FA cup semi final, with the Reds winning two of the three previous meetings. Liverpool’s first victory came 101 years ago when they sprang a surprise by winning 2-0 against a Villa side who had won their fifth FA Cup the year before.

Liverpool had a fairly straightforward route to the last four beating Barnsley, Gillingham, West Ham and Queens Park Rangers, who were all lower division clubs. The semi final draw though paired them with Aston Villa, the current cup holders who were second in the league table. Eyebrows were then raised by the choice of venues for the games, with Liverpool and Villa having to play at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane and the other semi final, between Burnley and Sheffield United, taking place at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.

Tom watsonIt may have seemed more logical for Liverpool and Villa to play at Old Trafford and Burnley take on Sheffield United at Villa Park, but the FA was just as strange in their venue choice back then as they have been in more recent years. Referring to the decision the Liverpool Evening Express commented that ‘it is a far far way to Tottenham’ and that ‘The FA have some funny ways.’ Manager Tom Watson was scathing about the decision to play the game there, pointing not just to the extra distance that Liverpool’s fans had to travel but also to Villa’s popularity in London. This meant that the opposition would be backed by the majority of the crowd and there was even speculation that a ground record for White Hart Lane would be set.

Liverpool’s players would spend five days in London preparing for the game. This was in contrast to Villa who remained in Birmingham but along the lines of the other two semi finalists who both spent a week at Lytham St Annes. A party of thirteen players accompanied by Tom Watson and director Mr Bainbridge set off from Lime Street station on the morning of Monday 23rd March. One player missing was inside forward Billy Banks, who had scored three goals in three appearances since breaking into the side earlier in the month. He was ineligible for the FA Cup though, having played in the qualifying rounds for Ashington earlier in the season.

Their base was the Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford, situated next to a hunting lodge used by Queen Elizabeth I. They arrived to wet weather but it was dry the following day and remained that way for the rest of the week. There was very little ball  training at Chingford, their preparation instead consisting of sprints and exercises overseen by Watson and Bainbridge. They relaxed by playing golf and billiards and visited a music hall in Walthamstow on the Tuesday night. Hotel management were pleased with the Reds players, referring to them as the ‘most gentlemanly and sociable party of footballers’ they had met. Plenty of others had stayed at the hotel and it was something of a lucky omen with Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham all having used it as a base prior to winning cup finals.

Photo Stephen McKay

Villa were the clear favourites given they were second in the league compared to Liverpool’s fifteenth. The prevailing nationwide opinion was that the Reds were just going to Tottenham to collect the gate money, but Watson believed this made his players only more determined to succeed. Watson was cautious about his team’s chances of causing an upset but felt that no team was invincible and Liverpool’s status as underdogs could work in their favour.   After observing them at their getaway a reporter from the Daily Post who was present with the team concluded that ‘if comradeship and bonhomie should suffice’ then Liverpool would be playing in the final. If Villa were to beat the Reds he claimed it would not be ‘so easily as their friends imagine.’

Captain Harry Lowe knew that despite the odds being against them there was a chance for the Reds, as long as the players didn’t relax and they contested every move. The half backs, he told the Post reporter, would have to be at their very best to counter the Villa forwards and ease the pressure on the full backs. Forward Bill Lacey, scorer of two goals in the 5-1 win against West Ham in the last sixteen, emphasised the coolness of the players in the run in to the game. When asked his thoughts by Watson he jokingly replied ‘Beat the Villa, why,  we would beat rows of houses.’

On the Friday the rest of the directors arrived and confirmed the team selection. There were no surprises as everyone was fit, meaning the versatile Don MacKinlay and full back Sam Speakman, both taken down as cover, were the two to miss out.

Four special excursion trains took Liverpool fans down to the match for a special fare of 12 shillings. The first left just after midnight from Lime Street while two more departed Central Station at 6.15am and another went from Birkenhead.  For those not able to go to London, they did have he opportunity of watching the reserves in action against Huddersfield Town at Anfield, where it was promised that the semi final score would be posted pitchside every fifteen minutes.

After spending the week doing gym work and taking brine baths Villa’s players didn’t leave Birmingham until the Saturday morning. On arrival in London they’d have found the local papers reporting that they were as good as in the final already. One wrote ‘Aston Villa are going to win the cup, on their best form they are a wonderful side.’ Another declared that Liverpool had no class in their side, commenting that Villa were superior in every single position.  The only reason the Reds were still in the competition they said was because ‘Liverpool have had an easy cup journey so far’ and if they were to win it would be bad for football as it would show that  ‘form counts for naught and pure skill is of no account.’

