A tale of owd Tom Watson

May 9, 1915
In the West of Scotland there were few better known personalities in the world of football than the late Tom Watson, manager of Liverpool F.C. On the formation of Sunderland F.C. he joined the Wearside club as manager.

The moving spirit of the new organisation was Mr. Sam Tyzack, and he and Tom made up their minds they would put the club right in the van of English football.

Scotland was the happy hunting ground of the football managers in those days. His face was almost as well known in the streets of Glasgow as Willie Wilton’s or Willie Maley’s, and he used to declare he was one of the most regular customers the “Bank” had. It was not until he had secured the Renton contingent – John Middleton Campbell, Davie Hannah, and John Harvie – that the club made real progress. By then he had also secured J.E. Doig, of Arborath, who was one of the best custodians the game has known, and he had a keen desire to get Donald Gow, the brilliant full-back of the Rangers. There was no limit to Tom’s ambition. A raid into Ayrshire led to the capture of Hugh Wilson, of Newmilns, and James Miller, of Annabank, and happy would be the club nowadays who could secure such a brace. Hugh Wilson was undoubtedly the greatest half-back the game has seen, and Jimmy Miller one of the finest forwards. What would the Rangers not give for one of his class. Miller was uncle to William Dunlop, one of the first of the band of Scots to settle on Wearside, and was years younger than his nephew, a fact that used to tickle the risible faculties of new acquaintances.

One of Tom’s greatest blows was when Jimmy succumbed to the blandishments of William Wilton and threw in his lot with the Rangers. It took the Ibrox manager some time to work that business, but it was time well spent, for James Miller had a big hand in the phenomenal success of the Rangers, while he was in their ranks. But Tom was never one that bore malice, except a tiny bit in the case of Aston Villa. When he was beaten in a deal over a player he took his defeat in the philosophic spirit.

In the early days of the club Sunderland had great difficulty in gaining admission to the League. The Midland clubs in particular opposed their inclusion owing to the long railway journey it would ontail, and Tom owed the Villa a grudge on that account, and there was another matter that made the feeling a little stronger, and Tom loved to tell it.

One of the earliest great players Sunderland had secured was Johnny Harvie, of Renton, who was ever a great favourite of Tom’s. John had left Sunderland and returned to Scotland just before the Wearsiders were included in the League, so that he did not have any great reputation outside of the North of England, and Scotland.

On returning to Scotland he threw in his lot with the Clyde, but through the latter looked strong on paper the eleven did not blend as expected, and a 6-0 defeat from Celtic at home led to Harvie making up his mind to return to England.

“I dinna want tae go back tae Sunderland,” he confined to a friend. “They micht think I wis gled tae get back. Drap a note tae Aston Villa an’ see whit they say.” And a note was “drapped” accordingly, with the result that a reply came that a representative of the club would be in Glasgow forthwith to carry through the business.

In due course a meeting took place in one of the City hotels, and it was apparent from the Birmingham man’s demeanour as soon as he saw Harvie that he was displeased.

Wee Jonny Harvie.

Drawing the mutual friend aside, he said, “My goodness, I couldn’t take him back with me. He’s far too small; he would be of no use in League football.”

“Would he no’!” was the reply. “I’ll gamble you have no better player.” But all the friend said fell on deaf ears, as the Brum, had made up his mind he wasn’t signing Harvie. Harvie was short in stature, but exceptionally powerful in build, and stripped much bigger than he looked in his clothes.

On the way home the man from Birmingham chanced to espy Tom Watson at Preston Station, and, calling to him, Tom entered his compartment.

In the course of conversation he told Tom where he had been, and the business he had been on, adding – “When I saw Harvie I realised at once that you, knowing he would be of no use in League football had got rid of him, and I am too old a bird at the game to make such a mistake as that, so I would have none o’ him,” and he must have thought Tom’s laughter meant acquiescence.

At the first stop the Sunderland manager begged to be excused for a few minutes, as he had a wire to dispatch, and hurrying to the telegraph office he sent a message to Sunderland to send someone to Glasgow at once to sign Harvie, and to arrange for him to play against Aston Villa at Birmingham on the following Saturday, and when he returned to Sunderland found his orders had been carried out, and that the Rentonian was installed in his old quarters.

The information had indeed been news to Tom Watson, as he did not have the remotest idea that Harvie contemplated returning to England, hence the speed with which he acted once the information was his.

On the Saturday Sunderland beat the Villa 6-0, which is the greatest defeat the club has ever experienced on their own ground in the League competition, and the irony of it was Harvie had four of the goals.

What Mr. Rinder and George Ramsay, of the Villa, said to the representative of the club who had been sent to Glasgow to sign Harvie, after they had seen the latter play, I know not, but you can take your affidavit they did not pay him any compliments on the judgment he had displayed, and that was the last time he was sent out on the same business.

The Sunderland team of the early days were a veritable band of brothers, and the merriest, maddest crowd you can meet.

See them as the train they were travelling by neared their destination. “The Harriers, boys,” one would cry and no matter though it were broad daylight each and everyone, on pain of paying a penalty of five shillings, rolled his trousers as far up his thigh as they would go, and, thus strangely garbed, they would stalk through the streets to their hotel, the observed of all observers, for the natives would at first think a crowd of loonies had struck their town.

The ten years Tom spent with Sunderland were, he was never tired of declaring, the happiest in his life, and though he had began very successful at Liverpool, and seen the players secure all the honours of the game, he used to sigh for the haleyon days of old when he guided the detines of the “Team of all the talents.”
(The Post, Sunday Special: May 9, 1915)

The Team of all the talents. Tom Watson back row, far right, and Johnny Harvie front row, number three from the left.

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