Michael Walker: Belfast’s Elisha Scott - the first king of the Kop

Great goalkeeper’s long career sealed his place in the pantheon of Liverpool’s all-time greats

 Liverpool goalkeeper Elisha Scott makes a save against Arsenal  during a league clash in 1931. The legendary Irish goalkeeper made his debut in 1912 and left the club 22 years later. Photograph: Jack Lambert/Popperfoto  via Getty Images

Liverpool goalkeeper Elisha Scott makes a save against Arsenal during a league clash in 1931. The legendary Irish goalkeeper made his debut in 1912 and left the club 22 years later. Photograph: Jack Lambert/Popperfoto via Getty Images

 

On the headstone of a modest plot in Belfast City cemetery on the Falls Road are crests of two football clubs: Belfast Celtic and Liverpool.

The crests are small and need seeking out. There is nothing else to make the passer-by stall suddenly, no artwork or sculpture or glowing tribute carved, just the details of the three people buried here. One of them is named Elisha – Elisha Scott.

There will be many whose response is: Who?

But when Derek Hodgson wrote The Liverpool Story in 1978, chapter three was called: “Elisha Scott’s Stronghold”. And when Liverpool redeveloped Anfield a couple of years ago, they placed seven granite benches outside the new main stand dedicated to “The men who built Anfield”.

There is Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Billy Liddell, Kenny Dalglish, John Barnes, Steven Gerrard – and Elisha Scott.

Chronologically, Scott came first. As it says on his bench: “The First King of the Kop”.

Scott’s deeds were around 50 years old when Hodgson was writing, so some in Liverpool could have recollected the Irish goalkeeper who made his debut in 1912 and left 22 years later, still a player. Whether any of them could remember how Scott got to Anfield is another matter.

No better goalkeeper ever stood under a crossbar,” was one appreciation in the Liverpool Echo

Maybe across the park at Everton, some could recall. After all, Elisha Scott became Liverpool goalkeeper when his brother, William, introduced him to the club. That William Scott was Everton’s keeper at the time is a fairly spectacular fact.

As another Merseyside derby looms next Wednesday at Anfield, the story of the Scott brothers from Moltke Street near Windsor Park who kept goal for Everton and Liverpool – and Ireland – merits greater recognition, perhaps in Belfast more than in Liverpool.

Elisha, as stated, is held in esteem at Anfield, where his reputation endures, not just as a keeper but as a character.

“No better goalkeeper ever stood under a crossbar,” was one appreciation in the Liverpool Echo. Another in the same paper said: “Scott had a curious sense of humour. I once asked him what the team was for Saturday. Came the answer: ‘Elisha Scott and ten loonies.’”

That was at the end of a piece outlining how Scott was fundamental to Liverpool’s consecutive league titles of 1922 and 1923: “Liverpool won the League championship two years in succession and . . . without fear of contradiction, it was Scott who enabled them to do so. Week after week it was ‘Liverpool 1 The Others 0’, with Elisha’s name in the headline as playing a ‘blinder’.

“He was an electrifying goalkeeper, never stood still for a second.”

Headache tablets

Scott’s rapport with the Kop became as famous as his rivalry with the great Everton centre forward Dixie Dean. Before Merseyside derbies Dean would send Scott headache tablets; afterwards they would go for a pint and laugh about it. It was Dean who said: “Elisha was the greatest. You can have Swift, Trautmann, Banks, Wilson, you can have them all. I’ll take Elisha Scott.”

Scott was 18 when he arrived at Anfield in 1912. At 19 he made his debut on New Year’s Day 1913 at Newcastle, where he kept a clean sheet. Newcastle offered Liverpool £1,000 for him straight after the game.

Liverpool declined, they knew they had an asset, even if Scott was not physically striking.

“I don’t think Scott ever weighed more than ten stone-odd,” said the Echo. “The story goes he wore an extra jersey to make him look bigger and more formidable.”

It was this physique which led the younger Scott to Anfield. Nine years earlier his elder brother William had left Linfield for Everton for the considerable sum of £450. Linfield were constructing Windsor Park and needed funds.

At Everton Billy Scott, already an Irish international, established himself quickly and made nearly 300 appearances in eight seasons at Goodison Park.