Newspaper reports like these only made the Reds’ players even more determined, especially with such damning comments  as ‘Liverpool’s forwards are not good enough’ and ‘all clubs were hoping to be drawn against Liverpool.’ The ground was full an hour before kick off, 27,474 being present and they wiled away the time watching a band play, the performance only interrupted by an announcement that Cambridge had won the Boat Race. Watson’s fears over being heavily outnumbered in the crowd were unfounded as the London spectators gave the Reds a reception matching that which they gave to Villa, although there were  clearly more travelling fans from Birmingham than Liverpool there.

Early in the game though most of the play was in the Reds half, with Ken Campbell making a few good saves. When they did get forward Liverpool were given no assistance by the referee, who on one occasion stopped play to enquire if a Villa player was injured when he scratched his head. On another, a Villa player’s clearance cannoned off  a team mate and out of play but a goal kick was awarded, even though all players began lining up for a corner.

Villa’s undoing came when they began to believe in their own hype, over complicating matters and passing the ball around too much in exhibition style. Liverpool on the other hand were more direct and were rewarded on the half hour when  Jimmy Nicholl (below) headed home Jackie Sheldon’s cross. Villa had the better of the remaining fifteen minutes of the half but Campbell twice made good saves and Ephraim Longworth was outstanding at the back.jimmy nicholl

Nicholl was certain that he had made it 2-0 soon after the restart when his shot hit the bar and bounced back to Sam Hardy, the ex Reds keeper, in the Villa goalmouth. Liverpool’s players vehemently protested to the referee that the ball had landed over the line but he was having none of it . Undaunted by this disappointment Liverpool upped the pressure and Hardy was having a torrid time, on one occasion losing sight of the ball completely only for Bill Lacey to shoot wide. At the other end there was a scare when a shot caught Campbell full in the face but he managed to recover and continue playing.

Late in the game Arthur Metcalfe had a shot which hit the bar and rebounded to Nicholl who made no mistake in converting the rebound.   The cheers from all parts of the ground showed just how many Reds fans had made the journey. Villa knew they were beaten now and looked like they could concede again, only being saved from going 3-0 down when Lacey’s shot skimmed the post. Watson was so confident that he got up and left the directors box after the second goal, smiling at the pressmen as he walked past. At Anfield, play stopped in the reserves game as players congratulated each other and the crowd cheered at the news of Liverpool’s impending date at the Crystal Palace.

There was no arguing with the result, with a number of ex Villa players commenting on the Reds’ supposed inconsistency. Former captain  Howard Spencer said ‘Liverpool played a spendid game throughout’ and Charlie Johnston, a   player with the in the 1880s admitted ‘We cant cavil at the result, Liverpool were quite the better side.’

There was no time for celebrations in London for the players who finished getting changed in taxis that were lined up outside White Hart Lane to take them to Euston station for the express train.  Down at Piccadilly, where university students were enjoying merriment after the boat race,  ‘Northern Hordes’ invaded the gentlemanly celebrations with tricks and scams described by the Post as  ‘a disgrace to  a top hat brigade.’ When the Liverpool players arrived at Lime Street, they were met with ‘a scene of enthusiasm never before seen.’

Had Liverpool gone on to win the cup, the scenes of jubilation would surely have been surpassed further, but on 25th April they were beaten 1-0 by Burnley and would have to wait until 1965 for that first FA Cup win.


Liverpool’s match against Brondby on 16th July 2014 sees the squad fly in and out spending very little time in the city. It couldn’t be more different than the club’s visit there in 1910, when they spent the best part of a week in the city, getting drunk with fellow tourists and the opposition on the club’s first foreign tour.

In their eighteen years history to date, Liverpool had never played a game outside the British Isles, although the squad had been rewarded with a holiday in Paris after winning the league in 1906. There had been no title in 1910, but the club decided to break new ground and go abroad, having lagged somewhat behind others in this respect. Neighbours Everton for example hadn’t just been to Europe, they had gone inter-continental having toured South America a year earlier.

Predicting that the tour would be a ‘most enjoyable one’ the Evening Express observed that the Reds players would have to be at their best. They had recently beaten an FA representative side and the paper said they had made great strides in recent years.

The party of nineteen which set off from Central Station at noon on 11th May consisted of fifteen players, manager Tom Watson, trainer Bill McConnell and two directors. No journalists accompanied the team, but Watson promised to telegraph the results and also send letters containing reports of games. They were leaving at a time when the nation was in mourning, King Edward VII having died of bronchitis five days earlier.

tour cartoon express 14th may 1910
Cartoon from the Evening Express

On arrival at Hull the party were met by Mr Langley, manager of Hull City, who saw them off from the quay as they departed on board the Finland Steamship Company’s steamship Polaris. They enjoyed a Finnish dinner but for many that was the last they ate on the crossing, because as soon as they left the Humber the North Sea was being battered by near gale force winds. The crossing was a horrendous one and it took nearly 36 hours to reach the coast of Jutland, some ten more than was scheduled.

