Belfast City Council have this week opened a public vote to name the new road leading to the Olympia Leisure Centre. I’ve proposed that the road is named for local footballing icon Elisha Scott and I thought I’d take the opportuinity to explain why.
Before I do however I can say that voting is open to all of us who live in Belfast until the 19th of August and you can vote online here.
Elisha Scott was one of the most successful footballers to have come from our city and his record-breaking success on both side of the Irish Sea has yet to be rivalled. Born on the Donegall Road in 1893, Elisha Scott was working in a warehouse when he started his footballing life with the Boys Brigade. Within a few years, after short stints at Broadway Utd and Linfield FC, Elisha signed for Liverpool FC “for the price of the boat trip” and between 1912 and 1934 made 468 first-team appearances for the Anfield club.
Elisha Scott’s talents on the pitch soon made him a fan favourite and the earliest recorded football chant was Liverpool fans cheering his name. Standing at 5 foot 9 and with a slight build, Scott became renowned for his catlike reflexes and instinctive tactical play. He would hold his position on Liverpool’s first team for an incredible 22 years, a record that is still remains unbroken and is widely regarded as one of the red’s greatest ever players and the first King of the Kop.
The rivalry between Scott and the legendary Everton striker Dixie Dean was famous and their duelling was a mainstay of derby matches throughout the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Both men were known for their physical style of play and before one particular match Scott received an unexpected parcel. It turned out to be a bottle of aspirin accompanied by a note saying ‘Thought you might be needing these later, Yours Dixie’. Despite the battles on the pitch the two men were close friends and could be spotted having a drink together in the Lisbon Bar in Liverpool city centre. Dean would later say that Scott was the greatest goalie he had ever seen.
But Elisha’s achievements weren’t limited to his time at Liverpool. He returned to the Donegall Road in 1934 to become player-manager for Belfast Celtic. Under his leadership Belfast Celtic became a powerhouse in Irish football winning 10 Irish League titles, 6 Irish Cups, 3 City Cups, 8 Gold Cups and 5 County Antrim Shields.
Scott had a reputation for being plain spoken which lead to a few incidents on and off the field. While playing he was known for bellowing instructions which included some industrial language. James Jackson, one of the Liverpool defenders at the time, who was a Parson and later minister in the Presbyterian church, would regularly be seen mid-match imploring Elisha to watch his language. Scott would apologise only to resume minutes later as he became again immersed in the match. Later as manager in Belfast his plain speaking would also be seen. Sectarian tensions were worsening in Belfast during the late 1930’s and when Elisha was challenged for fielding a cross community team he responded in his trademark forthright style “I don’t play Protestant players. I don’t play Catholic players. I play good players.”
Scott did however expect his commitment to his players to be returned in the form of dedication to the club. He had strict standards and ran stamina training to maintain a high level of fitness. He would also employ the assistance of his wife Alice, and his sisters, Edith, Elizabeth and Annie, in patrolling Belfast’s bars on the eve of games to seek and trail out any of his players who may have strayed inside.
Elisha Scott’s finest hour with Belfast Celtic however was a bittersweet one. In May 1949 when on a tour of America, the team faced the Scottish national side. Scotland were fresh from winning the Home International Championship at Wembley a few weeks previously and the feeling of the 15,000 spectators in the Triboro Stadium in New York was that they would make short work of the Belfast club.
Belfast Celtic were at this point facing difficult circumstances at home and sectarian disturbances were increasingly endangering their games. Following unrest at the derby against Linfield FC the previous Christmas which saw several players seriously injured, the Directors of Belfast Celtic had taken the decision to withdraw from the Irish League. Many of the club’s players were uncertain of their future and had been informed while travelling to America that their team had been replaced in the Irish League. In a physical match in New York however against the premier international team of the day Belfast Celtic managed to prevail, scoring two against their Scottish opponents. It was to be Belfast Celtic’s last major outing and the club never played a competitive match again.
Elisha Scott stayed with the club and was appointed as manager of the clubs grounds Celtic Park. He oversaw the upkeep of the ground and business correspondence through to his death from a heart attack in May 1959.
The 125th anniversary of Elisha Scott’s birth will be on the 24th of this month, just days after the vote to name this road closes. I can think of no better way of celebrating Elisha Scott’s achievements than by naming this road after him in an area he was proud to call home. Those who remember Elisha Scott remember him with great affection and admiration. It is a shame however that he is not remembered more widely. Naming this new road in the area in which he was born and which he returned to after his time in Liverpool, would be fitting in itself but may also inspire new generations of sportsmen and women who are using it to access the new football pitches and leisure centre.
You can also vote using the ballot papers in the Olympia Leisure Centre, Morton Community Centre, Greater Village Regeneration Trust, Windsor Women’s Centre, South City Resource Centre.