The death of Elisha Scott

May 16, 1959
Sam Hardy … Harry Hibbs … Frank Swift … Ted Sagar … Sam Bartram … Jerry Dawson …Jack Harkness … John Thomson.

These are among the soccer names that comes readily to mind whenever a debate about great goalkeepers gets under way. But, perhaps, the greatest of them all – and certainly in the opinion of Irish fans – was Elisha Scott, who died to-day in hospital. He was 66.

Elisha Scott

Take a stroll into the highways and byways of football and ask who was the world’s best goalkeeper. You may not always get the same answer, but the odds are that one name will stand out above them all – Elisha Scott.

Scott, 429 times Liverpool’s first team goalkeeper, 31 times an Irish internationalist, manager of Belfast Celtic, was a legend in football – one of the truly great characters.

Mention the name Scott, and one automatically couples it with Dixie Dean, the Everton and England centre forward.

Raich Carter and Peter Doherty … Jack Coulter and Alex Stevenson … Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen … Elisha Scott and Dixie Dean – they were all “partnerships.”

Elisha – a member of a family of 10 – was born in the Donegall Road. He attended St. Simon’s School, and, in his early days played as an inside forward and centre forward with the 4th Belfast Company of the Boys’ Brigade.

It was Boys’ Brigade football which converted him from an attacker to a goalkeeper.

One day he was so annoyed with the ‘keeper on his side that he went up to him and said:
“What’s the use of us putting the ball into the net, if you are going to let goals in at the other end?”

It was a typical straightforward statement. Drastic situations require drastic remedies. So Scott said: “Let me into goal.”

From that day his potential was there for all to see.

Cup medals
Elisha had found his correct position. He had followed in the famous Scott tradition. For the name Scott stands out in the annals of Irish goalkeeping. There was Tom, of Cliftonville fame – no relation; Walter, of Belfast United and then his brother William, of Everton, whom many considered to be an even greater ‘keeper than Elisha himself.

From the Boys Brigade, Scott graduated to Broadway United, turning professional with them and winning Irish Junior Cup and Irish Alliance medals.

Senior clubs were not interested … they had no place for a great ‘keeper. As happens to also many of our youngsters even to this day, cross-channel clubs capitalised on the lackadaisical attitude of the Irish League sides.

Liverpool and Everton, those two great Merseyside rivals wanted Scott’s signature. His brother William informed Liverpool, who signed him to create legislative furore. They thought he was an amateur. Fortunately the trouble was glossed over.

A few months in the reserve team culminated with tragedy, catapulting across the goalmouth he fractured a wrist, which looked like putting him out of the game for good.

After seven weeks with it incased in plaster, the big chance came. It was New Year’s Day, 1913, when Scott was selected to play for the XI against Newcastle United – the start of 22 years association with the club, uninterrupted only by the first world war, during which time he played two matches for Linfield and assisted Celtics to win the Irish Cup, Gold Cup, City Cup, County Antrim Shield and the Belfast and District League.

Scott and Dean … the stories about them are innumerable like the one of their meeting in a Liverpool street when Dixie nodded at Elisha who instantly dived through a shop window. Dean’s 60 League goals in 1927-28 is an English League record.

Firm friends
To the fans Scott and Dean were considered deadly enemies. That is only true in the football sense. Throughout life they have been firm friends.

Scott’s greatest moments were for his country. Many were the faboulous displays he put up. There was that day in 1925 when Ireland held England to a scoreless draw, the only occasion since the series began in 1882, when no goals have been scored.

Yes, internationals always brought out the best in Scott. In fact, on one occasion a Scottish player was so disappointed at being unable to score that he wisecracked: “The only way to get past Scott, is to put the ball in a suitcase, walk up to the goalmouth and say ‘commercial traveller’.”

I remember sitting one day at Celtic Park and asking Scott – he was known as “Lee” to his friends – what was his most memorable international appearance. He pondered for a moment, and then said: “Firhill Park 1928, when we beat the Scots 1-0. Some of his saves that day were miraculous – so much so that the newspaper content bills came out with the headlines “Scott beat Scotland … great Scott.”

When trouble developed in Liverpool, Scott signed for Everton, but tore up the papers before they went to the Football League offices. Then he became player-manager of Celtic and in 1936, after a match against Distillery at Celtic Park he quit the active side of the game to take over the managerial chair.

That was the beginning of an era. Player after player who has been “at the Park” recall the many wisecracks the many harsh criticisms, and the praises which Scott poured forth on the field, in the dressing rooms no matter what were the circumstance, and irrespective of who was around.

His tactics brought success for Celtic won the Irish League in 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1940 and 1945.

Verbal battles
Scott’s verbal battles with the players were innumerable – particularly goalkeepers. After severely ciriticsing one of them for a mediocre display, Scott told him: “My grannie could play better.” When the sheet was put up the following week, the goalkeeper rubbed out his name and inserted “Scott’s grannie.”

There was no happier man than Scott when in 1949 at Triborough Stadium, New York, Celtic – his beloved Celtic – defeated Scotland 2-1, a match which goes down in soccer history.

His most embarrassing moment? Unquestionably when walking round a stadium in America and an Irish American thrust an Eire triclour into his hand. At that moment a photograph was taken – a photograph which went around the world and caused quite a lot of surprise in Ulster until the explanation was forthcoming later.

Scott was a man who brought all his resources of brainpower and uncanny anticipation to frustrate opposing forwards … a man who possessed that intuition of being in two places at the one time … a man who spoke the language of the barrack square … a man who was the world’s greatest goalkeeper.

That was Elisha Scott, a soccer legend.
(Source: Belfast Telegraph: May 16, 1959)

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