After finally reaching Copenhagen on the afternoon of Friday 13th May, the players were allowed to get used to being on dry land again and had two days at leisure. They then set off for Gothenburg in Sweden, where they beat a Stockholm XI 2-0 and Örgryte 3-0. The Reds were due to travel back to Denmark on 19th May, but they ended up staying an extra day in Gothenburg but the scheduled game against a Danish Select XI on the 20th was postponed as a mark of respect to King Edward VII. He had died five days before the Liverpool party set off and there was considerable mourning in Denmark at his death as his wife Alexandra was Danish.

The last day in Sweden was spent on the lash with the Manchester City squad, who arrived there that day for the last leg of a tour that had also taken in Belgium, Germany and Denmark. It was a bleary eyes squad that set off to Copenhagen the following day, where they arrived to find temperatures pushing ninety degrees and were taken on a boat tour of the harbour.

On Sunday 22nd May the Reds took on a Danish FA XI in searing heat. Nobody knows whether it was the heat, hangover or sight of women in the crowd wearing summer dresses that led to the hosts shocking the tourists by winning 3-0, making amends for their 5-2 defeat against City. Watson admitted that they may have taken the opposition too lightly, with him writing in his letter to the Evening Express that ‘their knowledge of the game was an eye opener to all.’

After the game the Johannes Gandil, who represented Denmark at both athletics and football in the Olympics and hosted a dinner for the Liverpool party in 1910Reds party attended a dinner hosted by veteran Danish veteran player Johannes Gandil (left), who had represented his country at the Olympics in both football and athletics. Watson described in a letter how ‘our healths were drunk with the usual “rar, rar, rar”’. The final game of the tour was on Tuesday 24th May when they faced the Danish FA XI again. This time, in far cooler conditions given it was played of an evening, Liverpool won 1-0 in with the scorer’s identity remaining unknown. No more letters were written by Watson, with the following day’s Daily Post and Mercury simply printing in the results section: ‘Liverpool 1 Denmark 0’.

Despite the last match being on the Tuesday, the players were given a few more days in Denmark before beginning their journey home on Friday 27th May, finally arriving back at Liverpool Central station at 7pm on the Sunday evening. The Evening Express reported that the players were in excellent condition and had ‘evidently thoroughly enjoyed themselves’. Scandinavia had obviously made a mark on the party, as they would be back there the next time they were abroad four years later.

Liverpool Win 1st Title at West Brom

Liverpool won the first of their 18 League Championships when they beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at The Hawthorns on 29th April 1901.

Three months earlier, Liverpool had looked anything but champions lying eighth in the table. However  a 1-0 win at leaders Sunderland on the 23rd of that month  was the first of an eleven game unbeaten run that was to bring them to the brink of glory.

On 27th April Liverpool beat Nottingham Forest 2-0 at Anfield to go level on points with Sunderland, who had completed their fixtures, at the top of the league. However Liverpool had an inferior goal average meaning that one more point was still needed to clinch the championship.

In front of a crowd of 4,000, both sides had chances early on but failed to capitalise until Liverpool took the lead when Albion’s keeper was only able to parry a Raybould shot, leaving John Walker(below) to slot home the rebound. Although Albion were already relegated, they continued to give Liverpool a game and bombarded the goal for a large part of the second half, but the Reds held out for victory.


At the end of the game the players surrounded the team’s captain, Scottish international Alex Raisbeck and lofted him shoulder high before Football League officials presented Liverpool with the trophy. The team travelled home by train, where they were greeted by thousands of fans that were waiting at Central Station at midnight. As a band played The Conquering Hero Alex Raisbeck was once more carried around on peoples shoulders, but this time the rest of the team were given the honour too. However, the crowd refrained from lifting larger than life manager Tom Watson.

alex raisbeck

The players and club officials finally arrived back at Anfield in the early hours where the trophy was proudly displayed in the boardroom to the delight of club founder John Houlding, who would sadly die a year later aged 70. The next day, the Daily Express was very praiseworthy of the Reds, writing ‘Their late form has been good enough for anything and tom Watson and his team are to be congratulated’.


Liverpool Draw Record Crowd to Hull

The match between Hull City and Liverpool on 1st December 2013 is only the 20th time the two clubs have met in competitive games and friendlies.  Games in Hull have generally taken place at Boothferry Park and more recently the KC Stadium, but the very first meeting between the sides in 1905 attracted a record football crowd to The Boulevard.

