I’ve looked worldwide for subjects for pre-Second World War footballing heroes. The obvious names for anyone with any knowledge of football before 1939 cropped up – Friedenreich, Mazzola, Sindelar – but then I thought some more about it. What about closer to home? Growing up in the city and, particularly, in this case, being a Liverpool fan, you hear of many great footballing names. The names that go down in history for making their mark on their club. Elisha Scott is one many Liverpool fans think of during this period, as is Dixie Dean for Everton. But they aren’t the only players who became idols of the Kop and the Gwladys Street. There is another, an outsider nonetheless, whose name reverberated around Anfield at the turn of the last century. Step forward, Alex Raisbeck.
There is not much known about the early life of the red half’s first superstar. All we really do know is that Alexander Galloway Raisbeck was born in Polmont, Stirlingshire on Boxing Day 1878. He joined Hibernian at the age of 18 in 1896, making 25 appearances and scoring three goals. Although being limited in his appearances, he obviously impressed as he drew scouts from south of the border and in 1898 Raisbeck signed for Stoke City. He only made four appearances for the Potters though and didn’t score a goal. However fate was about to throw up another of its favourable, yet inexplicable twists, the type of twist that can change a man’s life. That same year Liverpool manager Tom Watson liked what he saw of Raisbeck, so signed him.
Liverpool fans immediately took to this good-looking Scotsman. With his sandy blonde hair, movie star features and long moustache waxed at the ends, Alex Raisbeck had it all, when you also take into account his exceptional talent too. Playing at half back in the old W-M formation (nowadays he would be a centre-half in what can only be described as a 3-2-2-3) he was more than a limited defender to put it in Football Manager terms. He was a marauding centre-half who liked to bring the ball out of defence himself. He was also a tough tackler and extremely quick, often lauded for being able to keep pace with opposing strikers.
Around this time English players favoured a “kick and run” style, long ball in layman’s terms. It was the Scots who were hailed for their free-flowing football and preference for actually passing. So it was no surprise upon Liverpool’s formation in 1892 that they looked north of the border for Scottish players out of work and clubless. This trend continued until 1907, and Alex Raisbeck was central to the “team of all the Macs.” In 1900 he was given the clubs captaincy and guided the team to their first ever league title as skipper. Three years later, the club was relegated. But their captain stayed, leading the team to immediate promotion and, in 1906, a second Division One title.
In 1924, Victor Hall of the Liverpool Echo eulogised over Raisbeck, doing him the justice he so clearly deserved. He wrote: “What a trier he was! Who that ever saw him play can forget the unmatchable enthusiasm he displayed in the sheer love of the game. He not only put body and dash into individual games he played, but more importantly, he helped to create the soul, that inward sacred fire of zeal without which no club can thrive and live… Raisbeck was wholeheartedly a destroyer of attacks when it came from the opposing wing. We have said that he was speed in turn and on the run. We might amplify this and say, that we have never seen in England, a speedier half-back, who could tackle a speedy forward, turn with him, and overtake and tackle him again. There may be and may have been others so gifted. We have not seen them. His judgement was sound, his valour outstanding and, naturally for a half-back, his control and placing of the ball was equally confident.”
Upon the introduction of the £4 maximum wage, Liverpool were worried Raisbeck would quit football for a better-paid job. He was given the job of inspecting the posters around the city advertising Liverpool’s games in order to stave off this unsettling prospect. And so, Alex Raisbeck stayed until 1909. He played for another 10 years, for Partick Thistle and Hamilton Academical, before retiring. After that he went into management and took the reins at Hamilton, Bristol City, Halifax, Chester and Bath. But eventually ended up back at Liverpool as a scout in 1939. Alex Raisbeck died in 1949 at the age of 70. When you take everything into account about this man – the looks, the skill, the dedication – it’s easy to see why he was so loved by his adopted city.
Alex Raisbeck. Migrant. Pin-up. Superstar.