Alex Raisbeck’s Unique Life Story: Part 2

March 27, 1915
How Tom Watson secured Alex Raisbeck
“Judge” Murphy fixes me up with the Hibs,
And then I am given on loan to Stoke.
Alick Raisbeck tells how he signed for Liverpool.

No sooner had the ink dried on the last page of my first contribution than I received the pleasing news that Charlie Wilson, he who had that strange dream about his leg being broken prior to the match at Middlesbrough, was coming north as trainer to the English League team.

He traveled south a very happy man. From what I have heard, and from what I have read, he had in his charge one of the finest teams which England has sent north of recent years.
That weird dream of Charlie’s about the breaking of his leg on the eve of that match against Middlesbrough came to my mind when we shook hands, and when Tom Watson strolled into the hotel, smiled, shook hands, offered the usual cigar, I could almost smell a whiff of my football homeland.

Alex Raisbeck, writing his life story.

When first I used to enjoy the luxury of a hotel there was one notice which used to meet my eyes frequently, and which, I confess, rather appealed to me as a youngster – “A home from home.” Well, to tell you the truth, Liverpool was to me a sanctum, the comforts of which I had hoped but never expected to enjoy. We as a club had our ups and downs. If we were not perilously near the foot of the table, as Tom Watson used to say, we were very near the top of it.

We marched right from the Second Division to the leading position of the First in successive years, which will demonstrate to you what sort of side we were.
You perhaps expect me to follow on with the suggestion that we were a “team of all the talents.” We were not. Some of us were perhaps better than others, but taking us all over, we were only a little above the average as a combination. As a team we were as one man, and therein lay the secret of our success.

Liverpool F.C. 1905-06.

I marvel sometimes when discussions originate as to the why and wherefore of Celtic’s greatness. They have achieved greatness. They have achieved wonderful things, especially of recent years, and there is only one cause for their ascendancy. They move together as one, they fight together as one, they accept their defeat as one, although they – as one – wonder why the other fellows did it to them. Argue as you will, that is the great secret of Celtic’s success, and it was the secret of Liverpool’s wonderful performance, which staggers the theorists who proclaim that a Second Division team which topped the table could not retain its place in the First Division.

If you wish exemplification of my contention that such can be the case I will only point you to the performances of Bradford Park Avenue. Quite a number of people wondered at the season’s start why it was that Tom Maley did not avail himself of the financial resources at his command and purchase the supposedly needed talent to add to the strength of the team, which was thought would be necessary, if they were to maintain a position of respectability in “the upper chamber.” Tom, however, had certain fixed dates, and these ideas he pursued, even under a miniature storm of adverse criticism, and those who said that Tom was wrong are forced to the conclusion that he was right, for is not Bradford climbing the ladder, and only six points behind Manchester City, who lead?

But what has that to do with my going to Liverpool, the story which I promised to tell you? Well, you know about my being associated with the Blantyre Boys’ Brigade and you know about my joining Larkha’ Thistle.

Willie Andrew – my brothers – and myself played with the Larkies. Willie was more of a wanderer than I was. He played with Clyde, Sunderland, Derby County, New Brompton, and finished up with Falkirk. Andrew was with Hibs, Dundee, Liverpool, and finished up with Hull City.
– Both of them went out to Canada, and I am glad to say they are doing well.

Alex Raisbeck (from Jim Donnelly’s collection).

I played one or two representative matches while I was associated with the Thistle. Naturally enough, they were big events in my youthful mind at the time, but now that you look back you wonder why you were so greatly elated, and why people whom you never knew before came up and shook hands.

The Thistle, by the way is, I believe the oldest junior club in Scotland. I am not certain on the point, but I should be surprised if there was an older. My first term with them was either in 1893 or 1894. It was ’94. To you who are at all interested as to dates, I may say it was in the year of the memorable goal – I beg pardon – “coal” strike. I was two years with the Thistle, and two happy years they were. We practically carried all before us. During the first years we weren’t very successful, but in the second we didn’t go looking for honours. They came our way.

As an outside left I do not think you would have given me an international cap. I knew what particular position on the field I ought to occupy with the moving change of the game, but the criticism which has leveled against me at the close of these encounters was of the “Ye dunno where ye are” variety, and I found myself.

The very first match I ever played as a junior was against Newmains Thistle – at outside right! To those of you who do not believe that I had a bit of speed when I got going, I may tell you that I once won a handicap in time which, I believe, is still mentioned by those who were at Larkhall that day. I could not have been much more than fifteen years of age at the time.

