Alex Raisbeck’s Unique Life Story: Part 1

March 20, 1915
Alick Raisbeck, Scotland’s greatest international captain.
Begins the story of his remarkable football career.
He thinks if he had continued at outside right he would have been a nonentity.

Raisbeck 20 March I

“Yes; it took me some little time to make up my mind whether I would write what might truthfully be described as my preliminary obituary notice. As a biographer, I am afraid I shall grievously disappoint, but if the recalling in the simple language which I shall employ will interest a few, then it’s up to me to make the effort.

“In a very real sense I was one of Fortune’s footballs, and probably the luckiest and most profitable of any transaction to which I was a party was when I shook Tom Watson, of Liverpool, by hand, who in turn, in his own peculiar genial way, asked me for a sample of my handwriting, which, in effect, tied me to Anfield for eleven of the happiest years of my life.”

If I were asked what was my chief peculiarity while I was an active participant in the game – League match, Cup tie, or International, I should say it was the seriousness with which I viewed the prospect of every match, the continual dread that  we should be on the losing side. If I may be permitted to speak of myself for a little I will say this, that my anxiety, my desire to be “in the thick of it,” as the saying goes, was the chief factor in what little success I achieved, because if I had followed the line which was selected for me, I firmly believe that if I had not been exactly a nonentity in football, I would have cut a very poor figure.

When you look back you see the might-have-beens “cinema’d,” but I will say this right away, in view of what is contained in the previous sentence, that, in my opinion, if not in others, I was born to be a centre half.

No other place on the field suited me better, although I played in a few.
To tell the truth, I have forgotten what half the world could tell me about myself. I often envy such old “college chums” in the football sense, the wonderful memory they had for the little humorous things which happened, which were in themselves of no consequence. Take such men as Tim Coleman, Alf Common, Percy Sands, who could tell you no end of stories that in themselves were not only amusing but instructive.

I’ll trot out a sample which applied to the first and last named. What particular match Woolwich were engaged in I really could not say – have you noticed, by the way, that they are shooting better since the name of the club was changed to the Arsenal? – but an assiduous pressman sought Percy, anxious to hear his views of the game. I know this is an old story, but it’s true, and it admirably illustrates the very important point in football, how one man can be elevated to the skies while the other is in more frequent communication with the dust.

Said the reporter to the humorous Tim, the man who wears a perpetual smile –
“You are captain, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” (He wasn’t.)
“What did you think of the game; do you think you deserved to win?”
“Certainly,” replied Tim. “We were easily the better side, and had them well in hand from first to last.”
Said the scribe – “Who do you think was the best of the players on your side?”
“Coleman,” replied Tim. “He was far and away the finest forward we had; in fact, I will go a little bit further and say that in my estimation he is the finest player in England.”

Now, the truth of the matter is that at the time Tim was one of England’s best forwards – very nearly if not actually “the” best.

Tim Coleman (Athletic News: November 6, 1905).

The story illustrates a point, however, which I hope I have made clear, and will be understood by all. On many an occasion I have been given hero worship when in my own mind I knew that I did not deserve it. Tim’s humour saved him; I regret to say I have no humour.

If I had the courage I would go back upon my promise to recall the events which stand out the most prominently in my life. The chief one, I may say, was one which I simply cannot remember anything about. I was born on 26th December, 1879. It’s on the map right enough, but it’s there all the same. My birthplace was Wallacestone, two or three biggins not far removed from Polmont.

Polmont village (from postcard collection):

I don’t think as a family that we could possibly have been locally patriotic, for shortly after I got a glimpse of the place they removed me to Slamannan, and then on to Spittal, so near to what was ultimately to be my football calf ground.

I learned all about the three R’s there, and the local shoemaker flourished exceedingly, for young Raisbeck took to playing football. No matter where the leather went – sometimes the “leather” was of the tin variety, and peeping toes brought me many a rebuke – I went after it until I was considered worthy a place in a Boys’ Brigade team which was sponsored by Livingstone Memorial U.P. Church.

Slamannan Public School (old postcard).

I was only twelve years of age when I was given the opportunity  of following any particular trade to which I had a fancy, but I followed in my father’s and brothers’ footsteps, and sought for my livelihood in the bowels of the earth. And this brings me to a point the importance of which cannot be overestimated. No matter how skillful you may be in playing the game, the first duty of every player is to make sure that he has a trade or profession to fall back upon when his playing days are done.

