Partick Thistle

Although Alexander may be best known for this time with Liverpool FC and as a representative for Scotland in international matches, he also spent a great deal of time later in his career with Partick Thistle. Below is a very informative and complete piece written about Alex's time with Partick Thistle.

"A man of Raisbeck's proportions, style and carriage would rivet attention anywhere. He is a fine and beautifully balanced figure."

There aren’t many true legends to have played for Partick Thistle – players who were the best of the best in Scottish football. Neil Gibson and Jamie McMullan were regarded as the best right and left-halves ever to play the game, while Peter McKennan was regarded as the one of the best inside-forwards ever for a spell in the late 30s. 

Alex Raisbeck was regarded as the best centre-half ever to play for Scotland against England –  “No centre half-back ever surpassed Raisbeck in an international match against England,” said the Daily Record. In effect this meant he was the best player in his position ever as only the best players were picked to play against England.

Thistle were fortunate to sign Alex for £500 at a time when he was unable to guarantee a game in the Liverpool first team, after inspiring them to two League Championships in 1901 and 1906, and his transfer was regarded as the major signing made by any Scottish club in the summer of 1909. A real legend was returning to play in Scotland. Alex’s career had started in Lanarkshire with Larkhall Thistle and Royal Albert before being signed by Hibernian. After two years in Edinburgh he moved to Stoke for a short period before being signed by Liverpool boss Tom Watson in 1898. Watson was renowned for spotting Scottish talent and Alex made his debut in the First Division in the first game of the 1898-99 season, quickly becoming a regular at centre-half. He remained at the heart of the Liverpool defence for ten years, playing 341 times for the Anfield club.

Alex Raisbeck was a commanding centre-half, despite being only 5’10”; a “broad-shouldered, flaxen-haired giant”.  His anticipation and timing meant that he was almost unbeatable in the air, even against much taller opponents, his blond hair making him instantly recognisable. On the ground he was fast and a superb tackler. In a time when centre-halves were part of the ‘midfield’ half-back line he was also a creative player, linking well with the forwards, and even getting forward to score the occasional goal. Indeed, at Liverpool he scored 19 goals. His international career was almost peerless. In those early days the best players were kept for games against England, while lesser players would play against Wales or Ireland. Alex turned out for Scotland against England seven times, and was defeated just once. Alex had the honour of captaining his country four times, including a 2-1 win over England in 1906 in a game that writers of the time reckoned was his finest display, and the best display ever from an Anglo playing for Scotland.

It was a time of uncertainty for Partick Thistle when Alex Raisbeck signed in June 1909. Thistle had finished bottom of the First Division after a wretched season, but at last were ready to move to their new ground at Firhill, and a bright future was forecast. Big name signings were made in preparation, and Alex was just one. Welsh international Maurice Parry also joined from Liverpool, as did Tom Callaghan (Manchester City) and Robert Graham (Everton).

Alex was appointed captain of the team and immediately impressed. The Daily Record felt that Alex was the “most finished” player on the park, and lasted the pace well, though he had to cover for Parry as well as do his own job. However, Alex was soon to fall victim to a series of niggling injuries that kept him out of the team for a number of games, perhaps validating Liverpool’s decision to transfer him. His absence was demonstrated clearly on a number of occasions – after a 1-3 defeat to Third Lanark it was suggested that the extend of the defeat would have been minimised if Raisbeck had played. After another defeat at the hands of Thirds that Daily Record fumed “The Firhill forwards were lacking the physical and moral support of Raisbeck”.

When he did play the newspapers often ran out of superlatives. “the outstanding personality … a master … outstanding player on the field … shone in defensive work … most reliable … outstanding … great judgement … best player on park … outstanding … veritable tower of strength … valiant leader … very prominent … dominated everyone and everything … outstanding player”.

As football tactics changed, centre-halves became more responsible for defensive duties that attacking ones, and it was defensively that Thistle relied on Alex, excelling as a clever ‘breaker-up’ of attacks, both in the air and on the ground. “The Partick Thistle captain’s head, in contact with the ball and otherwise, was ever in evidence.” He also had a highly sensitive awareness of tactics, and often changed players positions during the game, depending on how they were progressing. In January 1912, with Thistle two down in a Scottish Cup tie, Alex moved Willie Hamilton up front and dropped William Gardener back. Within minutes Hamilton had equalised to give Thistle a replay. Alex remained an attacking force too. “He kept the forwards well on the move and distributed play to the best advantage,” read one report.

After four years Alex returned to represent Scotland when he was chosen for the side to play England in 1911, and then again against Ireland in 1912.
November 1913 saw Alex line up for Thistle against Kilmarnock beside the teenage prodigy Jamie McMullan. Little did the Kilmarnock players realise that they were opposed by future and past Scottish international captains. It was a partnership that was not to last long. In a game earlier that month Alex had suffered a slight bump. It didn’t feel serious but it was enough to convince him to avoid hard contact with opponents for a month or so. After medical attention Alex was operated on for appendicitis, and was expected back in a few weeks.

It did mean that he would miss out on playing in his own benefit match against a star-studded international select. Liverpool were late to hear about the game, and belatedly offered to send their entire first team to play in the game, such was the esteem still felt for Alex in Liverpool. The game attracted an astonishing crowd of 10,000 and generated gate receipts of £300.

Daily reports of Alex’s recuperation, from operation to discharge to resumption of training filled the daily newspapers, though it wasn’t until the end of February that he received the go-ahead to play again. However, during his convalescence Alex decided that his fitness was limiting his performances, and decided to retire from playing. Hamilton Academicals were quick to make Alex an offer, and in March it was announced that he would take up the position of secretary/manager after his playing contract ran out at the end of the season. Alex didn’t play again for Thistle, and one of the most illustrious and respected playing careers ended.

Following a spell at Hamilton Alex became manager of Bristol City for eight years, followed by a similar spell of six years at Halifax. After another managerial spell at Chester City he rejoined Liverpool in a scouting capacity. Alex remained in Liverpool until he died at the age of 70.