As far as football was concerned, I seemed to have made an impression, in at least one quarter, for a cousin of Judge Murphy, left half of the Hibs, was reckoned a good judge of a player. I don’t mean that as a pun, but the statement is nevertheless one of acknowledged fact.

One bright evening he wandered into our house. He was an intimate friend, and we never attached undue importance to his unexpected arrival. At the time, I should add, I was suffering from a very sore knee, and I had actually given up all hope of ever playing football again. You can imagine, therefore, my surprise when “Judge” walked in. He had asked so frequently for me that we though he was only making  one of his usual calls.
He sat down by the fireside, lighted his pipe, and then I was asked whether or no I would g to the Hibs.

I resolved to go.

The terms I might repeat, but I think it always wise to keep something, especially information, up your sleeve. Honestly, I did not think I was qualified to occupy a position in the Hibs’ team, but all the reply I got to that doubt was that the Hibs’ officials thought I was – and down went my signature!

Before I did so, however, I had to be persuaded, and it took all my brother Willie’s eloquence to induce me to a decision, which, strangely enough, I had resolved upon in my own mind. I was working in the pits, and you can understand I was not very reluctant to leave the bowels of the earth for a whiff of the open-air and an unexpected association with the Hibs, a club which, since I was a boy, I always had the liking for.

Going down the pit at six in the morning, coming up at five, is no joke, and although the terms which I was offered by the Hibs and accepted – were not exactly on an equality with those which players receive nowadays, they were good enough for me, and the deed was done. I had a rare time with the Hibs. They were great friends to me, and during my stay at Easter Road I made acquaintance with the three half-back positions.

I got my first senior cap as a left half. That was against Ireland in 1897. I was not the original choice. Sandy Keillor was given the honour; I was only reserve. I cannot remember what bereavement he suffered, but, at any-rate, in consequence of it, I took my place for the first time in an international.

It was played on Cliftonville’s ground, Ireland, and I am glad to think I earned the commendation of James Kelly. At the close of the game he came over to me and said in a few words, congratulatory I may say – “and they were also prophetic” – which spurred me on to higher ideals. Thoughts which had never previously existed took birth, and they soared to higher flights.

James Kelly, image source the Celtic Wiki page.

What was it again that I promised; why did I fix up with Liverpool?

It has taken me a long time to tell the story, but it has to be remembered that I went to Anfield via Stoke.
The “Pottery” team was in danger of relegation; that was in season 1897-98. Their side had to be strengthened somehow, and, by arrangement with the Hibs, John Kennedy and myself were transferred – on loan – for the last two months of the season. The necessary “inducement” was there, but, by the powers, we had to put in some graft these eight weeks.

At that time, it will be recalled, test matches were in vogue. Burnley required a point to make them safe, and so did Stoke. When we met the game ended in a draw, and the usual rumour got abroad that the result had been faked. It wasn’t.

Alex Raisbeck (from Jim Donnelly’s collection).

Fortunately, however, for all partiers, the League decided to extend their “membership,” and thus the four clubs who played the test matches were admitted to the “sanctum sanctorum” of football, thus admitting to the elite Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.

It was sheer nonsense to suggest that the last game was “cooked,” as the saying goes, but the “murmur” was persistently circulated. You would have thought that I would have known something about it if it had been true. I may tell you quite frankly I knew absolutely nothing about any arrangement, and I say, emphatically, that I don’t believe any “arrangement” existed.

While I was with Stoke I had evidently attracted the attention of one or two people in the football world. I had no intention whatever of signing for Liverpool. I was rather inclined to stay on at Stoke, but in the long run I decided to return to Edinburgh without signing for either club. I was, of course, still a Hibs player.

I had a mind, don’t forget, to sign for Stoke, and actually made an appointment to meet Mr. Austerberry, the secretary of the club in Edinburgh.

At the appointed hour no Stoke secretary appeared, and in Phil Farmer’s house I met instead Tom Watson. I had never seen the gentleman before, and I shall never forget him. He made me an offer which I could scarcely refuse. If Mr. Austerberry had kept his appointment – which probably was no fault of his own – I would in all probability have been a Stoke, instead of a Liverpool player. It was a fortunate thing for me.
(Source: The Weekly News: March 27, 1915)

Go to the next article in the Alex Raisbeck Life Story series, or the previous one.

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