Alex Raisbeck (from Jim Donnelly’s collection).

Take the players who will have to turn their hand to something to earn their livelihood at the present time in view of the needful and regrettable resolve of the ruling bodies not to pay summer wages. Many of those who have no trade will have to turn their hands to menial labour, whereas the player who has been taught to use tools such as are employed by the skilled trades will be able to command the standard rate of wages.

The club of course, with which my name will always be associated is Larkhall Thistle. Larkha’ , we call it, but give it the more aristocratic touch. Many a time I have been called upon to decide what age I was when I donned the Thistle jerseyLarkhall Thistle, I mean, not Partick Thistle – and for the last time positively, I am to answer this question. I was, almost to a week or two, short of 13 ½ years of age. A place had to be found for me somewhere, and I operated – I really forget in what position at the moment – in the Thistle’s third eleven. It was called the Gasworks Eleven, a team which I could never have “managed” – pardon the self-imposed impeachment!

I was reckoned worthy my position in the first team next season, however, and the committee would insist upon my playing at outside right, although they must have noticed my extraordinary tendency to wander into the middle of the field.

I think it is Rab Macfarlane who tells the joke about a pressman who was captain of an eleven which was selected to oppose a more or less representative team in Aberdeen, on one occasion. A local Bailie had agreed to present a cup – it was made “of” but not “in” “China” – to the winning captain, who was naturally desirous of annexing the “coveted” trophy.

“What shall I do?” asked the centre-half.
“What instructions must I observe?”
“No matter where the ball goes,” replied the skipper, “follow it.”

He did, and was being watched to attentively by a neighbouring doctor before the whistle had sounded for half-time.  In my early days, however, I required no instructions about following the ball. “It acted as a magnet to me, and hundreds and hundreds of times I was told to “keep my place.” I couldn’t – if it was to be at outside right, and eventually I drifted into the position which I think I may claim to have made my own.

I couldn’t very well forget my first season with the Larkies.
We ran into the final for the Lanarkshire Cup with Cambuslang Hibs as our opponents. Young lads at the game, we were naturally exuberant. Defeat was not on our menu of events, but I believe we were nervous – a little, and while the Hibs – I must acknowledge were a good team, we ought to have done a great deal better than we did. We lost. We made no bones about it, next year, however, we landed a nicely designed cup of much prized silver in Larkhe’ – the first which the club had won in the sixteen years of its existence.

They say that the first installment of a story, always expected to be the best, is usually the worst. I earnestly hope that this is true, because now that I “crowd in” upon incidents which ought perhaps to have been given pride of place, I find myself struggling in a vain effort to write something which would lead you, or delude you, into the belief that I had something more interesting to tell you in my next spasm. As long as the black ink is flowing, however, I must tell you of a dream which, strangely enough, came true.

I am not superstitious, although I have met scores of football players who are. Take Jock Rutherford, for instance. He would insist upon leaving the dressing-room last, and I believe does so to this day. Some of the Newcastle boys – by the way, weren’t you a little surprised when you heard that result from St James’ Park on Saturday, when Bobby McNeil, Tom Logan, Jimmy Croal, and Co. triumphed? – used to try all sort of dodges to get Jacky to break through his inviolate practice, but at the last minute the star outside right would discover that his scanty locks were in need of attention. Thus it was why he always trotted onto the field last. Bill McCracken and Colin Veitch used to try all sort of dodges, but they were of no avail.

Jacky Rutherford (football card collection).

Where was I? Oh, yes. While I was with Liverpool 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 any-rate, I was given to understand that “your humble” would have to occupy the right back position.

I had at the time a fine chum in Charlie Wilson who was to occupy my position at centre half. 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.

Charlie Wilson, later trainer for Liverpool F.C. (image from website).

A terrible dream I had,” said Wilson. “I dreamt that my leg was broken.

I think I see the two of 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 vision 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 request 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.

Next week I shall tell you why it was lucky moment for me when I signed for Liverpool.
(Source: The Weekly News: March 20, 1915)

The next articles in the Alex Raisbeck Life Story series.

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