Alex Raisbeck’s Reds enthral the masses as Liverpool secure first league title

In 1901, Liverpool were crowned league champions for the first time, merely nine years after the club was formed.

In just their sixth season in the First Division, John Houlding’s Reds were crowned champions of England, swiftly making up for the heartbreaking second-place finish in 1898/99.

And with the spread of instantaneous news non-existent, Liverpool’s title triumph ensured the masses were in the dark until word filtered through.

Liverpool’s title run started with three successive victories as Tom Watson’s men found momentum on their side as points were dropped in just four games from the opening 11.

A 2-1 defeat to title-challengers Sunderland in September would be the first of three preceding a decisive and disappointing 3-2 defeat at The Wednesday.

The Reds’ inability to find an equaliser in Sheffield despite their efforts preceded a winter slump which threatened their bid to finish the campaign in historic fashion.

In the ten games which followed, Liverpool would lose four, draw three and win three, leaving the local press at a loss in regards to their form:

“The question now agitating most minds is whether Liverpool intend scoring any points in this season’s League tourney. On present form, they are not likely to do so.”

And it was a run which included a deflating 2-1 defeat at the hands of Everton, a result which ensured Watson’s side would take just one point from their meetings with their local rivals.

But while the loss was a humiliating one in woeful weather conditions, which almost saw the match abandoned, Liverpool would prove to have the last laugh come the end of April.

Before then, however, Liverpool had a job to do as by the time their winter simp hit the ten-game mark, they sat eighth in the league, nine points off the top with a trip to second-placed Sunderland next on the agenda.

With Watson’s side failing to find consistency and without the momentum they had started the campaign with, few gave them a chance to cause an upset and reset their title hopes.

If they were to claw their way back they could ill afford to taste further defeat in the fixture, let alone in the last 11 games which followed. And, thankfully, they did not.

Jack Cox broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute at Roker Park and Liverpool held on to breathe new life into their season.

The victory was the catalyst of what be a historic and memorable campaign, as after the game at Sunderland they would win six and draw three of their next nine to climb back to the top two with just two games remaining.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Friday, November 9, 2018: A newly installed bust of Liverpool Football Club's founder John Houlding, a sculpture by artist Tom Murphy, to celebrate the club's 125th anniversary, outside Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On April 27, 1901, Liverpool would meet fourth-placed Nottingham Forest in their final home game of the season and the penultimate match of the campaign.

The permutations were clear. A win would see the Reds draw level with leaders Sunderland, who had played one game more, and provide the chance to clinch the title at West Brom two days later.

Over 20,000 people were in attendance at Anfield for what was widely looked at as the league decider and after Forest were forced to play on with 10 men through injury, with no substitutes at the time allowed, Liverpool took immediate advantage.

“Robertson shot hard, and struck one of the goal posts, and rebounded to Cox, who promptly fastened on and placed the ball past Linacre. Liverpool’s goal, being cheered to the echo,” was how the Reds’ opening goal in the 25th minute was reported by the Liverpool Echo.  

The result moved the Reds level with Sunderland at the top, a position they would strengthen when Bill Goldie added the second to put the result beyond doubt with 55 minutes on the clock.

With Sunderland having finished their campaign with 43 points and a superior goal difference, the Reds need only to avoid defeat at the already relegated West Brom to be crowned champions.

“The weather was far from favourable and greatly affected the attendance,” reported the Daily Post as a measly 4,000 turned up.

And while the Baggies had little to fight for, many expected them to fall at the will of the champions-elect but, as ever, Liverpool were forced to do it the hard way.

West Brom proved a stubborn unit and proved to be no walkover, but Johnny Walker’s 20th-minute strike would prove enough having capitalised on goalkeeper Joe Reader’s blunder.

Liverpool would hold on and leave the Hawthorns as the champions of England for the first time in the club’s history, with Alex Raisbeck earning the title of the club’s first league-winning captain.

Over 60,000 people would greet Liverpool on their return to the city after news filtered through of their success, where the team made their journey from the station to the Sandon Pub on the back of a cart pulled by horses.

It was a celebration to remember for all those involved and one which would precede many more for Liverpool Football Club.

* This is part of a new series aimed at filling the void without football, looking at the greatest moments in the history of the Reds. We’ll be publishing new stories from Liverpool’s glorious past each day at 7am and 7pm (UK).