Promotion chasing Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Everton in an FA Cup 1st round replay left them with a free Saturday on 18th February. They agreed to take part in a friendly fixture with Hull City, who had only been formed in June the previous year and were still not members of any league.

There was a lot of excitement amongst football fans in a city dominated by rugby league, with the Hull Daily Mail commenting on 9th February that ‘supporters at Hull cannot help but rejoice in their misfortune’  when it was confirmed Liverpool’s cup exit meant they were coming to The Boulevard. The paper also wrote that there would be five internationals in the Liverpool team, one of whom Alex Raisbeck was the brother of City’s half back Andrew. He had been at Liverpool with his brother between 1901 and 1904, but never featured for the 1st team.

On Thursday 16th February the Hull Daily Mail predicted that the game would be witnessed by a record crowd for association football, and praised the board of the club for their enterprise. The paper wrote that as the season had progressed followers of Hull FC had began to accept that there was room for two types of football in the city providing it was of sufficient quality, concluding that ‘the general public cares not one joy whether one club or another provides the good football.’

The Liverpool team were described as a ‘combination of star performers as has never been seen in Hull before.’ Many pass holders who could have got in for nothing also indicated they were willing to still pay the 6d admission in recognition of the efforts in bringing such a star studded line up to the city.

Hull Daily Mail 16th February 1905
From the Hull Daily Mail 16th February 1905

The gates opened early for the 3.15pm kick off and a crowd of 8,000 attended, he highest to watch Hull City at The Boulevard to date. Liverpool’s secretary-manager Tom Watson watched from the stands, sat amongst a number of directors and shareholders of the rugby league club who expressed their approval of the entertainment on offer. The paper described how Liverpool’s forwards ‘weaved their way through by masterly dribbling which was invigorating to watch.’ They also claimed the Reds would more than hold their own against half the teams from the 1st Division.

The match may have been a friendly but Reds half back and captain Alex Raisbeck was in fine form, breaking up nearly every opposition attack and distributing the ball forward. This led to Hull trying their luck down the flanks, where their pacey wingers caused the Liverpool full backs numerous problems Ned Doig in goal was tested on a number of occasions.

Liverpool’s superiority showed though and they ran out 6-2 winners. Jack Parkinson scored a hat trick and Raisbeck got a goal himself with a shot from near the halfway line. The home side certainly hadn’t disgraced themselves though and Watson told those around him that he thought they would be worthy applicants should they try to gain admission to the Football League.

That evening, both sets of players watched Beauty and the Beast at the Alexandra Theatre. The following day Liverpool’s players headed for Hornsea, where they stayed for six nights to prepare for the following Saturday’s crucial league game at Grimsby.

The Reds beat Grimsby 1-0 and in the summer Hull City’s application to join the Football League was accepted. They wouldn’t be facing Liverpool though, as they won promotion to the top flight and it would not be until 1954-55 that the two sides met in a league fixture.

In 2008, Hull finally lost its status as the biggest city in England that had never had a top flight club. However the dominance of the oval ball there can still be seen today with the name Hull FC referring to a rugby league club, with Hull City having had to distinguish itself by having ‘association football club’ in its name. In 2013 that has changed though with owner Assem Allam removing that phrase completely and re-registering the club as ‘Hull City Tigers.’

The Boulevard in 2009 (Paul Glazzard)


Practice Games Get Players Ready For New Season

After winning promotion back to the 1st Division at the first attempt, Liverpool’s players got ready for the new season by playing two ‘Blues versus Whites’ practice games at Anfield.

The first game took place on Thursday 20th August 1896 and attracted a crowd of 15,000, higher than all but one of the regular league fixtures in the 2nd Division the previous season.  The ground was reported by the Liverpool Mercury to be in capital condition and players were said ‘to have showed evidence of careful training’, but the result was not recorded.

It was apparent looking at the line-ups though that each side was a mixture of 1st teamers and reserves, with the regular forwards playing together and trying to score against the first choice back line, with the reserve players doing the same. The reason that it was blues against whites was because at that time Liverpool still hadn’t adopted red shirts.

The next practice game was on Friday 28th August, by which time new secretary-manager Tom Watson, had officially taken up his role having travelled down to Liverpool from Sunderland the previous Sunday. This time, the forward lines were mixed up somewhat meaning that the ‘Blues’ were comfortably expected to win as their side contained more regular first team players. However there was an upset when the Whites won 3-0, the Mercury commenting that it was hoped the efforts of some players would be ‘more judiciously directed’ when the season proper began.