ONLY four managers in history have won the league title with two separate clubs. Three of them are Herbert Chapman, Brian Clough and Kenny Dalglish. The fourth is the one you’ve probably never heard of.
Newcastle-born Tom Watson started his career as a secretary-manager with local clubs Willington Quay and Newcastle West End before leaving to join their bitter rivals Newcastle East End (the two would eventually merge and form Newcastle United). At the same time he ran a tobacconists shop in Sunderland and it was in here that he was approached to take over at Sunderland. The offer of £100 per year was good; the addition of a new suit might well have been a clincher. So in 1888 he moved to Newcastle Road to join Sunderland who were to be admitted to the football league two years later.
Even before they made the jump to league football Watson had been strengthening his squad. Scots Johnny Campbell (who became the team’s star striker) and John Harvey, along with Irishman David Hannah were all added in early 1890.
In the summer of 1890, prior to their league debut that autumn the boss again raided Scotland, this time bringing in Hughie Wilson, the man whose prodigious single-handed throw-ins led to the introduction of the two-handed rule, Jimmy Millar and the outstanding goalkeeper Ned Doig.
Doig had already been capped by Scotland while at Arbroath. By the time Sunderland signed him he had also endured a brief, unhappy spell at Blackburn Rovers.
After making his debut for his new team it was discovered that Doig was still registered as a Blackburn player and Sunderland were fined £25 and had two points deducted. He would go on to be ever-present for the Wearsiders for a remarkable 14 seasons, winning four league titles with the club and further caps for Scotland before Watson signed him for Liverpool.
Under Watson, Sunderland finished 7th in their first season, were champions in three of the next four seasons, and runners-up in the other. This led to William McGregor, founder of the Football League, using the term; ‘The Team of all the Talents’ to describe them. Such was the Scottish influence that, for almost all of their most successful period that England international right-backTom Porteous was the only player from south of the border, and he had started out with Hearts.
That side, according to Victor Hall of the Liverpool Echo, were ‘Not by any means a big team but they knit well and played in a perfect combination. They were trained well. Not mollycoddled, not overpaid and they had Tom Watson as guide, philosopher and friend’. There were, it seems, more skilful sides around at the time, but few had the drive and will-to-win the boss instilled in his men.
Watson had the ability to find and attract good players. He used contacts north of the border to bring some of Scotland’s top talent south and he used some of Sunderland’s wealth to sign them.
In 1895 he took his Sunderland side to Tynecastle to play Hearts in what was grandly called the ‘World Championship’. On a rainy day in Edinburgh the English team ran out 5-3 winners in front of 10,000 fans to earn the ‘crown’.
Liverpool chairman John McKenna, who was also serving as thr club’s secretary-manager was on the lookout for his own replacement in the second role(s). He quickly identified his man and approached Sunderland with an offer they couldn’t refuse, then told Watson he’d double his salary. In 1896 he took over at Anfield.
Watson was still just 37 years old when he moved to Liverpool. In his first season he led the side, newly-promoted from the second division, to fifth place.
Before the turn of the century the Reds had reached two FA Cup semi-finals and in 1901 his team won the title, ironically beating Sunderland to the crown by two points. The championship was clinched with a Monday night win at West Bromwich Albion. When the team arrived back at Liverpool Central Station a fife and drum band were waiting and played ‘The Conquering Hero’. Most of the players were lifted on the shoulders of fans, with Watson being denied this honour only due to his ‘vast girth’.
Again Watson made a number of shrewd signings and this might well have been one of the qualities that made him stand out from the crowd, the ability to spot players and in some cases change their positions.
Scot Alex Raisbeck brought in from Stoke where he had played just a handful of games, was made captain, Sam Hardy was signed from Chesterfield and would go on to become England’s goalkeeper, winger Sam Raybould joined from New Brighton switched to centre-forward and became a scoring machine while Elisha Scott crossed the Irish Sea to sign from Linfield and would eventually replace Hardy between the posts.
Liverpool suffered a surprise relegation in the 1903-04 season but bounced back the following year to capture the second division title. They would then go on to win the first division crown in 1905-06 becoming the first team to win the two divisions in successive seasons and giving Watson his fifth championship.
Watson really did take management (although the job back then was still more likely to be called ‘Secretary’) to a new level, including bringing in diet recommendations (although he did encourage the consumption of beer and wine). He also kept whisky on the touchline during cold matches to ‘liven the players’ if necessary. But this wasn’t used in the traditional way. Instead it would be rubbed on the players chests after which they would ‘run around like kittens’, in the words of one observer.
Another changed he brought about was in dealings with the press and allowing more access than those before him who viewed journalists as a hinderance. But perhaps most importantly from a football perspective he instilled his teams with a strong spirit of togetherness and a will to win that clearly achieved results.
Perhaps another of Watson’s qualities was his popularity. This gave him a huge network of friends all over Britain who kept him abreast of good players who might become available. He would then go and watch them play and use his winning personality to persuade them to join his club.
The one thing missing from Watson’s resume was success in the FA Cup. In 1914, after six losing semi-finals, he had his best chance to add the missing link, taking Liverpool all the way to Crystal Palace – in the last final played there – where they met Burnley. Sadly, although hot favourites to claim the trophy they lost by a single goal. Then the war came.
A year later he was gone. In 1915, Watson succumbed to pneumonia and pleurisy at the age of just 56 leaving us wondering what he might have gone on to achieve.
A report in the Liverpool Echo shortly after Watson passed away described him as; ‘Bluff, hearty, jovial, fond of a joke and always prepared to listen to one. Tom was a favourite all over the country’. In a final act of loyalty, many of the players he had taken with him to the top of the game acted as pall-bearers at his funeral.
Watson spent 19 years at the helm of Liverpool – still today the club’s longest-serving manager – and made the Merseysiders a force in the game. He had already achieved the same at Sunderland. As well as being the ‘Fourth man’ on that list of title winners with two clubs, he left a legacy at both which lives on to this day.