“Elisha was the greatest I’ve ever seen. You can have Swift, Trautmann, Banks, Wilson.
You can have them all. I’ll take Elisha Scott”
[Dixie Dean on Elisha Scott]
WHEN any poll is taken of the greatest Liverpool player in history, it is inevitable that Steven Gerrard, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush will be battling it out at the top. However, one name that might not be as synonymous with Liverpool legends, especially to non-Liverpool fans, is Elisha Scott. Scott deserves to be in the mix for any of these polls, not only for his ability but also for his loyalty and dedication to the club.
Ian Callaghan played 857 games for Liverpool across 18 years at the club, despite not playing as many matches; Scott was at Liverpool for 21 years. It is also important to note that European games, the League Cup and other competitions provided Callaghan 138 games in his career, had Scott had these competitions available to him then his appearance tally would have been much higher than 468. As well as this, Scott lost four years of his career to World War One. Of course, statistics are not everything. Regardless of the specific numbers, Scott was a great goalkeeper for Liverpool from 1913-1934 and it is important to take a closer look at his career on the pitch.
During his lengthy career at Anfield he established himself as the finest goalkeeper in England, if not the world, yet it could have been over after 90 minutes. His elder brother, Billy Scott, had played in goal for Merseyside neighbours Everton. Billy had tipped Everton to sign Elisha but they refused due to his small stature. Everton’s loss was certainly Liverpool’s gain as Billy then told Liverpool about his little brother and he signed for the 1912-13 season. After making his Liverpool debut against Newcastle in 1913, aged just 18, he was approached immediately after the game. After keeping a clean sheet in front of 35,000 at St. James’ Park his performance attracted media attention with the Liverpool Echo headline ‘Scott Brilliant’, detailing how Newcastle ‘played splendid open football, but fate and Scott were dead against them’. Newcastle approached Tom Watson, Liverpool manager, asking to immediately sign the Ulsterman for £1,000, Watson refused, and Scott never looked back.
His early days at Liverpool were spent as an understudy to Kenny Campbell and Sam Hardy leaving him facing a ten month wait before his next first team appearance. Now aged twenty, he played his first game at Anfield against Bolton in October 1913. Scott impressed again, and the Liverpool Echo compared his style to the two ‘keepers he was competing against, ‘Campbell’s excellence has kept Scott back from senior football, but today Scott made his first appearance at Anfield for the first team and was accorded a hearty welcome. Very much like Hardy in appearance and in his method of clearing Elisha Scott is described by one critic as ‘more promising at his age than even Hardy was’, high praise’.
He only made four appearances in the 1913-14 season, as he struggled to displace his two main competitors, but impressed each time he was on the pitch. 1914-15 provided him with 25 appearances, he was finally Liverpool’s number one, from then on (minus a couple of injuries and dips in form), he kept a firm grip on his place in the team.
Scott was certainly no giant, but his agility and leadership were key parts of his game. Contemporaries described him as the combination of ‘the eye of an eagle, the movement of a panther and the clutch of a vice’. This certainly illustrates how highly thought of he was by football writers of the time and he was loved by the Liverpool fans. This was a key reason behind him being the first player to have his name sung by the Kop as they often rang out a chorus of “Lisha, Lisha!”, this admiration was repaid as Scott only conceded 67 goals in 84 games during the back to back league winning campaigns of 1921-22 and 1922-23 where he only missed three games.
Elisha’s poor language was a famous part of his game. Scott would often be heard bellowing his colourful vocabulary and on many occasions Tom Jackson who was a Liverpool defender, and a parson, had to ask Scott to mind his language as he was offending him and no doubt many in the crowd. Scott would always apologise but immediately repeat his actions. Despite his choice language, Liverpool swore by Scott and he was a mainstay of the team for many years.
A great part of Scott’s career focuses on his rivalry and friendship with the legendary Everton striker, Dixie Dean. Dean was idolised at Everton and Scott’s reputation amongst the Liverpool fans was every bit as strong. Of course, it was the perfect duel, unstoppable striker Dean against the unbeatable ‘keeper Scott. Despite this billed rivalry the two were good friends. Before one game Dean sent a brown paper bag to the Liverpool dressing room. It was addressed to Scott who opened to reveal a bottle of aspirin with a note saying, ‘I think you might be needing these – Yours, Dixie’. This showed a playful relationship between the two and they were often spotted in The Lisbon pub in the centre of Liverpool drinking Guinness together.
Scott left Liverpool with a record appearance tally that was only beaten by Billy Liddell in 1958. He also made 31 international appearances for Ireland and Northern Ireland, which gained him worldwide attention. He came close to leaving Liverpool on several occasions prior to his actual departure. In 1928-29 Liverpool offered Scott and £9,000 for Preston striker Alex James but the move fell through. In 1930 Liverpool accepted a £5,000 bid from Everton, but the move was called off when Scott injured his ankle, this prevented what would have been a historic transfer. In 1934 Scott was again up for a transfer as he was listed for sale for just £250. This caused uproar amongst fans who protested in local media, stating ‘He is the world’s best. The ‘owld man’ could do for me if he came out and played in goal on crutches’. The supporters changed the clubs mind and Scott was again kept on at Anfield.
When he eventually left the club in 1934 it was a momentous occasion for the club, he was the last link to the two league titles of the 1920’s and was an influential player within the club. To mark this momentous occasion Liverpool took the unusual step of installing a microphone in the Main Stand for the final game of the season against Man City, which Scott was regrettably injured for. Unfortunately for Scott the stadium was less than a third full, some believed this was a protest from the Liverpool fans over the way the board was handling Scott’s departure. The Liverpool chairman Walter Cartwright, took to the mic and he informed the crowd that it was Scott’s desire to leave to allow younger players more opportunities; he was subsequently heckled and jeered. Scott then took to the mic; ‘We have always been the best of friends and shall always remain so. I have finished with English association football. Last, but not least, my friends of the Kop. I cannot thank them sufficiently. They have inspired me. God bless you all’. This was the perfect send-off that personified the deeply personal relationship between Scott and the Liverpool fans, when he passed away in 1959 many fans noted that football was not as personable as it was in Scott’s day as he was always talking to and mingling with supporters. This part of the game has only got drastically worse since 1959, which further exemplifies the importance of Scott with Liverpool fans. When a poll was held in 1939 of Liverpool’s greatest ever player Scott was number one.
Ray Clemence, Bruce Grobbelaar and Pepe Reina are held in high esteem by Liverpool fans today, but it is always important to remember what has come before. Those three men mentioned all had more clean sheets than Scott who sits in fourth place with 137, but it is important to remember the teams that Scott played in were a lot less successful than the future Liverpool teams. In Scott’s extensive Liverpool career, he won two League Titles in consecutive seasons from 1921-23. Scott’s name is relatively well-known in Liverpool but as the years pass those who saw him play are becoming fewer. It is important for all football fans to remember the history of their club; Scott is regarded by many older Liverpool fans as the best ‘keeper that has ever represented them. Whether he is or not, he deserves to be forever synonymous with Liverpool and the name of Elisha Scott is immensely important in the history of Liverpool FC.
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