During that period he won the FA Cup – 1906 – but this was not a lucky keeper. Scott also played in a losing cup final team – 1907 – and Everton finished runners-up in the league three times while he was there. Scott, infamously, split the webbing between his thumb and index finger in a cup semi-final and played on. He might have been quite a hard man.

A contrasting character to his younger brother, nevertheless it was said of Billy: “He was a humorist in his own peculiar way.

“Years ago when the season opened in a terrible heatwave the trainer Jack Elliott was ordered to buy silk handkerchiefs to put around the players’ necks. Billy Scott did not get one, to which he replied: ‘Oh, I’m only a goalkeeper; I suppose the sun doesn’t shine on me.’”

Aged 30, Scott left Everton for Leeds City, where Herbert Chapman was assembling a squad at some cost. As a replacement, Scott recommended his younger brother Elisha, who had been playing for Broadway United off the Falls. Elisha was given a trial, but Everton thought he was too small. So Billy sent Elisha over to Anfield and the rest became history.

Near ever-present

At that stage Billy had won 22 of his 25 caps but the best was yet to come. In 1913 Ireland defeated England for the first time – 2-1 in Belfast – and Scott was in goal.

He was about to leave Leeds to return to Merseyside, but not to Everton, to Liverpool. Signed on at Anfield to deputise for his younger brother, Billy played 27 times for Liverpool during the first World War.

He was still there in 1920, when, as the minutes of the agm show, he and Elisha had some company: “Another member of the William Scott family has been signed by the club as an amateur. John, like William and Elisha, is a goalkeeper.”

John never made it; he had Elisha in front of him.

Elisha Scott was a near ever-present from 1920 to 1928. Then, aged 34, he began to lose his place and other clubs sniffed around. One club, Everton, made a bid. Liverpool said no but two years later Everton returned and this time Liverpool said yes to £5,000.

An injury ended that transfer but when in April 1934 Scott, now 40, was put on the transfer list for £250, Everton moved a third time. “Surprise of the Season” was the Echo headline. The next day’s was: “Scott Changes His Mind”.

Elisha Scott saves a penalty during an FA Cup match against Arsenal in 1923. The legendary Irish goalkeeper made his debut in 1912 and left the club 22 years late. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Elisha Scott saves a penalty during an FA Cup match against Arsenal in 1923. The legendary Irish goalkeeper made his debut in 1912 and left the club 22 years late. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

There had been uproar locally and the board at Anfield was spooked. It was decided that Scott would return to Belfast.

But he would be allowed to address Anfield after the final game of the season, which he did to express his gratitude. His benefit money had been paid in full and the band played For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.

Scott joined Belfast Celtic as player-manager and was still playing for Ireland in 1936. At Celtic he set in motion an era of dominance. From 1935-36 they won the Irish League five seasons in a row.

At the start of the 1936-37 season there was bad news from Liverpool, though. Elisha’s older brother William had died aged just 54 of pneumonia; he had been running a pub.

Tragic irony

Billy Scott was buried in Anfield cemetery with a floral tribute which, as the Belfast Telegraph reported, “took the form of a goalmouth in flowers, complete with posts and net, and was supplied by the Birkdale Brewery Company.

“The Everton and Liverpool clubs sent wreathes. His brother Elisha was one of the bearers.”

That grave, however, received less and less attention as the decades passed. It was only the work of the Everton Heritage Society, run by fans such as Brendan Connolly, which saw it renovated and rededicated two years ago.

A tragic irony was that in 1948 Elisha Scott’s Belfast Celtic team met their demise at Windsor Park following a sectarian attack at the ground built on the back of Billy Scott’s transfer fee.

The sun shone on both Scott brothers, sending silky Belfast shadows across the Mersey.

Just over ten years later Elisha Scott died in Belfast and there are still Liverpool fans who turn up to pay their respects at the City cemetery.

On his leaving of Liverpool the Echo declared: “The great game of soccer has known many brilliant expert keepers, including at least two Irish Scotts, but it has known only one Elisha.”

As late as 1982 the telegram address at Anfield was ‘Goalkeeper Liverpool’.

The sun shone on both Scott brothers, sending silky Belfast shadows across the Mersey.

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