Often referred to as the first great football manager, Tom Watson was highly influential in the early development of three of England’s biggest clubs.
Born in Newcastle in 1859, Watson was involved with several local sides, and was secretary of Newcastle’s West End, and then East End – the club that became Newcastle United.
As secretary, it was Watson’s job to arrange fixtures, keep records, and submit match details to local papers. At the time, there was no such thing as a football manager. But Watson went beyond the remit of club secretary, and got involved in team selection, tactics and player recruitment – becoming a manger in all but name.
Watson pioneered the recruitment of players from Scotland, offering star players from north of the border lucrative professional contracts. He would travel to Scotland on scouting missions at great personal risk, amid tales of player-poachers from English clubs being trussed up and ducked in barrels of water by angry Scottish football folk.
At East End, Watson tempted players with the offer of a £5 signing-on fee and a job in a Newcastle factory. He oversaw East End’s entry into competitive football, via the FA Cup and the Northern League.
Then, in 1889, Watson was poached by Sunderland after being approached in a Newcastle pub and offered £100 a year and a new suit. In truth, it was probably Sunderland’s transfer power that attracted Watson. Super-rich Sunderland could afford to pay high wages and ‘special retainers’, meaning Watson could recruit the very best Scottish players, such as John Campbell from Renton and John Auld from Third Lanark.
Watson’s cross-border raids enabled him to build Sunderland’s ‘team of all talents’, which won three league titles under his stewardship. He remains the most successful manager in Sunderland’s history.
Renowned for his success on and off the field, Watson was head-hunted by Liverpool in 1896. He won two league titles with Liverpool at the beginning of the 20th century, becoming the first manager to win the league with two different clubs.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.