AS Kenny Dalglish sets about re-building his squad this summer, he may find inspiration in something that happened nearly 100 years ago in 1912, when The Reds had slipped from top of the first division in 1906 to a lowly 17th. Inspired signings by manager Tom Watson set Liverpool back on the road to being one of the most successful teams ever. JACQUELINE WADSWORTH, whose grandfather played in that team, tells the story.
THEY WERE known as ‘The Untouchables’ and spoken of as one of at the finest teams ever seen, Liverpool FC, winners of the League Championship in the back-to-back seasons of 1922 and 1923.
After some disappointing years before the First World War, a new team emerged as the 1920s dawned, full of confidence, talent, and ready to sweep all before them.
“They had an almost uncanny understanding from front to back and the players weaved and interchanged positions in a manner which had seldom been seen before,” wrote Brian Pead in his book Liverpool, Champions of Champions. ‘In the 1922-23 campaign they reigned supreme virtually from start to finish.’
‘Toughness and sheer will to win’ was what raised them above the rest, says John Williams in his LFC biography Red Men.
So where does the story begin? With Tom Watson, Liverpool’s first ‘legendary’ manager, just before the First World War when Liverpool’s performances had been inconsistent to say the least.
Watson’s policy was to rebuild The Reds with a great defence at its heart, and to do this he scoured the north of England and Scotland. The signings he came back with would form the core of Liverpool’s new team: full backs Ephraim Longworth and Donald Mackinlay, half-back Walter Wadsworth, and goalkeeper Elisha Scott.
The first three would all serve as club captains. The brilliant Scott, a huge favourite with fans, is still considered one of the best keepers of all time. Most important, all four were dedicated to Liverpool FC and between them would serve the club for some 70 years. Just before he died in 1915, Watson also signed Harry ‘Smiler’ Chambers, a Newcastle shipyard worker who became one of The Untouchables’ most prolific goal-scorers. ‘Tom Watson liked the look of the bow-legged, pigeon-toed and ever-smiling Northern boy,’ records the lfchistory.net website.
It was around these players that the new team would be built.
When the First World War broke out and national league football was suspended, Longworth, Mackinlay and Wadsworth continued playing for Liverpool in the part-time Lancashire league, receiving expenses only. When normal sport resumed in 1919 these men were ready to provide vital leadership for the team that would emerge.
More talented players came back on the market, among them Liverpool-born Tom Bromilow who became The Reds’ midfield brains, a brilliant link man who perhaps also had an eye for a Beckham-style ‘brand Bromilow’.
He posed in adverts for a health-giving tonic, and also wrote a newspaper column while on tour with Liverpool in Italy: After one match he exclaimed: “I have never played in such a game wherein so much hacking, kicking and pushing was tolerated. In fact, the home side indulged in everything except biting.’”
Bromilow partnered the now-experienced centre-half Walter Wadsworth and Scottish wing-half Jock McNab. This duo were sometimes referred to as the team’s ‘hard-nuts’ and it’s true that both were sent off in a 1925 match against Newcastle for fighting. However, they were also very skilful players. Sunderland and England player Charles Buchan described Bootle-born Wadsworth as the most difficult half-back he had faced. ‘You never know what he’s going to do next. He’s so unorthodox and seems to “get there” without disclosing his intentions.’
From 1920 onwards Liverpool’s team changed little, playing in a traditional 2-3-5 formation. The squad remained relatively small (just 20 players in 1922-23 compared to Liverpool’s 42 in 2010-11). Physically they weren’t huge, but their fitness was noted by the Liverpool Courier in 1922: “It is a tribute to the efficiency W Connell, the Anfield trainer, that the Reds invariably outstay and outpace the opposition in the second half.”
Their first League triumph came in 1922, six points clear at the top, winning 22 of their 42 games and losing only seven. Not everyone was impressed, however, some fans were disgruntled that six teams had scored more goals.
The following season ‘The Untouchables’ had become invincible, topping the table with even more assurance, six points clear, this time winning 26 matches and losing eight, and fielding virtually the same side that had won the previous season.
“The Anfield side has won through by its all-round skill, and through its determined, as well as good class standard of play. Every man deserves praise,” wrote the ECHO.
It helped, of course, to have brilliant players like Elisha Scott in goal, and fine captains like Don MacKinlay on the field. But maybe it was the camaraderie which had developed over years of playing together which made this team unbeatable.
Bill Wadsworth, 81, the son of Walter ‘Big Waddy’ Wadsworth, remembers: “Dad didn’t talk much about the football or winning, it was the players he remembered, especially Jock McNab, Elisha – who could be as brusque as he was – and Tom Bromilow, whom he remembered with a lot of affection. They were all great friends.
“The players didn’t earn much so there were no distractions, no celebrity. First and foremost they were a team and they wanted to win for their club.
“It’s as simple as that.”