Belfast born goalkeeper Elisha “Lish” Scott, hero of Liverpool Football Club, cross divide hero of Northern Ireland, arguably the finest goalkeeper of his generation and the logo image of Vintage Footballers… Young Elisha began his football career with the Belfast Boys Brigade in 1909 and played for Linfield Swifts and Broadway United. He was playing for Linfield when on 11th May 1912 he guested for Linfield against Blackburn Rovers in a Titanic Memorial match with a view to signing a permanent deal. Instead he travelled to England where, on Billy’s recommendation, he had a trial with older brother Billy’s former club Everton. Elisha was rejected by the Goodison Park club as too small and too young.
It was then that Billy recommended him to Liverpool secretary-manager Tom Watson, and just turned 19 he signed for Liverpool on 1st September 1912. He’s still Liverpool’s longest serving player to this day. He made his Football League debut at Newcastle United on 1st January 1913, his only appearance of the season, and so impressive was his performance that Newcastle immediately made a £1,000 bid for Scott’s signature. Although Scott was tempted by the lure of first team football, the bid was rejected by Watson who rightly reassured the teenager that he had a bright future at Anfield. But didn’t oust incumbent Kenny Campbell as first choice until 1914-15, making 25 appearances during the campaign, by when the First World War was upon the country and regular League football was soon suspended.
During First World War Scott returned to Belfast. He played part of the 1915-16 season for Belfast United, a newly formed team who competed in all cup competition until 1920-21 before disbanding. They had no home ground and played all their matches away. On 11th March 1916 Scott joined Linfield as cover for the injured Irish international Fred McKee. He made eight appearances including in the 1-0 Charity Cup Final defeat by Distillery on 29th April 1916. For the 1916-17 season Scott, perhaps recognising his chances with Linfield would be limited by the return to fitness of Fred McKee, joined Belfast Celtic as an amateur.
With Belfast Celtic, Scott claimed four hard-earned medals. In April 1918 he was an Irish Cup winner following two 0-0 draws and a 2-0 win over Linfield in the Final. In 1918-19, Celtic having returned to professionalism and senior football, he claimed an Irish League winner’s medal following a 1-0 play-off win over Linfield. That same season the Charity Cup was shared with Glentoran following a 1-1 draw in the deciding play-off and in the Co. Antrim Shield he lost out in the Final to Distillery who won the replay 1-0 after a 0-0 draw in the first game.
Returning to Liverpool after the War he re-established himself as the absolute Liverpool number one following Kenny Campbell’s departure for Partick Thistle in April 1920 and Liverpool won successive League Championships in 1921-22 and 1922-23. Lithe and cat-like, possessor of superb judgement and a master of the goal area, he was Liverpool’s regular goalkeeper throughout the 1920’s however the arrival of Arthur Riley in the mid 1920’s saw increased competition and by the end of the decade Elisha was increasingly sidelined but re-established his dominance for long periods in the early 1930’s.
Although he won two unofficial Victory International caps in 1919 at the end of the First World War, both matches against Scotland in March and April at Ibrox and Windsor Park, the beginning of Scott’s full international career was no doubt delayed by the First World War, despite which he went on to claim a then record 31 caps for Ireland. He had made his international debut against Scotland at Parkhead in March 1920, a match in which Liverpool teammate Campbell played as ‘keeper for the Scots, who won 3-0. Highlights during Scott’s international career were few and far between; indeed it was his eighth cap before he tasted victory, against Wales in February 1926. There was a home win over England in October 1927 and three victories over Scotland, including in 1933 when he saved a “blistering penalty kick” from Glasgow Celtic’s Peter McGonagle, but these were times when in general the Irish were happy to avoid a hammering and with talismanic Scott in goal these were mercifully rare. His international career came to a close with a 3-2 win over Wales in March 1936 at the age of 42 years and 200 days, almost two years after he had left Liverpool.
He played the last of 468 Liverpool matches in February 1934 and joined Belfast Celtic on 26th June 1934, as player-manager until 1936, sharing Celtic’s goalkeeping duties with Tom Breen (he twice played for The Irish League in 1935 and continued in the Irish national team winning the last of his 31 Irish international caps) and then as manager thereafter. Elisha was Belfast Celtic’s most influential manager, guiding the club through a trophy-laden period collecting ten Irish League titles from 1936-1942, 1944, 1947 and 1948, six Irish Cups, three City Cups, five Gold Cups,, five County Antrim Shields and three Charity Cups.
Scott’s management style was extremely strict. He demanded that his players undertook stamina training to maintain a high level of fitness through to the very end of a game, thus many victories were claimed as less disciplined opponents began to tire in the closing minutes. He often deployed his wife, Alice, and sisters, Edith, Elizabeth and Annie, on a tour of the local hostelries to find players failing to adhere to his strict “no drinking on the eve of a game” rule. He was also blessed with a very strong squad composed of dedicated and exceptionally gifted players. In Harry Walker and Bertie Fulton he had two players who were brilliant tacticians, able to lead and change tactics as circumstances demanded.
Sectarian crowd trouble most notably the attack on Jimmy Jones by Linfield fans at Windsor Park on 27th December 1948 led to Belfast Celtic withdrawing from the Irish League in April 1949 as the club felt it couldn’t protect their players and supporters from further violence. A tragic end to such a glittering football career.
As the squad was sold off in those final months one figure remained – Elisha Scott. He was appointed as Caretaker-Manager, with responsibilities of business correspondence and upkeep of the ground, a position he held through to his death from a heart attack in May 1959. Indeed, in March 1950, when Glenavon approached the Belfast Celtic board to secure Scott’s release so that he could take the management reigns at Mourneview, their approach was rebuked.
To quote Dixie Dean: “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.” There was a man who knew his goalkeepers…